By Javed Anwer,TNN
Fast, functional and pricey – this is Galaxy S5 in one line. Samsung’s top Android phone, which went on sale in the Indian market a few days ago, is the best phone the company has made so far. We have been using one since last week and we can tell you that it is an impressive device.
Galaxy S5 has (almost) everything you can ask for in a smartphone. Yet, there is something missing. It lacks a feature that truly stands out. It lacks appeal that can make it irresistible to consumers. It lacks the wow factor that can make anyone pick it up and pay the big bucks Samsung is asking for it.
So, should you buy Galaxy S5 or not? May be you should. Or may be not. It all depends on what you want your phone to do.
We will deal with this all-important question in a while (or you can skip to the verdict if you are running short on time). But before that, let’s take a look at the device and what it can do.
Build and design
Samsung phones and tablets have similar designs. If you have seen a Galaxy S4 or Galaxy Grand 2, you will recognize Galaxy S5 as a Samsung phone at first glance. The only major change is the back cover. It is made of plastic – hardly a surprise – but unlike the shiny and slippery finish found on the earlier Galaxy devices, the back cover in Galaxy S5 has a soft matte finish with perforated pattern.
One key feature of Galaxy S5 is that it is a waterproof phone. It can survive rain. You can use it in shower. You can carry it in a swimming pool if you are not going to dive deep. As part of the waterproof design, the charging port, which supports both USB 2 and USB 3, is covered with a flap.
While there is no doubt that iPhone 5S or Xperia Z1 are better looking phones, Galaxy S5 gets the job done. The finishing and build quality of the device is top class. The design, though boring, is excellent in terms of functionality. We have seen phones that have exotic designs but don’t feel comfortable to hold. Galaxy S5 fits well, at least as well as a big phone can, in hand.
The top Galaxy phones always come with spectacular displays. Galaxy S5 carries on with the tradition. The 5.1-inch SuperAMOLED screen in S5 is gorgeous! It shows vibrant and rich colours and has excellent viewing angles.
The display is sharp due to the Full HD resolution of 1080×1920 pixels. On this device, the text doesn’t show pixilated edges in ebooks or on a web page. It is also very bright. Unlike Galaxy S4, which has some trouble in sunlit areas, Galaxy S5 screen remains bright enough to display text during outdoor use.
With the days of massive performance jumps or big updates over, Samsung is trying to woo consumers with some unique features. We have already talked about the waterproof design (high-end Xperia phones are also waterproof) but Galaxy S5 has a few more tricks up its sleeve. Are these special features useful?
Fingerprint scanner: Apple introduced it on iPhone 5S. But now Samsung too allows users to unlock their phone through a fingerprint scanner. This feature is a novelty. It looks cool when you unlock the phone using the fingerprint scanner. It works best when you swipe the fingerprint slowly and firmly on the scanner. This means 40-50% time when you swipe your finger, it will probably fail. It is not frustrating. But it is pointless.
Also, finger has to be swiped in vertical motion, something that is impossible when you are using the phone with one hand.
Summary: Cool feature but unlocking a phone through PIN or pattern is faster and more convenient.
S Health: We loved this feature in Galaxy S4 and we love it in Galaxy S5. With S Health, you can record your walking or jogging sessions. You can see how many steps you have taken each day or how many stairs you climbed. It is useful.
IR Sensor: This allows a user to control TV or set-top box with Galaxy S5. Useful and easy to set up.
Heart rate monitor: Under the primary camera in Galaxy S5, there is a heart rate monitor. You can put your finger on top of the sensor, open S Health app and check your heart beat. The device takes around 5 seconds to display heart rate and is mostly accurate but we won’t pop a pill on the basis of Galaxy S5 readings. If you think your heart rate is not normal, see a doctor.
Again, this is a cool feature but not very useful for two reasons. One, any phone with a flash and camera can check your heart rate through an app like Instant Heart Rate. And two, you can’t use it in gym or while jogging because keeping an eye on “heart rate zones” require real-time heart rate monitoring that can be performed only by a device that you can strap on your chest or wear on your wrist.
Kids Mode: On Galaxy S5 you can enable Kids Mode before you pass on the device to a kid who wants to play game on it or wants to draw something. With Kids Mode enabled, the phone displays colourful and cartoonish theme. You can choose the app you want the kids to access. This feature works well and is useful.
Bonus: There is an animated crocodile (swipe left from the home screen) in this mode. Kids can dress this crocodile in various attires, including different hats.
Ultra Power Saving Mode: Enabling this feature puts a greyscale theme on the phone. All non-essential services, including push notifications, are stopped to conserve the battery. We tested this mode with only 5% battery left in the phone. We used Twitter in greyscale, opened a website and read a few articles, and made a few several calls. The phone lasted for little over an hour with just 5% battery in this mode. Useful, we say.
Galaxy S5 runs Android 4.4.2, which is the latest version of Android, modified with TouchWiz, Samsung’s proprietary user interface. Depending on your aesthetic sense, TouchWiz, with its emphasis on rich and bright colours, will either look garish to you or playful.
We prefer the stock version of Android available in a phone like Nexus 5, even though this time Samsung has toned down some of in-your-face design elements found in TouchWiz.
The big changes in terms of usability and aesthetics are three. One, the icons in settings panel and in the quick action bar in notification shade are round and flat. It is not a big deal but these new icons do look better.
