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Galaxy S5 first hands-on review: Samsung gets flat

Loie Favre (translation)

Samsung presented the Galaxy S5 and with it, fulfilled expectations talked about for weeks on end. The new flagship by the manufacturer comes with a fingerprint scanner, an improved camera and to top it all off, a watertight chassis. A real surprise was the pulse sensor and the new user interface which is strongly reminiscent of the Flat Design from iOS 7.

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 © AndroidPIT

The interface: the illusion of haptic is missing (or is it?)

In June 2013, Apple presented iOS 7 and broke all traditions set since the creation of the first iPhone. The smartphone pioneer bid farewell from the plastic 3D look worn by its contrast-rich and almost tangible interface. Instead they ventured into a new abstract and two-dimensional realm with little illusion of haptic. Android users know this as Flat Design, already being accustomed to it for quite some time now, especially with Google apps. And now Samsung is doing the same with the Galaxy S5.

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The settings menu: flat. © AndroidPIT

What one needs to say about this though is that Samsung, by doing so, falls short from offering a unified user interface. The new software, which without a doubt turned out exceptionally and belongs to one of the best that I’ve seen in Android, only appears in certain areas of the phone: the status bar, the Samsung apps and the settings menu. However, when switching from home screens or scrolling through the app drawer, you will soon enough see the bright and playful Android world from Samsung, which doesn’t seem to fit in with the new cool and clear atmosphere set up by the flat symbols and fine print.

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Even the status bar gets the new flat look. © AndroidPIT

On the technical side, everything is as it should be, the system is fast, smooth and without a trace of a stutter. The design on the other hand seems unfinished. Though the direction seems right, the new version of TouchWiz on the S5 seems like a big construction site. The Android operating system in this case isn’t completely innocent here either, as it’s so open and offers a huge optic spectrum which is hard to control, like with app icons for example. Samsung will never be able to completely master the entire look - closed systems sometimes have their advantages.

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The app drawer and home screen still have the same TouchWiz look we are accustomed to. © AndroidPIT

It’s about time we gave up expecting surprising design changes from Samsung, especially with its flagships. This is too much of a risk that could quickly lead to disaster, it’s better to stick with what the client knows. Apple has been doing this for years.

Design: everything as usual, but now watertight

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The back side is made of a black, matted plastic. © AndroidPIT

The device is slightly bigger than the S4, which is a bit of mystery, because the display is only 0.1 inches bigger. The display frame is a little bit thicker, but that shouldn’t be the reason. Samsung’s decision to place a matted plastic on the back and to make the entire chassis waterproof, resistant even when dunked into water, and this could be a cause.

The disadvantage to the robust build means that it feels quite heavy in hand since the device isn’t just bigger than the predecessor, but also quite a bit heavier, at 145 grams instead of 130.

Display: no suprises

Even the display brings no surprises. Samsung decided on AMOLED again: it’s easy to see that the Korean company has mastered this technology just by looking at the display: intense colors and sharp contrasts would make any client a happy camper. That being said, I can say quite bluntly that I did not see any improvement compared to the S4.

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The camera shoots with 13 Megapixel. Next to the LED flash is the pulse sensor. © AndroidPIT

The camera highlight

In my opinion the camera on a smartphone is often underestimated. This isn’t just a nice feature but also a reason from many to buy the phone and, in the decade of cheap but performing phones like the Moto G, a way to set itself apart as something high-end. Or better yet said, the premium manufacturer is able to win quite a few points and yes, Samsung has been able to collect quite a few.

I couldn’t really take any test pictures in the short time I had, but without taking any, it’s clear that this is one of the flagship’s strongest points. It starts off with the Auto-focus, which is extremely sharp (according to Samsung, 0.3 seconds and faster than any other phone) and ends with the real-time HDR, which Samsung celebrated during its world premiere. HDR mode can be switched on in preview mode and directly observed just like you see in the picture. This is quite impressive. There’s also a bunch of other camera modes and settings options for a complete package.

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Camera preview with real-time HDR. © AndroidPIT

Fingerprint scanner: is it needed?

Apple made it ready for mass distribution, HTC copied it and now Samsung is ready to offer the fingerprint sensor to the masses. Just like the iPhone, the Home button has integrated the feature and you swipe your finger over it to unlock the phone. The construction behind the feature allows one to unlock the phone with just two finger movements: the first tap to activate the sensor and then you just need to swipe your finger over top again. Samsung offers a solution which works exactly as intuitively as the one with Apple. In the test, the unlocking method worked quickly and uncomplicated and in my eyes, this is finally a real alternative to the pattern and PIN.

The sensor can do more: there’s a so-called ‘’Secure Mode’’ to protect apps and documents via fingerprint. What’s more, PayPal is also supported allowing you to authenticate payments with the touch of your finger.

Tech Specs and extras

The heart rate scanner placed on the S5 next to the LED is used by simply placing your finger over top. The data will be collected in the S Health app and applied to your Personal Fitness Tracker. This is a nice function with the topic of fitness and health becoming more and more a part of mobile technology. The S5 is guaranteed not to be the only smartphone that will have this feature.

