updated 12:33 pm EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Newest Galaxy-series offering from Samsung examined
Samsung has been standing atop the hill of Android phones for some time now with its Galaxy line. Other manufacturers like HTC and Motorola have briefly held the crown, but Samsung always seems to find a way to yank it back with new features, ease of use and simple design. The newest in the line, the Galaxy S5, looks to push Samsung towards the top of the pile again. But what kind of features can you look forward to in the new Galaxy S5, and is it capable of competing head-to-head with Apple's iPhone 5s?
Much like its predecessors, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a commanding phone at first glance. The new 5.1-inch AMOLED screen stands out, as it is amazingly crisp and clear, creating a true 1080p HD experience in your hand. A perk to go along with the AMOLED is how the brightness levels of the phone will adjust based on the light in the room or content on the screen. It will adjust saturation levels in photos and videos as well. By default the pictures appear a little over saturated, but it is a large step towards proper color palettes on a handheld device.
The design cues of the phone offer a slimmed-down, almost plain-looking phone. It has the rounded corners as the previous Galaxy phone, but it feels somewhat more refined -- as if the edges were taken to a more pleasing angle. The back of the phone contains a dimpled cover that looks awkward at first, but is actually comfortable to hold onto. The matte finish helps to hide fingerprints or smudges.
Buttons on the phone are in the expected place for Samsung devices. Volume controls are toward the top on the left side. The power button on the right sits about a quarter of the way from the top. The 3.5mm headphone jack sits on the top right, while an IR emitter is on the left. The physical home button on the phone is more pronounced than with other generations, with its silver bezel that sits slightly above the display. It also contains a fingerprint scanner for use with applications or for security purposes.
A small cover sits on top of the charging port on the bottom of the phone, sealing it from anything that might want to collect inside. When opened, the port looked like it was a new proprietary plug until we took the time to examine it closer -- the cover hides two ports, one of which is the Micro USB charging port. While the phone can still use Micro USB cables or chargers, the phone actually makes use of a discrete USB 3.0 port as well.
Holding the Galaxy S5 doesn't deviate from the sensations of holding its older sibling. In fact, the S5 feels just as light at the S4. Dropping it a few times likely won't cause any problems, but not holding onto it tight enough means it could slide away and damage itself if one were to gesture vigorously with it in hand. It still retains the plastic feel of earlier Galaxy phones, due to a mix of its lightweight and partial polycarbonate construction.
The Galaxy S5 is slightly bigger than the S4, which only has a five-inch screen. It is also has a significantly larger footprint than an iPhone 4S. It isn't so large that it won't fit in a pocket or hand comfortably, but it is still a large phone at 5.60 x 2.85 x 0.32 inches.
The camera is perhaps the best yet from Samsung, featuring a 16-megapixel sensor positioned in the same manner as on the Galaxy S4. What makes it a vast improvement isn't the increased pixel count of the sensor, but rather the focusing abilities and the robust software. It uses a process called "Phase Detection Autofocus," which is a commonly found in DSLR cameras. Samsung states that with this addition, the S5 can focus in as little as 0.3 seconds. The software for the camera comes with a large number of options including video stabilization, face detection and metering modes.
A number of other features focus on some consumer needs for everyday use. The largest is that the Galaxy S5 is officially designated with an IP67 rating. This means that the device is dust tight and water resistant to 3.28 feet (one meter) for 30 minutes. Rubber grommets on the USB 3/Micro USB port cover and on the back cover keep unwanted liquid and dust out -- but importantly, if the port cover is not shut securely, the phone has no water resistance at all!
Samsung also included health features in the phone, including the ability to use it as a pedometer with a tracker and daily goals. Users can also count calories, set workout goals and monitor their heart rate. On the back of the phone next to the LED flash, there is a heart rate monitor. Simply hold a finger on it with the Samsung fitness software open and follow the instructions. The feature isn't without its issues, though, as the monitor runs into problems if a finger isn't placed over it correctly or there is too much background noise.
Android Kit Kat 4.42 comes installed on the phone, powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU. The Galaxy S5 shows that there is some power driving it given how fast everything runs. Menu transitions are quick. Navigation doesn't stutter or freeze up. Every action feels smooth and responsive to the slightest touch. Extended use does show some evidence of heat build-up on the back of the phone, but it doesn't seem to be detrimental to the user or the hardware itself. We'll keep an eye on it for our full review.
A larger battery has been put in the S5, bringing it to 2800 mAh over the S4's 2600 mAh. What makes it more impressive is that the phone features an "Ultra Power Saving Mode," that strips the phone down to the bare essentials. Activating this mode puts everything in grayscale and limits the phone to being used for phone calls, manual email retrieval and a few apps. Connections are limited to 3G or less, while Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are deactivated. When activated at 100 percent battery, the phone will be powered to 12.5 days on standby.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 looks very promising on the surface. With a number of new features including an impressive display, a vastly-improved camera and a number of software additions, Samsung is clearly taking a run to be the top Android phone once more. Be sure to check out our full review of the Galaxy S5 in the coming days.