Samsung Galaxy S5 Review (Verizon Wireless)

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Samsung has very much been living by that mentality with its Galaxy line-up. The company’s Galaxy phone series has outsold its competitors globally, mostly thanks to Samsung’s laughably large marketing budget. They bought an entire airport terminal in London just to showcase the Galaxy line. Yet, Samsung wanted the Galaxy S5 to be about moving forward. There’s much about the Galaxy S5 that’s different than its predecessors, but the Samsung influence still remains strong.

I’ve spent the last 4 weeks using the Galaxy S5. It’s a slightly longer review process than I’ve put recent phones through, and I know this review is extremely late. It’s mostly due to personal time constraints, but I’ve also wanted to see how someone would feel about Samsung’s refinements after using the new device for an extended period of time and just how well those refinements would stay glued together once the device is put through the duration of a normal use cycle.

How does the Samsung Galaxy S5 fit in a daily routine? Should you sign a two-year contract or upgrade agreement to purchase it? Read on and decide for yourself.

Our friends at Verizon Wireless hooked us up with this review unit.

Hardware

Galaxy_s5_hardware

When you take the phone out of the packaging and have a quick glance, the design bears a striking congruity to its predecessor in the Galaxy S 4. The design changes aren’t eye opening and they aren’t necessarily for the better, either. The phone’s siding is still covered in a plasticky faux-metal, which somehow feels less premium than the S 4’s siding, despite Samsung urging that it went for a premium feel with this device. Unsurprisingly, the poor design choices don’t stop there. Samsung needs to be given credit for doing away with the horrible glossy plastic backing materials it used on previous Galaxy S devices. While the new dimpled plastic backing might feel better, it’s by and large one of the worst design choices Samsung has ever made. Seriously, it’s ugly. I might personally rate it as one of the most visually unappealing phones of the year. That’s subjective, though. I’ve never been a fan of Samsung’s hardware design, and your opinion may differ. With Android manufacturers like HTC and LG finally stepping into killer industrial hardware design, Samsung needs to take a giant leap forward with the next Galaxy device or I fear their customers will start to move on to other phones that don’t feel like baby toys.

The rest of the phone’s design and hardware placement follows the same structure we’re used to with Samsung devices by now. The power button is placed conveniently on the right hand side of the device, with volume buttons opposite. The headphone jack and IR blaster are placed on the top of the phone and the bottom houses the phone’s proprietary power connector that’s encased behind a waterproof seal that needs to be taken out prior to every charge. That gets slightly annoying after a while, but it’s a solid trade-off for water-and-dust-proof hardware. The rear of the phone features a protruding camera lens with an LED-flash that doubles as a heart rate monitor, which I’ll get into later, as well as a laughably bad speaker. Don’t try to listen to music through the speaker of this device. Just don’t.

I tested the S5 alongside an HTC One for most of my review process and I prefer the in-hand feel of the S5. For a 5.1-inch phone, it fits into my medium-sized hands comfortably. I still have to readjust to reach some of the display’s higher points, but Samsung did a good job crafting the feel of this phone.

The phone’s home button doubles as a fingerprint scanner for added security. While I’d like to write an entire section about the usefulness of such a feature, I’m just not going to waste my time, as you shouldn’t by using this awfully implemented feature. If I were a hardware executive at Samsung, I would be embarrassed that something so broken made it onto the production line. If I were an even higher executive, I would fire the person responsible for signing off on its shipment.

The Galaxy S5 is IP67 rated for water and dust resistance; so, you’ll be able to submerge the device in up to 1 meter of water for a half hour. I wasn’t comfortable dunking my test unit in a meter of water, but I did splash it a bit with some sink water without any harm. I’ve seen other reviewers go all in with their water tests and the results are consistent with what you’d expect from a waterproofed phone. Of course, submerging your gadgets in water should be done with caution and you should never try to push the water resistance further than its rating.

