How do you improve one of the world’s best selling mobile phones? Do you add more features, bigger screens, greater battery life, and faster processors? Samsung has done all of this, and added some ecosystem features that are pretty unique in the industry. All this should make the new Samsung galaxy S5 the best deal in high end mobile phones right now. Steven Ambrose takes the Galaxy S5 on the road and reports back.
The Samsung Galaxy device range has been an unqualified success, and has driven Samsung to the forefront of mobile phone sales in only a few years. The Galaxy S5 is Samsung’s shot at the best smartphone on the market. The technology included in the galaxy S5 is at the very forefront of mobile technology. The stand-out features are the outstanding 5.2” screen, along with a spectacular camera.
The screen remains an AMOLED which offers great battery life, along with vivid colour. The Galaxy S5 screen is the best Samsung has made, with colour great accuracy and brightness. The touch sensitivity and responsiveness is also outstanding.
Depending on the model you buy Samsung either use their 8 core processor in the 3G only model, or a Qualcomm snapdragon 801 in the LTE model. The performance difference is essentially unnoticeable. It is mystifying why Samsung would have two models in the same market, when all its competitors have LTE as standard. Both models are fast, fluid, and powerful. No game I tried lagged or stuttered, switching between apps was fast. We were given the OCTA core 3G model for testing and it handled everything we could throw at it.
The other key stand-out feature is the new 16 Mega Pixel camera. A brand new sensor and a combination of software and hardware make this the sharpest fastest camera on a Samsung Galaxy Smartphone to date. It is not the best camera on a smartphone, the Nokia 1020 is far sharper with much better colour rendition, but with 41 Mega Pixels, it is hard to beat. The Samsung is easier to use and faster in everyday situations. Overall this is a fast and very good camera, with good but not great low light capability.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is also dust and water proof. This is a subtle but key feature of the new S5. The charger flap seals and the phone reminds you in no uncertain terms to make sure the flap is properly closed along with making sure the back cover is properly flush and closed. When they are, the Samsung Galaxy S5 will withstand being submerged in water for a long while. Casual water or wine spills simply wipe off, and dust and dirt just are not a bother. This is incredibly liberating and once you get used to it, it is hard to not have.
Battery life is also excellent, though in general use not as good as I expected. I did get through a busy day with around 10% remaining by 9 pm which is good for a large screen fast smart device.
The overall build quality is also the best Samsung have ever produced. This however, is the first issue I have with the Galaxy S5. The build is all plastic, not a problem in itself, but the execution from Samsung is tacky. The back feels good and is grippy, but it feels low cost. The fake chrome metal surround is simply cheap and will show wear really quickly, one accidental slip, and a black mark stands out amongst the chrome glory. If you hate covers as much as I do, it won’t take long before your shiny new Samsung looks old and tacky.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 runs the latest version of Android, version 4.4.2. This is a very good thing as this version is significantly smoother and more polished than any version before. The main problem for me, and where the Samsung fails to shine, is the TouchWiz interface that is layered on top of vanilla Android.
TouchWiz simply feels old fashioned, even though it has been cleaned up in the Galaxy S5. TouchWiz looks feels and functions much like android of few years ago. It’s not bad, it just dated and clunky. Add to this is Samsung’s own offerings across most of the standard Android features. There is an S feature or a Samsung app for almost everything that exists in Android, so S Voice, S Translate, I could go on but you get the picture. This simply creates so much choice and choosing during setup, and after, it can drive you crazy.
One other consequence of this is that there are now essentially three different operating system user interfaces on the Galaxy S5. The TouchWiz interface, the standard Android interface which pops up when you use Google apps, and or the basic settings interface, and to make thing worse Samsung have changed the setting icons and menu to mimic its own Tizen interface.
Samsung have added a few key features that can’t be ignored. The first is a range of free or optimised apps, called Galaxy Gifts, such as Kindle for Samsung, with a free book per month from a curated selection. Kleek Music, Runkeeper, and a few other premium offerings that make the device far more useful. An extra free 50 Gig Dropbox space is also a great offer. The second key offer is the enhanced ADH (accidental damage from handling) premium cover, which gives Galaxy S5 owners access to 24 months of protection from accidental damage to the device. This includes water, if you leave the charger flap open, and screen damage, and users will be given a loan device while their S5 is being repaired.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a great device. The screen is outstanding, the camera is one of the best and overall performance is excellent. Build quality is good and the water resistance is a really useful feature. Samsung’s service and support along with the ecosystem add-ons and ADH, make this one of the most compelling buys at the top end of the smartphone market.
There is one huge problem in and amongst all this. Samsung appear to have lost sight of what make a product great, over and above all the cutting edge technology and features. The Galaxy S5 has more features and more technology than almost any other phone on the market. All this wrapped up in an attractive enough body with a fantastic screen. What the Samsung Galaxy S5 does not have is that final touch which would make it a class leading device in all respects.
The interface is a complete mess, confusing, schizophrenic in parts, and with so many options that I got lost and had mail coming from three places, apps downloading, and updating, from all over the place, features and facilities clashing, crashing, and generally making life so messy, that using the Galaxy S5 without switching off or removing most of the extra bloatware, becomes a real chore.
Samsung have created so many features and functions that the Galaxy S5 becomes intimidating, even to those who regard themselves as Tech Savvy. Samsung have also tried to duplicate some leading apps with their own, a perfect example is S Health, when Fitbit and others do a far better more universal job.
Simplicity with functionality is one of the hardest features to get right, and most companies fail in this regard. The Galaxy S5 is one of those products that tries far too hard, and still fails to delight in any visceral way. There are other very competitive Android devices from Sony, HTC, Huawei, and LG that may just connect with you, remember try before you buy. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a great piece of technology, it’s just not a great smartphone.