Samsung Galaxy S5 review

Can the new Samsung Galaxy S5 flagship smartphone blow away the competition?

T3 Platinum Award
Reasons to buy
  • +

    Updated design

  • +

    Camera innovation

  • +

    Cleaner UI

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Too big for some

  • -

    Slightly delicate

  • -

    Unreliable sensors

Why you can trust T3 Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Samsung's new flagship Android smartphone is finally here but has the Korean brand done enough to impress? Check out our Samsung Galaxy S5 review

It's finally here, the Samsung Galaxy S5. A couple of months after its initial launch at MWC in Barcelona, Samsung's latest contender has ditched the bloatware in a bid to take on the likes of the HTC One M8, Apple iPhone 5S and Sony Xperia Z2.

We've been playing with the new handset day and night for the past few days and we've been terrifying ourselves with the new heart-rate monitor and scanning our digits with the fingerprint scanner. We'll be updating our review shortly with more thorough testing including how it works with the Samsung Gear 2 and Samsung Gear Fit.

As we've mentioned, Samsung's latest offering is facing some stiff competition. Last year, we named the HTC One our smartphone of the year and this year HTC has produced and ever better phone, Apple's still going strong with its iPhone 5S and who knows what 2014 could bring in the form of the rumoured iPhone 6. Plus there's the Sony Xperia Z2 which is due to land shortly and looks set to be its best smartphone yet. So let's get down to it and find out if the Samsung Galaxy S5 is up to the challenge. Article continues after our Samsung Galaxy S5 unboxing video

Samsung Galaxy S5: Size and Build

Previous iterations of Samsung smartphones have been criticised for being too plasticky and for those looking for some metal, you're going to be disappointed.

The S5 is made entirely from plastic apart from the dappled leatherette back. Samsung seems to love making things that look like other materials - the sides look metal but they're plastic. The back looks like leather but it's leatherette.

Having said all that, it's a step up from the Samsung Galaxy S4 and we quite like the design. We expected the back to look cheap and tacky but it is, in fact, a pleasing texture and, dare we say it, premium - a word not often used to describe Samsung smartphones.

Vital statistics are 142 x 72.5 x 8.1mm making it a smartphone on the larger and thicker end of the scale. Its weight comes in at 145g, making it lighter than the robust HTC One M8 (160g) and the difference is noticeable when holding both phones. It's heavier than the S4, which tipped the scales at 130g, and dwarfs the iPhone 5s with a heft of 122g.

As with the S4, there are physical buttons to complement the touchscreen. You'll find the home button still in tact and this also now acts as the fingerprint scanner - more on that later. There's also a volume rocker and the on/off switch.

The headphone jack remains at the top of the device alongside an infared port. On the bottom you'll find, under a hatch, the sharing port. The reason for the hatch? The Samsung Galaxy S5 is IP 67 water and dust resistant. Note: resistant, not proof.

The new Samsung Galaxy S5 is available in four hues; charcoal, blue, gold and white. The blue and gold look a little on the tackier-side of the spectrum but each to your own. We'd recommend the charcoal.

As we've already mentioned, this is a large phone. Testament to this is the fact that on our first run we managed to drop it. Take a tip from us, get a case.

Samsung Galaxy S5: Screen

At 5.1 inches, the screen on the Samsung Galaxy S5 is slightly bigger than the 5-inch screen on the Samsung Galaxy S4. Resolution is, again, top of the range at 1080 x 1930 with 432ppi. Although it doesn't match the HTC One M8, Nexus 5 or the Sony Xperia Z2 when it comes to pixels, it far outstrips the iPhone 5S with its relatively meagre 326ppi.

READ: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8: Which is the best?

It's a dazzling screen. Icons appear pin-sharp, menus pop out from the screen and although it has fewer pixels than the S4, it appears sharper and crisper. Videos are pixel-perfect, stutter free and super-smooth. In short, the screen's a joy.

As with the S4, Samsung has stuck with AMOLED tech and, as with its predecessor, the screen is the biggest drain of battery but it's a pay-off we're happy with for the quality of the screen.

Samsung Galaxy S5: Features

The S4 Samsung was guilty of excessive bloatware and we're happy to report that this isn't the case with the S5. Samsung Hub has been removed as have the apps that once came out of the box.

The UI has had the spit and shine treatment - the main difference you'll notice within the settings. It's a much cleaner interface with a very 'Apple' feel about it. It's all colours and pretty icons and we like it.

Elsewhere you'll find subtle updates to the notifications pull down - it now includes S Finder (Samsung's answer to Spotlight search) and Quick Connect (Samsung's answer to AirDrop). There's also multi-windows ported over from the Samsung Galaxy Note Range.

READ: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs iPhone 5S

You'll still find some of the gimmicks from the S4 still lurking like Smart Stay, Air wake up and Smart Pause but these are easily switched off and we'd recommend you do so.

There's also Kids mode and Private mode along with our personal favourite Geo News, an app that tells you if you're in the vicinity of an active wildfire, avalanche, dust storm or extreme cold. We're yet to see what happens if you do happen to be near one of those - thankfully, we've still got still got the smiley face icon that tells us we're OK.

