27
Feb
playitagain

Love it or hate it, the Galaxy S5 will almost certainly be the best-selling Android phone in 2014. Whether or not the hardware actually warrants those kinds of incredible sales figures is largely irrelevant, thanks to Samsung's marketing machine and consumers' general willingness to buy things they're familiar with. And "familiar" is certainly an excellent way to describe the phone's hardware. While it isn't quite the ho-hum upgrade that came with the GS4, and there are some significant hardware features that add to its value, the GS5's overall design probably won't win it any new fans.

Let's start with the most visually striking aspect of the 2014 refresh: the rear cover. Instead of glossy plastic or gaudy faux leather, Samsung has gone for a "dimpled" look, not unlike the back of the original Nexus 7. And like the original N7, the dimples combine with the grippy coating on the plastic case to make the phone much easier to hold, which was a minor concern on previous generations. Aesthetically the change is sure to be divisive. I think it looks alright - not great, not terrible. At least the Galaxy S5 isn't trying to be something that it clearly is not, like the Galaxy Note 3.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the front of the phone looks nigh indistinguishable from the S4: Samsung doesn't want to mess with a good thing (or at least a reliable one) in that regard. The edges are a little more parallel, the home button is a little taller, and that's about it. The capacitive menu button has been replaced with a standard Android "Recents" button, though AOSP fans will still feel like it's on the wrong side. Long-press Recents and you activate the standard Android Settings button.

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The screen itself is only .1 inches bigger than the one on the S4, a change I think Samsung felt it needed just for the sake of having it be technically larger. Though the resolution of the Super AMOLED panel is still 1080p, the brightness has been improved considerably, and the S5's software allows the screen to get much, much dimmer. At the low end of the brightness meter it's almost a completely dark screen under normal indoor lighting - this will be handy for reading in near-darkness and saving battery. Viewing angles are typically excellent, and it has the slightly over-vibrant look of most Samsung screens.

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Here's something you won't hear in the official marketing for any new phone: the Galaxy S5 is taller, wider, thicker, and heavier than the previous generation. Granted, that still puts the thickness at a completely reasonable 8.1mm, and while the phone is about 10% heavier, I imagine users will appreciate the bigger battery and water-resistant build.

Yes, the Galaxy S5 is water-resistant, with an Ingress Protection rating of 67. That means that it should be safe from minor dust and a quick dunk or two in liquid. However, there are a few caveats: like the ruggedized Galaxy S4 Active, the S5 has a removable battery cover, using a rubber gasket and a groove to seal the more delicate areas of the phone away from harm. While that preserves the swappable battery and MicroSD card features that at least some users insist upon, it also means they'll have to be extra-careful to make sure that each one of the dozen or so plastic tabs that secure the cover is completely closed. If you forget one or two - all too easy to do considering the lightness of the cover - your phone will be exposed to possible water damage. This was a major issue with the S4 Active as well.

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The bezel is a glossy, shiny plastic, which honestly looks pretty cheap... but then that's par for the course for Samsung. The power and volume buttons are in their expected places, though they've been slimmed down considerably. They're also much "sharper" than the S4's buttons, despite being made of plastic, which should make them relatively easy to find and press without looking. I imagine the change was made to match the home button, though the matte plastic there is almost certainly designed to enable the integrated fingerprint reader. We'll cover that in another article.

The USB 3.0 port is double-chambered like the Note 3, but still backwards with older cables. It's covered by a plastic tab for water protection, and that thing is a real pain to open. Just finding the millimeter-wide opening to pull out the tab is a chore, and if you have short fingernails, you might find it especially hard to access. I predict a lot of frustrated users will tear that thing right off and risk water damage rather than deal with it every time they want to top off their phone.

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'Round the back you see the 16 megapixel camera in the same spot, still raised and slightly more square. Below it the cover cutout for the LED is a rounded rectangle, one side of which houses an infrared sensor that works as a pulse oximeter, a basic heart rate monitor. This is an undeniably cool inclusion on the phone, and one that will certainly please those who are interested in fitness. Some might think it's a superfluous addition considering that all three new Galaxy Gear devices use the same features, but for someone who wants an easy tool for a very basic health monitor, it's a useful feature add.

