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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.

The GS5 comes with 16GB of internal storage, which leaves you with about 10GB of usable space once you factor in the operating system and various preinstalled applications. Luckily, the phone has a micro SD card slot — hidden under its removable back panel — so you can pop in your own external card and add more space if you need it.

In terms of connectivity, you'll be able to get 4G-level data on the GS5 — either LTE or HSPA+, depending on your carrier and what's available in your area. Data speeds have been A-OK on the AT&T model of the phone I've been testing, with nothing out of the ordinary to report. Samsung has touted a new "Download Booster" feature that's supposed to combine Wi-Fi and LTE to make data transfers extra speedy, but that feature isn't available on most U.S. models of the phone (including the one I've been using).

Voice calls over AT&T's network have been peachy keen for me; folks with whom I've spoken have sounded loud and clear, and everyone's reported being able to hear me with zero distortion as well.

The Galaxy S5 supports near-field communication (NFC) for contact-free payments and data exchanges. The phone also has an IR blaster, which lets you use it as a remote for your TV and other home entertainment components.

Cameras

Samsung's Galaxy S5 features a 16-megapixel rear-facing camera that's capable of taking some great-looking photos. Like most smartphone shooters, it can be hit and miss — some shots end up overexposed and washed out, while others look dark or have unnatural coloring — but all in all, it's a solid setup that should be more than sufficient for most photo-taking purposes.

Even without optical image stabilization, the Galaxy S5 does respectably well in low-light conditions — an area where many smartphone cameras struggle. It's not quite at the level of the HTC One (M8) in that domain, but it holds its own and manages to deliver usable images even in fairly dark environments.

(You don't have to take my word for it: I put together a detailed gallery of Galaxy S5 and One (M8) comparison photos so you can see how both phones perform for yourself.)

Samsung claims the Galaxy S5 has "the world's fastest auto-focus speeds," but the One (M8) is significantly snappier at focusing and capturing photos. As I noted in my comparison gallery, the GS5 is by no means slow, but the One is practically instantaneous. When you use the phones side by side, it's a noticeable difference.

The GS5 also occasionally does a strange thing where it shows a progress ring on the screen after you press the shutter icon and then takes a full three to five seconds to finish capturing the image. As you can imagine, that's anything but ideal when you're in the midst of a photogenic moment.

 

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