Samsung's tried to address the power issue with a beefed-up version of Sony's Stamina mode named ultra power saving mode. Switch the mode on and it'll change the colour of the screen to black and white and restrict applications to just the essentials.

It'll also turn off mobile data when the screen is off and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are a no-go. Handy if you're teetering in the 10 percent area of battery life and just need that extra bit of time to make it to the plug socket.

Samsung Galaxy S5: Camera

Unlike the HTC One M8, Samsung has upped the pixel count on the Galaxy S5 to 16 megapixels from 13 megapixels on the S4. Pictures are detailed and this time round can compete with the HTC One M8 with its ultrapixel snapper.

On the S4, low light was not your friend but thanks to the new low light HDR feature on the S5, it's not such a problem. Pictures are not fantastic but they're certainly an improvement.

New to the mix is the super-fast autofocus which lives up to its claim. There was no lag whatsoever when taking pictures, it was almost instant. Also new is the selective focus feature. Turn the mode on, select a focus point and take a picture. It's simple and easy and does produce some interesting pictures. Unlike the HTC One M8, you select the focus before taking the picture but you can choose from three focus options once you've taken your snap. It's not quite Lytro but it's a nice feature.

As with the bloatware, Samsung has also cut-down on the number of camera gimmicks. Gone is sound and shot but it's been replaced by virtual tour; a feature that lets you take multiple images and stitches them together to create a 'virtual tour' video. Dual camera and beauty shot remain and you'll also get the usual catalogue of effects from vignette to the lesser-used 'moody'.

Video-wise, Samsung ticks the 4K box with the ability to capture 3840 x 2160 UHD clips. It's really only future proofing at this stage, but if you have the tech, why not put it in, eh? There's also, of course, a front-facing camera coming in at 2-megapixels.

Samsung Galaxy S5: S Health

S Health is one of the biggest updates to land on the Samsung Galaxy S5. If the S4 was the phone that was made to make you walk around, the S5 is the phone that makes you think you should be running a marathon and tells you you're having a heart attack, at the same time.

Essentially, S Health is Endomondo mixed in with MyFitnessPal. On the fitness side, the app will measure running, walking, cycling and hiking. You can set your goals based on distance, time or calories and it'll track all of this and award you medals once you've reached your goals.

It's a great interface with large icons and buttons that are essential if you're mid-run and want to check how well you're doing.

READ: Best Samsung Galaxy S5 cases and covers

On the pedometer side of things, it's as you'd expect; it tracks your steps. Out of the box your goal is 10k steps a day but you can change this, as we did.

Where things get a little more interesting is with the heart rest monitor. Place your finger over the sensor on the back of the phone and you'll be given a reading. During our time with the phone it worked around 60 per cent of the time and it wasn't always accurate; at one point we were given a reading of 222bpm - we're pretty sure that's heart-attack territory.

Samsung Galaxy S5: Fingerprint scanner

As we mentioned earlier, a fingerprint sensor is built into the home button of the phone, much like Apple's Touch ID. To set-up you'll need to scan your finger 14 times and once you're done, you're in.

Unlike Apple iPhone 5S, you need to swipe your finger down the home button and not simple hold your finger on top of it. This is a pain. You have to get the angle completely right or it's a no-go. As with the heart rate sensor, it worked 60 per cent of the time.

Samsung Galaxy S5: Performance

The Samsung Galaxy S5 features the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad core processor, with clock speed of 2.5GHz which makes it a touch faster than the HTC One M8. In everyday use, it's lightning fast and we certainly didn't see any noticeable lag.

Whizzing around Android KitKat 4.4.2 was a breeze and we couldn't get any slowdown playing high-graphic games or streaming HD videos.

Along with 2GB of RAM, there's either 16GB or 32GB memory options that can both be expanded up to 128GB thanks to the micro SD card slot.

Samsung Galaxy S5: Battery

The new handset has a 2800mAh battery on board - a slight boost compared to the S4's 2600mAH. Everyday use isn't a problem for the S5, we'd easily make it to the end of the day with the screen on mid-birghtness, browsing the web and watching the odd video.

Samsung Galaxy S5: Verdict

We called the Samsung Galaxy S4 a thing of beauty and the S5 is even better. It feels better, looks better and does more than its predecessor. S Health is a great addition and a genuine alternative to other fitness and health apps out there. What's more, the camera is much improved and the interface feels cleaner and less cluttered.

Is it the best smartphone out there? We said that the S4 couldn't match the HTC One's gorgeous and demure styling, it remains the case with the S5 and the HTC One M8 although, Samsung is getting closer and in terms of innovation and power, the S5 narrowly takes the crown.

As with the S4, the S5 is undoubtedly going to be a very, very popular phone and deservedly so - it's the best Android smartphone yet. Over to you, Apple.

Samsung Galaxy S5 release date: Available for pre-order now, launches 11 April

Samsung Galaxy S5 Price: £570