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Samsung Galaxy S5 review: still good, still ugly

Authored by: Kris Carlon — 2 weeks ago

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is more than a year old now. In our original review, we commended its display, fantastic battery life and high-end camera. We didn't think it improved much on the Galaxy S4 though – particularly not with its design, or lack thereof, with Samsung opting for that disappointingly dimpled plastic chassis.

A year on, and with a lower price, is it still a worthy purchase? Read our updated Samsung Galaxy S5 review to find out.

Rating

Good

  • Great display
  • Good camera
  • Excellent battery life
  • Water-resistant

Bad

  • Slow and uneven interface
  • Lots of pre-installed apps

Samsung Galaxy S5 release date and price

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 with some online retailers. We think that's a great deal for what is still a powerful phone.

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Is the Galaxy S5 still a good purchase? / © ANDROIDPIT

Don't forget to check out our initial Galaxy S5 review video below. 

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 design recipe that Samsung had been using for years, until it got a refresh with the Samsung Galaxy S6.

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From the front, the Samsung Galaxy S5 looks like a typical Samsung Galaxy S model. / © ANDROIDPIT

The build quality is excellent though and it's mostly well-considered. The dimpled plastic on the back feels much better than previous Galaxy devices – even if it looks ugly – and the built-in finger scanner on the home button is a useful, if not currently essential, feature.

Fingerprint scanning is set to play a much larger part in the future of Android though, thanks to further support for them in Android Marshmallow – read more about that at the link. 

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For some, the dimpled plastic rear ruined the Galaxy S5. / © ANDROIDPIT

Samsung stuck with plastic on the S5, but the benefit 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.

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The headphone jack on the Galaxy S5 alongside the chrome-effect side. / © ANDROIDPIT

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 such a plastic chassis on your flagship. Many will be swayed by the removable back cover rather than the looks though, which is where the S5 holds an advantage over its successor.

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 The Galaxy S5 now features the elongated USB 3.0 port, which is backward-compatible with standard micro-USB cables. / © ANDROIDPIT

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 will with its 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.

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As always, Samsung delivers a great 5.1-inch display with super bright colors. / © ANDROIDPIT

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 its benefit to the naked human eye is debated. 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 essential for everyone, but 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 — it isn't always reliable, but has been improved with some software updates.

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The Galaxy S5's heart-rate monitor sits next to the camera flash on the rear of the device. / © ANDROIDPIT

These Galaxy S5 features have been widely criticized as useless gimmicks, but I disagree. Samsung has made an effort to focus on core components such as security, health, camera and battery in the S5 and, while not perfect, it's 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.

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The dedicated home button doubles as a finger scanner for unlocking the Galaxy S5. / © ANDROIDPIT

After all the time we've spent with the Galaxy S5, we just can't recommend using the finger-scanner as the main method for unlocking your device. It's far too unpredictable and it's not worth the thought and effort to make sure your finger/thumb is positioned correctly to make it work. Just stick with a pin-code instead.

Samsung Galaxy S5 software

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.

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Lollipop has added some much-needed intuitiveness to Samsung's TouchWiz UI. / © ANDROIDPIT

The S5 ran Android 4.4.2 KitKat at launch, but has now received the long-awaited Android Lollipop update. Lollipop runs well on the S5, and adds handy Material Design features such as 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 dialer, 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.

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"Be more active" is the S Health's message for me.  / © ANDROIDPIT

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 a mixture of Flipboard and HTC's BlinkFeed. It's not all that interesting, but thankfully can be easily disabled. 

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Samsung's My Magazine home screen (left) and S Health app. / © ANDROIDPIT

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 download large files quickly. Sadly, the availability of this feature is carrier-dependent.

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Alongside the stock Google apps, you'll also get Samsung duplicates and all manner of bloatware. / © ANDROIDPIT

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 now.

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 such as the HTC One M8 and OnePlus One, it hasn't got world-beating performance, even after an upgrade to Android 5.0 Lollipop.

It's not that it's slow, there are just a few instances, like opening some Settings menus, such as Wi-Fi, when it hasn't already been cached, which seem a little sticky. If you're a power fiend who likes pushing their device to the limit, there are better options available.