Pop off the rear cover and you'll see the speaker, the battery, and a combined module for the SIM and MicroSD card slots. This is a novel design, but since the MicroSD slot is directly on top of the SIM, you won't have to remove the latter every time you want to swap out a memory card. Unfortunately you'll still have to remove the strangely tall battery. Also note: Samsung has switched to the teeny tiny NanoSIM standard.

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One of the features that doesn't get mentioned often but which makes a real difference in everyday usability is a phone's speaker. Samsung hasn't risen to HTC's challenge in that department: the S5's speaker is the same small, single version we've seen on other models. It's plenty loud; you'll be able to hear it from the other side of a reasonably quiet room without difficulty. That said, it's noticeably less clear than the speaker on the S4 - I wouldn't be surprised if the speaker is identical to the one on the Galaxy S4 Active, which uses an extra membrane for water protection. The external speaker grille is a single raised plastic bar, which also forms an awkward loop for charms or straps.

Actually holding the Galaxy S5 is comfortable, much more so than before (to be fair, I prefer a little heft to my devices). The redesigned rear cover makes it feel a lot more secure in your hand, and the slight extra space makes it slightly less likely that you'll hit the side of the screen with those thin bezels. On the other hand, the embiggened screen won't make it any easier to reach the top or bottom with a single thumb, which is a real problem while Android is still so dependent on notifications.

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Judging the internal hardware will require an extended review, but it's a pretty typical bump over the previous year. The standard model uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, matching other flagships like the Xperia Z2. The Qualcomm phone will be the wide international version, though we expect to see variants of the Galaxy S5 powered by Samsung's own Exynos processor eventually (and primarily in Korea). RAM is 2GB, which is adequate, but a strange step down from the Galaxy Note 3's more generous 3GB. More memory would have been welcome, especially since Samsung's TouchWiz UI isn't getting any slimmer.

The internal storage is the depressingly standard 16GB/32GB, and I'm sure many regions and carriers will have to make do with the lower choice alone. Make use of those SD cards, folks - the Samsung software load on our preview device ate up more than half of the 16GB model's on-board storage. More subtle hardware additions, like LTE Category 4 and MIMO WiFi, will depend on your location and local hardware. Software is Android 4.4.2, though you'd hardly be able to tell. We'll dive deeper into the user interface and various other software features with other posts from Mobile World Congress.

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At launch Samsung is offering the Galaxy S5 in black, white, blue, and copper/gold. I'm a fan of the blue and I can't stand the cheap look of the copper, but most people will probably go with either black or white. Other color options will surely become available in time. Pricing hasn't been revealed, but the S5 and the new Gear watches will be available worldwide on April 11th.

Michael Crider
Michael is a native Texan and a former graphic designer. He's been covering technology in general and Android in particular since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

  • Javier

    Where is the Z2 Hands on? Samesung sucks

  • Tuấn Ankh

    Pricing will be in the range of $650-$700 (in the US). T-Mobile charges about $675.

  • skatsbrayt

    "Let's start with the most visually striking aspect of the 2014 refresh: the rear cover."

  • http://tommydaniel.com Tommy Thompson

    "Not better, not worse." Agreed!

  • Christopher

    Wireless charging seems like an obvious need on a phone with an annoying USB cover for water proofing why not have that stock what a nice selling point water proof and wireless..

    • anezarati

      so you have to buy the $60 wireless charging rear cover.

    • Sean Lumly

      Wireless charging also has an extreme effect on a devices user experience. It really has to be used to be appreciated. I would prefer if this feature was built in rather than as a purchasable accessory, but at least its an option. In fact a bundled wireless charger would be a "revolutionary" feature.

  • Hans Pedersen

    This is why I always tend to stop reading articles about Samsung at Android Police:

    "The screen itself is only .1 inches bigger than the one on the S4, a change I think Samsung felt it needed just for the sake of having it be technically larger. Though the resolution of the Super AMOLED panel is still 1080p, the brightness has been improved considerably..."

    You bitch about Samsung constantly, even in a sentence where you yourself explain a reason for them to increase the size of the OLED emitters.

    Reading any story about Samsung here goes along on the same theme. Always. I know, you love Nexus stuff, but seriously, keep that to yourself and try to be professional when writing.

