After spending months with a Samsung Galaxy S5 review device, it is clear that the new Samsung smartphone offers enough to compete with the iPhone 5s, but it is not a perfect experience.
In this Samsung Galaxy S5 review I’ll explain why you should buy the Galaxy S5 and what to know before you do. I use a Verizon Galaxy S5 review unit and an AT&T Galaxy S5 review unit to test the experience on multiple carriers and with different levels of software and apps installed.
While the Galaxy S5 does not offer a 2k display like the LG G3, it is the best looking mobile display I have ever used. Unlike the iPhone 5s and HTC One M8, the Galaxy S5 offers a removable battery that extends the usage and software to boost remaining battery life dramatically when users need it.
In addition to the Galaxy S5 review units from Verizon and AT&T I carry an iPhone 5s with me on a daily basis. I also rotate in the Galaxy Note 3 and HTC One M8 to see how this device compares to the best smartphones on sale in the U.S.
Read: Galaxy S5 Tips & Tricks
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is available on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and on smaller and prepaid carriers. The overall experience is the same across all carriers, though coverage and included software varies between the two devices.
Amazon sells the Galaxy S5 for $99 on Verizon and Sprint. Occasionally there is a free on contract Galaxy S5 at Amazon. Expect to pay $99 to $199 on a two year contract or $25 to $32.50 a month on a new payment plan.
Galaxy S5 Design
The Samsung Galaxy S5 design is still not up to the level of the iPhone 5s or the HTC One M8, but it is better than the Galaxy S3, Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3.
A removable dimpled back cover made of soft touch material seals the internals of the phone so that it can survive for up to 30 minutes in three feet of water. This doesn’t sound like much, but it means the sink, a toilet or a puddle will not break the Galaxy S5 like other smartphones. This is one of my favorite features, allowing me to take the Galaxy S5 with me on fishing trips that involve wading through a creek. It’s also a go to phone for use near a hot tub or in the kitchen.
The Galaxy S5 is available in black, white and gold on U.S. carriers. There is an electric blue option sold elsewhere. The soft touch material and dimples help with the overall grip of the Galaxy S5. Pull the back off and attach a leather Galaxy S5 S-View Flip Cover case for a more premium feel. There is also a Galaxy S5 wireless charging back that adds some thickness, but lets you charge without opening the small port cover.
As part of the water-resistant design there is a plug that covers the port. It remains attached when charging, but is a pain to open and close every night.
Silver trim on the edge of the Galaxy S5 looks like metal, but it is actually plastic that can scratch and scuff. The Galaxy Note 3 features the same style silver band and after 9 months there is a chip out of it from a bump against keys or a rough surface.
The front of the Galaxy S5 looks beautiful with a slight etched design hidden behind a large span of strengthened glass. Thin bezels flank the sides and there are an array of sensors at the top of the device near a Samsung logo. There is a physical home button and two capacitive touch buttons on the bottom edge. The home button includes a fingerprint scanner that can unlock the phone, but it is not as reliable as the iPhone 5s’ Touch ID feature and I stopped using it after two weeks. You need to slide a finger across it just right, which leads to many failed attempts.
Samsung did a good job of keeping the overall size to a reasonable level. There is a one-handed mode that users can activate, but after using the Galaxy S5 review unit I did not find it necessary in my day-to-day use.
Volume and power buttons are on the right and left sides of the device, making them easy to reach while holding the phone with one hand. Pull the back of the Galaxy S5 off to swap in a second battery or to add a Micro SD card for more storage. There is a heart rate sensor below the Galaxy S5 camera.
Galaxy S5 Display
The Samsung Galaxy S5 display is slightly larger than the Galaxy S4 it replaces, measuring 5.1-inches with a 1920 x 1080 resolution. Size and specs don’t tell the entire story of the Galaxy S5 display, and neither will photos of the Galaxy S5 review unit.
Samsung doesn’t match the 2,560 x 1440 resolution on the 5.5-inch LG G3, but it is still the best smartphone display I’ve used. This could change with the LG G3 release, but it is definitely better than the iPhone 5s Retina display.
The larger Galaxy S5 display is better suited for games, movies and reading than the iPhone 5s. The 5.1-inch Galaxy S5 display doesn’t sound much bigger, but the extra 1.1-inches adds tremendously to the entertainment value. The display is significantly bright and is readable outdoors in the sun.
A screen is one of the most important parts of a smartphone, and the Galaxy S5 display is a joy to look at and to use.
Galaxy S5 Camera
Samsung packs a 16MP camera in the Galaxy S5 that focuses faster and takes better looking photos than the Galaxy S4. For all that Samsung includes with this camera, it is still not perfect. Although the camera focuses quickly, the photos are too often blurry in low, and even moderate, indoor light. It’s possible to retake some photos, but a smartphone camera needs to consistently deliver great photos to impress.
The Galaxy S5 includes many camera modes that help users take great better looking photos that show motion, erase unwanted objects or people and much more. The video below explains many of these Galaxy S5 camera modes.
After using the Galaxy S5 camera for several months I find the live HDR feature is the one that I enjoy most. Instead of taking a photo and guessing what it looks like, the live HDR option shows what a HDR photo will look like before I take it.
