In recent years, Samsung has become a formidable competitor in the smartphone space. Its products offer a good balance between form and function, and there is always some sort of added value the Korean company offers customers that purchase its products.
When the Galaxy S4 was launched in 2013, it became the fastest selling smartphone in Samsung’s history, with 20m units flying off store shelves within the first two months of its launch. Almost a year later, the fifth revision of the Galaxy S series has been introduced to the world.
As with most of the products in Samsung’s smartphone line-up, the exterior of the Galaxy S5 is constructed out of a polycarbonate thermoplastic. Although the phone doesn’t feel flimsy in hand, the faux-chrome trim around the edges of the device looks tacky.
The back cover, unlike previous models in the Galaxy S range, has, however, been improved, and now features textured dimples to assist with grip. As a result, the back cover also has a softer feel, which we much prefer to the smooth plastic rear on the Galaxy S4.
There are two models of the Samsung Galaxy S5 available in South Africa. The 4G/LTE version, which we tested, is available from MTN and Vodacom, while the 3G version is also available from other operators. Our test unit was the 16GB variant, but higher capacity models are also available. The phone’s memory can also be upgraded using the microSD port situated below the micro Sim slot.
Under the hood, the 4G version sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor clocked at 2,5GHz, while the 3G version has both Samsung’s own 2,1GHz quad-core Cortex-A15 and 1,5 GHz quad-core Cortex-A7 processor. This means that the 3G version of the Galaxy S5 runs two quad-core processors, a variant of the octo-core processor found in some versions of the Galaxy S4.
As is to be expected, the Galaxy S5 runs on Android 4.4 KitKat, the most recent version of Google’s mobile operating system.
The first thing new users notice when firing up the S5 for the first time is the big, vibrant display, which serves up crisp text and sharp images. It is also incredibly bright when turned to the maximum setting. The 5,1-inch screen has a resolution of 1 920×1 080 pixels for a pixel density of 432ppi — down slightly from the Galaxy S4’s 441ppi but only because of a slightly increased screen size.
Unsurprisingly, the Galaxy S5 is bundled with an array of products and features covering security, entertainment and functionality. It’s great to see Samsung has turned off by default features such as eye tracking and motion control that felt gimmicky on the S4. Instead, it has focused on features that add to the usability of the device.
At the top of the list is the durability of the Galaxy S5 — it’s both dust and water resistant to IP67. While this does not make it a ruggedised smartphone, it offers sufficient protection for most consumer-grade mishaps, including water spills. To ensure the device is sealed when in use, there is a pop-out cover that protects the micro USB port. And although it’s a necessity, we found this flap to be mildly cumbersome having to remove it to charge the phone. On the plus side, the S5 warns you when the back cover is not sealed properly.
When it comes to security, biometrics has long been touted as one of the best solutions to keep your data secure. Samsung has borrowed from Apple’s playbook and built a fingerprint scanner into the oblong home button situated just below the screen. The fingerprint scanner allows you to unlock the phone by sliding your finger over the button, but during the time we used this phone, the scanner failed to read our biometrics about a third of the time. Compared to the iPhone 5s’s fingerprint scanner, Samsung has work to do.
Samsung allows third-party developers to use the fingerprint scanner for security in their apps. PayPal is the first to take advantage of this, and S5 users can authenticate their account for purchases online by swiping their finger. Unfortunately, this feature made headline news for all the wrong reasons at launch when German researchers posted a video online showing how easy it is to fool the biometrics and gain entry to the device. In fairness, a similar hack can be used to fool the biometrics on the iPhone, too.
One of the areas in which the Galaxy S5 performs particularly well, was its imaging capabilities. This smartphone features a 16-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera. Apart from its quick autofocus, the camera produces vivid images with good saturation and sharpness.
The camera also includes a number of tools that can be used to enhance your pictures, the most useful of which is “Selective Focus”. By selecting this feature, the camera will allow you to adjust the focus from near to far, blurring the background or foreground to create a depth of field effect. It does so by taking a number of shots and then processing the images together to enable an out-of-focus effect in the background or foreground, you have the option to select which you prefer. Depending on your subject and its distance from the lens, this effect could enhance an otherwise dull image. It’s not perfect by any means, but it works well enough to create beautiful depth to photographs.
The video recording feature is also impressive. It can record 1080p footage at 60fps or 720p at 120fps. The latter is great for slow-motion effects if you enjoy action videography. If you want even more resolution from your video footage, the S5 also offers a 4K UHD video mode, which records 2160p at 30fps.
Below the rear camera and flash are a further two, tiny lenses. These are not used for photography, but instead to monitor heart rate. By placing your finger on the sensor, the S5 reads your pulse. This feature is used in Samsung’s S Health, a fitness application that includes a pedometer and which is designed to help you track walking distance and calories burnt. The S5 also supports the ANT+ protocol, a proprietary open-access multicast wireless sensor network technology used by a number of fitness gadgets including cycle computers and GPS watches.
As with most smartphones today, the Samsung Galaxy S5 offers a battery life of about a day or so, maybe a bit more on the quieter days. A feature we found particularly useful was the “Ultra Power Saving” mode, which can be turned on when the 2 800mAh battery runs low. Once enabled, it turns the screen to a grayscale mode and limits the number of usable and active apps. On 10% remaining battery, this feature will extend the battery life by up to about 24 hours — very handy when you are far away from a power source and need your phone in case of an emergency.
Included with each Galaxy S5, Samsung also makes available a number of paid-for applications and services free of charge. Samsung provides three months of free access to the premium versions of Bitcasa (a cloud backup system), Evernote (note taking and archiving), and LinkedIn. There’s also 12 months’ free access to the New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek, as well as a year’s RunKeeper subscription.
But arguably the most useful of the Samsung freebies is the 50GB of Dropbox storage space it provides for a full two years. If you already have a Dropbox account, it is credited with the additional capacity.
Another addition, which will appeal to music fans, is six months’ free subscription to nMusic Africa, a streaming music service similar to the likes of Simfy, Rdio and Rara. This service offers access to over 20m songs, and songs can be downloaded for offline listening.
Also unique to South Africa is DStv’s BoxOffice application, a movie rental service that gives S5 users exclusive mobile access to a movie rental service — even if they are not DStv subscribers. It costs R27 for new releases (for DStv subscribers) and R32 (for non-subscribers).
Another important value-add is Samsung’s ADH (accidental damage from handling) premium cover, which gives S5 owners access to 24 months of protection from accidental damage to the device. This includes water and screen damage, and users have access to a loan device while their S5 is being repaired.
Considering the amount of value you get when purchasing an S5, it is easy to see why this is destined to be a hot seller. It is not perfect by any means — we prefer the Sony Xperia Z2 and the HTC One (M8) — but it is a very capable smartphone with some nifty features.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 has a suggested retail price of R10 299 for both the 3G and LTE versions. — © 2014 NewsCentral Media