Alternatively, try this one trick to make your smartphone faster.

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The Galaxy S5's home button / fingerprint scanner. / © ANDROIDPIT

Samsung Galaxy S5 audio

Samsung's Galaxy S5 audio features aren't great, and with a single speaker for audio output on the back, it doesn't sound great either. 

The problem with rear mounted speakers is that they project away from your ears, and are blocked by the phone's body when you're holding it. It's also quite easy to cover a rear speaker. The Galaxy S5 was never billed as an all-round multi-media device like, say, the HTC One M9, though, and the audio experience is very different. 

Thankfully, it's not the most important aspect of the device, and I wouldn't like to listen to music on any smartphone. As far as handling calls goes, it's just fine, and the rear speaker is sufficient for video playback, providing your finger isn't held over it. 

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This is responsible for the Galaxy S5's multimedia audio output. / © ANDROIDPIT

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera

The Galaxy S5's main camera is a 16 MP ISOCELL sensor which offers real-time HDR and 4K video capture, while on the back there is a 2 MP camera capable of 1,080p recording at 30 fps. Some of the less popular preset modes on the Galaxy S4 have been scrapped from the camera software on the S5, 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 so you won't be lacking in choice. There's image stabilization (digital), burst-shooting, Beauty Face, dual-camera, panorama, some limited manual settings and a selective focus option.

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Even scaled back, there's no shortage of options in the S5's camera app. / © ANDROIDPIT

The camera may be a bit bloated but the basics are covered and you're unlikely to be let down by it in most circumstances. Outdoor scenes are consistently strong — it's perhaps the easiest photo setting to make look sharp, but the Galaxy S5 presents a clarity and a vibrance to its images taken outside which still holds up in 2015.

Effective image processing combined with a 16 MP camera, providing images at a maximum of 5,312 x 2,988 pixel resolution, delivers photos which are rich and detailed. Contrast is also handled carefully by the Galaxy S5, the best example of this being in the pictures of oranges in the gallery below. 

There are some exceptions to the S5's standout camera performance, however. Firstly, it struggles in low light, especially where the front camera is concerned: the pictures are grainy and often out of focus, though admittedly that's a problem many smartphones suffer from. 

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Taking snaps on a windy day is a total breeze. / © ANDROIDPIT

Then there's the main camera's focus itself. While it's possible to get some high-quality snaps, with background and foreground images distinctly separated, the autofocus can be twitchy, and often will necessitate repeated attempts to focus/de-focus the correct object.

The lack of optical image stabilization is also disappointing. On devices that are rarely, if ever, placed in a stationary position to take a photo, OIS is something of a necessity. Even with a seemingly steady grip, photos can arrive in a blurry state on the S5. The digital image stabilization offered is okay, but makes taking photos frustratingly slow.

Overall, the Galaxy S5 provides an above average camera performance in many circumstances, but is let down by a couple of minor gripes. View the gallery below for a better look at the S5's camera capabilities.

Samsung Galaxy S5 battery

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.

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We love the removable battery and excellent battery optimizations on the Galaxy S5. / © ANDROIDPIT

Activating UPSM will implement a limited grayscale user interface and restrict functionality to 'essential' apps, but you can specify some of your own essential apps, including WhatsApp, Facebook and Google+, as well as browse the web in grayscale.

While Samsung's advertising shows it is possible to do a seven-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, but is easily the best power saving mode I've seen.

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The Galaxy S5's Ultra Power Saving Mode can significantly extend its battery life. / © ANDROIDPIT

As for the Galaxy S5's post-Lollipop battery performance, it's something of a mixed bag. There have been many user-reports of battery drain, freezes and crashes, but this hasn't been my experience. These might have been ironed out by now and though I can't attest to a "10 percent battery life increase" (as Google originally touted for Android Lollipop) it doesn't seem to be any worse. 

If you are experiencing Samsung Galaxy S5 problems, hit the link for a list of solutions.

