Discovering the Samsung Galaxy S5
I can’t seem to go anywhere in this town without some Ugandan brandishing a Samsung smartphone of some variety. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but there was a time when one spoke of a mobile phone, you knew they had to be referring to a Nokia.
We are a long ways away from those days; Samsung has proven itself as the unequivocal leader in smartphones in Uganda and this can be attributed to the Galaxy line of phones.
Leading the pack of these phones is the new flagship device, the Galaxy S5 SM-G900H, announced just a month ago and now hitting the stores in Kampala at the time of reading this.
Many of you must be thinking, ok, wait, what? Didn’t the S4 just come out? Well, yes. It’s just about a year since the S4 was introduced to us and now we have the S5; a bigger, faster, more megapixeled, finger print sensing, heart monitoring follow up to that phone.
Yes, you read right, the S5 can monitor your heart rate, but, we’ll get into that later in the review.
I had a chance to spend two days testing this unit from Airtel, who have exclusive rights to sell the S5 for the first few weeks in Uganda and here’s what I found out during my review.
Hardware & Design
Let’s be clear. There’s nothing new about the design of the S5 that we haven’t already seen. It’s a smaller version of the Galaxy Note 3 which was released towards the end of 2013. The same rectangular look with rounded edges and silver banding around the sides with a soft touch dimpled plastic on the back.
This is Samsung’s definition of premium but when compared to the exquisite full metal body HTC One, it feels really mundane to look at or hold. Definitely when placed side by side, most consumers would immediately choose the HTC. You definitely feel like you get more for your money.
That being said, it’s clearly identifiable as a Galaxy S phone.
The S5 is a big phone measuring 142mm tall and 72.5mm wide and only 8.1mm thick. It makes for tight fit in skinny jeans but it’s not as big as the Note 3 or Galaxy Mega. It weighs 145g which isn’t heavy at all for a phone so big. This is due to the fact that the S5 is made completely out of plastic. That includes the silver band surrounding the phone that can be easily mistaken for metal.
The whole front of the phone is taken by an incredibly beautiful 5.1 inch Super AMOLED touch screen which runs at a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 for blisteringly sharp picture. The colors are super saturated giving so much life to any image on the screen. This screen is an absolute joy to use even outdoors in our equatorial sunshine. I was able to easily see what I was doing. However, it’s when looking at photos and watching videos that one truly appreciates the quality of this screen. An absolute win for Samsung.
The screen is protected by the latest Gorilla Glass 3 which should easily withstand scratches and cracks. However, a screen protector is definitely recommended to protect this beauty.
Above the screen is an LED notification light to alert you when you have new notifications or battery charging status. There is also a 2MP front facing camera to satisfy your selfie desires and a bunch of sensors for the numerous hand gestures that the phone allows you to use to control it.
Below the screen is the new “Home” button which is also a Fingerprint scanner which you can use to lock your phone. It’s a pretty cool feature which doesn’t always work very well but nevertheless, short of someone cutting your finger off, this is the surest way to secure your S5. The phone allows you to input as many as 3 fingerprints that can unlock the phone. Now this can simply be three of your fingers, right and left hands or you can give access to a spouse. I came to enjoy using this method of locking my unit.
Below the screen is the new “Home” button which is also a Fingerprint scanner which you can use to lock your phone. The phone allows you to input as many as 3 fingerprints that can unlock the phone. Now this can simply be three of your fingers, right and left hands or you can give access to a spouse. I came to enjoy using this method of locking my unit.
On either side of the Home button are two capacitive buttons in typical Samsung design. On the right is the standard back button and on the left, the old menu button has now been replaced by a Multi-tasking button allowing for greater access to multitasking apps on your phone. A long press does however allow it to function as the menu button.
On the top of the phone is the headphone jack, microphone and the Infrared blaster that allows you to use the S5 as a remote control for your TV, DVD or home theater system. Another brilliant feature that I enjoyed using. Finding the remote is often an exercise in futility but your phone is always nearby. We all watch TV while facebooking or whatsapping anyway, right?
On the left side are the volume rocker buttons and the right side, the power/ sleep button which is placed about one quarter the distance from the top edge of the phone which I found it easy to reach using one hand.
