BACK IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT
It’s the dawn of a new era in the world of Android domination, once again just like last year we shall see the Aluminum obelisk from Taiwan flex its muscles against the polycarbonate contraption from Korea as HTC and Samsung enter yet another year to prove to us who is best. It’s no doubt Samsung is King of Android in the present day, but also this could be the year for other OEMs like HTC as well. But this is a review for the Galaxy S5 so HTC will have to excuse the floor for now.
We were hooked up with this brand new review unit from our friends at Samsung so that we could give you our impressions of this much-anticipated device. This year’s model is more powerful, faster, long-lasting, more features that are now being termed to be more gimmicky than functional but all that is purely a user perspective. This year Galaxy devices wants to take fitness to a different level with more connectivity to more wearable devices. Plus, unlike your average iPhone, it’s not overpriced — now already at pre-order on some carriers at UGX 2,000,000 ($ 740) unsubsidized. Our time with the Galaxy S5 gives us a pretty good idea that Samsung as pinned its hope on this flagship phone to accomplish two things, first outsell the competition in terms of volumes then also outsell last year’s Galaxy S4. Before we go deep into other features, this device as a phone is great, callers on the other end could hear us loud and clear and so did we hear then in good network coverage.
THE VIDEO REVIEW
A DROOL WORTHY SPEC SHEET
If there is anything Samsung does best with new Android Phones, is defying the odds on the spec sheet. Packing the latest and greatest Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor clocked at 2.5GHz driven by 2GB RAM, a clear 1080p FullHD Super-AMOLED display at 5.1 inches with excellent viewing angles. On the storage side of things, you can either get a 16GB or 32GB model with an expandable memory option up to 128GB, a feature we have found common on all current 2014 flagship phones. On the network side of things the model we had was a SM-G900H model that could support all GSM Based network providers from 2G (850, 900,1800, 1900 MHz), High Speed 3G Network Band (850, 900,1900,2100) and blazing fast LTE based 4G Networks (2100, 800, 1800, 2600, 850, 900) but for reasons known to Samsung, we couldn’t get the LTE on the phone working as it’s locked on a regional basis. (Most people find it hard to believe that there is LTE in Africa)
For the Wi-Fi buffs, the phone has compatibility for MIMO Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi hotspot. It’s just slightly bumped up from its predecessor the Samsung Galaxy S4 in many ways.
IS IT PLASTIC, METAL, LEATHER OR IN BETWEEN?
The first time you hold this device one thing comes to mind, its freakin’ light. It’s dimensions are 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm and the phone weighs only 145 g, which it’s 15 g heavier than the Galaxy s4 but trust me you will hardly tell the difference. With a 5.1 inch screen, I don’t care if it’s the standard size for a flagship Android phone, this phone is big. It’s 8.1 millimeters thick and I still feel it in my jeans pockets the way I never feel an iPhone. The general build of the phone has a great deal of reasoning behind it, despite its removable back, expandable storage and swappable battery this phone is water and dust resistant as we shall see later. The build materials of this phone definitely did surprise. The back of this phone feels a lot like the back of the Note 3 without the leather stitching on the edges. But then for some reason they added this arguably unsightly bumpiness or dimples on the back and personally am not sure of what I can make of it. It kind of reminds me of the first Nexus 7 and I hope I will learn to like it as time goes on.
While the glass weave construction of the back of the S5 offers a welcome reprieve from the hyper glazed days of old, the stippled texture only re-enforces Samsung’s roots in plastic. And the device’s familiar face and light weight may put long time Galaxy fans at ease but they also recall the worst of that line’s cheap feeling. Thank God those days are gone, that began with the Galaxy S3 and slightly tried to cripple into the Galaxy S4.
The overall construction is still iterative and plastic, but it’s that un-obsence plastic with a soft touch finish and we applaud Samsung because they have come a long way in improving the materials of the Galaxy S series and it’s design.
Samsung has some what changed the lay out of the front buttons to fit into the latest Google recommended Android design guidelines. Now, we have on-screen back and Multitasking keys, plus the Home being a Physical Button. No more capacitive menu button.
And speaking of buttons, in a very Apple inspired move, Samsung went ahead and put a finger-print sensor in the home button and unlike Apple’s method, this one you need to swipe to use. And once it’s properly set up, it can be used to log into certain secure apps like Paypal for secure online payments or even unlocking the phone it’s self. If only I could also use it to log into other sites in my Chrome browser, but seems the company will add such nit-picks later on. I also noticed the new home button feels a little more less ‘clicky’ and less tactile than usual like it was on the S3 or S4.
GREAT RESOLUTION AND 4K VIDEO
Samsung didn’t become the world’s largest smartphone maker by accident, they did so by bring a lot of compelling features to the table, and one of them on the Galaxy S5 looks to be its camera. One thing Samsung has made a huge deal about is the camera on the back of this phone. It spots a slightly larger 16 megapixel sensor and a new dedicated image signal processor so this should supposedly have the fastest auto focus on any smartphone clocking in at an average of 0.3 seconds. Using this camera definitely did feel like am using a quality high-end camera-phone.
This is no surprise coming from Samsung, the Galaxy Note 3 has a great camera because it shot 4K video and this new S5 is another step up. You can shoot HD, FullHD and 4K video at a 16:9 aspect ratio at 2160p@ 30frames per second. This new shooter comes with an advanced flash, rapid and selective focus, advanced HDR processing and Samsung’s usual bevy of shooting modes. This includes a super fast burst mode that took 30 shots in a period of 4 seconds and a whole bunch of other features like face detection, Beauty Face, Panorama, Virtual Tour Shot and the list continues. All of this is neatly wrapped up in Samsung’s traditional easy to use view finder. You can see the view finder UI and settings in the images below.
