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Samsung Galaxy S5 review: The surprises far outweigh the disappointments

If you can afford it, the phone is worth the Rs 51,500 you will pay for it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Written by Nandagopal Rajan | Updated: April 28, 2014 10:05 am
Lifestyle_03 The Korean tech leviathan was under pressure to innovate with the Samsung Galaxy S5.

Every time there is a new Galaxy flagship from Samsung, there is a lot of hype as well as a lot of expectation. Not all of that is unfounded, as over the past few years top-end Samsung phones have been able to capture popular imagination like very few other devices have been able to. But not everyone was happy with what came in the Samsung Galaxy S4 and it seems the Korean tech leviathan was under pressure to innovate with the Samsung Galaxy S5. We look at the innovations, the disappointments and the surprises.

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The Phone

DESIGN:The Samsung Galaxy S5 looks just the way is should — like a Galaxy device. There is no doubt that this is from a design family that we are all so familiar with. There is one good thing though: this phone does not feel like an overdose of plastic like some of the earlier versions. This has a perforated rear panel, which does not feel all that plasticky. The chrome bezel is definitely tacky and I thought the plain line on the S4 was better than this three line design. The rest is all the same, except for the micro-USB port, which is now under a chrome flap as this phone is supposed to be water resistant. However, the flap does not inspire a lot of confidence. We will need to take a relook at how many of them are still hanging from the bodies six months down the line.

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DISPLAY: It is pointless to talk about the displays on Samsung phones, after all they make the best mobile displays, whatever the screen size. So it has to be the best on a flagship phone and the 5.1-inch FullHD AMOLED display on the S5 is really up there. This is among the best features of the phone.

PERFORMANCE: This was a no-brainer from the start, except for the fact that this phone is not powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 like the rest of the world. Thanks to the absence of 4G networks will be get a combo of Samsung’s own 1.9GHz and 1.3GHz quad-core processors. That does not mean the phone is by any means slow or laggy. Multi-tasking is smooth and there were no occasions when I felt the phone was lacking oomph. If you need benchmarks, then let me tell you this phone clocked a score better than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. That should prove it.


The Innovations

FINGERPRINT SCANNER: The one innovation that you will get to use a lot, if you opt for it, is the fingerprint scanner. The scanner has been embedded in the home button, like in the Apple iPhone 5S. If you activate it, the phone will unlock only if you swipe your finger on the button from top to button. It is a great security feature to have, especially on a top-end phone. And, I have to say it works like a dream on the S5. But is it a practical feature? That I am not very sure of. For instance, while reviewing the phone I could not ask my wife to take a call while I was driving. Even if you unlock the phone and hand it over to someone trusted, it won’t be long before they request the services of your finger.

HEART RATE SENSOR: The other innovative feature, is the heart rate sensor in the rear, next to the LED flash. This feature works in tandem with the S-Health app and is an important part of the entire fitness eco-system that Samsung is trying to drive with it new phones and Gear wearable devices.

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WATER RESISTANT: This phone is also dust and water resistant, with resistant being the operative part. It is not waterproof. So don’t think you can take it to the pool for an underwater photo shoot. However, if you are in Mumbai or Kerala and prone to getting the phone wet, then this phone will be a winner. The flap for the USB port and the extra rubber lining inside are all meant to protect the innards of the phone. This is indeed a good feature to have, but one I would like to see becoming a standard on all mid and high range phones soon.

The surprises

CAMERA: The phone has quite a few surprises. But none more than the auto-focus on the 16MP camera which is undoubtedly the fastest I have seen. This comes in very handy when you are taking pictures of moving objects, always an effort with a smartphone. Usually, the subject is gone by the time the phone gets itself to click the picture. For instance, try clicking the picture of a flower on a windy day. See the results I achieved with the S5.


The selective focus is also good, letting you blur the background, or the foreground, as you deem fit. This is usually the preserve of the DSLR, but now available on the Samsung Galaxy S5.  The camera also has the ability to add apps like in Lumia phones, though there are not many free apps available to add. If only the final results of the camera we as stunning as the rest of its features. The S5 results are good, but I would have loved more clarity in some of frames.

This low-light shot is really good This low-light shot is really good

20140415_190647 This one lacks a bit of detail

Not many phone cameras can be this subtle Not many phone cameras can be this subtle

APPS: The S5 does not have a lot of gimmicky software tweaks like some of its earlier versions. The UI and the operating system are as simple as Samsung could keep it. But there are some welcome features, like the settings that gives all features on a platter, AirView that lets you see menus without clicking and multi-window. There is also the Toolbox that lets you access the most commonly used features from any screen, provided you can live with the button being on every single screen you open. But this feature is not innovative and has been spotted on tweaked Androids like the Color OS.


ULTRA POWER SAVING: Like with many of the new flagship phones, the S5 too has an ultrapower saving mode which can come to your rescue when the battery is about to drain out. I turned to the feature when I had just 28% left on the phone. With the limited features in the mode, the phone said it could use this juice to last over 3.5 days. Now, who wouldn’t want that feature on a phone. But remember this gives you a stripped down version of the OS and only a handful of essential apps. But you could make the phone last a whole fortnight on a full charge if you are planning a trek in the hills. But we have seen the same feature in the new HTC One M8.

BATTERY LIFE: The 2800 mAh battery on the S5 can give you more than 12 hours on regular use. But we suggest you shift to ultra power saving mode at the end of the day.

The disappointments

The Samsung Galaxy S5 resulted in some, though minor, disappointments.

AUDIO QUALITY: The call quality on the phone is not all that great. In fact, the entire phone seems to emanate sounds when you are on a call, as if you had the speaker phone switched on. The rear flap vibrates when you are talking to someone. The audio quality is not sharp because of all this. But this could well be  a problem with the review unit as I doubt Samsung would err on something so basic.

HEATING: The phone heats up when you are using the browser, even when you are having a long drawn conversation. Not expected of a top draw phone.

Should you buy it

There is nothing that prevents me from not suggesting this phone as a buy for those looking for a top-end Android phone. Yes, you should be able to afford it to begin with. The phone is worth the Rs 51,500 you will pay for it. But if you want more innovative phone then maybe you should take a look at the HTC One M8 too before making up your mind.



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