Open Spec Sheet

Network
LTE Cat.4 (150/50Mbps)
AP
LTE: 2.5GHz Quad core application processor
Display
5.1” FHD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080), 432 ppi
Dimension
142.0 x 72.5 x 8.1mm, 145g
OS
Android 4.4.2 (Kitkat)
Memory
RAM : 2GB
16/32GB User Memory + microSD slot (up to 128GB)
Some places only provide 16GB depending on region/country.
Connectivity
WiFi : 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac VHT80, MIMO(2×2)
Download Booster (LTE + WiFi simultaneous reception)
NFC, Bluetooth®: 4.0 BLE / ANT+
USB 3.0
IrLED
This device supports a USB 3.0 interface as well as lower versions of USB, including
USB 2.0. A USB 2.0 compatible cable is included in the package. A USB 3.0
compatible cable is not included in the package, and may be purchased separately.
Additional Features
IP67 certificated Dust & Water Resistant, Emergency Mode, Ultra Power Saving Mode, S Health, Quick Connect, Private Mode, Kids Mode
Camera
Main(Rear) : 16MP (1/2.6”, Phase Detection AF)
Sub (Front) : 2.0MP (1920 x 1080, Wide-angle lens )
Camera Features
HDR (Rich tone), Selective Focus, Virtual Tour Shot
Video
UHD@30fps, HDR, video stabilization
Video Codec : H.263, H.264(AVC), MPEG4, VC-1, Sorenson Spark, MP43, WMV7, WMV8, VP8
Video Format : MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, WEBM
Audio
Audio Codec : MP3, AMR-NB/WB, AAC/ AAC+/ eAAC+, WMA, Vorbis, FLAC
Audio Format : MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA
Sensor
Accelerometer, Gyro, Proximity, Compass, Barometer, Hall, RGB ambient light, Gesture, Fingerprint, Heart Rate Sensor
Battery
2800mAh
Google Mobile Services*
Chrome, Drive, Photos, Gmail, Google, Google+, Google Settings, Hangouts, Maps, Play Books, Play Games, Play Newsstand, Play Movie & TV, Play Music, Play Store, Voice Search, YouTube
Android, Google, Chrome, Drive, Photos, Gmail, Google+, Google Settings, Hangouts, Maps, Play Books, Play Games, Play Newsstand, Play Movie & TV, Play Music, Play Store, Voice Search, YouTube are trademarks of Google Inc.

 Samsung is dishing out the Galaxy S5 to American markets with an outgoing standard and paltry 16GB of onboard storage. Luckily for consumers, the Galaxy S5 is microSD expandable by 128GB. My test device came with 9GB of usable storage out of the box. By the time I installed my testing applications and downloaded some music playlists from Spotify, I was down to 6GB of storage. Another ding against Samsung, in my opinion, and yet another unacceptable embarrassment.

I’m saving the best for last and rounding out the hardware portion of this review with a bit about the display. I’m a sucker for a good display and the Galaxy S5’s 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display really hits it out of the park. The display’s colors are reproduced wonderfully; they’re gorgeous and vibrant, and blacks are some of the deepest blacks I’ve seen on a smartphone display yet. The display isn’t the best in direct sunlight, but it’s certainly better than some of its competition.

Software

Our test device was running Android KitKat v4.4.2 for the duration of this review, as well as the latest version of Samsung’s TouchWiz interface overlay. I’ve long been critical of TouchWiz, but the refinements Samsung has made to the latest version have me hopeful that they’re reigning in the obnoxious design gimmicks in exchange of clean design. The new version of TouchWiz isn’t a complete overhaul of the experience, but Samsung is obviously taking steps to improve its user experience through software and that was, and still is, a much needed change. I’d like to see the ‘Settings’ menus organized a bit more, because that’s a very messy experience. I’ve never seen more settings options than on a Samsung device, and too many settings make mainstream customers anxious.

I thought that Samsung might actually change the in-call interface, but it still looks blocky and cartoonish. If Samsung is trying to pull away from the cartoonish feel, it needs to redesign those crucial areas of the OS.

Some experiences are still questionable. For instance, Samsung still can’t figure out the easy way to create folders. In order to create one, you need to tap and hold an app, drag it to a “create folder” icon that pops into the top of the display, name the folder, and then drag more apps into the new folder. That extra step is unnecessary and frustrating when other devices let you just drag an icon on top of another one to create a folder.

One of my favorite features is the Peel Smart Remote. Paired with the IR blaster we mentioned earlier, the Smart Remote app will let you control your home entertainment system with your Galaxy S5. Within 2 minutes, I had all of my entertainment pieces responding to my S5’s commands. It sounds like a gimmick, but once you use it, you realize just how convenient it is to have an entire entertainment portal and controller in your hand at the same time.

Samsung is still the king of smartphone multitasking with Multi-Window, which allows you to use two apps at the same time. It really is a great way to multitask, and on smartphones and tablets with bigger screens, the utility of this feature only gets better. I found myself using it to check Twitter while streaming a video, or to control a music playlist or podcast while reading news from a news reader. The options are endless. I once thought it was a gimmicky feature, but I’ve come around to its usefulness.