    • Dominick White

      Compare to Droid-life, when it comes to Samsung stuff. They are very good on here

      • Hans Pedersen

        Maybe they are, I never visit that site. :) Though in comparison to a site like Android Central, this is just ridiculous. It's just annoying when you read a story or review that you have to filter out all the whining. I like Android Police as it's a great place to go to get a little bit more in-depth about things, but, there is a limit even for me...

    • Grayson

      I don't think the 0.1 inch larger screen is the reason it's brighter. A 5.1 inch screen only has 4% more area than a 5.0 inch screen, so unless the screen is only 4% brighter, which I think would be unnoticeable, then other refinements in technology account for the increased brightness, meaning they probably could have stuck with a 5.0 inch screen while still increasing brightness.

      • Hans Pedersen

        I'm guessing they might be using a different process, you know, they have been working on this flexible substrate for a while now, and talked about it quite a lot last year. It's most likely a new generation of OLED, making it hard to get the exact same size.

      • Grayson

        Still though, I don't necessarily agree with the article and think they increased the screen size by 0.1 inch just to bump the spec sheet. They probably had to make the device larger to fit a larger battery, the new heart sensor, and the new water seals, so they probably figured they might as well increase the screen size a bit to match the new body.

    • Thejungle

      You have already told more bullsh*t than I have ever heard/red in my life in one sentence. Really. I am totally surprised why didn't they literally piss and burn that phone already. This is so COMPLETELY totall, mega-super-sized CRAP that it's above yours and mine imagination barriers!

      • Hans Pedersen

        Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz................

  • Zach Berger

    This is ugly

  • Ittiam

    The blue colour is ugly

    • Sean Lumly

      I think the blue colour is very striking. The metallic specularity gives it a distinct feel, that I wish was on the black and white covers.

  • Mystery Man

    Camera review?

  • ProductFRED

    I heard one description of the S5 and Samsung from the Unpacked event that really appealed to me.

    "The S5 [and Samsung] have become so consumer-end that it's a little insulting."

    Ok, let's analyze that. First of all, I'm a current Galaxy S4 owner. I've owned the Nexus S, Galaxy S II, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S3 i9300, Galaxy Note 2, and Galaxy S4 (and of course non-Samsung phones in between). The hardware inside the Galaxy S5 is good. That's not what people are complaining about. The thing that differentiates devices is aesthetics. That's why Android phone manufacturers (Samsung, HTC, LG, etc) for the most part all use a skin/UI to add/remove features and overall make their devices unique. In the beginning, up until around Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean, naked/vanilla Android was too bare. Not just aesthetically; the stock Clock, Calendar, etc apps were all crap to put it bluntly.

    So Samsung created Touchwiz, which first spawned as sort of an iOS clone (we can all admit that much). It evolved over time, and the Galaxy S3 provided possibly the most dramatic shift in Touchwiz. It was colorful but refined compared to previous versions. Samsung tried to simplify Android for new users by adding (retaining from previous Touchwiz versions) toggles in the notification bar, and adding tutorials for all the extra bells and whistles they added on. It was good or bad depending on how you looked at it, but the hardware made up for it (specs, microSD slot, removable battery).

    Then came the Galaxy S4. It certainly looks and performs better than the S3. It retained the same key hardware elements, but attempted to make Android even simpler (key word attempted). The settings menu went from one long list, to tabbed, organizing settings into categories that didn't really make sense (e.g. "Battery" is under "More", not "My Device"). They also added Knox, which was aimed at making Samsung devices and Android as secure as Blackberries are/were in corporate environments.

    Let's put aside the rooting/modding talks. The problem with the Galaxy S5 is that it follows the same basic formula that Samsung has been following in the past. It simply makes Android too "dumb." Instead of following Motorola's path and attempting to optimize Android, Samsung simply bumps up the device's specs, while at the same time making Touchwiz heavier and heavier (I believe it takes 8GB of internal device storage now). So in the end, you still have an expensive unoptimized device that takes forever to accomplish a task. The case shouldn't be that it runs fine out of the box, but as soon as I start downloading apps (like everyone does) it slows down. Plus a lot of the features are pretty useless; why do I need a heart rate sensor? 16MP camera is nice, but it's overkill if the sensor is just ok. And the design in my opinion isn't different enough from the S4, and even looks uglier.

    Long story short, the phone doesn't do much to differentiate itself, and neither does Samsung. It makes a mockery of Android and doesn't really give existing Samsung owners a reason to buy an S5.