On the bottom we have another microphone and the new USB 3.0 charging port that we first saw on the Galaxy Note 3. USB 3.0 technically allows for faster charging and data transfer. It’s hidden behind a flap. The reason for this is that the Galaxy S5 is IP67 certified which means the phone is completely Dust and Waterproof up to 30 min under a meter of water. As a result, every time you remove your charger, the phone reminds you to close the flap in order to maintain the waterproofing.
Please be advised this doesn’t mean you can go swimming with your S5 but at least you can feel safer about those juice spills or caught in the rain or don’t-want-to-explain-how-my-phone-fell-into-the-toilet moments.
The back is dominated by a soft plastic removable battery cover that feels nice to the touch and doesn’t get dirty easily or attract any fingerprints. At the top is the reticule for the all new 16MP ISOCELL Camera lens which slightly bulges off the back.
Below that is the flash integrated with the aforementioned Heart Rate Sensor that works with the include S-Health App. Simply put your forefinger on the sensor, follow the instructions to not move or talk(yes) and the phone will give you your heart rate in beats per minute. At the bottom is the speaker grill.
Removing the cover reveals a new 2800mAH battery that has quite a bit of stamina to push the S5 through a regular day and into the next of normal usage. With two new power saving modes including an Ultra Power Saving mode that even makes the screen black and white to further stretch your batteries life, the S5 is bound to please most users.
Above the battery slot is a Micro-SIM slot so you will have to get your SIM card cut at your nearest service center if you haven’t already. Lastly, a Micro SD card slot that can take up to 128GB cards.
Design & Build Verdict: 6.5/10
The review unit came in black which I find to be much more pleasant than the white version which seems to get dirty a lot easier. The S5 also comes in Blue and Gold.
Software & Performance
Performance on the S5 is absolutely stellar. Powered by Samsung’s Exynos Octa-Core processor; that’s 8 cores running at 1.9 GHz each coupled with 2 GB of RAM makes this phone fly at all times. There is hardly any instance of lag or stuttering anywhere in the interface.
Apps open and close fluidly, multi-tasking is immediate. The camera takes photos practically instantaneously so you can capture those fleeting moments much more easily. It’s crazy fast.
Along with that is a powerful Mali-T628 graphics processor making the S5 ideal for hardcore gamers. Games run fast and fluidly with hi-resolution graphics that pop on the incredible display. Long Matatu drives and bank lines will never be boring again.
Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface will be new but also familiar to all Samsung users. TouchWiz is custom Samsung theme dressing on top of the Android Kit-Kat 4.4.2 Operating System. Samsung have gone to great lengths to ensure a similar experience in the interface across all the Galaxy phones. I would say most people are more familiar with TouchWiz than they are with stock Android interface.
That said, it has been polished with a new look and some new features but is overall the same interface you’re used to.
A key new feature is the finger print scanner of course. The phone allows you to secure it with your fingerprint which you input by sliding your finger down across the Home button. For now this essentially allows you to lock your phone and also enable a Private Mode which locks some of your phones content from prying eyes. In the future, Samsung hopes to use this to secure online payments and other activities.
Also new is the My Magazine home page which is collects all news articles and social media updates and displays them in a clean interface powered by Flipboard. It allows for categories (e.g. News, Business, and Facebook) which are displayed in tiles. You can reorder the tiles as well as choose the different sources from the given options which are limited.
The new Heart Rate Monitor is new to the Galaxy family. The S5 comes with a special sensor on the back of the phone under the camera lens. It’s accessed using Samsung’s “S-health” app that allows you to monitor your footsteps, workouts, food logs and heart rate. Simply fire up the app, it will give simple instructions on how to place your finger on the sensor after which it will show you your heart rate in beats per minute. A hand tool for fitness lovers who need to track such information.
Another cool feature added is the new Samsung Toolbox. This is a floating circular icon that you can position anywhere on the screen on top of all content. Once clicked on, it will give access to common apps like calculator, calendar, camera etc. so you can always have them in easy reach. A very handy feature.
Older features from other recent Galaxy phones like Multi-Window, Notifications, Smart stay, Smart Pause and Air gestures are still as you remember them.