Samsung Galaxy S5 technical specifications

    • Type:
    • Phone
    • Model:
    • SM-G900F
    • Manufacturer:
    • Samsung
    • Dimensions:
    • 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm
    • Weight:
    • 145 g
    • Battery size:
    • 2800 mAh
    • Screen size:
    • 5.1 in
    • Display technology:
    • AMOLED
    • Screen:
    • 1920 x 1080 pixels (432 ppi)
    • Front camera:
    • 2.1 megapixels
    • Rear camera:
    • 16 megapixels
    • Flashlight:
    • LED
    • Android version:
    • 4.4.2 - KitKat
    • User interface:
    • TouchWiz
    • RAM:
    • 2 GB
    • Internal storage:
    • 16 GB
      32 GB
    • Removable storage:
    • microSD
    • Chipset:
    • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
    • Number of cores:
    • 4
    • Max. clock speed:
    • 2.5 GHz
    • Connectivity:
    • HSPA, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0

Final verdict

The Galaxy S5 never quite lived up to expectations, but it was still a top-end 2014 phone, and is a decent mid-ranger now. It’s the kind of phone where every software angle is covered. Some choices may not be for everyone, such as the design, interface, the heart-rate monitor and finger scanner, but the holy trinity of camera, battery and screen are highly polished.

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The Samsung Galaxy S5 lockscreen integrates with S Health to show how many steps you've taken. / © ANDROIDPIT

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, with specs which will remain good for another year or so.

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.

Samsung Galaxy S5 - where to buy?

Please note: only the lowest tariffs and main networks are shown. Cheaper deals may be found with resellers.

UK

BEST DEAL: Three, £28 per-month (£19 upfront) with 600 minutes, unlimited texts, 1 GB data

EE,  £29.99 per-month (£29.99 upfront) with 500 minutes, unlimited texts, 1 GB data

O2, £28.50 per-month (£9.99 upfront) with 500 minutes, unlimited texts, 500 MB data

Vodafone, £34 per-month (no upfront fee) with 500 minutes, unlimited texts, 500 MB data

You can also pick up the Galaxy S5 off-contract and carrier unlocked for around £280 on Amazon UK.

US

BEST DEAL: T-Mobile, $20.00 per-month (+$15.00 for SIM Starter Kit), or $479.99 prepaid.

Verizon, $23.00 per-month (no upfront fee), or $99 on a two-year contract, or $552 outright.

U.S. Cellular, $24,95 per-month as the installment price (no upfront fee), or $99 on a two-year contract, or $499 prepaid.

You can also pick up the Galaxy S5 off-contract and carrier unlocked for around $400 on Amazon.

All Galaxy S5 prices are for the 16 GB on a 24-month contract unless otherwise stated. All information correct at the time of publishing.  

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.

35 comments

Write new comment:
  • Oscar Rodriguez Murphy 1 week ago Link to comment

    don't why trying say not a good phone but I love my s5 not ugly at all great performance fast enough for me maybe marshmallow update be even better

  • christian 2 weeks ago Link to comment

    Good

  • Mike Ward 2 weeks ago Link to comment

    I love my S5, Crystal clear and colourful display, well fast enough for my needs especially since I adjusted animation settings as you advised. The screen is more in proportion than the S6 which is similar width but taller screen and looks stretched to me. To be honest I don't really see that there is any need for more features than the S5 has and at least it's possible to have a spare battery for the device. I also prefer the removable SD Card just incase it ever gets corrupted. If the S6 battery becomes faulty or the internal memory gets corrupted then your stuffed!!! Definately the S5 for me and it seems to still receive regular software updates.

  • alejandro rauch bermejo 1 month ago Link to comment

    Tengo un S 5 normal y me voy a comprar el S 5 plus que viene con el mismo procesador y gpu del Note 4, aqui en españa lo puedes encontrar hasta por menos de 300 euros nuevo a un particular
    el S 6 muy lindo pero no puedo ampliar memoria y no puedo sacar la bateria y la bateria del S 5 dura mas que la del S 6. Con el FullHd que trae y los 432 ppx en los 5.1 pulgadas me son mas que suficientes para ver peliculas y jugar
    Se puede tener un gran telefono por poco dinero y no gastarse 700 o mas euros en el ultimo juguete que sale

  • An Droid 1 month ago Link to comment

    I had a S6 for a year, and loved it! I now have a S6 edge, and my wife is using the S5 until her upgrade is due in September, and she is loving it so much that she is doubting if she wants to upgrade, especially after receiving the Lollipop upgrade.

