Beautiful 1080p display; Strong performance; Excellent camera; Water-resistant design; Good battery life
Inconsistent fingerprint reader; USB port flap; Plastic chassis
Samsung's Galaxy S5 combines a gorgeous display, improved camera and water-resistant design to make it one of the best smartphones in the world.
Samsung is known for piling on the features, but for the Galaxy S5 ($199 for 16GB on Verizon) the company has taken a more measured approach. Yes, the built-in heart rate sensor and fingerprint reader are a bit gimmicky. But what wins us over are the S5's awesome display, enhanced camera and water-resistant chassis. Add it all up, and it's easy to see why Samsung's latest smartphone is also its greatest.
Editors' Note: Additional reporting and testing by Daniel Howley.
Once again, Samsung's flagship smartphone comes wrapped in a plastic chassis rather than metal, but that doesn't mean the Galaxy S5 is unattractive. In fact, the S5 looks and feels better than its predecessor, thanks to its textured rear panel. Sporting a soft-touch dimpled pattern, the S5's removable back is a significant improvement over the Galaxy S4's glossy rear. The S5's new backing pairs nicely with the subtle dot matrix-like styling found on the phone's face.
The S5's overall shape is also an improvement over its predecessor's. Whereas the S4 had a more curved look with slightly rounded edges, the S5, with its larger 5.1-inch screen, has a taller, more rectangular appearance. Samsung also switched out the capacitive Settings button to the left of the Home button to the more convenient Recent Apps button.
While we wouldn't necessarily classify the Galaxy S5 as a phablet, having larger dimensions than the S4 (5.6 x 2.9 x 0.31 inches versus 5.3 x 2.9 x 0.25 inches) makes it more difficult to use with one hand. In addition, the S5 weighs a heftier 5.1 ounces (up from 4.6 ounces on the S4).
Overall, the S5 feels solid but unsexy compared to the aluminum HTC One M8, but the latter device is a beefier 5.6 ounces and has a nonremovable backside.
Water ResistanceSony Xperia Z1s, which lets you take pictures underwater, Samsung's handset can survive accidental splashes and dunkings.
We dropped the S5 in a bowl of water for a few minutes and then picked it up and dried it off. The handset continued to work just fine. Just don't expect to operate the touch screen while submerged; our inputs didn't register.
The S5 averaged 347 nits on our light meter, higher than the S4 (250 nits) but slightly lower than the One M8 (368 nits). However, the latest Galaxy offers very accurate colors, as it registered a Delta-E score of 0.9 (lower numbers are better). The HTC One M8 scored 4.1 and the older S4 5.7, but the iPhone 5s was an even better 0.05.
The S5 also produced more of the sRGB color gamut than the One M8 in our testing (156.3 percent versus 115). The iPhone 5s reached only 98.4 percent.
It's hard for any smartphone to compete against the HTC One M8's dual Boom Sound speakers, but the S5's single rear speaker got decently loud when we streamed Pharell William's "Happy." Ultimately, though, HTC's device wins hands-down. The M8 delivered deeper, richer audio, and the cymbals were much more pronounced.
Registering 73 decibels on the Laptop Mag audio test, the S5 is quieter than the One M8 (83 dB) and the LG G2 (80 dB).
Registering our fingerprint was fairly easy, and the S5 can store up to three digits. However, the S5 sometimes had trouble recognizing our swipes, reminding us to swipe the entire pad. We've found the Touch ID sensor on the iPhone 5s, upon which you just place a finger, to work more consistently.
The PayPal integration lets you pay for things on websites or apps that accept PayPal, as well as some physical stores. The good news is that we were able to bill a Newegg purchase of an SD Card using a swipe of our finger. The bad news is that it takes several steps to get set up, including downloading the latest PayPal app and linking your fingerprint to your account. In this example, we still we needed to step through a couple more screens to fully complete our transaction.
The S5's lock screen makes the camera shortcut larger to make it easier to launch the camera. However, Samsung took away the ability to use shortcuts to other apps from the lock screen.
The main home screen of the S5 houses a weather widget up top and a Google search bar in the middle that supports voice search. Just say "OK Google" to find what you're looking for.
As with the Galaxy S4, you can enable Multi Window to run two apps on the screen at once. This feature will come in handy for multitaskers who want to, say, drag a photo from the Gallery into an outgoing email. The Galaxy S5 supports 25 apps for split-screen use.
Samsung still insists on having its phones bloop and bleep when unlocking the device, turning off the screen and (of course) when receiving notifications. We turned the system volume down.
S Health and Heart Rate Monitor
Do people want their smartphone to read their heart rate? As the interest in fitness trackers and "the quantified self" grows, Samsung hopes to tap into that trend with its redesigned S Health app, which can read your heart rate using a sensor on the back of the device. After holding our fingertip on the sensor for several seconds, the S5 displayed our heartbeats per minute.
The S5 can also track your steps, calories burned and calories consumed. Assuming you have GPS turned on, the S5 can measure not only the distance you traveled but your elevation, making it a solid workout companion.
What's most impressive is S Health's ability to track your diet. Enter "yogurt parfait," for example, and the S5 will include results from multiple name brands and even restaurants. In this case, we could select McDonald's, Dannon, Starbucks and several other options.
For instance, the S5 took 19 seconds to load the resource-intensive "N.O.V.A. 3" game, compared with 17 seconds for the HTC One M8, which has a 2.3-GHz Snapdragon 801 CPU and the same amount of RAM. The LG G Flex (2.26-GHz Snapdragon 800, 2GB RAM) also took 17 seconds.
