|Summary: The most advanced Samsung Galaxy S-series device currently available, the Samsung Galaxy S5 brings a wide range of new, mostly evolutionary features to the product line. Due to a cost higher than many other Android devices, the Samsung Galaxy S5 remains most appealing to the technically focused hobbyist or developer who demands top performance, with access to unique health and UI features.
Intended Market: Technology hobbyists or Android developers who desire some of the most powerful Android-based, larger screened hardware on the market, along with access to Samsung’s unique features and style.
Sub-optimal market: Those persons who would prefer to use a device that integrates with Microsoft or Apple services and devices. Those persons who prefer to have a device that “hides” technical complexity, removing access to less-used features to gain a more streamlines and efficient experience. Users who prefer the largest screens or to use a pen for taking notes would likely be better served by other options, including Samsung’s own Galaxy Note 4 series.
Approximate Retail Price: $600 off contract. ($80 on contract).
Purchase Link: To purchase our specific review unit, please see this eBay Auction: NetWise Life Samsung Galaxy S5 Review Unit Sale. Note, if the auction is unavailable, our review unit has already been purchased.
Unboxing Experience and First Impressions
On first glance, the Samsung galaxy S5 has a more premium build then its most recent predecessor, the Samsung galaxy S4. By eschewing the faux leather stitching of the previous model’s back cover, and including a smoother wrap around bezel, the S5 slightly increases the attractiveness of its build.
However, the overall appearance and feel, due to the overall prevalence of plastic construction materials, is somewhat down-market when compared to other vendors, such as HTC, or Samsung’s own A-series or its Note 4. Conversely, those same plastic construction techniques and materials result in a device that is lighter than many other phones of the same size.
Out of the box, we see that the S5 has a new fingerprint reader, a heart rate monitor, and an enhanced water resistance capability with the application of a USB port cover.
Included in the box is a set of in-ear, noise isolation headphones (standard with all recent Samsung phones), a USB 3 charging and sync cable. Also included is a removable, 2800mah battery that can be replaced with even larger, expanded batteries, resulting in run times approaching 3-4 days of constant use at full power.
In Daily Life
Set up of the device took some time, as the Google and Samsung mechanisms to restore my account login information for email and calendaring were somewhat ineffectual. In addition, I needed to enter the extremely large 30+ character password for our NetWise Life Google account into the phone twice to make it work with our Google account. This is mostly due to our use of two factor authentication security to prevent the “bad guys” from being able to access our account even with that password (highly recommended – please see a forthcoming article from our friends at NetDefend Consulting for more information). That said, it would have been nice to only need to enter that password once. There were multiple steps and screens that needed to be passed through, including ones for Verizon’s own proprietary services that are pre-installed on the phone. These pre-installed apps, often called “bloatware” by fans of a more clean Android experience, can cause user confusion and do take up extra memory on the phone. That said, many users do find them to be valuable.
Once set up, I was able to install my apps to the phone fairly easily through the Google Play store. In fact, the ease with which I installed apps was greater than on the Apple iPhone, if only because I could set the store to NOT require a password every time I purchased an app. This can become tiresome on iOS devices, so having the ability on Android to avoid extra step was pleasant. As I did not share my phone with others who enjoying purchasing apps will abandon, this was not a concern to me. For those of you with children who share your devices, you may wish to keep the option active to require a password to purchase apps from the Google Play Store.
I kept the phone with me as my primary phone for over four months, using it for everything from tap-to-pay purchases through Google Wallet and Softcard (formerly ISIS), to standard emails and calendaring, to playing light games such as Solitare and Minecraft, to web browsing, and note taking. Even a few phone calls and texts were made every now and then.
My daily routine looked like this:
- I would remove the phone from the wireless QI charging stand that was placed on my nightstand and check the weather forecast for the day, using either the built-in weather app or Accuweather.
- After that, I would proceed through my morning routine and then go to work.
- The phone would stay synchronized with my car’s Bluetooth radio on the way to work, enabling me to receive phone calls if necessary.
- After arriving at work, the phone would be set aside until I took a 10 minute break to review emails, Facebook, or the news.
- Later in the day, during lunch, I would often bring the phone with me, purchasing my meal at McDonald’s through Google Wallet and then checking the news and special interest articles while I ate. I did try ISIS (a.k.a. SoftCard), but found it to be an unfriendly app that restricted credit cards to being used on only one phone at a time, which is problematic for my specific use case where I have multiple phones active at once.
- In the afternoons, I would sometimes stream music through Pandora or Spotify through headphones for around an hour or two when I needed to focus.
- At the end of the work day, I would check commute times through Google Now and then head home.
- After reaching home and having dinner, I would sometimes use the phone to write notes and bits of various articles for NetWise Life.
