The Galaxy S5 is a very good phone, possibly even the best Android phone money can buy right now. Does it warrant an upgrade, though? Samsung didn't do anything terribly unexpected with the GS5 – it's faster, has better software, and a water-resistant shell, but is that enough to justify the cost of upgrading from the Galaxy S3 or even the Galaxy S4?
Upgrading from a Galaxy S3
The Galaxy S3 is coming up on two years old at this point, and that means it's reaching the end of its life cycle by even the most optimistic predictions. It's not going to see any more major software updates, and even big fix OTAs are increasingly unlikely. The Galaxy S5 resets the timer on updates and bumps you up to Android 4.4.2 KitKat. That's a big benefit all by itself.
The specs also make the Galaxy S5 a big step up with a Snapdragon 801 and 5.1in 1080p Super AMOLED. The Galaxy S3 has a 4.8in 720p Super AMOLED and the venerable dual-core Snapdragon S4. Samsung's new device will look considerably nicer in a variety of lighting conditions and the speed increase is very noticeable.
Samsung has always worked to make the cameras in its phones top notch, and that was certainly true when the Galaxy S3 was new. The Galaxy S5 has double the resolution and some really excellent features like 4K video, slow-motion, and live HDR previews. The GS3 is still good, but it can't keep up.
A used Galaxy S3 is now going for a bit more than £100 online (depending on its condition, of course), so that can cover part of your upgrade cost.
Verdict: It's more than worthwhile to step up to a Galaxy S5.
Upgrading from a Galaxy S4
Things are a little murkier for owners of the GS4 who are eyeing the GS5. The design of these two devices is very similar, and some of the specs are virtually unchanged. Both have 2GB of RAM, 1080p AMOLEDs, and either 16GB or 32GB of built-in storage. The differences are more subtle, but might still make the case for upgrading in some circumstances.
The Galaxy S4 is on KitKat now, but this is likely the last major OS update it will see. The Galaxy S5 is probably going to be updated through the next big release, so those worried about staying up-to-date might have reason to jump on the new device. The UI on the Galaxy S5 is also improved over older versions of TouchWiz – it's flatter and much more consistent.
The screens are going to look the same in most instances, but the Galaxy S5 gets brighter, which makes it better for outdoor use. Samsung has also improved the colour levels and vastly reduced the power drain from displaying whites on the Galaxy S5′s AMOLED panel.
The camera is a modest step up in the GS5 – 16-megapixels plays 13-megapixels. You get some extra features like 4K video and live HDR, but the difference is minimal in everyday use. The Snapdragon 801 in the GS5 is more powerful while offering considerably improved battery life. The rest of the hardware in last year's model is still fast enough to maintain a good experience.
While the Galaxy S4 and S5 look very similar, the S5 has a sturdier build with the addition of a mid-frame, and it's IP67 water and dust resistant. That's another cool feature to take into consideration, but not enough on its own to justify the upgrade. It's not the gimmicky heart rate monitor or fingerprint scanner that should justify an upgrade from the GS4 – it's all the little things that add up to an improved experience.
For a full breakdown of the relative specs of these two handsets, see our Samsung Galaxy S5 versus Samsung Galaxy S4 spec comparison. And we also have a full review of the Galaxy S5, too.
Verdict: Inconclusive. If the reasonable-but-modest improvements Samsung has made in the GS5 are of interest, look into selling your Galaxy S4. If you can make a few hundred, it might make the upgrade worth doing. Don't go broke upgrading, though – the Galaxy S5 isn't going to be a revelation worthy of eating pot noodles for a month.