As we all know Samsung loves to throw every feature in the world in their camera despite that you will glad to know that the final image quality is bright and detailed with great contrast especially for daylight images thanks to the 16 megapixel 1/2.6′ sensor and dedicated image processor capable of dual video recording, but that’s where the story ends. I never found the night shot pictures convincing especially with moving objects or those far from the camera. Close shots with the flash turned on are great however. The front facing camera also falls short in low light conditions. The auto focus and back ground blur functionality also works great but we are yet to compare it with the Lumia and HTC’s implementations. The camera suffers from one major thing to make it to a close to a perfect camera phone and that is Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). This is why nothing comes close to Nokia Lumia high-end camera phone devices.
IMAGES FROM THE GALAXY S5
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MORE GIMMICKS THAT COULD BE USEFUL AFTER ALL
Android 4.4 Kitkat brought several interesting features to Android, and the most important of those features is the ability to run smoothly even on low-end devices. In another strange world this gives more room for more features on the high-end phones. For Samsung, it has become a year on year race, and they have mastered the art of beating their own record in adding more phone features. The company has clearly struggled in toning last year’s gimmicks in this new phone, but I can’t shake off the feeling that the urge is still there.
Samsung has gone forward to venture in newer territories focusing on the ‘active’ person’s lifestyle. If you take a look at the back of the phone below the camera don’t get fooled, that’s not only a flash seated below it, but also two heart rate monitor sensors. Of course you have to log into the s-health app to take advantage of it and after firing up the app all you have to do is place your finger on the two sensors and the phone will tell you your heart rate reading. Am not sure how many people are actually going to use it but that’s Samsung for you, it’s only there because it makes for a good ad, a good demo and it’s also good to show off to your friends, so they built it in. I find it more useful in a fitness gear than a phone.
Samsung also revealed during the launch event that it has ported a capability from last year’s Galaxy S4 Active to its new halo device. We talking about IP67 Ingress Protection, 7 for Water resistance (not proof) and 6 for durst proof, something Sony and some other OEMs have done for a while in their flagship and active devices. Of course we went ahead and took the S5 for a bath and it continued to perform normally (see video above). So no more worries on those rainy days or accidental drops in water. We have always said durable phones don’t have to be crappy phones for years now and Samsung seems to bring us closer to that goal.
TOUCHWIZ REVAMPED BUT LOOKS THE SAME
When it comes to the Software side of things, Samsung has sunk its roots deep into TouchWiz, now running on top of the lightweight Android 4.4, with changes in some places. The whole User Interface looks flatter, a bit more toned down even if there are still offering too many setting options with a totally different UI that makes it feel like a different phone experience with the new round settings icons. But at the end of the day it’s all Samsung user experience, with plenty of their own in-house apps and customizations. And things get a bit confusing when you swipe to the extreme left from the home screen, there is My Magazine UI like Google Now on a Nexus or Blink Feed on an HTC device. Its more evidence that they still want you to use Samsung services on a Samsung phone which is very logical.
So overall playing around with the Galaxy S5 you will notice that the performance is a little bit smoother (not faster) than the Galaxy S4. I can’t shake off the feeling of calling it a Galaxy S4s. Did I just say that? Yes I did and here is why. It’s got a tonne of minor conservative improvements in the UI design it leaves you feeling like you are using a Galaxy S4 on steroids. Not that calling it a Galaxy S4s is a bad thing, I guess people where just expecting bigger changes from Samsung.
When it comes to battery matters, Samsung as incorporated a high-capacity removable battery at 2800mAh and promises 390 hours of standby time. In my time with the S5, I was able to squeeze out a full day’s of battery life with gaming, browsin, YouTube streaming and of course making and receiving some calls.
When it comes to battery management, the company has added two battery saving modes. One restricts the performance of the device, and the Ultra power saver mode successfully turns your smartphone into a dumb phone. This is done to allow you do the basics like making calls, SMS, email, plus other few apps. All this is presented in a monochrome (black and white) screen to save on that last remaining battery juice that could take you for a long period without a need to recharge.
On the data speeds, we tested a 42Mbps network and we were able to pull through at least 13mbps down-link that’s enough speed than what you actually need on a smartphone.
RAPIDLY EMBRACING WEARABLES
We were not able to get our hands on the slew of wearables the company announced a few weeks back, but one thing is for sure, they have a clear vision to embrace the next big thing in mobile technology, and that is wearables. With the Gear 2, Gear Neo and Gear fit, the company is laser focused on being that go to device company for every tech that exists under the sun. It may seem like a surprise that Samsung also joined the Google Wear bandwagon but they have a clear plan and all will be revealed with time.
Will the s-health app the company has added enough features for you to keep you in shape, from Pedometer that tracks your speed while running or biking, to a calorie management mini app, and the heart rate senor, you have more than enough apps not to have any excuse to work out those lazy bones and stay fit. You can also tell the app what food you had for breakfast, lunch, dinner and the snacks in between and all will be monitored for you with recommendations of good dieting. To top it all off you are given medals for every milestone reached within the app. This app coupled with Samsung’s smartwatches seem to be a perfect combination to exercise that body.