Samsung Galaxy S5 review: gorgeous on the inside, ugly on the outside
Kris Carlon comes to the AndroidPIT Editorial Team via a lengthy period spent traveling and relying on technology to keep him in touch with the outside world. He joined the Android community while resurfacing in civilization back in 2010 and has never looked back, using technology to replace his actual presence in other people's lives ever since. He can usually be found juggling three phones at once and poring over G+ posts, Reddit and RSS feeds.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 has been out for over a year now, and in our original review impressions we commended its display, fantastic battery life and high-end camera. With that said, we thought it didn't improve much on the Galaxy S4, particularly in the design department where it opted for a disappointing, dimpled plastic chassis.
A year on, and of course the Galaxy S5 doesn't keep up with current flagships. But with the lower price tag, is it still worthy of your consideration? Read our updated Galaxy S5 review to find out.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 release date was way back in April 2014 in the US and UK. Its price has dropped considerably since then, and you can now buy it for around £320 in the UK, while the US Galaxy S5 price is as low as $400 in some online retailers. We think that's a great deal for what's still a powerful phone.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Video
Samsung Galaxy S5 design and build quality
The Galaxy S5 copped a lot of flak at launch for being the Band-Aid Samsung and some of this criticism is deserved. The device itself is not much of a departure from the same design recipe that Samsung had been using for years until it got a refresh with the Samsung Galaxy S6.
The build quality is excellent though and everything is quite well considered. The dimpled plastic on the back feels much better than previous Galaxy devices - if not particularly premium - and the built-in finger scanner in the home button is a nice touch even if it is not a feature that will be useful for every user.
Samsung is sticking with plastic but the benefit of this is that the IP67-rated water-resistant and dustproof rear panel is removable, providing access to a microSD card slot and replaceable battery. There's also a heart rate monitor embedded alongside the LED flash, an IR blaster and LED notification.
It's amazing how quickly design philosophy changes in the smartphone world. A year ago, the Galaxy S5 was an OK - if not exactly spectacular - phone in the looks department, but in 2015 it'd be unacceptable to have a plastic chassis on your flagship. With that said, many will be swayed by the removable back cover rather than the looks, where the S5 holds an advantage over its successor.
Samsung Galaxy S5 display
The Galaxy S5 has a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display that won't pop your eyes with pixel density but it will will colors and saturation. As usual Samsung has opted for a super rich, high contrast display that is wonderful to look at even if it is not exactly lifelike. The AMOLED technology means the device shows pitch blacks and good contrast but it won't do so well outdoors because it lacks backlighting.
Of course, QHD is one of the smartphone buzzwords of 2015, but it's telling that many major phones - such as the HTC One M9 and Huawei P8 - have opted to stick with Full HD. QHD is a technical feat on a smartphone screen, but not that noticeable to most people. It may be a while yet before QHD becomes the norm, so in the meantime the Galaxy S5 display still looks great, even by today's high standards.
Samsung Galaxy S5 special features
As mentioned above, the S5 has a few special features tacked on that may not be essentials for everyone but they do make the S5 stand out.
The heart rate monitor on the back below the camera lens is linked to the S Health app, so you can track your activity and keep an eye on your heart rate on the go. The physical home button doubles as a finger scanner that is not always reliable, but has been improved with some software updates.
These Galaxy S5 features have been widely criticized as useless gimmicks, but I tend to disagree. Samsung has made an effort to focus on core components like security, health, camera and battery in the S5 and their efforts, while not perfect, are a step in the right direction compared to some of the more blatant Samsung gimmicks over the years. The S5 is also IP67 certified water-resistant and dustproof. All these things mean that the Galaxy S5 is still one of the best phones around for those who like to experiment with an assortment of gadgets and gizmos on their phones.
The Galaxy S5 saw a bit of a reworking of Samsung's heavy TouchWiz user interface and while it is lighter and flatter than previous versions it seems a little unfinished. Some parts are quite nicely done but the experience is not consistent throughout. The Settings menu has a few viewing options, including a large round colorful icon based view, a tabulated view and a list view. The notifications shade and Quick Settings take on another look that is less colorful but nicely put together.
The S5 ran Android 4.4.2 KitKat at launch, but has now for the most part received the long-awaited Android Lollipop update (see when you will get it). Lollipop runs well on the S5, and adds handy Material Design features like the pull-down Settings menu, lock screen notifications, and a recent apps list. There are also welcome flourishes of color in areas of the phone such as the dialler, Settings menu and texting app.
