27
Feb
wm_DSC02306

Whether you like it or not, there's little doubting that the Galaxy S5 was the star of the show at this year's Mobile World Congress. Samsung had the largest press event, the most crowded booth, and the most hype built up leading into the show. It doesn't matter if it's still plastic, if it's still running TouchWiz, or that it's still arguably one of the uglier flagship devices on the market - this phone obviously matters a lot. Samsung is going to sell tens of millions of these things a matter of months after they launch, and because of that, we're taking a special focus on the S5 during our MWC coverage.

As the person charged with reviewing the Galaxy S4 last year (in somewhat ridiculous detail), I felt compelled to take a closer look at the new software Samsung has created for its marquee mobile product.

Galaxy S5 Software: Generally

What's new in the new TouchWiz? A lot, frankly, especially in a visual respect. While I've read numerous hands-on posts claiming the changes to Samsung's UI layer aren't all that aesthetically dramatic, I'd have to disagree rather strongly. This is easily the biggest update to TouchWiz since the original NatureUX that debuted on the Galaxy S III two years ago, and arguably is even bigger than that in some respects.

While certain elements are very familiar (eg, the home screen isn't radically different), almost every significant piece of the UI has been touched or updated in some noticeable way. The "flat" aesthetic we'd seen unveiled initially on the Tab Pro series has weaseled its way into the S5, and I think the result is inarguably an improvement.

The notification bar is perhaps the area where this change is most dramatic - flat toggles, new quick shortcuts for S Finder and Quick Connect (which, unfortunately, do not seem able to be disabled), and a lighter theme overall simply make the S5 feel much more modern than its predecessor. The settings menu also now defaults to a grid, rather than list-based, layout, which I think many users will prefer. It's certainly more intuitive / easy to navigate than the tabs Samsung utilized on the S4 and Note 3.

Note: the video erroneously states Magazine cannot be turned off, but I later correct myself.

Other elements, like the app drawer, have just been cleaned up. Instead of having tabs up top for apps / widgets / downloaded apps, Samsung just uses a subtle 3-dot menu button and the top right, making the drawer look much less cluttered. Adding widgets is now done solely by a long press on the homescreen, which brings up a GEL-like 3-item menu along the bottom of the display, as opposed to Samsung's previous implementation, which brought up a menu.

The homescreen isn't radically different, but Samsung does dedicate the far-left pane to its Magazine interface, which is in many respects similar to both HTC's BlinkFeed and the Flipboard app. The Magazine homescreen can be turned off in settings, though, which I imagine is something many people will be quick to do. It was actually a bit choppy on the unit we played with, too, and was the only time the S5 really felt all that slow during our testing.

wm_DSC02038

Speaking of performance, the Galaxy S5 is easily the fastest Samsung handset to date. Even compared to the Note 3, the Galaxy S5 simply feels more nimble and well-adjusted to rapid multitasking and scrolling. The units we tested weren't even on final software, so it's entirely possible there are yet more gains to be made in this regard. Compared to the Galaxy S4, which wasn't blazing-fast to begin with, and now feels a bit laggardly, the S5 is a major step up in the speed department.

So, all that business we heard about Samsung culling its content offerings and scaling back TouchWiz - it seems that many people perhaps expected too much here. The one thing Samsung has removed (though would not comment upon) on the Galaxy S5 is Samsung Hub - Samsung's movie, music, and television content store. Samsung Apps is still present, but the absence of Hub is simply too convenient not to chalk up to the rumors we heard last month. As for the UI itself, you're out of luck - this is still a very Samsung affair, and nothing I saw suggested to me that Samsung was in any way kowtowing to an alleged Google demand for a more "Android-like" experience.

Samsung's own apps have undergone various levels of transformation as well, with apps like S Planner (calendar) and the Browser both sporting flatter, more modern interfaces, amongst others. We'll save the detailed look at those for the review, though.

