Samsung Galaxy S5 User Review

* This device is a loaned review unit from Samsung Malaysia Electronics*

I cannot apologise enough for the lack of blog updates for over 1.5 months. If you follow me on social media like Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or Google+ though, you’d see that I continued to share tech news and review gadgets on those channels.

About a month ago, one of the gadgets I got to review is the flagship Samsung Galaxy S5, thanks to Samsung Mobile Malaysia.

While the flagship S5 was actually launched much earlier this year in Malaysia in April 2014, due to the overwhelming media response and limited review units going around, this small time blogger here only got around to getting her hands on it in mid July, a good 3 months later!

Well, better late than never, right?

See Also : Samsung Galaxy S5 Launched in Malaysia

GALAXY S5

In case you’re still contemplating if you should get the Samsung Galaxy S5, but not sure if there are other brand of flagship smartphones you should consider. Or if you’re worried that Samsung will be releasing the next Samsung Galaxy S6 or another flagship / high end Samsung phone, like Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (rumoured to be announced on 3 Sept 2014) or metal framed Samsung Galaxy Alpha (just announced a couple of days ago)….

Let me walk you through my review of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and how it fared in my day-to-day use in the 2 weeks as my primary device.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFTbDeeNaIo

But first, here’s a high level technical specs overview of the Samsung Galaxy S5:-

  • 5.1” FHD Super AMOLED display (1920 x 1080)(432 ppi)
  • 2.5 GHz quad-core processor
  • 16 GB internal storage (expandable microSD up to 128 GB) + 2 GB RAM
  • Powered by latest Android 4.4 “Kit Kat” OS (with Samsung TouchWiz UI)
  • 16 megapixel rear camera (with HDR), 2 megapixel wide angle lens front facing camera
  • 8.1 mm thin, weighing only 145 grams
  • 2,800 mAH removable battery
  • Connectivity : 4G LTE/3G HSPA+, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, USB 3.0, IR (Infrared) remote
  • Available in 4 colours : Charcoal Black, Shimmery White, Electric Blue and Copper Gold

For more information, check out the Samsung Galaxy S5 Malaysian product page HERE.

 

Hardware – Design & Build Quality

OK. Honestly. If you were a little interested or intrigued with the S5 at all, chances are, you’ve seen enough press photos, perhaps even played with one that belonged to a friend, or went to the shops to fiddle with it personally by now. So, this section here would really be a little redundant, in my opinion.

Nevertheless, a review is a review and I’m just gonna give you the facts and my take on it.

First, the unboxing…

Samsung Galaxy S5 Unboxing
Unboxing the Samsung Galaxy S5

The box packaging for the latest Samsung flagship looks just like the S4 and every other iteration of Samsung smartphones after that. The faux wood grain design on a plain cardboard box, with the respective logos, specs and information. Inside the box, I find the smartphone itself, a 3 pin charger and USB to microUSB charger/sync cable.

Assuming I see limited items in the box because I hold a review unit – the production / commercial unit would very likely include more items such as standard headphones, user manual, warranties etc. Nevertheless, no real big surprise here.

See Also : Samsung Galaxy S4 User Review

Samsung Galaxy S5 - Front & Back
Front & Back of the Samsung Galaxy S5

The S5 looks almost identical to its older brother, the Samsung Galaxu S4. In fact, it looks just like any other Samsung smartphones. In the front, the 5.1″ screen is only 0.1″ bigger than the S4. The corners are a lot rounder, and the front houses nothing but the Samsung logo at the top and the only physical “Home” button at the bottom.

You can’t see it so much here (and I forgot to snap a picture of this) is that the capacitive touchscreen buttons next to the Home button have changed slightly. The “Back” button is still on the right. But the left capacitive button is now the “Multi-Tasking” button and not the “Menu” button as with other previous devices.

And yes, that;s a nice 5.1″ Super AMOLED screen. Of course, for a flagship Samsung device, you wouldn’t accept anything less.

Samsung Galaxy S5 - Back pattern
A change of design,pattern and material back here

At the back of the device, to the delight of a many is that Samsung has changed the design and the material. It’s no longer the flimsy plastic removable backplate. Well, it’s still a somewhat flimsy backplate, but it’s now rubberized texture. Supposedly designed to give you better grip, I see a lot of my friends still slapping on phone cases like flip covers, so it can get quite redundant. Also, the fact that when this was announced, a lot of media sites and tech bloggers call this pattern “band-aid”.

