The Samsung Galaxy S5 doesn't rock the boat. It doesn't make waves.
Instead, it just wants to fit in. Samsung wants the Galaxy S5 to appeal to the widest audience possible, and perhaps that's why it's a bit, well, boring. Samsung didn't take any risks in designing the GS5. It's the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord of smartphones -- ideal for most average users.
After spending a week with Samsung's 2014 flagship smartphone, I better understand the thought process behind some of the choices the company made in creating it. The Galaxy S5 is packed with features, but not to the point of distraction. It is an evolutionary step, but the phone does nearly everything well, and it should be a big seller for Samsung.
Samsung has always been somewhat conservative with its design choices, and that is evident with the Galaxy S5. The device closely resembles the GS4, which in turn resembles the GS III. Samsung is known to use cheap-feeling materials with even its high-end devices, but that changes a bit with the GS5: The device is more firmly put together than previous models, and the quality of the plastics is stepped up.
Samsung was smart to make the GS5 water- and dust-resistant. As long as all the hatches are closed and the battery cover is firmly in place, the GS5 can survive a 30-minute dunk in the liquid of your choice. This feature alone will make Asurion and other phone insurance providers happy.
As far as the hardware goes, there's no question that the GS5 outclasses its predecessors. It is a step above Samsung's other devices, but some might say it's a step behind competitors Apple, HTC, and Nokia.
[Now you can control your desktop PC from your Android mobile device. Read Chrome Remote Desktop For Android: First Look.]
The GS5's screen is glorious, boasting 5.1 pixel-rich inches of bright, colorful goodness. I tested the AT&T version of the Galaxy S5, and it performed very well on AT&T's network. Phone calls sounded good and data speeds were quick. The 2,800mAh battery is the longest-lasting of any Galaxy device, and the extreme power savings mode breathes extra days of life into the phone.
Samsung was highly selective about changes to the device's software and feature list. The Galaxy S5 runs Android 4.4 KitKat and uses Samsung's TouchWiz user interface overlay. It stripped out a lot of the Samsung-branded apps that were crammed into the GS4 and put them in Samsung's curated app store, where users can choose to add them or not. The processor and memory combination make for wildly fast performance. The GS5 didn't blink when multitasking or running graphics-intensive games. Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 is a heck of a chip.
Perhaps the biggest improvement is the camera application. Samsung dramatically reduced the clutter, and the result is a really good app. It's significantly easier to use and understand all the camera's features thanks to streamlined menus and helpful icons that explain everything. The 16-megapixel sensor is capable of taking great pictures and is one of the best available on a phone.
Business users will appreciate the S5's Private Mode. This password-protected mode can be used to store sensitive files -- including photos, videos, and confidential business documents -- and keep them locked away.
Like the Apple iPhone 5s and HTC One max before it, the Galaxy S5 features a fingerprint sensor built into the home button. The software walks users through training the sensor and saving fingerprints. I found the sensor worked better over time. It failed to register swipes fairly often during the first few days of use but eventually accepted most swipes on the first pass. Users can select to use their fingerprint to lock the phone, lock Private Mode, lock individual files, and make mobile payments via PayPal.
One of the GS5's more novel features is the heart rate monitor. The sensor on the back of the phone can detect your pulse -- as long as you're quiet and not moving around. The sensor fits in perfectly with Samsung's S Health application, which can be used to track exercise and map fitness. The S Health software has been updated and is easier to use, offering a knowledgeable calorie counter and tips for improving health.
In short, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a safe choice. It covers all the bases offered by the competition and in many cases outperforms them. It's easily a top pick if you're in the market for an Android smartphone.
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