Galaxy S5 Feature Spotlight: Fingerprint Scanner

We had a chance to set up and test the fingerprint unlock function on the Galaxy S5, and while I walked away less than wowed, I will admit the feature does work as advertised.

wm_DSC02054

Setting up the fingerprint reader is fairly easy - go to lockscreen settings and set it to fingerprint mode, at which point you'll be asked to set up a backup password (in case, you know, you burn off your fingerprints or something) as an alternative to the reader. Once you do that, you'll be required to swipe your finger of choice roughly 8 times (for me, it was more like 16) so that the phone can get a good sense of what your fingerprint looks like. Samsung claims up to 3 fingers can be stored, but they didn't demo the functionality for multiple fingers to us, unfortunately. Once the print is stored, simply turn off your display, turn it back on, and voila - you'll be prompted to swipe down from the bottom of the screen over the home button. I found it worked with my index finger about 80% of the time, maybe more if I was particularly careful with my swiping. It's enough to be usable, but not so accurate as to be anything close to foolproof - you do need to take some care in exactly how you slide your finger across the sensor (flat against the surface, not too slow, not too fast, etc).

The unlock function falls flat for me for one, simple reason: I still have to hit the power or home button and wait for the display to turn on before I can actually swipe. With Apple's Touch ID, the fact that it reads your finger in static position once the home button is pressed simply seems better. I'm not arguing about the merits of either technology in terms of accuracy, long-term reliability, or security, but the Apple solution is just simpler. Pressing a button, waiting for the display, then swiping does not feel like the future - it feels like an encumbrance.

Samsung does promise it's looking into expanding the uses for the fingerprint reader to things like your Samsung account and PayPal, so there's that. We'll have to see what the level of third-party adoption ends up being, but I doubt we'll be authorizing Play Store purchases with our thumbs any time soon.

Galaxy S5 Feature Spotlight: Heartbeat Monitor (AKA Pulse Oximeter)

With the Galaxy S4, Samsung made adding new and interesting sensors to their devices a priority - the temperature and humidity sensors on the GS4 were interesting developments that, while maybe of limited usage, did differentiate Samsung's hardware from the competition in a real way. This year, Samsung's added another interesting sensor capability, in the form of something called a pulse oximeter.

wm_DSC02289

The oximeter is the transparent square on the left of the sensor cluster, below the camera.

The short of it is that a pulse oximeter reads your heartbeat by shining light through a thin cross-section of your body (eg, a finger) and then measuring the varying levels of light absorbance. When your heart contracts, arterial blood surges through your body, and this effect is observable all the way down at your fingertip. When there's more blood, more light is absorbed, and by continually measuring the amount of light absorption occurring at the observed area over a period of time, your heart rate can then be calculated (the accuracy of pulse oximetry isn't perfect, but it's pretty good). The basic technology isn't [remotely] new, but as far as I'm aware this is the first time we're seeing it in a smartphone.

Using the S Health app, you can measure your heart rate whenever you want, simply by putting your index finger over the oximeter on the back of the phone. You then can watch the graph of the oximeter's raw measurements fluctuate while it determines your current heart rate, and I found the feature quite reliable, and honestly just kind of fascinating. I'm not sure how useful it will be on a phone as opposed to a smartwatch or fitness tracker, but it's neat nonetheless.

And no, as far as I can tell the pulse oximeter does not actually allow you to measure blood oxygen levels, though perhaps an API could open up that possibility.

Galaxy S5 Feature Spotlight: Ultra Power Saving Mode

Our final feature spotlight for the Galaxy S5 will focus on what for many users will be a brand-new experience on their Galaxy S5s, in the form of Ultra Power Saving Mode. We know now that this feature isn't technically new - Samsung's had it on a few of its Japanese devices for some time now. But for Europe, the US, and the rest of the world, this is new, and it's actually quite cool.

wm_DSC02024

Most power-saving modes on smartphones require you to do a lot of the work in terms of deciding just what you do and don't want to turn off, or just how much energy you want to save. This sort of defeats the purpose, in my opinion, of a power saving mode: I want to put my phone in a state where it will still function as a phone for calls, SMS, and email, but is otherwise using as little power as humanly possible while remaining practically usable.