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A new feature: the Download Booster allows you to download with both LTE and Wi-Fi. © AndroidPIT

I don’t want to get any further into the technical details, but lets leave it at this: Samsung put everything into the device, a USB 3.0 port, the newest Qualcomm processor and a full range of connectivity standards such as the oldie but goodie IrDA sensor.

  Galaxy S5 Galaxy S4
System Android 4.4.2 Android 4.4.2
Display 5.1-inch, Super AMOLED, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 432 ppi 5-inch, Super AMOLED, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 441 ppi
Processor Snapdragon 801, 4 core, 2.5 Gigahertz Snapdragon 600, 4 core, 1.9 Gigahertz / Exynos 5 Octa, 8 core, 1.2 Gigahertz
RAM 2 Gigabyte 2 Gigabyte
Internal storage 16 / 32 GB (microSD up to 128 GB) 16 / 32 Gigabyte + microSD
Battery 2,800 mAh 2,600 mAh
Camera 16 Megapixel / 2,1 Megapixel 13 Megapixel / 2.1 Megapixel
Connectivity LTE Cat 4, HSPA+, Bluetoth 4.0 LE, IrDA, NFC, USB 3.0 LTE Cat 3, HSPA+, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, USB 2.0
Dimensions 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm
Weight 145 gram 130 grams
Other traits Fingerprint sensor, real-time HDR, heart beat monitor, watertight with IP67 standard  

Link to the video

Bottom Line: the Golf in the next round

In the automotive industry, Volkswagen has a reputation of building cars that are always the same and a bit boring. Though this may be true to some, VW is still one of the most successful car makers of the world, because they offer standards of quality and many extras as well as offer the same old thing that the majority of people actually want. Samsung is the VW of the smartphone world.

I can already hear the uproar of naysayers, who complain about the missing surprises and the boring design. They fail to see that Samsung sets all of the standards that all the others need to match. The S5 is the new standard and that’s a fact, its the VW Golf of smartphones. Try to beat that.

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Write new comment:
  • Dayle Steele 7 months ago Link

    Nice looking but I can't see any reason to update from the S4. Funny that as I thought Samsung weren't happy with the take up of the S4 over the S3. Though there is definitely reason to go straight from the S3 to the S5. Normally this phone is a glimpse of the next Galaxy Note and having the Note 3 I won't be grading at

  • Dayle Steele 7 months ago Link

    Oops! saved a a bit early. basically I can't see myself upgrading To A Note 4. There isn't enough advancement

    • User picture
      Loie Favre 7 months ago Link

      I have the Galaxy S3 and I'm still not positive that I would upgrade to the S5 yet.

  • mike 7 months ago Link

    disappointed no sc card slot. samsung raised thr bar with hardware and compromised smaller things. waterproof is nice. but as an s3 user i dont see a reason to upgrade immediately

  • Sean Stockemer 7 months ago Link

    don't be too disappointed. other sources are reporting an sd slot that supports 128GB. maybe it's just an erroneous omission

    • User picture
      Loie Favre 7 months ago Link

      Hi Sean, you are right. This has been amended.

  • iMaC74 7 months ago Link

    😂 lmao

  • Anders Bagger 7 months ago Link

    The only real advantage for me, would be the new type of backplate.
    No more slipping out of my hands, while using it in bed.
    Other than that. I can't wait for the S5-Mini.

    • User picture
      Loie Favre 7 months ago Link

      That's a good point Anders, the rubberized plastic is in my opinion an improvement to the S4 in terms of grip. I also prefer this to the faux leather.

      • Philipp Junghannß (My1) 7 months ago Link

        well about the fake leather vs. S5 plastic is some point we can argue about when this thing hits the stores and I can try it. but Note 3 was a real improvement in comarison to before...

  • Philipp Junghannß (My1) 7 months ago Link

    too bad they killed the menu button in case of one-hand usage, I think the menu button is essential...

  • Bojan M. 7 months ago Link

    A heart beat monitor? A complete gimmick. There are plenty of apps in playstore that do that function.

    Fingerprint scanner - also a gimmick.

    Regardless, not interested.

    • Carmela Rheea Turo 5 months ago Link

      Sure, there are heart monitor/fitness tracking apps, but you have to fork over $99+ for the device you wear and connect to the smartphone.

      The feature takes away the need to purchase another add-on that is ridiculously overpriced. I have been saving up to get a device (that only works with a specific app) for my fitness purposes.

      Although I can purchase a low-end device, there are absolutely no guarantee that it will work with any of the high-end apps out in the market.

      • Bojan M. 5 months ago Link

        You completely missed my point. Reread the text about a heart beat monitor gimmick and my comment again. A search through play store would help too. The apps you're talking about are not the apps I was talking about.

  • Petter Blaze 2 months ago Link

    Samsung Galaxy S5 appears nothing new but just a refinement of the predecessor with bolder curves giving it almost identical look. Samsung S5 with metal effect bezel feels much classier than the earlier one having glossy finish....