Samsung Galaxy S5 review

Samsung Galaxy S5 review
Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

On April 11, the Samsung Galaxy S5 was launched, signalling the start in the annual series of updates to smartphone's greatest.

True to its trend, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is faster, bigger, sturdier and better in many other aspects when compared to its predecessor.

But to the layman, this is normal, not really interesting nor truly worth your effort to take the money out of your wallet. But before you make your next purchase, here are some points that I'd like to make.

Look and Feel


Same Same But Different

With the little upsize to 5.1 inches from 5.0 inches, one may be confused when looking at the Galaxy S5 and S4 side by side from the front. But on the back, the distinction is clear.

samsung-galaxy-s5-back.jpg

The back of the Galaxy S5 has this dimpled pattern that may make some irk. While sacrificing its aesthetic appeal, the Galaxy S5 makes up for it in the feel of the phone. There is also the heart-rate monitor, but we will get to that later.

Gripping the phone is more warm and tacky compared to the cold metal bodies of other smartphones. The dimpled texture then makes sense, as it allows one to grip the phone more securely but at the same time allows it to be fill smooth as one loosens his grip.

It is a subtle factor, but one that I really appreciate.

A point that I must make is the horrendous vibration that this phone makes. I can only compare it to a bee trying to escape from inside the phone.

On certain notifications, it will have a longer vibration interval, thus making wish that I should have placed a book below it instead of having it vibrate the whole table and having all my colleagues being alerted that I have a new message.  

Galaxy Active line goes mainstream


Welcomed addition, questionable execution

When the Galaxy S4 was introduced last year, it came with it a series of counterparts that were launched throughout 2013.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active

Photo Credit: CNET

In total, there were 5 Samsung Galaxy S4 versions - the original, the S4 Google Play Edition, the S4 mini, the S4 zoom and the S4 active.

Now one of these version has been promoted to be a main feature of the S5.

A great way to dilute Sony's unique selling point, Samsung's decision to make the Galaxy S5 IP67 certified (which means it is water resistant and dustproof) ensures that Sony can no longer say that they are the only choice for a high-end android smartphone with such a capability.

While a comparison between these 2 devices are inevitable, and one that I hope to do soon, it is already clear that the the approach in which both manufacturers had taken to make their flagship devices IP67 certified is distinctively different.

Samsung's approach involves the use of rubber seals. This is questionable to me as the water resistant and dustproof capability is now totally dependent on the user. If one does not ensure that the back cover and USB flip cover is not properly secured, his phone is simply going to be as vulnerable as any other phone out there.

What makes me worry more than the possibility of human error is the durability of these rubber seals. Case in point, the flip cover that protects the USB port.

You now have to constantly flip the USB port cover when charging the phone, and every time when you are done charging, there will be an alert to remind you to flip the cover back. This alert cannot be disabled.

I am not convinced that this cover will withstand the abuse its users will inevitably give to it in its lifespan of usually 2 years.

However, despite all these quirks, the choice of rubber seals can be seen as a sensible one. Samsung's decision allows them to maintain the look and feel of the phone as well as the much sought after feature of a removable battery and external storage (up to 128GB).

Camera


Its better, but doesn't impress

The camera on the Samsung Galaxy S5 is great and definitely an improvement over the 13MP camera of the Galaxy S4.

As you can see, this 16MP beast takes pictures that are crisp, slightly saturated much to Samsung's style, and boasts many familiar filters and features found on its predecessor.

It performs well enough for instagramers of the world, like the 2 #foodporn worthy pictures just above.

Some main differences to take note is the fact that now the Galaxy S5 can take HDR shots in real time, which is great when you have a bright background and dark subject. There is also a remote viewfinder function, which I found quite fun when pairing it up with my friends' Samsung phone.

Another fun function is the selective focus feature. Trying to recreate the Lytro effect (which is currently in trend), this features takes 2 pictures of different focus, which it then artificially merges give users the choice to focus on the closer subject, the background, or to put everything in focus.

Selective Focus mode using near focus / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Selective Focus mode using near focus / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Selective Focus mode using far focus / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Selective Focus mode using far focus / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

While easy to use, this feature doesn't always work (as seem below), and sometimes I find myself preferring to use the normal mode to create the blurred effect.