The new Galaxy S5 took a mere 4 minutes and 7 seconds to transcode a 204MB full HD video to 480p, which is about 3 minutes faster than the S4. That also beats the LG G Flex's 6:59, as well as the One M8's 4:47.
In side-by-side tests, the Galaxy S5 was a step behind the One M8 when exiting apps to the home screen, though turning off animations in settings can cut down the time. The two were neck and neck when changing screen orientations.
In various synthetic benchmarks, the S5 turned in scores that are well above average. The phone notched 2,974 in Geekbench 3, which measures overall performance. That trumps the HTC One M8 (2,480) and the G Flex (2,015).
The S5 also has serious graphics chops. It scored 18,285 in Ice Storm Unlimited, which is more than double the category average. However, the One M8 scored an even higher 20,965.
Faster, sharper and (somewhat) less cluttered, the Galaxy S5's 16-megapixel camera is the most improved feature versus the Galaxy S4.
The new Real Time HDR setting really impressed, as it lets you preview the high-dynamic range images before you take the shot. The iPhone 5s needs to capture the images first and stitch them together. When we photographed a New York City building, the camera brought out details that would otherwise be draped in shadows.
The Galaxy S5's new Selective Focus feature brings some creative fun to photo-taking. By pressing a button on the left side of the screen, you can snap a shot and then decide afterward if you want the foreground or background in focus. The effect worked well when we shot a co-worker holding a soda bottle out in front of him, but we wish you could precisely select the focal point as you can with the HTC One M8.
Samsung says the Galaxy S5 is capable of focusing in one-third the time of its predecessor, 0.3 seconds as opposed to 1 second. We did notice the S5 was ready to fire faster when we attempted to take a shot of the product box.
Overall, the S5 produced crisp and colorful images outdoors and slightly better-looking photos than its predecessor indoors. In a close-up shot of flowers, the Galaxy more than held its own versus the iPhone 5s. The S5's image had more even focus throughout and better details in the petals, but the yellow flower in the center had better contrast on the iPhone.
In another image we took of some tchotchkes indoors under fluorescent light, the Galaxy S5 produced richer colors, but the iPhone 5s' shot was brighter overall.
The S5 fell flat when we shot some co-workers in a very dim room. Samsung's image came out unnaturally bright but quite fuzzy, especially when zoomed in. The iPhone 5s and One M8 produced more detailed photos. Turning on image stabilization in the S5's busy settings menu should help.
The Galaxy S5 captured pristine 1080p footage of New York City traffic. Yellow taxis popped, and we could make out the small text on a passing Verizon FIOS truck. Audio was also quite clear.
4G LTE and Web Surfing
The AT&T version of the S5 offered slower speeds near our Manhattan office, with downloads of just 5 Mbps and uploads of 2.3 Mbps.
The Verizon S5's superior Web performance is likely due to its ability to connect to the carrier's LTE AWS network, which has greatly expanded Big Red's available bandwidth versus its standard LTE connection.
The Galaxy S5's 2,800 mAh battery lasted 8 hours and 25 minutes on our Laptop Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Verizon's 4G LTE network with the display brightness set to 150 nits. That's better than the smartphone category average of 6:59, but shy of the 9:42 we observed on the AT&T version of the S5. Verizon's HTC One M8 lasted 9:52, while the LG G Flex ran for 10:57.
Our only complaint is that it took a while to enter and exit this mode--21 seconds to enter and nearly 15 to leave. It's like having to reboot your device.
We'd appreciate it if Verizon put all of its mostly useless apps in their own folder, instead of peppering our apps menu with Verizon Accessories, Verizon Caller Name ID, Verizon Cloud, Verizon Message+, My Verizon Mobile, Verizon Tones, VZ Navigator and VZ Protect.
Samsung bundles several of its own apps, including Smart Remote for controlling your TV and S Voice for Siri-like functionality. If you want to make secure mobile payments using your phone via the Isis Wallet app, you'll need to get a special Enhanced SIM card from Verizon.
Samsung also touts its Milk Music app, but it wasn't included on our review unit. Milk uses a funky retro-looking dial to quickly scan through multiple channels and genres.
Unlike the AT&T S5, which has both the standard Android browser and Chrome, the Verizon has only Chrome preinstalled.
We wish Samsung offered a more premium metal design and better sound like the HTC One M8. Overall, though, the Galaxy S5 is easily one of the best smartphones money can buy.
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|Phone Display Size||5.1|
|Form Factor||Candybar Touchscreen|
|Operating System||Android 4.4|
|CPU||2.5-GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801|
|Processor Family||Qualcomm Snapdragon 801|
|Memory Expansion Type||microSD Card|
|Display (main)||5.1-inch Super AMOLED|
|Bluetooth Type||Bluetooth 4.0|
|Front Camera Resolution||2.1MP|
|Audio formats supported||AAC+|
|Audio formats supported||AAC|
|Audio formats supported||MP4|
|Audio formats supported||MP3|
|Video formats supported||WMA|
|Video formats supported||MPEG-4|
|Video formats supported||AVI|
|Photo formats supported||JPEG|
|Photo formats supported||TIFF|
|Photo formats supported||PNG|
|Talk / Standby Time||21 hours/ 16 days|
|Size||5.3 x 2.9 x 0.25 inches|
|SAR Rating (Head)|
|SAR Rating (Body)|