Home Reviews Mobile Devices Samsung Galaxy S5 – my first week

One week of constant use and I am still looking forward to the next! This phone has helped remove any pre-conceptions that I may have had about Korean build quality or user interface usability.

Upfront you should know that I am a long time - since around 2003 – user of Windows Mobile and later Windows Phone 7 and 8.x. That in itself does not bias me for or against iOS or Android. Instead it makes me more attuned to the raison d'être of smartphones – why we use them.

Smartphones are many things. Originally the primarily aim was to extend the working day via access to email, calendar, contacts, and some rudimentary document viewing or editing. Microsoft did business use well, but it was not ready to face consumers - it badly missed that boat.

Apple did not invent smartphones - its iPhone release in 2007 popularised them. It took it to the well-heeled masses by creating apps (stand-alone, single purpose, programs) that made it more money than the sale of iPhones – an ink and printer situation. Consumers love having the choice of a million or so apps – business does not need as many.

Samsung was a late entrant. Its Galaxy S2 released in April 2011 was functionally an iPhone equivalent running Android instead. Its quality was average and battery life was poor. The S3 released in May 2012 was better; quality had improved; battery life slightly improved to 50 hours although still labelled as having a cheap plastic feel.

The S4 released April 2013 addressed most of the criticisms and got battery life to 65 hours. It was the beginning of Samsung’s ascendancy, and supremacy selling 20 million units within 2 months of launch. Samsung sold nearly 300 million (31%) of all smartphones 2013 – Apple about half that (15.6%).

Yet neither the S4 nor iPhone 5 had quite the appeal of my trusty Nokia 920 Windows Phone so I stuck to that. In the S4’s case, it suffered from potential malware issues, an immature TouchWiz UI (user interface), and a few too many customisations of Android. iPhone was fine but the smaller screen and lesser camera ruled it out.

Enter the S5 in April 2014 - they have learnt well. The UI is cleaner, leaner, and easier to navigate - like the iPhone it is still icon driven. Samsung removed some 50 apps – bloatware - and placed them in its app store instead. The plastic feel has gone with a dimpled, soft feel back cover. It is water and dust resistant – SlamDunk is allowed! It has exceeded most of the iPhone 5s features – and has heart rate monitor. Apparently it is outselling the S4 (comparative rate of sales) although in a mature market I am not sure why.

In my previous article published on 11 April - the world-wide release day - I wrote about a number of other features the S5 had over its key competitors – at least until they bring out new models. The S5 is the most advanced smartphone so far – the category leader.

Please note that I will not make significant comparisons to the competitors - especially with new Windows Phone 8.1 coming any day now. It should allow new handsets like the Lumia 930 to offer, in my opinion, better useability than the Android based Galaxy S5.

Enough history – let us look at week one.

The bl**&y 249 page manual. This phone does a lot – it has a 249 page manual (compared to say 100 pages for close Android competitor Sony Xperia). I know Android pretty well so I ignored the manual to start with. Let us just say that if you want to get the most out of this phone then RTFM (Read the f*****g manual). Let me be clear – its not hard to use but you can do so much more if you want to.

Fingerprint reader. If I am careful – swiping straight over the home key, as I should, I can get 100% login on the first swipe. I have tried with sweaty and greasy fingers - no issues. If I am not careful – side or partial swiping - it does not work.

A German security site has allegedly been able to use a ‘lifted fingerprint copy’ to fool the scanner. It was the same site, which fooled the Apple 5s scanner as well. To date no articles have appeared that refer to other body parts being used – as was alleged for Apple – so I am not very concerned about this report.

What I do not like however is that I cannot loan my phone to, say my wife. Sure, I can register up to three fingerprints or give her my alternate password but that kind of defeats security and privacy. Different user profiles would be a great option although I understand that this limitation is due to cellular network issues. Still if you cannot trust your wife, whom can you trust?

Bottom-line: Fingerprint is far more convenient than entering a pin or password and I now find it indispensable. It will verify PayPal online payment – others in the not too distant future.