- After getting into bed, I would place the phone on the QI charging stand on my nightstand, usually with around 20-30% charge remaining.
During this time, it became apparent that the phone was a capable phone, but when pushed hard, especially through music streaming or a significant number of apps updating, the battery life would suffer, going down below 6 hours under heavy use. At this time, it was appreciated that the phone has user replaceable batteries that can be replaced with extended batteries with up to 8500mAh of capacity (enabling around 2-3 days of hard use).
In addition, as with all Android phones, I found the differences in function placement between apps from different manufacturers to be somewhat jarring, increasing the difficulty with which I was able to become familiar with new apps. From time to time, I was impacted by performance issues, and stuttering of the UI, which I will cover in the “Cons” section of this review.
Speed and Performance – What’s It Like Under The Hood?
The Samsung Galaxy S5, released in April 2014, remains one of the more powerful handsets currently available on the market: easily capable of running applications that run the gamut from demanding interactive games to professional line of business applications. For those readers who are interested in technical specifications, the Galaxy S5 uses a Quad-core 2.5 GHz Krait 400 CPU, with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset, along with 2 GB of RAM. Effectively, this means that, for the next couple of years, those who prefer an Android / Samsung combination, will find the performance of this phone, compared to other Android phones, to be more than sufficient.
That said, there are certain performance quirks with Android, mostly related to the underlying foundations of the Android OS itself, that can cause any Android device to exhibit certain erratic performance tendencies: erratic, temporary slowdowns, sporadic “jerkiness” in the user interface, and more. Thus, those people who are not familiar with these oddities of Android may find these performance hitches to be unexpected and jarring. This will ideally be corrected with the release of Android “L” (a.k.a. “Lollipop”), which will use a more modern, streamlined, and powerful engine, called “ART”, to run the Android OS and applications.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 supports a wide range of connectivity options to push information in and out of the phone, including USB 3, micro-SD card support, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, 802.11n, and cellular network connectivity via 2G/3G/4G/LTE. Now, what do all of those technical buzzwords mean to you? Here’s a quick run-down:
- USB 3: a much faster means of sending information, such as movies, TV shows, music, and more back and forth between your computer and this phone. Most modern computers support this standard, enabling large files, such as the aforementioned video and music files, to be sent to the phone up to 3-5 times faster in real world testing than with phones that use the previous USB 2 connection.
- Micro-SD support: for when the size of stored music, videos, and apps becomes so large that the phone cannot save any additional content, the user can use a small, removable storage chip to add up to 3 times the previous storage capacity present out of the box in the Samsung Galaxy S5.
- NFC: a very short range, wireless communication standard capable of sending and receiving small amounts of information between either devices or devices and small tags that may be placed on other physical objects. By using this standard, the Samsung galaxy S5 will enable convenience features, such as tapping the phone on a small sticker on your car’s dashboard to activate in car mode and a navigation app, or perhaps tapping the back of one phone to another to enable the transfer of business card information. In addition, support for Tap-and-Pay mobile payments for Google Wallet and SoftCard is accomplished using NFC.
- Bluetooth 4.0 LE: many people are familiar with the advantages of Bluetooth, such as connecting to in car stereos to allow for hands-free operation or working with an ear-based Bluetooth headset. However, in the case of the most recent version of Bluetooth, version 4.0 “Low Energy”, even more uses may be found. For example, phones with Bluetooth 4.0 LE may connect to fitness devices and smartwatches, such as the FitBit One, or smart tags (e.g. “Tile”) enabling people to locate lost items such as key rings.
- 802.11n: This wireless networking standard enables devices to communicate with the broader internet, or your computer at home much more rapidly than older, slower standards, such as 802.11b or 802.11g. This can enable the much faster download of music, apps, and videos to your phone.
- CDMA/3G/4G LTE or 2/3/4G/LTE Cellular Connectivity: By supporting a wide range of cell phone connectivity, the Samsung Galaxy S5 has the ability to communicate in a broad range of areas that remain on older, slower cell phone standards. Similarly, by supporting the much newer LTE standard, in areas where your cell phone carrier, such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint, have implemented “4G LTE”, the S5 will be able to stream videos and music, while downloading apps rapidly. In tests that were performed throughout the 145 day period that this phone was in use, we found that the S5 performed well in speed tests, averaging similar speeds to other LTE devices on the same carrier network (Verizon). However, we were able to determine that the phone’s ability to pull in marginal signals was slightly higher than that of other Verizon phones, such as the Nokia Lumia Icon. This means that, at least on Verizon, users of the Samsung Galaxy S5 will have a slightly easier time of maintaining a connection.