I didn’t think it was that bad. I also didn’t think it was that great either. It’s something different. But no biggie.

Samsung Galaxy S5 - Hardware & Ports

Looking around the phone, you see the usual suspects. Power On/Off button on the right side, top half of the the side, which thankfully allows easy access for single handed use. Volume rocker on the left side, not underneath the Power button on the same side. Hmmm… Headphone jack at the top, USB charging port at the bottom, hidden by a flap. Yup, a flap.

Samsung Galaxy S5 - Port flaps

Why? In case you didn’t know, the S5 is not a waterproof smartphone. To do this, you get flaps to stop water from getting into the ports. Unfortunately though, the flap seems flimsy and with long term use, looks like it will not function too well to keep water out. It already looked iffy in my review, that prevented me from really dunking the phone in water for a photo shoot. So, no underwater shots for this review. Sorry.

But here’s a quick video ad from Samsung Mobile on the waterproof and dustproof feature….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygHwsG-FZ-A

If you look carefully at the last “Bottom” labeled picture above, you’d notice that the backplate didn’t seem completely flushed or closed properly. Well, it wasn’t.

Samsung Galaxy S5 - Removable backplate

As mentioned, still the same flimsy backplate, in my opinion. Remove it and you get access to the removable battery pack. The micro SIM and microSD slot are on top of each other on the same slot. Interesting why Samsung needed to save space like that?!

Overall, in hand, the S5 feels nice. It is light, at 145 grams, I’ll give you that. Mostly because, even with the slight change of backplate etc, the phone still feels cheap and plasticky as the S4 and Note series phones. As I said this before and I’ll say it again – with so many other manufacturers producing smartphones with much premium materials like glass and metal, Samsung really need to up their game here.  While plastic is the material of choice because they said it allows them to release devices faster to market, I think consumers are spoilt for choice these days.

We like premium phones. Especially when we pay north of RM 2,000 for a high end smartphone that we use everyday for literally everything.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha, which was announced a few days back may have a metal frame, but the back still look plasticky and nothing much seems to have changed, in my opinion. But I digress.

Hardware wise, I am a little disappointed here with the Samsung Galaxy S5.

 

Software and Features Overview

The software and features here is likely where we kinda expect Samsung to shine.  Over the years, Samsung has created so many interesting features to top up from the Android experience, which includes better camera and phone imaging features, cool motion gestures and more. With the S5, Health and Fitness takes over with the emphasis on S-Health. More on this later.

SGS5 - Menu Navigation

The S5 runs on the latest Android 4.4 “KitKat” OS, of course. This includes Samsung’s proprietary skin and theme called TouchWiz on top to make the phone more “Samsung” and usable. Over the years, Samsung just kept adding more features and functions to it. With S4, it got to a point that it was so bloated with too many unnecessary and gimmicky features that, in my opinion started slowing down the performance of the phone.

With S5, well, the features are mostly still there. Samsung has, fortunately, started to optimise the performance of the navigation and speed of the phone. Menu are slightly cleaner and these “gimmicky” features are a lot more hidden in the menu settings.

SGS5 - Settings

Some not as well hidden as it should be. Evident from the Notification Shade, for the settings toggle icons. It shows you a few quick toggles, for the usual WiFi, Sound/Vibration, Bluetooth. Then, you can click for more and the screen fills with more icon for one-click toggles. A little overkill, I believe.

Even the Settings menu includes more customization and personalization. With so many added features, the menu is no longer a one page scroll of the usual settings as per other Android phones. Samsung allows options for you to adjust the view of the Settings menu. You can choose between a one-page “List” view, icon based “Grid” view or “Tab” view of different settings based on their respective categories. It can get overwhelming for the newbies.

SGS5 - Quick Connect

Included in the Notification Shade, there’s a button for “Quick Connect” which is basically a new feature that allows you to connect the S5 with other devices to share  media, files and contact card. For example, you can share files with another friend, share your screen with a Smart TV at home, or just beam your business card at a conference. I didn’t really get a chance to test this feature fully, but I can see how this can be handy.

SGS5 - Setting & Hidden features

All the killer features from S4 and Note 3 and accumulated over the year of Samsung devices? Well, as I said, it’s cleaner in navigation, but it’s all still there.