  • Oscar Rodriguez Murphy 1 month ago Link to comment

    I love my Samsung Galaxy s5

  • Glostermeteor 1 month ago Link to comment

    S5 is a great phone BUT they killed the 'excellent' battery life with the lollipop update. Until the most recent update my battery life was 50% less than with Kitkat, its now about 25% less.

    • Kevin G. 1 month ago Link to comment

      How often do you need to charge it? Are you a heavy user?

      I'd say that I'm a heavy user, before I started using wireless charging I'd start the day on a full charge, I'd probably need to do a partial charge by 6pm (would be below 30% - I Try keep the battery above 15/20%) I would then have to charge again at bed time.

      I'd consider the battery to be good, compared to my old S3 (which has had its battery changed) which I would be charging 3/4 times a day at least.

      What would you consider to be a good performance of the battery?
      I only ask because a lot of people complain about poor battery, I think it's quite subjective.

      Cheers

  • Greg1100 1 month ago Link to comment

    Why does every phone have to be premium- take a look at the htc and S6 ?? Where did that get us??. A lookalike iphone, and no sd card and removable batteries.
    The plastic back on S3, S4 and S5 was light, strong and grippy. The S6 is as slippery as a bar of wet soap in a hot bath. as was the iphone 4.
    I would far prefer the practicality of removable backs with all that entails, than something that is supposedly good looking, but is as much good as a chocolate fireguard.
    All that supposed beauty, and then phone gets stuffed in to a case. ????

    • Teacher Tiant 1 month ago Link to comment

      Exactly. The s5's function justified its appearance, whereas most phones today are just "good looking " with nearly the same-if not less-of this phone's specs. The s5 Prime was definitely a beast, and I think, in general, critics wanted to bash this phone b/c of that very reason: They/we all knew that the phone was exclusive to South Korea, and that BOTH phones couldn't reach their full potential unless they were used there (NFC capabilites, Cable TV, etc.).

    • An Droid 1 month ago Link to comment

      You don't understand.

  • Kevin G. 1 month ago Link to comment

    I don't agree with your overall conclusion - I recently upgraded from a S3 to the S5 and it's brilliant. The lollipop update is great. Battery is fab, very little lag, finger print scanner works brilliantly. It's a super duper phone.

    • Ana Guerrinha 1 month ago Link to comment

      I agree, also upgraded from s3 to s5, my s3 lasted 3 years and still was awsome now just wanted a new phone and s5 is awsome, think is also very good lookwise even tho everyone else seems to think is an ugly phone I love it. came with lollipop already and no bugs at all

    • Teacher Tiant 1 month ago Link to comment

      You have to consider that you're making a late upgrade, whereas most true phone enthusiasts have jump far ahead of you (E. G., I'd bought the s5 Prime almost a year before qhd screens were on the global market b/c I'd lived in South Korea at the time of its release). It can be discouraging to look for the best that smartphone tech has to offer after seeing so many innovative ideas and possibilities come to to a stop just because the current trend says we should expect less tech & more beauty :s

  • Pomacat 1 month ago Link to comment

    Plastic back on the S5 if your smart you put a case on anyway. I bought mine on launch date and could not stand touch wiz. I waited about two weeks and rooted it and at this time I have a ASOP 5.1.1 ROM running on it smooth as silk. So I am holding off upgrading for awhile. Maybe this fall if the Nexus catches my fancy🙌

  • Kevin G. 2 months ago Link to comment

    Hey,
    I recently purchased a new S5 which is running lollipop 5.02 and it's great but..
    I'm having trouble connecting to bluetooth headphones.

    I have a bluetooth speaker which connects ok.

    I have 2 bluetooth headphones which when I try to connect my phone won't detect them.

    My old S3 finds them straight away.
    Anyone else experienced this? Any advice would be great.

    Many thanks.

    • Arjun Paliath 1 month ago Link to comment

      Might be a pairing issue.
      try checking the manual of the headphones to see how to reset them. then try to pair it again first with lollipop and then any lower devices.

      I has a similar problems with my Bluetooth headphone when using my note 3 and moto g2

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