    • Chris

      You got rid of your Note 2 for an S4? How could you do that?

      • ProductFRED

        Take SIM card and memory card, insert them into the S4.

        No but really I loved the Note 2. I just wanted a 1080p screen and a smaller device. Plus I got my S4 for $300 no contract (idiot seller).

        • Chris

          Ha. Wow that is really cheap, but I honestly don't think I would switch even if I got an S4 for free. I love the huge screen and I can't tell a difference with 1080p (Next to a Note 3 anyway).

          But nice that you got a smaller phone like you wanted!

    • mlj11

      Actually I think Sammy has always been "consumer-end".

      The one thing about the S5 that really surprised me was how it seemed like Sammy didn't go out of its way to make it The Best (Android) Phone around.

      I mean, its specs trail the Z2's (this has never happened in previous generations - the Galaxy was always the best-specced at release), and Sammy didn't even bother to have a garish song-and-dance unveiling this time around - unlike what they did for its two predecessors.

      Maybe I'm over-speculating here, but perhaps Sammy got a little ticked off by the (rumoured) dressing-down that Google gave them? Or maybe Sammy isn't trying so hard because they wanna leave some room for their Tizen phones to shine later on?

    • Elric

      Very well thought out response. In some ways Samsung has done wonders for Android... let's face it, the Droid was seen as the geek's alternative to the iPhone (or the cheep-skate's) until Samsung broke that mental barrier, and yes much of that was by "consumerising" their devices.

      In the other hand, Samsung is doing a lot of harm to Android, particularly in the eyes of those who know and love the OS: bastardising the framework to the point that more and more apps (and even Google updates) are breaking, for which the uneducated then blames anyone but good ole Sammy! Android updates are slow as treacle to roll out (again due to their bastardising the framework). The dumbing down of what is actually a powerful OS is just insulting. Then of course my favorite tactic of all (and this is why many including myself are telling Samsung to go jump)... using Knox, locked bootloaders and the like to prevent those of us (and that's been a large part of the dev community) who love the hardware but hate the monstrosity called touchwiz from rooting and flashing a custom rom.

      All in all Samsung is becoming too much like Apple... no thanks

      • ProductFRED

        To play devil's advocate, Knox is mainly an attempt to get their devices into corporate environments (i.e. replace/join Blackberries and iPhones). But yeah, the biproduct is we can't do what we want with our devices.

  • Eszol

    I believe the processor is different from the one in Z2. S5 uses MSM8974AC while Z2 uses MSM8974AB. The different in clock speed of the processor and gpu. Those geeky wannabe who worship spec will maybe still buy the s5. Here http://www.qualcomm.com/media/documents

  • Stanley Chan

    Congratz android police reviwers. The best till now. Details not greasy device in hands. Very good review.

    I think the S5 is ugly but functional. Thats the Sammys target in the S5.

  • h4rr4r

    All USB3 micro ports are backwards compatible. It is part of the spec.

  • Mike Loomis

    What a perfectly cromulent article.

    • Bass Heavy

      "embiggened"is a made up word from the Simpsons.

  • http://www.stevenmattera.com Steven Mattera

    I was going to say that TouchWiz looks beautiful for once... But then I saw that keyboard jumped 10 feet into the air.

  • Unknown182

    I wish people would actually put some effort into researching the best phone for them instead of just buying it because they saw it on tv or everyone else is doing it. Though Samsung and Apple love it. There are cases where Samsung phones or Apple phones are best for said person but that may be half, if that, of owners.

  • Akwasi

    It's so hilarious to see all of these GS5 photos of it's rear, as if the back of a phone really matters.

  • Anthony Johnson

    Still one thing is not cleared is it support wireless charging feature like Galaxy S4?

  • HungTran

    The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a phone that looks and feels like another
    top-end S-series phone. It offers loads of new features, and some
    much-needed improvements to the Samsung interface. And if you have decided to become a proud owner of this device, perhaps you’re in the market for a solid and beautiful protection case as well.

    http://9cases.com/2014/03/10-newest-and-best-samsung-galaxy-s5-cases-2014/

  • Adam Snegg

    Just so you know, the speaker on the s5 is actually significantly louder than on the s4 (I have tested both).