Samsung's Ultra Power Saving mode takes this philosophy to heart. Switch it on, and things change - a lot. The first difference you'll notice are the colors - they're gone. The screen goes black and white monochromatic to save power, and brightness is greatly reduced. Next, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are disabled. Fancy UI animations are turned off. You're also given a severely limited UI - Samsung actually turns off a bunch of services and disables communication / sync for the vast majority of your apps. You get access to calls, email (including Gmail), and SMS, as well as a few other, select apps. There is only one, basic homescreen. However, mobile data remains enabled (LTE is off, though, it's 3G only in this mode), so you'll still get all your SMSs and emails.

wm_DSC02053

Samsung claims this feature is so effective at reducing power consumption that at 10% remaining battery life your phone will be able to last in standby mode for 24 hours. That's pretty incredible. On the unit we were testing, which had around 20% battery life, the estimate use time (as opposed to standby time) was around 7 hours, which is also quite impressive if true.

Obviously this feature will require some field testing, so there's not much else to say about it now.

Galaxy S5 Software: In Conclusion

My first look at the Galaxy S5 left me impressed. I believe that Samsung's increased focus on speed and restyling the UI are key to enhancing the user experience across the board. For all the TouchWiz and plastic jokes, the Galaxy S5 is indeed a very modern, competitive device. It feels new.

While Samsung hasn't exactly simplified the act of navigating and engaging its many various features and gimmicks littered throughout the OS, what it has added will undoubtedly catch the eyes of buyers. The fingerprint scanner isn't perfect, but I have no doubt it will be a big draw for consumers envious of Apple's Touch ID. Things like the heartbeat monitor and ultra power saving mode will also 'showroom' well - tell someone they'll get 24 hours out of the last 10% of their battery and you'll certainly get attention. Likewise, showing a phone monitoring your heart rate will definitely raise some eyebrows.

We'll have to see what Samsung's latest camera can do out in the wild, too - their fast autofocus claims are definitely appealing if true, and Samsung has always had great sensors in its high-end devices.

The Galaxy S5 doesn't do anything incredibly groundbreaking compared to the competition. it doesn't look all that much different (many would argue it looks worse). But what it does do is bullet-point itself above and beyond its predecessor with ease - and that's really what Samsung needs to keep increasing its market share at the high end. I look forward to reviewing the Galaxy S5, and I have little doubt it will be anything short of "quite good."

wm_DSC02306

David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • brkshr

    At least they got rid of the Gingerbread color scheme

  • ThomasMoneyhon

    did you guys get those wallpapers?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Nope, sorry.

  • Zargh

    Nice video..but WHY U NO TEST "OK GOOGLE" HOTWORD IN TOUCHWIZ?!

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Gah. Well, we only can cover so many things.

  • mlj11

    The new Settings might be an improvement on what Sammy used before, but I think it still trails far behind the stock Android implementation.

    This icon-based layout just takes up too much vertical space - which must make looking for specific options more tedious than it needs to be - and even the ability to hide certain "groups" of settings is IMHO a band-aid fix for the unnecessary problem of being too visually overwhelming.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      The settings can be changed back to list view, FYI.

      • mlj11

        I think this icon-based layout would've made more sense if all of Sammy's stock apps were styled in the same fashion. Only the quick toggles living in the status bar look somewhat similar to them, so I feel this was a missed opportunity by Sammy to implement a stronger, more coherent design language.

        Having said that, I wouldn't be surprised if their next UX refresh will feature icons like that - or they might even pop up on Sammy's Tizen phones.

    • http://Twitter.com/eggoespada Eric Gonzalez

      You get three different choices on how the settings app is displayed. You get the new icon based look, the tabbed look, and the traditional list view

      • mlj11

        Ok. I just think it's unnecessary. The stock Android implementation isn't broken, so I don't see why Sammy feels they needed to fix it.

        • Cory_S

          I thought Google tried to crack down on OEMs heavily customizing the settings area way back in ICS.

          • mlj11

            I thought so too.

        • RTWright

          I don't understand all this complaining about TouchWiz layout when all you have to do to fix it is download Nova or Apex, all problems solved.... As for the Google Now, eh, I'm fine just tapping the Google Search to activate it, it's not a big deal.

          • Plazmic Flame

            Have you used an Android device before?? Launchers change the homescreen, not the settings menu as well.

          • mlj11

            Er.. Nova / Apex doesn't affect Samsung's Settings screen.

            And I'm not complaining - I'm making an observation.

          • didibus

            That's why I always wanted the settings dropdown to be moved to an app, just like the launcher, so it can be replaced just as easily.

  • Severo Rivera

    Is lag still persistent on this new release or has Samsung finally fixed that issue.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      It's really fast.