HDR, or High Dynamic Range, takes several photos and merges them into one photo that can help deliver stunning photos with more range in colors and exposure. The photos below how this compares to the iPhone 5s, which does not include a live HDR option.
The camera also includes a selective focus option that helps users take a photo and select where the actual focus is later. This can blur the background to make the subject stand out. This feature works, but it requires a learning curve to get the distances right and may require users to take the photo multiple times.
From a video standpoint the Galaxy S5 records 4k and 1080P content. This means you can make great looking videos of your kids, pets or adventures.
The gallery below includes many photos from the AT&T and Verizon Galaxy S5 review devices, across a range of situations. These represent the Galaxy S5 photos I snapped over a two month period of pets, friends and more.
Galaxy S5 Performance
The Samsung Galaxy S5 review devices, like the rest of the models sold in the U.S., use the same Snapdragon 801 processor and 2GB of RAM, which is enough to handle top notch Android games and day-to-day use. Switching between apps, going to the home screen and other actions are faster on the Galaxy S5 review unit from Verizon than on the AT&T Galaxy S5.
This difference may be due to installing more apps and services on the AT&T Galaxy S5 and using it for a longer period of time as a daily driver. This is not unique to this Galaxy S5 review unit, as other Gotta Be Mobile team members report a similar lag after extended use.
On the AT&T Galaxy S5 the lag is not a deal-breaker, but it is annoying when I press the back button a second time, exiting an app because the device took too long to respond.
Samsung Galaxy S5 battery life is good, lasting a full day for 90% of our usage. Some days, ones with very heavy use outdoors, tax the battery thanks to my desire to boost the screen brightness. Ultra Power Saving Mode can stretch that last 15% of battery the rest of the day, but app usage is limited.
While making calls on the Verizon Galaxy S5 review unit callers reported good call quality when in good coverage. The AT&T Galaxy S5 also delivers good call quality when coverage is available. 4G LTE speeds also vary with coverage, but both devices deliver good speeds across the midwest.
The biggest difference between the AT&T and Verizon Galaxy S5 review units is that there are more places I travel that does not include AT&T coverage.
Galaxy S5 Software
The Galaxy S5 review units share the same software, other than some branded AT&T and Verizon apps. The Galaxy S5 software remains one of the features users love or hate. Samsung layers on a new look and new features to Android 4.4.2 with TouchWiz. The bright overlay includes Magazine, a new notification drawer, a new look for settings and a collection of added apps and features.
TouchWiz on the Galaxy S5 is much nicer than previous versions, although some users will want to quickly turn off My Magazine on the Galaxy S5 to prevent wasting time sliding to that screen by accident.
My favorite software features are Multi Window, Remote Control and S Health. There are many other fun and useful Galaxy S5 software features, but these are the ones I use the most.
For a full rundown of what the Galaxy S5 software is capable of, check out the video playlist below or read 50 Galaxy S5 Tips and Tricks. This collection of tips and tricks covers how to use 50 Galaxy S5 features, including many videos.
The Multi-Window mode on the Galaxy S5 allows users to run two apps side-by-side at the same time. This turns a big screen into more than just a place to watch a movie or play a game. I can use Chat and look up something on the web to remain productive even when I can’t use a computer.
Samsung includes a IR blaster on the top of the Galaxy S5 that makes the device a remote control. I use this to control multiple TVs that I can’t otherwise grab a remote for. Most often I use it to control a TV at someone else’s house, which is easier than finding the remote they lost inside a couch. I also use this at home to turn off the bedroom TV if my wife left the TV on and the remote is on her side of the bed.
S Health is a health and fitness tracking app that serves as a central location to track exercise, steps, weight, food intake, heart rate, stress levels and more. I wear the Gear Fit, which scored poorly in our original review but software updates improved the experience significantly since. After a bad accident in April I was not able to test the exercise parts of the app, but I use it to track sleep and steps to monitor my continued trip back towards normal stamina and movement.
Galaxy S5 Review Unit Specs
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 Quad-Core Processor 2.5 GHz
- Display: 5.1-inch 1920x 1080 pixels, 432 pixels per inch (ppi)
- Internal Storage: 16GB
- microSD Slot: Accommodates up to 128GB
- Battery: 2,800 mAh, user replaceable
- Android 4.4.2 KitKat
- Dimensions: 142 x 72.5 x 8.1mm
- Weight: 5.11oz / 145 grams
- Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
- Bluetooth 4.0 LE, NFC
Galaxy S5 Review Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is one of the best smartphones you can buy in 2014. Some Galaxy S5 review units exhibit a bothersome lag and the camera is not as consistent as I would like, but overall this is a solid phone.
The TouchWiz software delivers features not found on competing devices and the camera includes many more modes than the iPhone 5s, although it cannot completely make up for consistency issues.
I enjoy the option to switch on a new back for a case or to add wireless charging, and to add more storage and battery life with a replaceable battery. Carrying around a small battery is better than adding a large case to a phone.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 remains one of the phones I carry on a daily basis and one of the top Android phones I recommend to friends and family members who don’t want to settle for the smaller screen of the iPhone 5s.