Hands-on with new Samsung Galaxy S5

Another year, another Galaxy handset from Samsung.

This year it’s the S5. But while there are updates all around to last year’s S4, that ‘S’ is beginning to look more and more like it stands for ‘same’.

Both the S3 and S4 gave Apple cause for sleepless nights as a legitimate and fully-fledged challenger to its iPhone. But just like Apple, Samsung’s annual updates tend to be providing not-quite-enough of an incentive to upgrade.

We went hands-on with the S5 to see what’s new.

Build quality

This is one of the areas in which the S5 has genuinely improved on the S4.

The flimsy, shiny back of the S4 has been upgraded to a dimpled, matte casing which looks less cheap and feels more grippy – which is important when dropping and breaking the phone would cost you around £570.

It still feels like a behemoth, thanks to its 5.1” (albeit fantastic) screen, but feels simultaneously lighter and less delicate than the S4.

The S5 is also not just splash-proof, but waterproof, as long as you make sure the casing is secured (the phone gives you little reminders).

This is great if you’re clumsy (or have children, of course).

Screen gem?

No complaints here – a slightly (0.1”) larger version of the S4’s Super AMOLED screen means vibrant, full 1080p HD and characters as crisp fully zoomed-in as when zoomed-out.

It copes fine in direct sunlight and looks great no matter what angle you look at it from. In all, it knocks spots off Apple and the rest of its competitors.

Battery and storage

An upgraded 2800mAh (removable) battery gives the S5 an extended battery life compared to the S4. Power held out longer than on my Google Nexus 4 and the iPhone 5.

A new Ultra power saving mode turns everything monochrome and switches over to a separate, minimal user interface to squeeze every last drop out of the battery. I switched it on at 25% power remaining and the handset told me I’d get another 1.7 days of standby time.

The handset loaned to us by Three had 16GB of internal memory, but there is a pricier 32GB available. Each has a slot for a micro SD card for up to 128GB extra storage.

What’s it like to use?

The S5 runs on the latest mobile operating system from Google, Android KitKat. As with previous Galaxy S models, Samsung has slapped a load of bloatware over the top, which spoils the KitKat experience a bit, over-complicating things and duplicating features.

If you’ve used Android or a Galaxy S3 or S4, however, it won’t take much getting used to.

It has the same amount of RAM as its predecessor, but the processor has been upgraded to a Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.5GHz chip – very dull, I realise, but it basically means everything ticks along smoothly and switching between apps is seamless.

If you were to jump ship from Apple to Samsung, the change in user interface will be jarring. Android is highly customisable though, so you can move things around as you please to make things easier.

Gadgets and features

This is where the S5 shines. It still has all the gesture and eye-tracking features from the S4 (read about them here), but the new Galaxy has just as many new gadgets as its precursor did.

First off, it has a fingerprint lock like the iPhone 5s. It worked every time I tested it, without fail, and adds a layer of security to the phone. You can even use it to verify PayPal payments.

Next, there’s the S Health fitness app, returning for the S5 with a new heartbeat sensor, placed just below the rear camera.

The phone’s cameras, which produce excellent photographs, have an airbrushing feature dubbed “Beauty face”, which automatically rids your pics of blemishes and so forth.

It also has a fantastic Selective Focus mode which lets you adjust the focus in a picture after it has been taken, switching from focus on foreground to background subjects.
 

What does it cost?

SIM-free, you’ll be looking at somewhere in the region of £570, but sign up for a contract and you can get the S5 for a much smaller amount up front.
 
On Three, for example, you can get the handset for £29 up front and then £38 a month, with unlimited data, 600 minutes and unlimited texts. Over two years, this will cost you £941.

Pay £99 up front with O2 and you’ll get the S5 with 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of data for £33 a month. Over two years this will cost you £891.

Keep your eyes peeled for a comprehensive round-up of the best Samsung Galaxy S5 tariffs in the coming weeks.

Verdict

The S5 is an impressive smartphone which is only let down by its dated design and unnecessary Samsung bloatware.

In many ways, it should outsell the iPhone 5s and HTC One (M8) by 10 to 1, but it just doesn’t have Apple’s cool, or HTC’s modern design.

And while the novelty tech works well, it may not prove to be all that useful – which means you could get almost as good a phone by going for the S4, as long as you ‘re willing to sacrifice the added battery power of the S5.

But if you’re due an upgrade and familiar with Android, it’s going to be a tough choice between this and the HTC One (M8).

You compare all the best Samsung Galaxy S5 tariffs here.

 

Pros

Cons

Amazing display

- Too much Samsung bloatware

Added biometric security

Dated design

Outstanding camera

Not different enough from the S4

Please note: any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

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