The interface isn’t overly complicated but users can feel like there is so much to deal with and most users will never even scratch the surface of the hundreds of settings. Samsung knows this and has included an Easy Mode which gives you a simpler home screen with larger icons for the apps and simpler steps to doing anything.
Voice commands using S-Voice and Google Now is spot on with accurate translation of my spoken words to text. S-Voice allows you to give the phone commands to do things such as set alarms, search online, tell you the weather, and dial the phone. Handy for when you’re driving or can’t touch the phone.
Google Now is a search assistant that is constantly running in the background and can be activated simply by saying “Ok Google” and the phone will start listening for your queries. It’s startlingly accurate but ultimately I didn’t find either useful for my daily use. I could as easily do those same functions with a few quick swipes.
Software Verdict: 7/10
A key bottleneck for most smartphones is battery life. It’s generally poor with most people having to charge two to three times a day just to get by.
That shouldn’t be a problem with the S5’s new 2800mAH battery. It’s rated at over 20hrs of talk time, 11hrs of continuous video playback and 9.5hrs of web browsing on 3G according to GSMArena.com.
Having spent time with the phone I can say it easily lasted me a whole day on a single charge with heavy usage taking lots of photos, videos, 3G downloads, Facebook, WhatsApp, web browsing and tinkering around. Yes, not typical usage for the ordinary person but I managed 13 hours, pretty much the whole work day before the phone warned me of low battery at 15% left.
The Galaxy S5 easily lasted me a whole day on a single charge with heavy usage taking lots of photos, videos, 3G downloads, Facebook, WhatsApp, web browsing and tinkering around.
If that’s not enough for you, Samsung has include two power saving modes, regular and an Ultra Power saving mode that even turns the screen black and white promising to give you an extra boost in staying power.
Battery Life Verdict: 9/10
All in all, I’m very impressed with the battery and think most users won’t get caught with a dead battery in the middle of the day. I see so many people walking around with Power Banks to keep their smartphones ticking till end of day but I suspect there will be no problem achieving that with this phone.
Messages, Telephony and Email
Messaging is straight forward and simple with support for SMS/ MMS and a host of sub services. The phone is also comes with Samsung’s ChatOn app for instant messaging as well as Google Hangouts for those who use it. Of course it’s fully compatible with Whatsapp, Viber and the others.
Typing on the large screen is a two-hand affair although there is an option for one-handed use. The keyboard allows for Voice dictation as well as swipe input. Text auto correction is a bit aggressive and can prove annoying for those who love to use slang and local words.
Telephony is pretty standard affair. Calls are crisp and clear probably thanks to the noise cancellation that is built into the S5 that eliminates background noise for better sound. Speaker phone is alright but could be louder.
The S5 handles email easily with the excellent Gmail app as well as the bundled Samsung app which takes IMAP, POP emails so getting your corporate email shouldn’t be a problem.
Over 300,000 Apps can be downloaded from the Google play store and you will not have any problem running them because of the beautiful screen and processor.
Camera & Video
The S5 comes with an all new 16MP camera which takes pictures at a super detailed 5312×2988 pixels and has a variety of shooting modes for every scenario. There’s an Auto Mode, Beauty Shot, Drama Shot, Panorama Shot, Virtual Tour and Dual Camera which allows you to take a picture with a selfie of yourself imposed at the same time.
I found the camera to be super-fast in taking pictures with shots generally turning out great with a few not so good ones. I didn’t have it long enough to determine a consistency however, I was more than happy with the shots I did take. You can see the samples.
The S5 camera also allows for Instagram type effects that can be previewed while actually shooting pictures allowing you to compose shots before the fact.
Camera Gallery – Un-edited photos.
Night shots have always been a challenge for smartphone cameras and that’s still the case with the S5. It has a very powerful flash that does a great job illuminating your subjects but pictures come out blurry or not so sharp but still useable.
Video recording was also very good with crisp pictures and relatively decent sound. The S5 doesn’t have Optical image stabilization so video can become jerky when you move the phone around. Sound recording is ok but will never be professional grade. The camera also allows you to take still pictures while recording video which I found to be very handy indeed.