I should make mention of the Galaxy S5’s health app offering, S Health. Samsung wants you to use the app to track your steps, burned calories, calories eaten, your heart rate, and more. Like any other fitness app, it lets you set goals for calorie consumption and daily activity. The problem with S Health is that it’s incredibly inaccurate and anyone who wants a real grasp on their fitness statistics would be better off buying a dedicated fitness wristband or wearable. There were times that the phone would be sitting completely untouched on my desk, and would register 10-15 steps when I picked it up. I did find the heart rate reading that is measured with the LED-flash to be surprisingly accurate, though.

Overall, the software running on the S5 isn’t without its faults. It’s typical Samsung TouchWiz that’s going to get jittery and bogged down after a few weeks of use. Towards the end of my review period, applications were slowing down, my keyboard input was lagging, and the phone just felt old. That was after about a month of usage and people sign two-year contracts for these devices. Faults aside, Samsung is making progress. TouchWiz has looked the best it has since its inception. This version feels like the company ran out of time and needed to ship whatever it had, which is ironic considering the state of the hardware itself. It all feels rushed, but I get the sense that Samsung is finally heading in the right direction.

Performance

galaxy_s5_perform

I was relatively pleased with the call quality of the S5. It wasn’t the greatest, but it wasn’t the worst, either. The earpiece speaker was loud enough and callers seemed clear, for the most part. I feel like most phones have calling down pat these days, because I’m almost never disappointed with the calling experience on smartphones.

I tested the S5 on Verizon Wireless. Their 4G LTE data network in Philadelphia isn’t anything to write home about these days, but during our test period, the carrier turned on its faster and less congested XLTE network. We used the S5 as a hotspot during some coffee shop sessions and had the device running during sporting events at the sports complex and the S5 performed as well as or better than the iPhone 5s or HTC One M8 we were pitting it against.

There isn’t a task the S5 and its Snapdragon 801 CPU can’t cut through, really. The S5 stood up to the test of the hardest hitting games and rendering applications. Any of the slowdowns we experienced during our review duration were exclusive to software inefficiency and not due to a lack of processing power. This phone will be able to handle anything you’ll throw at it for the next year or so.

The S5’s battery life was pretty great in my testing. The phone is stocked with a 2,800mAh battery and it got through the day with ease, and even made it past lunch time of a second day. We used the device to check social media, read news, watch videos, listen to music (streaming and local), and act as a personal hotspot for up to 4 devices. It’s definitely possible to kill the device in one day, but even an above average user will be able to leave their house and get back to home from work without worrying about needing a charge. The S5 has an “ultra power saving” feature, which is marketing speak for “we’ll turn off all of your phone’s features and you can let the phone sit on standby.” The power saving mode will push your phone through an extra few hours, but at the cost of almost every function.

Camera

galaxy_s5_camera

The S5 houses a 16-megapixel camera that’s capable of snapping some appreciable shots. It performs pretty well in low-light, though I’d take a device like the iPhone 5s or HTC One M8 if I was relying heavily on low-light performance. Shots in good lighting come out very sharp and detailed, and images don’t often suffer from overexposure, which is something I was happy to see. Older Samsung cameras would often overexpose, but I tend to blame that more on Samsung’s camera processing algorithms than the hardware they use for their shooters.

Speaking of Samsung’s camera app…I was less than enthused with it. It’s full of features and settings that most people aren’t going to bother using. Often times, the device would take upwards of 10 seconds to take the shot. I really don’t know if this was a hardware issue, because I haven’t seen it mentioned much in other reviews. I would take the shot and the phone would tell me to “hold steady” while it finished capturing it. I checked every setting I could think of to try and turn this off and even did a factory reset to try and correct the issue, but nothing worked. It’s something to be wary of if you’re the kind of person who needs a phone that takes quick shots. This may not be for you.

Our Take

If you’re in the market for a cell phone, don’t mind Android, and want something with the ability to capture great photos, the Galaxy S5 will likely be a great fit for you. Most people aren’t as peeved by software stuttering and camera issues like I am. That being said, if you’re signing for this phone on a 2-year agreement, you may want to consider something that will stand the test of time better, that has more usable storage, and a design that can outlast the duration of the contract. The S5 doesn’t feel sturdy, which is somewhat of a regression from the S 4. If you’re the kind of person that keeps their phone for a year or less, you absolutely should take a shot at the S5.

Questions or comments? Let me know below. If I missed something, I’ll gladly touch on it for you.

  • BROKEN

    This guy is a moron. I like the backing on the s5. I like touchwiz. I hate how they changed the left key so I no longer get into phone settings. To create a folder is very easy. I also love options menue. The camera is awesome. Over all it just sounds like you hate samsung. And come on, in call interface looking cartoonish? The speaker is better then the s3 s4. And what’s wrong with the charger cable? You connect the cord to the base and plug in any outlet. Or take the cord out and plug it to any computer usb. Also the s5 feels sturdy.