Battery. Measurement is always a little subjective because we use our phones differently each day. What I have found is that I can get two days of normal (for me) use out of a charge.

If you add this to the claimed 72-hour standard endurance test and the USB 3.0 fast charge it is very good. The new Ultra low power battery management app is great giving another 24 hours from a 10% charge.

I have two gripes. The water resistant cover over the USB port – I know it has to be there but it can be fiddly and I wonder if it will last the distance without breaking off. It lacks Qi wireless charging – a premium phone should have this – not require an add-on.

Phone. It is clearer, louder, and the revised phone screen layout is more logical than the S4. I think all major smartphones do phones well but the S5 audio quality seems marginally better.

IP67. This should be a no brainer for all premium smartphones – if only to help protect a substantial investment. I have no doubt this works well but I will investigate a cover that may add more drop and drip resistance. It can be a little slippery in the rain.

Screen. Put the Samsung 5.1” 1080 HD, 432 ppi, AMOLED screen beside the 4” iPhone 5s and there is a marked difference in size, colour, and clarity. Apples Retina is good, Samsung’s is better.

5.1” is a perfect size for daily use and not too shabby for movies. Please Mr Tim Cook from Apple – it is time for the iPhone 6 to meet or beat this.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It has the latest AC standard but that will not be a major advantage until you get an AC router. What I did find is that it has probably 20 metres better reception so it will work further from the router. Bluetooth 4.0 supports the new low power devices.

Camera. 16 MP ISOCELL camera with phase-detect autofocus, 1/2.6" 16:9 sensor, and LED flash. 2160p (4K) video recording @ 30fps, 1080p @ 60fps, 720p @ 120fps. 2 MP front-facing camera, 1080p video recording.

The camera is good – easy to use and produces great shots in most conditions. It still lacks something in comparison to the Nokia 920 (8.7MP) and Nokia 1020 (41MP - je ne sais quoi. Shots from this camera are clear, bright, and have options like HDR (high dynamic range) but they simply do not look as good as either of the Nokias.

I think this reflects the maturity of Nokia’s camera app and its Carl Zeiss lens system. The Samsung eats the iPhone for quality and range of photographic app features.

S Health 3.0. Health apps are of interest to me having had a few issues over the past few years. I have tried maybe a dozen apps on different smartphone platforms. As a walker, my favourite remains RunTastic (I use the Pro paid version but the free one is fine) as it uses the smartphone’s location services to give me a visual map of where I have walked, distance, and calories burned. Like most apps, it has integration with an optional external heart rate monitor - if you could be bothered in wearing the cumbersome band around your chest. The S5’s heart rate monitor is adjacent to its flash LED. Hold your finger over it for a few seconds and you have a reading.

S Health has all the basics except the location map. Its advantage is that it links to the Gear Fit that also has a heart rate monitor that conveniently works on your wrist (over or under it). The advantage of Gear Fit (or Gear 2 watch) is that you can go for a walk and it will upload data to the S5 once it is within Bluetooth range.

The Gear Fit is reviewed here  and after a week of solid use I can see it being used daily. The Gear range only works with most of the Galaxy range – it is part of Samsung’s exclusive ecosystem.

Note that both Apple, and Windows Phone, will have health apps in their future line-up.

Opinion

TachyonRider – an avid iTWire commentator said, “I predict after using Android for 2 weeks you will want to throw your new phone at a concrete wall. But then again, you might love it. Either way, I do not care because I will be sporting a new Nokia Lumia 930.”

My response to Tachy is that after one week I still like this phone very much. I could be very happy with its technology and functionality.

But he makes a good point - the Lumia 930 with Windows Phone 8.1 looks amazing too. Given Nokia’s quality and similar hardware specifications, I would probably choose this over the S5 – if only for the camera that, as a journalist, I use daily.

And that brings me to the close – it is all now about ecosystems and which one works best for you. If a million apps is the drawcard then Android and the S5 is a good choice. Until of course the iPhone 6s, the Lumia 930 or later, and then the Galaxy 6 are released and it starts all over again.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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