The S5 can record video Ultra HD 3840×2160, Full HD 1920×1080, HD 1280×720 and VGA 640×480. The choice is up to you although I quickly discovered that recording UHD resolution would result in huge file sizes, approximately 500Mb for 1 min of video. Given the S5 comes with only 16GB of onboard storage, video buffs will very quickly finish their space.
The front facing camera at 2mp cannot compete with its big brother on the rear however it’s more than adequate for Selfies and for Skype calls.
Camera Verdict: 8/10
For sure, the S5 camera is one of the best beaten only by the 41mp Lumia 1020 and 21mp Sony Xperia Z2. It will definitely satisfy most users and only pro photographers might have anything to complain about.
The S5 is built for multimedia consumption. As already mentioned, the gorgeous super AMOLED screen brings images to life with sharp contrasts, deep blacks and very vibrant colors, in some cases unnatural.
Most pictures will look better on the phone than on say a computer screen.
Watching videos whether on YouTube or local content in full HD is amazing and images just pop. Viewing angles are superb so your friends crowding around you to watch a video will also get a great view. There’s no washing out of colors when the screen is viewed from an angle rather than straight on.
Perhaps the biggest let down to the experience would be the rear facing speaker. Volume is adequate but tinny and lacks base. HTC showed us the way with their BoomSound stereo speakers on the HTC One which are simply amazing. The S5 however, uses a mono speaker set on the back of the phone so if the device is on a table or worse, a pillow, sound is just lost.
This of course is easily remedied by using external headphones which will give you much better sound. Samsung’s SoundAlive processor makes for a better experience when using earphones.
Storage is likely to be another issue for the media hungry individual. The S5 unit I had for review is a 16gb model with only about 12gb available to you when you start the phone. Storage can be expanded using micro SD cards but decently sized cards are quite pricey to purchase.
Internet & Connectivity
The S5 is a pure joy when it comes to internet connectivity. The units we shall be buying in Uganda are 3.75G version and not 4G LTE enabled. However, that still gets you a theoretical download speed of 42Mbps.
In my usage, the phone had great network reception with full bars almost all the time. Speeds for browsing and downloading was superb. The bundled Samsung browser and Google Chrome browsers are both excellent for daily use. Web pages loaded very fast and reading content on the super hires screen was pleasant.
Wi-Fi reception was also very strong. The phone is also NFC enabled which allows it transfer content to another NFC enabled phone simply by pressing them back to back. Of course the usual staples of Bluetooth are onboard.
GPS Location services are also excellent and very accurate allowing for easy use of Google Maps and other apps like Foursquare and Facebook that do geomapping.
Connectivity Verdict: 9/10
Overall, connectivity on the S5 is very well done and you should have no problem connecting using 3g or Wi-Fi at your favorite restaurant.
So that’s the Galaxy S5. Big, fast, powerful, great camera, amazing connectivity, easy to use with a hell of a battery and yet somehow I’m still mixed about it. It’s a great phone that I really enjoyed using and reviewing but still I’m still struggling to love it wholeheartedly. I would attribute this to the non-premium design on what’s supposed to be the world’s premium phone to kill all competition.
It’s simply functional. It doesn’t make you feel special like say the HTC One. The S5 feels blocky, uncomfortable to hold even. Its better designed than the S4 for sure but that one wasn’t much to talk about to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, the phone is far from ugly, in fact, I do like it’s design as compared to all its predecessors. Handsome but just lacking a certain x-factor.
Samsung has been severely criticized by the media for its cheap looking phones. Even though Samsung claims to be using plastic to keep costs down, the S5 still costs the same as the HTC One or the Sony Xperia Z2 which are both better designed.
In the end, if you’re an S4 owner looking to upgrade, I’d say it’s not really worth the money. The differences don’t justify the cost and most software features will eventually find their way to the S4. However, if you’ve never owned a Galaxy S flagship phone or are coming from Nokia or Apple, I would whole heartedly recommend this phone. It’s a great piece of tech that isn’t as good as it could be but is still going to sell in truckloads thanks to our Ugandan love for having the latest anything.
Pop into the nearest Airtel Store because that’s the only place you’re likely to get an S5 for the next month for the low low price of 2,150,000 UGX with 4.5 GB of data.