“Motions and Gestures” are still there – turn on/off the function to swipe the screen or wave your hand in front of the screen or shake the device for some functions. Then, there’s also “Air View” which basically allows preview of some info by hovering your finger over a date on a calendar to view your appointments, for example. I tested some of these features before.

They didn’t work 100% of the time, may be handy feature for some people, but mostly just gimmicky for me, and I almost never use them in day to day. For the average Joe with these Samsung devices with all these bells and whistles, and I met a number of them, most people don’t even know that their Samsung devices can do all these!!!

Yet – Samsung still continued to include them all in their new smartphones, and kinda didn’t spend much time educating people about activating and using these features. Wasted opportunity, I believe.

See Also : Samsung Galaxy Note 3 User Review

SGS5 - Homescreen shortcuts to features

This time round, with the S5, Samsung wants to highlight other new features and services instead. This is quite evident with the shortcut banners placed on its homescreen. You’ll see focus on S-Health, which was prominently highlighted in the S5 global launch event as well. There’s also Geo News which gives you local news, Galaxy Essentials which points you to the Samsung Galaxy Apps store for their highlighted apps, and Galaxy Gifts, which allows you to download some top apps that are usually paid, but offered FREE.

SGS5 - Samsung Galaxy Apps

While most Android folks would know to download apps from the Google Play Store, the existence of Samsung’s Galaxy App store is a little redundant as well. This is Samsung trying to highlight some other apps that they’ve worked with some developers and trying to be a self sustaining ecosystem outside of Google. In fact, Samsung’s growth and focus on their own service and app store and more, makes Google a little nervous sometimes.

SGS5 - My Magazine

The other addition that Samsung has included with the S5 was also present in their recent tablet line-up – My Magazine. It’s almost like HTC BlinkFeed equivalent, but Samsung worked with Flipboard and brought you their own branded version of magazine and news feed in a grid styled layout, much like Flipboard.

I don’t understand why they needed to include this and not just use Flipboard. Anyways, you can of course, customise the feed as you wish, select what category of news you’d like from business News, Sports News, Tech News and many more. To access the “My Magazine” feed, you just need to swipe all the way to the left on the homescreen. Much like HTC BlinkFeed as well. With this properly customized, I find myself checking this regularly, as I did with HTC BlinkFeed, for quick view of the latest headline for the day.

Overall, if you can easily ignore the fact that most of the features and gimmicks are buried under the Settings menu for now, the good news is that the speed and performance from a day-to-day navigation perspective is not that affected at all.

In fact, with the crazy 2.5 GHz octa-core processor, the phone is rather zippy and fast.

Navigating from one app to another, swiping through screens, and accessing multi-tasking menu are fast and smooth on the S5. This is much welcomed improvement and optimization and you wouldn’t expect any less from a flagship phone from one the largest phone manufacturer in the world.

For more information on the highlighted key features, check out the Malaysian product page for Samsung Galaxy S5 at http://www.samsung.com/my/consumer/mobile-devices/smartphone/android-os/SM-G900FZDAXME-features

 

Camera & Image Quality

Samsung Galaxy S5 - Rear Camera
16 megapixel rear shooter that handles HDR photography

Samsung has not disappointed with their rear camera in the past devices I’ve used. This time round, they pack a 16 megapixel shooter with a flash. From what I remember with the S4, I was impressed with the shutter speed, image quality and other cool features. From Beauty Mode to instantly beautify portraits, Dual Capture for pictures using both front and rear camera and other cool HDR and panoramic functions.

The LED Flash also doubles up as a Heart Rate Sensor when you place your finger on it.

I’ll cover more on S Health and all the fitness functions in my follow up review post on the Gear 2 smartwatch and the Gear Fit fitness band.

Back to the camera, I found one little annoyance….

SGS5 - Slow Camera Speed

The shutter speed is really slow with the S5 on Auto Mode. While in Samsung’s Marketing materials, “Fast Auto-Focus” is highlighted as one of the key features, the slow down in shutter speed from the point of tapping on the on-screen capture button to the point the image is taken takes a few seconds…. Yes, a few seconds!

Obviously, the camera app is set to “Auto” mode by default. That is the usual setting that I leave in most of my smartphone photography. With the previous S4, Samsung promoted their zero shutter lag when capturing photos. Now, it’s a different story.