    • Mandeep Singh

      Well you know people always overstate things
      If a phone stutters for only 1 sec people will complain like nuclear war has broken down

  • CuriousJorge

    does it use samsung emojie's system wide or the stock 4.4 ones?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Couldn't tell you, sorry.

  • Cory_S

    Does it have Qi charging? I really want a water resistant phone with Qi charging.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Wireless charging will come via accessory backs at a later date. Samsung is a part of the Rezence group, but they've used Qi in the past, too. Hard to say.

      • Cory_S

        First I'd heard of Rezence . yeah, I'm not buying 4 new chargers for a phone. These guys need to get on the same page.

      • HotInEER

        Did you get this info from Samsung David or is this a guess? After having wireless charging in my Nexus 5, I really, really, really, don't want to go back to a device without it, especially water resistant ones where you have to constantly remove the flapper. Still mad that only the Verizon LG G2 had wireless charging.

        LG was suppose to be releasing accessory backs too and they never did. It's 2014 and all phones should have that capability, as well as 16GB internal storage should be eliminated. Should be 32GB and 64GB minimums.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

          Samsung has released charging backs for the S4 and Note 3, no reason they won't for the S5. Just might be a wait if they go with Rezence. I asked the Rezence guys if the S5 would be a launch device for them but they wouldn't say anything.

          • HotInEER

            Thanks for the update. I just wish these accessories were available at launch and not 6 months later. How do you think the S5 compares to the new Sony Z2?

        • Dominick White

          Droid dna abd the rest of the new moto droid lines had it has well

    • andrey3000

      Qi charging? Qi today had a theoretical max effect of 5W (1A@5A) and in real life will charge with a 5-600 mA current. So until Qi medium power is released with max effect of 15W (3A@5V) wireless charging is too slow.. At least for me.

      • Cory_S

        I rarley notice the difference between wired and qi on my nexus 5. Also helps you are a lot more likely to charge more when all you have to do is place it on the orb instead of plug it in. That combined with most my charging is wither at Tue office or before I go to bed, I really don't care how fast it is.

  • TheUndertaker21

    really nice quick review, I just hoped you dived deeper with the other new stuffs. but anyways really good article, waiting for your full review.

  • http://www.About.me/PHADE PHADE

    Great Article David!!

    I just sent you a tweet regarding the "Life Times" lifelogging app that "leaked" before the announcement of the Galaxy S5. Do you know if that is there or did Samsung get rid of it?

    NOTE: Here is the AndroidPolice post on it: http://www.androidpolice.com/2014/01/30/samsung-life-times-life-logging-app-leaked-expected-to-debut-on-future-smartphones/

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Honestly, I don't recall. It could be in there, but I don't remember it, and I don't think Samsung highlighted it if it was.

  • Android Developer

    what about the kids-mode and the private mode?
    i wonder how they work.

  • Sean Lumly

    A very interesting possible use of the fingerprint scanner would be a swipe 'up' action that unlocked/opened quick settings. In this way, it would save a button press, and allow a user to toggle power saving, tweak brightness and volume, and access full settings etc. It would also guard your settings behind a tiny bit of added security.

    Plus, it could have the benefit of keeping these settings from the notification bar. It may be wishful thinking for the software, but it could be a neat function.

    Additionally, augmenting the function of the scanner, swiping left/right on the home button (without reading a fingerprint) could be an interesting way to quickly toggle between recent applications, with a home button click to access the application. Alternatively, a quick swipe to the left of the home button could be a gesture for the back button!

  • Plazmic Flame

    My thoughts on the GS5...

    - Nasty arse neon-green tint is still present on toggles.
    - Non-removable buttons from notification shade?? BS!
    - Settings menu is looking nice
    - Settings menu is absolutely nuts! So many freaking options. Needs to be scaled down ffs!

    • RadarJammer

      I don't want you to limit my customization options.

      • Plazmic Flame

        I don't want to limit your customization options... Do you do drugs sir?

    • Badouken

      Id be fine with the toggles if they changed the neon-green to white, then it would actually be a decent upgrade but with the green its ugly as hell.

      I also like the settings menu but Samsung has added waaayy too many features they should have partitioned them smarter in the menu.