Aside from enhanced performance and improved battery life, there are several new features that Samsung added in to this generation of their Galaxy S series of phones, including:
- A fingerprint sensor, which is capable of unlocking the phone with a swipe of your finger. Unfortunately, while it is around 98% accurate in our testing over four months, it does require a careful swipe of the finger, rather than a direct, static placement of the finger on the device, as the Apple iPhone allows. This means that one-handed unlocking of the phone with a fingerprint is extremely difficult with the Samsung Galaxy S5. In other words, the iPhone Touch ID sensor allows you to just rest your thumb on the sensor, causing the phone to unlock, while the Galaxy S5 requires the user to hold the device with one hand while sliding a finger on the user’s other hand down the home button / sensor.
- A heart rate monitor, which allows the user of an S5 to test their heart rate on a regular basis, uploading that data into S-Health for synchronization with other Samsung phones and third party applications. During our testing we found the heart rate measurements to be accurate to within 10% of actual heart rate measurements.
- Improved water resistance (IP67), which according to tests can keep the Samsung GS5 functional even after being dropped in a few feet of water for up to 30 minutes. This enhancement is best evidenced by observing the new USB port cover on the bottom of the phone that seals the phone’s USB port.
- Ultra Power Saving Mode, which gives the Samsung GS5 significantly improved battery life at the cost of most of the phone’s functionality and speed. In our tests we were able to obtain close to 12 days of battery life on a full charge with Ultra Power Saving Mode enabled, while we were able to operate for about a day and a half with around 10% charge.
Other Major Features
Samsung has always been well known as a phone manufacturer that adds a lot of additional hardware and software functions into their devices to make themselves stand out amongst strenuous competition in the Android handset market. The Galaxy S5 is no exception to this rule. In addition to its new features mentioned previously, the S5 comes with a number of software and hardware features that are common to all of Samsung’s Galaxy series of Android-powered phones. Here are a few of those capabilities:
- QI wireless charging: This is an optional feature that is enabled by purchasing a replacement back cover for the phone or a wireless S-View case. These QI wireless charging covers contain a metal coil that reacts with another coil in a charging plate, causing electricity to be delivered to the phone without the need to connect any cables. While charging with the QI wireless charging system is only about half as fast as charging with a cable, the phone was able to reach full charge within 4-6 hours overnight. Two key benefits of course are the speed and convenience of not needing to attach and detach the device from a cable while using the phone. Another significant positive is the reduction in repetitive wear on the micro-USB connector on the phone and cable; micro-USB connectors are quite fragile, lasting for many fewer insertions and removals as compared to more solidly designed connectors, such as Apple’s lightning connector.
- S-View Folio Cases: Most Samsung phones offer the option of using a style of folio case with a clear, plastic window on the front, exposing a portion of the front screen. The plastic window is conductive, allowing for keypress interactions through a closed folio cover. This has advantages in both screen protection, allowing a user to keep their phone’s cover closed more often, while allowing for interaction, such as answering phone calls, to occur in a more rapid fashion than might occur if the user needed to manually open the phone’s cover each time.
- SmartStay and other Software UI Features: Over the past few years, Samsung has continued to refine their TouchWiz proprietary layer that sits on top of Android: a layer that not only changes the look and feel of the interface of their devices, but also provides a number of additional features. Included in these features are items such as these:
- SmartStay, which detects the user glancing at the screen and keeps the device from timing out while the user is actively looking at the device’s screen.
- Automatic dial, which dials the displayed contact if the user takes their phone and places it to their ear.
- SmartSwipe: which allows the user to perform a screen capture by swiping their hand above the screen from one side to the other.
- Please note that there are a number of other additional features that TouchWiz provides, features that are too numerous to list in this article.
Battery Life: in normal mode, battery life is an acceptable 6-7 hours under load. With the use of normal power saving mode, the battery life increases by about 15%, for a substantial performance penality. On the other hand for an even larger decrease in performance, along with a dramatic reduction in features, switch to black and white screen colors, etc. Ultra Power Saving mode, new in the S5, will produce up to 12 days of battery life on a full battery, with about a day on 10% battery.
Erratic Performance (Android OS): When under consistent use, but not under a heavy load of apps, the device would exhibit sporadic stutters and “jerkiness” in the UI, giving a less than professional appearance.
High Comparative Cost: More expensive than other, equivalently powered Android phones.
Chaotic UI standards (Android OS): Android app developers do not regularly adhere to a common set of UI guidelines. This can cause confusion and difficulty for users learning new apps.
Slow and Sporadic Updates (Android OS): The haphazard and convoluted path by which Android updates are promulgated to users results in higher security risks and delays in obtaining new features.
The following are a selection of pros and cons associated with this device. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to provide a sampling of the more significant strengths and weaknesses of this specific smartphone.