Selective Focus gone wrong. Half of the cake is artifically blurred. / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Selective Focus gone wrong. Half of the cake is artifically blurred. / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Normal shot taken in position to create natural "bokeh" effect. / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Normal shot taken in position to create natural "bokeh" effect. / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Speaking on focus, Samsung had kept boasting on how fast the autofocus speed is on the Galaxy S5. At the advertised 0.3 seconds, which is about the speed in which the average human blinks.

While it is certainly fast, I still find myself missing some moments, such as this surprise opportunity to capture a quick response team attending to a fire at a HDB flat.

As for the front facing camera, which is oh so important for those who wants to take selfies, it doesn't quite hit the mark.

My girlfriend and I often opted to use the much better back camera to take our selfies despite the extra inconvenience. The difference in quality is simply too much, especially in low light.

However that doesn't say much, as the Galaxy S5's camera does not live up to my expectations when it comes to low light. I find that the photos has too much noise for my acceptance, and colour reproductions are washed. You be the judge.

Android Kit-Kat 4.4 and TouchWiz


It is awesome and it still needs to be improved, respectively

The Android Kit-Kat 4.4 update was a major one in a different aspect as compared to previous updates. It focused on improving the efficiency of the software as well as making it lighter, allowing lower-end phones to operate them.

Google Now is also a mainstay feature of the Android Kit-Kat, and while still getting accustomed to it, I expect to fully utilise it over time.

TouchWiz, however, is still something that I dislike. The slew of features that Samsung introduces leaves its phone in a messy pile of potential. And as Android is all about customisation, I almost immediately went on to install Nova Launcher on to my phone to replace the Samsung Android experience, with my own Android experience.

With that, I have escaped from the My Magazine feature that is permanently fixed to the extreme left panel of the TouchWiz UI. I have also disabled the bubbly sound effects all together.

I will say that the overall design of TouchWiz is more consistently and better than its previous version, but it still has a long way to go before I can call it neat. Just look at the settings menu (which I cannot edit with a custom launcher).

I am still finding it hard to find I want in this stack of 62 options.

The gimmicks


What's an update without these!

Photo Credit: CNET

So the gimmicks of Galaxy S5 is obviously the fingerprint scanner and the heart-rate monitor.

The fingerprint scanner, an obvious response to Apple's installment of the same function in its iPhone 5s, has been heavily criticised. I am no different. The idea of having a fingerprint scanner was to make one's phone more secure but with added convenience.

While having a fingerprint scanner satisfies the first point, the Galaxy S5 fails in almost every way possible for the second point. You will have to turn on the phone first before using the fingerprint scanner to unlock it. And to ensure that the scanner reads your fingerprint correctly, you will have to use two hands, and the scanner will often only acknowledge your fingerprint if you slide your finger perfectly vertically on the physically home button.

I ended up not using it, obviously.

samsung-galaxy-s5-back.jpg

The heart-rate monitor was a surprise feature to me. A clear physical change to the back of the phone, you simply need to place your finger over the heart-rate monitor which can be found just below the camera for it to measure your heart rate.

I am not sure how accurate it is, but from the impression of others, I will not recommend using this for things other than casual purposes. It must also be used through S-health, which at least till this point, is still something that I will ignore when using the Galaxy S5.

I ended up using the heart-rate monitor as a groove to place my index finger to have better grip over the phone.

Overall thoughts


It's definitely better than the Galaxy S4. Samsung shows that even as it matures, it will always be fun.

It is a great phone, and one that I will enjoy using over the next couple of months. I appreciate the subtle improvements it has made over the Galaxy S4, but this is 2014, and gimmicks will continue to see its influence over consumers fade.

I see a subtle change in direction in the Galaxy S5, where Samsung is returning back to basics and giving more attention to foundational functions and characteristics instead of just poorly delivering gimmicks.

That being said, gimmicky is something that we now expect from Samsung. A characteristics that they have utilised to make tremendous amounts of money from, the Galaxy S5 is proof that Samsung will continue to be more mature in its design approach, but you will never expect anything less from its fun side.

*A huge complaint: Why is the Samsung Galaxy S5 come with a USB 2.0 cable despite having a USB 3.0 port like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Honestly, I do not know. To save cost could be a potential reason, though one that I find unsatisfying. So if you plan on getting the device, you will have to spend a little more on your own to get the most out of the Galaxy S5