Rounding off the features are cloud printing, Chromecast support, immersive mode (the S5 is a great device for reading or playing games on), screen mirroring, NFC and Google Now integration. While Samsung reproduces a lot of Google's core apps, Google's offerings all work fine on the S5 too and you can disable the Samsung apps you don't like. TouchWiz and pre-installed apps do take up a significant amount of the internal storage though.
The Galaxy S5 features the Samsung Knox security platform, which sandboxes apps for personal and business use. There's a nice little floating menu called Toolbox too, where you can keep a shortcut list for your most frequently used apps, and Samsung has introduced the Magazine dedicated home screen which is kind of like a mixture of Flipboard and HTC's BlinkFeed. In typical Samsung fashion, there are more features here than you could point an S-Pen at.
The usual array of Samsung Smart features is present, with Air View (hovering content preview like on a PC mouse), gesture-based controls, cloud backup, blocking and private mode, Easy Mode and S Voice adding value where you may or may not want it. Other useful features include Multi-Window, one-handed operation and a fantastic Download Booster that utilizes both your Wi-Fi and data connection to create download speeds of 1 gigabyte in 30 seconds. The availability of this feature is carrier-dependent.
Samsung Galaxy S5 performance
The Galaxy S5 specs sheet is a little bit flattering about the actual performance you can expect to get from this phone, though many of the lag and slowdown issues when the device was first released have been ironed out. The S5 has some solid processing power and sufficient RAM to power you through your everyday Android needs, but even compared to last year's major devices like the HTC One M8 and OnePlus One, it hasn't got world-beating power.
The Galaxy S5 will do just about any task you require of it easily, but if you're a power fiend who likes pushing their device to the limit, then there are better options available.
Samsung Galaxy S5 camera
The Galaxy S5 camera is a very respectable offering and it holds up quite well against other cameras out there. It shoots very quickly with lightning fast auto-focus (0.3 seconds) and the images are typically great. The S5 ships with a 16 MP ISOCELL sensor which offers real-time HDR and 4K video capture. Some of the less popular preset modes have been scrapped from the S5's camera, but these can be downloaded from the Play Store if you really want them.
The S5 camera is still jam-packed with options, settings and modes though so you won't be lacking for choice. There's image stabilization, burst-shooting, Beauty Face, dual camera, panorama, some limited manual settings and a rather unimpressive selective focus option that lets you refocus an image after it's taken. The camera may be a bit bloated still but the basics are covered well and you're unlikely to be let down by the S5 camera except in low-light.
The Galaxy S5 battery is a star performer. Samsung integrated Lucid Logix technology into the S5 to manage battery performance at optimum levels. Add to this the fact that the S5 also has not only the regular power saving mode we've seen on other Samsung devices, but also the fantastic Ultra Power Saving Mode, and you've got an impressive device as far as battery goes.
Activating UPSM will implement a limited grayscale user interface and only offer limited functionality, but you can add your own essential apps like WhatsApp, Facebook and Google+, as well as browse the web in grayscale. While Samsung's advertizing shows it is possible to do a 7-day road trip from coast to coast on a single charge that's not exactly how you're likely to use it. It's more of an in-a-pinch battery extension than something you should completely rely on as a daily driver. It's easily the best power saving mode I've seen.
Samsung Galaxy S5 technical specifications
142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm
1920 x 1080 pixels (432 ppi)
4.4.2 - KitKat
16 GB 32 GB
Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Number of cores:
Max. clock speed:
HSPA, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0
The Galaxy S5 never quite lived up to expectations, but it was still a top-end phone in 2014, and a decent mid-ranger now. It’s the kind of phone where every software angle is covered. Some choices may not be for everyone, like design, interface, the heart rate monitor and finger scanner, but the holy trinity of camera, battery and screen are done very well.
If you're not a Samsung fan it's unlikely the S5 is going to win you over, and if you are a Samsung fan then you've probably already got a Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge and are only reading this article out of casual curiosity. There are plenty of better phones out there for the S5's asking price, but if you do take the plunge on the Galaxy S5 you will still be getting a solid phone whose specs will stay fairly current for another year or two.
Do you agree with our updated Galaxy S5 review? Is this phone doomed to be quickly forgotten in light of recent flagships, or might you take the plunge given its reasonable price? Let us know in the comments.