Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Good tweaked design, but new features pointless

Samsung Galaxy S5.

Samsung Galaxy S5.

Rating

4 Stars4/5

Daniel Anderson, ClickOnline.com

, Last Updated: 3:24 PM ET

Samsung's Galaxy S4 was the fastest selling smartphone in the company's history when it landed in 2013, with over 40 million unit sales. So what has it got in store next?

The Galaxy S5 is a device that feels quite content to iterate rather than innovate. From its plastic body to button layout, UI and even most of its basic specs. In fact, new features are few and far between, you'll have to decide for yourself whether they're worthy of an upgrade.

Personally, I like the tweaked design - it feels flatter (and slimmer) with a textured back that's much easier to hold and borrows from the Note 3. It's a very comfortable phone to hold, but its undeniably plastic and a little creaky. If you're fond of the brushed metal of something like the HTC One M8, the S5 simply won't appeal.

The press releases shout from the rooftops about the new fingerprint scanner and heart-rate sensor - they're both basically pointless. You'll be lucky to get the phone to recognize your finger one time in five, giving you plenty of time to enter a password. And getting consistent heart-rate results is a very finicky affair.

These gimmicks are a good illustration of the entire philosophy of the phone - there's just too much stuff here. The S5 wants to track your eye movement, will let you hover your finger over things to preview them and gives you constant tutorial pop-ups.

It's the very opposite of streamlined, especially coming from my personal Nexus 4. Every menu has a sub-menu with dozens of options and potential tweaks. Even something like the camera has more than a page of selections, making things counter-intuitive and unfortunately bloated.

The phone has a definite learning curve, born out of Samsung's belief that users want every possible option available at all times. For a device I'm going to use every single day, accessibility should be the number one priority, bringing me from the lock screen to my destination in the minimal time possible.

But in a way that's the beauty of Android. Samsung has one idea of what you want but install a custom launcher (available from Google Play without the need to hack your phone) and you can tweak to your heart's content.

With these issues out of the way, the phone really starts to come into its own. You can truly appreciate its good features like the bright and detailed 5.1 inch screen. The viewing angle is excellent and colours really pop, while you can reduce the brightness way down if you need to check your texts in the cinema.

The camera is also a delight to use, launching and firing in considerably less than a second. Samsung's new focus system still isn't foolproof but the S5 produces some of the best mobile camera shots I've seen. Images in good light are detailed and sharp, while the macro focusing distance is really a joy to behold.

Low light is a bit more problematic - images taken with the flash are fine (at a close distance) but whacking up the ISO leads to serious noise and doesn't make a massive difference in more challenging conditions. But what are you really expecting from a tiny sensor on a phone that does so many other things.

The S5 also offers genuine 4K video, one of the first mobiles to do so, and the results are exactly what you expect - video at 3,840 x 2,160 and 30fps. It still doesn't deal well with low light and the focus is up to you buts its capable of producing very clear images, though bear in mind you likely won't have a display that can view it fully. There's slow-mo video here too and its far from smooth and doesn't capture audio, plus I had difficulties playing codec back on a PC.

There's also water and dustproof functionality which works provided you keep the cover completely sealed but with no physical shutter button the phone is basically inert underwater. Definite plus points for featuring a removable battery and a microSD slot which works up to a massive 128 GB. And you'll need it because the S5's firmware takes up almost 8 GB of storage, that's half the space on the base 16 gig model.

One feature the company really should be shouting about though is the battery life. Smartphone battery life sucks mightily these days as forms get slimmer and features more fancy but the 2,800 mAh block in the S5 went from 7 a.m. to midnight with moderate use and still had 30% left. That's a truly impressive thing in 2014 and Samsung offers up additional power saving options that go so far as to limit app use and turn the screen grey scale, promising an extra 24 hours on 10% charge.

All in all, I liked the Samsung Galaxy S5. It feels good in the hand and covers off my top bugbears - storage, battery life and camera quality - really well. But there's no denying it's a messy beast out of the box, with endless awkward menus and plenty of features you'll never use or are barely functional. Consider your options before buying.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is available now.


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