Ahead of its official release on 11 April, reviews of Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S5, have started to trickle in. If you’re an Android fan, it’s good news: The Galaxy S5 reviews are almost universally positive, wholeheartedly agreeing with my initial hands-on impressions of the S5 back in February. The S5 reviews ding the smartphone in a few areas, such as its plastic body and mediocre low-light camera performance, but in almost every other department it picks up full marks.
Industry-leading hardware specifications
As is fairly normal for Samsung’s line of Galaxy S smartphones, the S5 is outfitted with the best mobile components that money can buy. Reviewers universally praise the Galaxy S5’s 5.1in 1080p Super AMOLED display for being one of the best (and as we’ve reported previously, in advanced benchmarking, the S5’s display really is the best). The Snapdragon 801 SoC, with the new Adreno 330 GPU, is blazing.
Some reviews also point out that the Galaxy S5 has Broadcom’s new 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi chip – the first time that 2-stream 802.11ac has come to a smartphone. As a result, the Galaxy S5 is capable of some truly insane download speeds over Wi-Fi, if you have a compatible 802.11ac router. In case you were wondering, Download Booster – where the S5 combines your Wi-Fi and cellular/LTE connections for faster downloads – works exactly as advertised. It also only uses your cellular connection if there’s a significant gain to be had; if you’re downloading at 50Mbps over Wi-Fi, it won’t use your 5Mbps LTE link.
Anandtech does note one problem with the Galaxy S5’s hardware: Its NAND flash storage appears to have very low random read/write performance, but excellent sequential read/write performance (the image below shows the Galaxy S5’s random read performance).
Anand speculates that this might be due to “cost optimisation,” but the exact reason is unknown. Sequential read/write performance is generally more important for mobile computing, but slow random read/write performance can definitely cause slowdowns.
The Galaxy S5 camera
Most reviews speak positively about the Galaxy S5’s rear-facing 16-megapixel camera, but it’s far from perfect. In good lighting, those 16 megapixels really shine, providing excellent image quality and detail resolution. In low light, though, those tiny pixels can’t compete with the larger pixels on the HTC One M8’s sensor, and the lack of a dual-colour LED flash makes matters even worse.
Reviews of the Galaxy S5’s fast autofocus and capture latency are universally positive, however, and the real-time HDR feature is fairly well received as well.
Galaxy S5 software, battery life, and more
Despite the Galaxy S5 not having the stock Android UI, it appears that TouchWiz is finally reaching a level of maturity that most reviewers actually tolerate, if not enjoy. TouchWiz is fairly minimal on the S5; except for the icons, and a slightly different aesthetic, it’s really not that invasive.
Battery life, thanks to a slightly larger battery, and improvements to the underlying hardware (Snapdragon 801, envelope tracker, etc), is much better than the Galaxy S5. Ultra Power Saving mode, despite the magical-sounding claim that it could keep the S5 running for 24 hours on the last 10 per cent of your battery, actually works as advertised. The AMOLED display, despite its power characteristics being improved over the S4, still draws a significant amount of power – but even so, the S5 still generally scores near the top of battery life benchmarks.
I couldn’t actually find a single review of the Galaxy S5’s IP67 (dust-tight, waterproof to depths of one metre) rating. Most reviews do mention that the flap over the microUSB 3.0 port – which is required to maintain the device’s IP67 rating – is annoying, though. But hey, when you eventually drop your Galaxy S5 in the toilet or a puddle, you’ll be glad.
Reviews aren’t particularly friendly about the S5’s fingerprint scanner, saying that it works – but its placement at the bottom of (a very large) screen makes it difficult to use effectively. This is exactly what I found with my own hands-on testing back in February (see the above clip).
So, should you buy the Galaxy S5?
Overall, if you’re looking for a large-screen smartphone, reviewers all agree that you can’t go wrong with the Galaxy S5. The one caveat is if you really don’t like the plastic chassis – in which case, you should go for the HTC One M8. In my opinion, the plastic body is a small compromise to make if it also means that you get a replaceable battery and IP67 dust and water protection. Reviews do note that the new textured back of the Galaxy S5 is a lot better than its predecessors’ smooth plastic.
With the S5, you get a smartphone with the best screen, the best wireless performance (both Wi-Fi and LTE), and arguably the best camera and battery life. If you don’t mind Windows Phone, the Lumia 1020 technically has a better camera (but it’s also very slow). If you want an iOS device, the iPhone 5S is still very good. If you’re an Android fan, though, the S5 definitely seems like the phone to beat.
Of course, ITProPortal’s phone expert is still to deliver her verdict on the S5 yet – that review will be up shortly, so stay tuned…
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