I don’t know if it’s because they’ve added more functions to the camera app, but snapping a picture on Auto mode, especially when it’s not in the brightest lighting condition, takes a few seconds. As you can see in the screenshot above, the loading bar kept going on the Capture button, and the text to hold my device steady. This troubles me a lot. I started investigating if I had any Image Stabilization mode on, or if some feature was turned on by default that’s slowing down the shutter speed. Yes, a lot of them were turned on by default. 🙁

I am rather disappointed in this. Especially, when Samsung included a quick swipe shortcut on the Lock Screen to allow you to access your camera and skipping the unlocking password. A few times when I whipped out my phone to capture a moment, by the time the image snapped, it was a little too late. And it doesn’t handle action shots very well in the Auto mode.

SGS5 - Camera app

So, I delved deeper into the settings on the camera app.

Much like the Settings toggle on the Notification Shade, when you click on the settings menu, you see a whole bunch of icons filling up the screen. There’s an icon for almost every imaginable scenario – Image Size, Burst shot, Image Stabilization, HDR, Timer, Flash, etc. So many features!!!

Past features that I love are still there. Hehe.

SGS5 - Selective Focus Fail

“Selective Focus” has been the killer camera feature that a lot of phone manufacturers are selling these days. It basically allows you to toggle with the object in focus, whether it’s on the foreground or background, and blurs the rest. Essentially giving you control of the image’s depth of field. HTC has “UFocus” on the HTC One (M8) using their new dual camera. Sony Xperia Z2 has the same feature, too (review coming soon).

Unfortunately though, as with HTC as well, the selective focus don’t work too well under low / poor lighting conditions.

See Also : HTC One (M8) User Review

Nevertheless, I snapped some pictures with the Samsung Galaxy S5 camera and here are some sample images. Images are unedited and not resized, so click to view original enlarged version:-

 

Samsung has indeed packed a lot of features and functions into their camera app and technology.  Much like how they’ve done the same to the overall feature set of the phone. From a camera perspective, the images shot are generally good. Even the front facing “selfie” camera seems to perform quite well.

There are unfortunately a few misses here – slow shutter speed (what happened to the zero shutter lag?), poor low light auto-focus (it really struggles here), macro or close up shots (the camera just wouldn’t seem to focus when I try to shoot the close up of my doggie). In perfect lighting condition though, the camera performs well and images are nice and crisp. Then again, in broad daylight and static objects, almost every camera performs well.

 

Battery Life

Samsung Galaxy S5 Review - Battery Life

In about 2 weeks of using the S5 as my primary phone, I came away rather impressed with the battery life.

I can easily last a full day of moderate to heavy use and still have enough juice left when I retire at night.

Samsung packed a healthy 2,800 mAh removable battery in the Samsung Galaxy S5. Removable batteries are very rare these days in a lot of smartphone  manufacturers’ quest to keep the device as slim as possible. So it was really great that Samsung continued to keep this option in their flagships. There’s something really assuring about this, especially with shoddy batteries in smartphones these days.

As technology progressed and smartphones gets more and more advanced, smartphone batteries seem to have stagnated in development and evolution. Am I right?

In case you’re a heavy user, not one to carry a spare battery or external power bank around, Samsung has also included excellent Power Saving mode in their Settings Menu.

You can toggle this feature on/off as with most features, but there are a lot more settings and adjustments you can do to this app.

  • Disabling background data – when your phone is not constantly enabling data to sync your Twitter feed, checking emails etc in the background, you’ll be amazed how much battery juice you save
  • Greyscale mode – turns your phone into a black and white greyscale screen. No vibrant multi-colours, less battery usage
  • Ultra Power Saving Mode – turns off pretty much everything but the most basic of phone functions. You can only access phone dialer for calls, SMS messaging etc. No funky smartphone features, no funky Super AMOLED colour screen. Just enough to last you in case you need to make an emergency call. Brilliant!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6vgJYlcINw

These different modes allow you options depending on how long you want to prolong your battery life. Whether just for another hour or so until you get home to your charger, or you’re lost in a jungle somewhere with no power in sight, but want to keep your phone alive in case you get enough signal to make that emergency phone call.