      Also the non-removable notification for wifi drove me crazy on the Verizon version of the GS3 one reason i was so eager to root.

      • Plazmic Flame

        It would be great if there was an option to change the color to whatever the user wants. I think it would be great with a white or "Google Blue" on the toggles but just give the user options.

  • Grayson

    I still think stock Android and HTC Sense are better designed, but this looks like a HUGE improvement compared to TouchWiz on the Galaxy S4. I think I could actually live with this and enjoy using a TouchWiz phone now. I will certainly give the S5 a closer look than I gave the S4.

    • Gavin Lee

      I thought flash support ended with 4.1?

      • Björn Lundén

        Officially yes, Adobe stopped developing the Android version of the Flash runtime. You could still install it and use it in the browser that was part of AOSP in later versions (until recently). Firefox still supports it in 4.4 though so there are still ways to get it.

  • Stanley Chan

    Messy, settings became really messed. Damnugly icons.

    How about samsung browser? Really wanted to know anything about it. If Samsung also killed the webkit webview to chromiun engine. I keep with TW JB 4.3 running like the wind with no bloat with flash support and webkit way faster AOSP browser.

  • Jack

    No Flash support? No thanks.

    • Gavin Lee

      I thought flash support ended with 4.1.

      • Grayson

        Weird. My disqus dashboard shows that you replied to me, but I'm definitely not Jack. Weird.

  • mgfjd12

    I prefer touchwiz than the stock android in my nexus. I hated touchwiz because all the bad comments but I actually like it better than the google stock now.

  • supremekizzle

    Am I the only one that could give not a single fuck about this phone? I'm most excited to see what HTC and LG are bringing to the table.

    • southerndinner

      Your neckbeard is showing

  • excellula

    I wouldn't call it a pulse oximeter if it can't measure blood oxygen levels, because that's what a pulse oximeter really does, even if most of them also display the heart rate. From what I've read Samsung is just advertising it as a heart rate monitor, so I would call it just that.

    • Sean Lumly

      Names aside for a moment....

      In order to read a pulse using light I'm guessing it would at least have to be able to discern a relative value of blood oxygen over some amount of time. In order to get a value of blood oxygen, I suppose the photo receptor would have to be sensitive enough and have supporting software to do this.

      EDIT: I thought I had seen a graph, but apparently I was mistaken.

      I'm guessing Samsung chose the term 'heart rate monitor' because it's far less cryptic than 'pulse oximeter' and is easier for the public to grasp. But it's just a guess. I agree, though, until this is confirmed, it would be best to refer to the feature as a heart rate monitor.

      In any case, it would be interesting to take a look at an API if it is eventually opened to devs.

      • excellula

        Don't want to get too technical, but that's most probably the pulse wave, not the blood oxygen content, which would be a percentage. And since it would need a more complex sensor for little to no reason (I can't really see the usefulness of having that in a phone) I'm pretty sure this is just a heart rate monitor.

        • Sean Lumly

          It will certainly be interesting to see what type of hardware is actually present. I personally can imagine a great purpose for a fully functional oximeter, and I think this is just the beginning of such technologies!

  • http://twitter.com/Rodrigost23 Rodrigo Tavares

    Well, so the fingerprint scanner works just like the 2011's Motorola Atrix 4G one? Hah.

  • mggOptimusG

    Any idea if this has a working FM radio like the G2 ?

    • southerndinner

      Does it have a time machine to the 90s when FM Radio was relevant too?

      • mggOptimusG

        It is relevant if I need it !

      • vyktorsouza

        I screamed ;'D

    • Intruder7s

      According to gsmarena, it does not.

  • wcjeep

    Does the S5 have a mono speaker? Is it dual front facing speakers? How does music/speakerphone calls sound?

  • NinjaLombax

    Is multi-view still available on the S5?

  • Gavin

    I love my GS4 and think it's a great phone. I'm also really liking the new S5. That Ultra power save mode is awesome along with the camera. Somehow I will be upgrading. Will not get rid of the S4 though. It will go to my daughter.

  • raptor5k

    Any chance that power save mode comes to the S4 with a new software update, or is it simply on the new device?

  • Kevin Jones

    Can someone tell me why mine doesnt have the s finder or quick connect buttons in the notification panel?

    Thanks