Samsung Galaxy S5: Hands-on Preview

by Reads (5,634)

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 is the latest flagship from the Korean electronics giant. While we covered the general design of the phone in our writeup of the announcement, I spent a few minutes last night getting to know the new smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy S5

On the Galaxy S5′s Design and Build Quality:

I’ll admit – when I first saw the fake leather back, I was a little turned off the phone. I’m not a fan of the design on the Note 3 – hard plastic molded to look like stitched leather – so I wasn’t expecting much, especially combined with the metallic blue paint job.

When I actually got to spend some time with the phone, however, I was pleasantly surprised. 

Samsung Galaxy S5Samsung Galaxy S5

The back cover is plastic, but it still feels nice in the hand, and the various colors are actually attractive, in person. In fact, the general design of the phone is nice enough that I’d think hard about whether I’d want to put a case around it. 

It doesn’t feel quite as nice as the iPhone, the HTC One, or one of Lenovo’s new phones (surprise, surprise!), but it’s a solidly premium device.

Samsung Galaxy S5Samsung Galaxy S5

On the Galaxy S5′s Screen:

Samsung chose to go with a 5.1-inch display for the SGS5, and it’s a 1080p, SuperAMOLED panel with all the saturated colors and high contrast that that provides. It looks wonderful in person, and I for one don’t mind the fact that these AMOLED displays don’t offer the most accurate colors when compared to other devices on the market.

Samsung Galaxy S5Samsung Galaxy S5

The room where Samsung showed off the devices was attractively lit, so we couldn’t really test how well the new micro-contrast and ambient / auto lighting controls built into the new S5.

Still, Samsung knows what OLED screens look like, and they play it up by theming the device by default with bright colors – the lock screen, especially, with a new bubbling swipe effect, works extremely well.

Samsung Galaxy S5Samsung Galaxy S5

There were rumors that the GS5 would come with a 2560×1440 panel, but those were clearly aiming a little too high. We might see Samsung launch a premium version with such a panel later in the year, however, as they often launch various specialized versions of the Galaxy S phone depending on niche.

Samsung Galaxy S5On the Galaxy S5′s water and dust resistance:

I’m extremely pleased to see companies building this sort of thing into the phone by default. Sony set the standard, and now other companies are catching up. 

As a result, we may not see a ruggedized Galaxy S5 Active like we have in previous years. Like the the Sony Xperia Z1 and Z2, the S5 doesn’t feel especially weather resistant, so you won’t have a bulky phone covered in rubber and gaskets taking up space in your pocket.

The company noted that it isn’t waterproof, so you won’t want to leave it sitting in the pool, but they did welcome people to take their phones into the shower – a suggestion, I suspect, that will come back to bite them in the end.

I can see a new trend now of waterproof smartphones becoming the way to read your news in the morning while you shower.

On the Galaxy S5′s performance:

Blazing. Extremely fast. No lag, no stutter. We have enough power at our behest now that Android doesn’t feel like an ugly stepsister to iOS and Windows Phone (well, personal opinions regarding TouchWiz aside). That’s to be expected, considering the chipset inside; the Galaxy S5 features Qualcomm’s extremely fast Snapdragon 800 quad-core chip running at 2.5GHz. “Only” 2 gigs of RAM, but honestly that’s enough for devices like these, at least for the moment. And adding a third gig would increase the phone’s power consumption, even at idle.

Samsung Galaxy S5Samsung Galaxy S5

The Snapdragon 800 is likely going to be powering the fastest Android phones until NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 launches, so it’s no surprise that Samsung stuck it into this phone, too, though things might change if the Exynos team ever gets their act together – it would likely be cheaper for Samsung that way.

And speakin of TouchWiz….

On the Galaxy S5′s TouchWiz:

TouchWiz has always had a love/hate relationship with end users, and it’s been no end of issues for Samsung, because TouchWiz has been the subject of more than a few of the infringement lawsuits between it and Apple.

Samsung Galaxy S5Samsung Galaxy S5

Still, it doesn’t feel as intrustive this time around as it has in the past. It’s a little frustrating sometimes, especially if you’re used to a different kind of Android phone. Everything’s in a different place, nothing behaves exactly as you’d expect. 

It’s hard to say whether it’s better or worse than other phones, or other Galaxy phones, not without spending some more time getting used to it.

Samsung Galaxy S5On the Galaxy S5′s camera: 

The camera on the Galaxy S5 uses a fairly high-end autofocus system; it’s hybrid, meaning it uses both contrast and phase detect autofocus mechanisms, something that you might only find on much more expensive cameras. 

As a result, the autofocus is among the fastest we’ve see on a smartphone. Samsung claims 0.3s, though in the lower light last night it did take a bit longer than that. I didn’t time it, but I’d guess around half a second or so. There wasn’t enough variance to really get a feel for how well the HDR works, but seeing real-time results is pretty fun.

The GS5 goes a long way toward fixing some of smartphone photography’s biggest problems for AF – catching action has always been something of an issue. Our friends over at DigitalCameraReview even think it should catch the eye of more enthusiast photographers.

On the Galaxy S5′s extra tech (fingerprint scanner, heartrate monitor):

It’s easy to say that Samsung is copying the fingerprint scanner from the iPhone 5s, but these phones have been in development for a while. It’s possible that it went down like that, but it’s equally likely that Samsung had been investigating this technology for some time. 

Unlike the Apple version, Samsung’s scanner uses the swipe functionality that’s been seen on other phones. It’s gotten some flak – already – for being a cheesy, inferior version, but I registered a thumbprint and scanned it multiple times, and it always worked. It’s all just anecdata at this point, but I don’t see it being too bad.

Samsung Galaxy S5Samsung Galaxy S5

Also unlike the Apple version, the GS5 scanner can do a couple of other tricks, such as authorize PayPal transactions. I’m betting we’ll see that sort of functionality expand in the future. Samsung mentioned that the data is stored securely on the phone, but the details as to how that works are still scarce.

The same goes for the heartrate monitor. I find it a little strange that Samsung added a specialized bit of hardware for the sole purpose of measuring heartrate, especially because your cell phone camera can do that already when used in conjunction with the LED flash. Still, it works, and it works fairly quickly (admittedly quicker than the camera versions typically do) – so if you take a break from exercising and want to try it out, you won’t have to be down for long.

And that’s it – that’s what we’ve got after spending some quality time with the latest and greatest from Samsung. Questions? Comments? Be sure to let us know, and be sure to check out the dozens of pictures in our gallery.

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