SGS5 - Power Saving Mode

Most manufacturers these days know how important it is to optimize the battery performance on their smartphones. Samsung’s Power Saving Mode is one good example of great deployment to ensure you get the best of your smartphone battery to last you more than a day, where needed.

The other good example of battery saving feature is seen on the Sony Xperia devices with their “Stamina Mode” as I’ve highlighted before in my Sony Xperia Z1 review.

See Also : Sony Xperia Z1 User Review

Kudos to Samsung for making this an amazing feature with several different modes and options.

 

Pricing & Availability

Samsung Galaxy S5 has been on sale in the Malaysian market since 11 April 2014 at a Recommended Retail Price (RRP) of RM 2,399 at authorised Samsung dealers, as well as with these telco plans:-

  • Maxis plans with device from RM 1,199 OR monthly fee from RM 78 / month HERE
  • Celcom plans with device from RM 288 OR monthly fee from RM 88 / month HERE
  • DiGi plans with device from RM 799 OR monthly fee from RM 73 / month HERE
  • U Mobile plans with device from RM 999 OR monthly fee from RM 58 / month HERE

 

Conclusion

Samsung Galaxy S5 - in hand

I really want to like the Samsung Galaxy S5 – especially since we all know the millions of Samsung Galaxy S series that the Korean manufacturer keeps selling all over the world like hot cakes.

I see why a lot of people chose to get this smartphone though, but in my personal opinion, as I compare this with its older brother, the Samsung Galaxy S4, I feel like there’s only really very minor evolution to this flagship Android smartphone. I wish Samsung did more. No, scratch that! I wish Samsung did a reinvention or an innovation somewhere with  their flagship.

With other stronger competition like HTC, LG, Sony and even the affordable Chinese brands (hello, Xiaomi), I think Samsung needs to do something major and different. We all know what to expect out of Samsung now. They need to wow us. Some crazy design, some out of the world feature? Enough bloatware and gimmicky features already. Find ONE killer feature and focus on doing it really well.

From what I see, Samsung has chosen the Health and Fitness route to focus on with the S5 this time round.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 here is released along with the renewed Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch and another complementary Samsung Gear Fit fitness band. They build S Health, an app with an entire ecosystem for fitness programs, pedometers, heart rate sensors, and so much more. Even the rear flash on this S5 has a heart rate sensor.

I didn’t touch much on this S Health app / service in this review. I’ve used the S5 alongside the Gear 2 and Gear Fit, which I feel gives the best all round experience when paired with the S5. So, I’ll reserve that for a follow up review post coming soon after this post.

Just the S5 as a smartphone though, I did enjoy my time using it as my primary phone while I had it. Here’s a quick likes and dislikes pointers.

What I Like

  • Waterproof and Dustproof – Almost a default requirement these days
  • Ultra Power Saving Modes – many options and modes to choose from
  • My Magazine – Great for quick glances of latest headlines, a swipe away from the homescreen

What I Dislike

  • Slow camera shutter speed – Fast auto-focus and bloated feature slowed the app down too much
  • Flimsy flaps for ports – It’s easy to miss closing the flap properly, rendering the waterproofing useless
  • Still too many bloatware – too many features. It’s buried, but they’re all still there and confusing people

Would I recommend you buy the Samsung Galaxy S5?

Overall, in star rating out of 5 stars, I would really only give the Samsung Galaxy S5 a 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.

While it’s a good phone, it’s no longer ground breaking or competitive in the market of so much more impressive flagship smartphones at equal or cheaper price tags. Samsung seriously needs to step it up!

If you’re used to Samsung phones and want to upgrade to another one and still be familiar with the user interface, menu navigation, features and functions, then yeah – go ahead. For waterproof flagship smartphones, this is a strong contender. Already, I know Samsung is selling millions of this device already.

If you’re a fitness freak, then hell yeah – get the S5 along with the Gear 2 smartwatch or the Gear Fit fitness band. It will make your fitness tracking so much more fun and useful. Then again, let’s reserve all these judgement until you read my follow up review post of those complementary devices, right?

NEXT : Samsung Gear 2 and Gear Fit User Review

How many of you or your friends got this Samsung Galaxy S5 already? How many of you still contemplating if you should get it?

 

 

For more information, visit Samsung Malaysia website at http://www.samsung.com/my/home and *LIKE* Samsung Mobile Malaysia Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/samsungmobilemalaysia