Second, My Magazine now takes the full left screen adjacent to the homescreen. This is similar to how Blinkfeed is presented on HTC One devices. Unfortunately, My Magazine, which is based on Flipboard and shows news stories as well as updates from social media, is not very useful. In its place Samsung could have put Google Now, just the way it is available on Nexus 5.
Third, Samsung finally has the multi-tasking button on its Galaxy phone. The button on the left of the home button now opens the task-switcher. This is a welcome change. Though, users can still access menu by a long-press on this button.
The other TouchWiz features are part of Galaxy S5. The device has multi-window feature, which allows users to open and work on two apps simultaneously. It has S Voice, which we don’t find too useful (Android voice search is supported too through “OK Google” phrase). It also contains a new feature called ‘toolbox’ which puts a floating and translucent round icon on the screen. Tapping on this icon allows a user quick access to a few apps like notepad and browser. For example, if you are in Facebook app and then you have to quickly open the notepad app, you can do it through ‘toolbox’ if you have enabled it.
Smart gestures like ‘Air View’ and ‘Direct Call’ are still part of the phone and can be enabled or disabled from the settings. They are not very useful though.
The primary camera in Galaxy S5 can capture images in 16MP. Samsung is using ISOCELL technology in the phone. According to Samsung, this technology should help users click better images in low light.
We found that Galaxy S5 is capable of shooting some fantastic pictures. Images that we shot with it in proper light had good amount of detail and pleasant colours. However, in scenes where the source of light was too prominent (a difficult scene for any camera) we found the images had off-the-mark contrast. Fortunately, in most of the cases this was fixed by using HDR mode, which was just a toggle away.
Galaxy S5 is one of the rare smartphones where HDR mode in the camera works well enough and is fast enough to be of use.
Talking of speed, the camera in Galaxy is very fast in getting focus. You point it at something and zap, the subject is in sharp focus.
In low light, the performance is good, though a lot depends on how well you shoot. If you hold the hand steady while taking images, Galaxy S5 can take some nice photos in low light. The HDR mode also helps here. But the way camera processes images, aggressively trying to reduce noise, robs them of fine details.
Galaxy S5 is powered by Exynos 5422 processor, which has eight cores. There is 2GB RAM and 16GB internal storage. This is a fast phone. The kind of mysterious lag often visible in TouchWiz user interface is not there in Galaxy S5. It feels as fast as Nexus 5, which is the fastest Android phone. On Galaxy S5, you can scroll through lists, switch tasks or open apps without seeing any lag.
We had a very positive overall experience while using Galaxy S5. It handles web browsing well and can play movies in most of the common formats and resolutions, including Full HD resolution, without requiring you to convert them into smaller files. The GPS in the phone is very fast and performance while using navigation or map apps is reliable.
The phone offers good call quality though it wasn’t as crisp as what we have found in devices like Nexus 5. Similarly, the mono speaker is loud and will satisfy you if you want to play a song or two but we have heard better sound from devices like HTC One that have stereo speakers.
Battery life is where Galaxy S4 really excels. Once charged fully, its 2,800 mAh battery can keep the device going for around 15 to 16 hours when used with a 3G connection. This battery life of around 15 hours is with around 4 hours of screen up time, which means we were using the device a lot. If you are not always connected to social media or don’t open a website on your phone every 15 minutes, you will get even better battery life.
We played casual games like Angry Birds Go as well as some more demanding games like Asphalt 8 on the device. In both types of games, the performance of Galaxy S5 was fantastic. We could play Asphalt 8 at its high graphics settings with ease. The device gets little hot after 15 to 20 minutes of gaming but then this an issue that affects all high-end phones, including iPhones.
Galaxy S5 is available in the market at a price of Rs 51,500. This means it is an expensive phone. In fact, it is a very expensive phone in a world where Moto G, Moto X and Nexus 5 exist.
As we noted earlier, we had a positive experience with Galaxy S5. It is a very capable phone and even though it lacks a killer feature, every little thing in the device, every new feature – such as waterproof design – adds to the user experience in a positive way.
But you may not need everything that Galaxy S5 offers. If you require a fast, functional and powerful smartphone, you can buy Nexus 5 without any second thoughts.
But Nexus 5 lacks something. It doesn’t have a slot for microSD card. It doesn’t have a heart rate monitor. It is not waterproof. It doesn’t have the camera or screen that Galaxy S5 has, although on both counts Nexus 5 is not too shabby.
There are three reasons to buy Galaxy S5. No matter what, you want to spend Rs 51,500 on a phone. If this is the case, go ahead and get Galaxy S5. It won’t disappoint you. It is a fantastic phone.
The second reason is that you are already using a Galaxy S3 or something similar. You want to upgrade, you are comfortable with a Galaxy phone and have no problems shelling out Rs 51,500. Galaxy S5 works for you.
The third reason is that you want something special that Galaxy S5 offers. May be you want an Android phone with fingerprint scanner. Or you want the S Health feature. Or maybe you want a high-end phone with a battery that can be removed. Or you want use an external storage card in it.
Go through the special features listed above and decide whether they are going to be useful to you or not. Are they worth spending extra $$? If your answer is yes (our answer is no, in case you are curious), go ahead and get Galaxy S5. You will enjoy using it.