    What ever, bias review is bias.

    • http://www.bytenow.net Andy G

      If the review was biased, I would constantly draw comparison with a product that I thought was superior. The S5, like I said in the review, is a good phone, but it has its drawbacks that would turn off every day consumers, to whom this site is aimed.

      Reviews are subjective. Everyone is different. I don’t give a product a glowing review to keep a solid relationship with a PR firm like other websites do. I speak my mind. Samsung’s phones aren’t perfect. You know that, I know that, and everyone else knows that. I respect your opinion. If you can’t respect mine without name calling, please don’t come back.

      • jim

        All I will say is you can use a standard cable in the one side of the port. The whole point of the new charge port is for speed of data transfer. All previous android USB called can be used.

        • http://www.bytenow.net Andy G

          I know this. I don’t know why I included that in my review. Someone else pointed it out to me the other day and I removed the paragraph that cites the charging cable. I don’t know why it’s still showing in your version.

      • BROKEN

        Wow love how Crome just stopped responding. Had everything typed out…..

        Your review is clearly biased. It’s based mostly on opinions. Example, touch wiz. You did call that your opinion. But too many camera options? How is that even part of a review? Or the battery cover? Most people like a glossy feel. But what would you expect a battery cover to be made out of? Carbon fiber? First off people buy a case for their phones. So you never get to see it or the siding.

        The s4 siding was cool. Better then the s3. I think the s5 siding looks better then the s4. It looks like shiny crome. You are correct in saying no phone is perfect. But samsung phones seems to be better then LG and HTC.

        One thing about Samsung that bothers me is they keep taking away “useless” changes and putting them back. In the s4 you can no longer hide apps. You can rearrange the screens. In the s5 you can hide apps but can no longer rearrange screens. I personally like to hide apps and rearrange the screens. I had to hide all apps, then unhide to get my apps in order of scrolling screens.

        Also why did you not mention with the s5 net booster? Or making calls with wifi? No mention at all of what this phone can do in terms of functionality. You had this phone for a week correct?

        And too many phone menues? I found the s5 menue better then the s3 s4.

        • http://www.bytenow.net Andy G

          “Your review is clearly biased. It’s based mostly on opinions.”

          Do you know what a review is? It’s a publication of my (subjective) thoughts on the device. When I write reviews, I think about things that bother me and things that would bother other people that I know – from family members that aren’t tech savvy to friends who know just as much as I do. You need to research the definition of bias, because you’re using a word whose context you don’t understand.

          “But too many camera options? How is that even part of a review? Or the battery cover? Most people like a glossy feel.”

          How is that part of the review? It’s a very legitimate thing. The camera options are great, but overall, I didn’t find that they added anything to the experience other than annoyance and complexity. The glossy feel is nice, but once it gets covered with oils from your hand, it becomes a miserable experience.

          “Also why did you not mention with the s5 net booster? Or making calls with wifi? No mention at all of what this phone can do in terms of functionality. You had this phone for a week correct?”

          The Verizon version doesn’t have the Download Booster feature, nor does it have WiFi calling. I had the phone for longer than a week and I talked about plenty of the phone’s functionality.

          • BROKEN

            I do understand what a review is. And your review was kinda meh. I would learn more about the phone by looking at spec’s on samsung Web page. I would learn more about the feel by going into the store. Since you nit picked so much about the phone, the only thing I learned was it had a great battery and vzw has good data speeds.

            Also sorry you are correct. Those 2 features are with a different carrier. What your review lacked was, what is the difference from the s4 and s5. What would be the reason to upgrade. Any new must have features? What did samsung add or remove? And I did not hunt you down. I was looking to see how I can get into phone options with out pulling down the bar and clicking the gear icon.

            And I do know what biased means. Since you added mostly opinions that’s the reason I called it biased. Btw my girlfriend of 13 years loves the camera options.

            And ultra power saver is much more then turn everything off. You can pick what you want enabled. It’s a very great feature that will also let you know what your expected stand by time will be. And you see that time jump every time you enable something.

            It’s also laughable how you say samsung customers will leave the baby toys for HTC or LG. Again this is pure biased opinion. I understand people put their own thoughts about a product in a review, but we’re is the actual review on the product?

            Most people need a reason to upgrade to the next model, no were in this review gave me an idea of what’s new. Well, maybe your water test?

            If this is all you could come up with after using a device for 4 weeks then I guess you put no thought into this review, don’t know how to make a review, or just stared at the device and only thought about how it looked so “ugly”.

          • http://www.bytenow.net Andy G

            Well, thanks for your input!

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