Effective tap to pay system with Google Wallet
S-View Case with Wireless Charging
The ability to quickly see screen notifications and interact with them, while at the same time allowing for wireless charging can be a convenient option for some users.
This advantage is held in common among all Android smartphones, allowing Android users to adjust many more settings of the phone than users of other platforms, including Windows Phone, iOS, or Blackberry. Key for developers of Android apps and technology hobbyists, this customizability extends to enabling, with varying levels of difficulty, the user to “root” his phone and obtain extremely low level access to the phone’s internals. Finally, this level of customization even allows for users, again with varying levels of difficulty, replace the stock Android OS on the phone with highly customized OS versions, known as ROMs, providing the ultimate in phone “hot rod” modifications.
High comparative cost
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is more expensive than other, comparable flagship phones from vendors such as HTC and LG. As such, unless a person is specifically attracted to the Samsung ecosystem of services and apps, as well as the few unique UI (e.g. smart stay) and health features, the differential may be hard to justify.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is unfortunately hampered by a common difficulty faced by many Android manufacturers: sporadic performance issues. For example, opening apps can sometimes result in slowness and/or “jerkiness” in the UI, while even scrolling through the UI of the settings page after turning the device on can result in unsightly UI jerks. The overall visual impression is of a chaotic and unstable platform. There have been some comments from Google that these issues with performance instability will be addressed with the upcoming release of Android version “L” (a.k.a. Lollipop), which will use a new backend engine design, called “ART”, for apps that may increase overall speed.
Chaotic UI Standards
Android app developers do not regularly adhere to a common set of UI guidelines. This means that color schemes, icon appearances, and placement of similar functions differs from developer to developer, and even from vendor to vendor or model to model of the same vendor’s phones. This may be addressed with the newer UI design standards called, “Material Design”, present in Android “L”, lollipop.
Slow, restricted, and convoluted access to updates
Much has been written about the difficulty of updating Android devices in past.
In summary, when looking at the process of how patches and updates for Android are distributed, we come to realize that the convoluted path by which Android updates must travel (how they promulgate) causes systemic issues for Android users: getting updates is a slow, and never guaranteed process.
While some may see this as an oversimplification, most users of Android would agree that Android devices in general tend to appeal to two separate, and somewhat contradictory markets: cost-conscious smartphone buyers who desire to use a large number of apps, video, and music features, and more technically savvy, but less price sensitive, programmers and hobbyists who desire the most powerful devices that give those users the ability to customize and tweak their handsets to fit their unique needs. We will cover this overall in more detail in our forthcoming mobile OS platform comparison, however, in summary Android tends to appeal to two ends of the spectrum.
After digesting this information, is becomes apparent that the Samsung Galaxy S5 is primarily targeted to a specific market of users; users identifiable through specific characteristics. As such, if a prospective user of the Samsung Galaxy S5 matches two or more of the following characteristics, this device may be a good fit:
- Is above 5’2-4″ in height, with a thumb length of greater than 2.2-2.4″, or who does not mind holding the device with two hands.
- Is a technology hobbyist or programmer desiring access to the deep internals of the handset to perform significant levels of customization.
- Is tied to the Google ecosystem of services and apps, such as Gmail, Google Now, and Google Voice.
- Desires access to heart rate monitoring and step tracking which, although limited, can provide a window into the general health level of the user.
- Is not particularly price sensitive.
Just as the Samsung Galaxy S5 is targeted to users with a specific lifestyle, so to is there a category of users for whom the S5 is not the most appropriate handset.
Thus, users who match two or more of the following characteristics may find this device to be a less than perfect fit for their lifestyles:
- Users who are under 5’2″ in height with a thumb length of less than 2.2″ and who do not desire to hold their device with two hands.
- Users who desire a streamlined, consistent user experience more than access to deep levels of customization. These are users who value stability and simplicity, even at the cost of eliminating less commonly used settings and features.
- Users who are extremely price sensitive; these persons would be better served by other Android devices, or older, still capable Samsung Galaxy models, such as the Galaxy S4.
- Users who either work in security-focused organizations, or who are concerned about the timeliness of security patches that must make their way through the multiple layers of the Android OS update process.
Given all of this information, we can come to a broad conclusion about the lifestyle and type of user for whom this device would be a good fit. This particular device, due to its substantial price premium, significant processing power, and raft of premium features, tends to appeal to those technology hobbyists or developers who desire a powerful, premium experience with customizability to spare.
Thank you for reading this review of the Samsung Galaxy S5. For a quick video analysis of this device, please take a look at our Mentor Minute, just posted for this phone. Please subscribe to our YouTube feed as well. In addition, if you are interested, we will be selling this device through eBay in the next few weeks. For a link to this auction, please see the link that will be posted at the top of this article.
Thank you again, and have a Wise Day!