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Galaxy S5 deep-dive review: Long on hype, short on delivery

JR Raphael | April 21, 2014
Samsung's Galaxy S5 Android phone follows a very popular predecessor, but the latest version doesn't stand out in a sea of thoughtfully designed competitors.

Speaking of the Home button, Samsung sticks with its usual hybrid button configuration on the Galaxy S5, providing a physical Home key flanked by two capacitive buttons. The setup remains awkward and unnatural compared to the virtual on-screen buttons that have been standard on Android since 2011 (and are now used on most other manufacturers' devices). Once you get used to gently touching the capacitive buttons to activate them, having to forcefully press the adjacent physical home button is jarring and unexpected. Beyond that, the capacitive keys are frequently not lit up and thus impossible to see.

On the plus side, Samsung has finally let go of the Gingerbread-level Android Menu button and provides the standard Android Recent Apps button in its place, which makes an enormous difference in the usability of the phone. With the old-fashioned Menu button gone, all options now appear on-screen throughout the system instead of frequently being hidden with no visual cues as they were on past Samsung devices.

The Galaxy S5 has one small speaker on the bottom-left of its back. The audio is reasonably loud but very tinny and hollow-sounding. You'd expect it to be inferior to the bass-heavy stereo speakers on HTC's One (M8), but it sounds bad even next to other phones with similar single-speaker setups, like Motorola's Moto X.

The GS5 has a small LED notifier above the display to alert you of any missed calls, messages or other pending notifications.

Under the hood

Despite having impressive-sounding specs, Samsung's Galaxy devices have suffered from imperfect performance in the past. I'm happy to report that with the Galaxy S5, the company has finally ironed out the kinks and delivered a phone that's free from any overt jerkiness or lag-laden behavior.

That said, even with its 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and 2GB of RAM, the Galaxy S5 feels noticeably less snappy than other high-end devices. Loading apps isn't quite as instantaneous as it should be, for instance, nor is the act of opening a system tool like the Recent Apps switcher. To be clear, I'm talking about an extra second of delay here and there, but it all adds up to make the phone feel less zippy and responsive than what I've come to expect from flagship devices today.

One area where the Galaxy S5 doesn't disappoint is in the realm of stamina: With its 2800mAh removable battery, the phone has consistently gotten me from morning to night without coming close to hitting empty. Even with relatively heavy usage — three or four hours of screen-on time with a mix of phone calls, Web browsing, camera activity and social media use — I've yet to worry about running out of juice before going to bed.

 

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