Physically, the device isn’t all that different from its older sibling, the Galaxy S4. Both phones sport a 1080p, Super AMOLED display, and at 5.1 inches, the S5 is just a hair larger than the S4. Likewise, the phone’s face is practically identical, though the backside of the phone is where the most notable difference lies. Gone is the glossy plastic backing that made the S4 a little more slippery than one wants a smartphone to be. In its place is a textured soft-touch finish, available is four different colors (black, white, gold, and blue). The new and improved casing makes the S5 more comfortable in hand than its predecessor and less likely to go slipping and sliding all over the place. It’s also worth noting that the S5’s finish sports a significantly more premium feel than the weird faux leather of the Note line, though despite Samsung’s relentless use of the term, I would hardly call it “glam.”
Samsung isn’t a company known for its innovative leaps with its annual updates to its existing line of smartphones, and that doesn’t really change here. The S5 runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat, with Samsung’s signature tweaks to the user interface. The preinstalled apps are largely familiar; S Voice, S Health, and a slew of other S-branded applications are present, including the tiled My Magazine news reader, which is now more easily accessed from the home screen. The menu screen is a bit more streamlined than the S4, with a continuously scrolling design. The added stamina from the 2,800mAh battery, and the 2.5GHz quad-core processor provide for a fast, responsive experience that’ll last roughly twenty percent longer than the S4.
If you watched the live stream of Samsung’s event from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, you probably heard various speakers mention the device’s heart rate monitor (several times, just in case we were in danger of forgetting), visible on the back of the phone. The company is betting on its fitness-related apps and features to be a selling point for a health-conscious consumer base, and the S5 boasts the first heart rate sensor in a smartphone, according to Samsung. On a few test runs with the heart rate monitor, I got a wider range of numbers than I expected, so the sensor is either very sensitive to slight changes or a touch finicky, though it did provide a speedy reading. Another feature of note is the Coach app, which provides real time health and fitness tracking and advice. So, if you’re on the market for a phone that’ll offer helpful critiques about your weight and stress level, the S5 might be worth checking out.
Like Apple and HTC did with the iPhone 5S and One Max respectively, Samsung has added a fingerprint scanner to the S5, integrated into the device’s home button. You can use it to unlock your phone — Samsung promises the utmost security with the new feature — and to access Private Mode, where you can store information you don’t want anyone else to be able to see, like compromising selfies or scans of your passport. The fingerprint scanner is also designed to work with mobile payments, though its practical use is a bit hampered by the design. Unlike the iPhone’s scanner, which works with a simple touch and hold, the S5’s requires a swipe down over the home button, which must be absolutely, positively, perfectly vertical and at the speed at which the scan was originally recorded. Though you can store a number of fingerprints on the device, it was exceptionally difficult to use, especially when holding the phone with a single hand.
The Galaxy S5 comes with a 16 megapixel sensor and 4K video capabilities. The revamped interface is simpler and easier to use this time around, and the phone’s auto-focus was incredibly fast – just a quick tap on the screen and boom, you’re focused. The company claims that the 0.3 seconds it takes for the S5’s camera to focus is the speediest AF on the market, and I would be hard-pressed to argue with that as it was certainly the fastest I’ve ever used. Additionally, the improved HDR processing will be a boon to smartphone photographers working in less than ideal lighting situations.