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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.

All of those services overlap with their also-present (and universally superior) native Android equivalents. In all, the phone ships with two app stores, two Web browsers, two voice assistant services, two photo galleries, three music-playing services and four messaging services (!). I can't even imagine how a novice user would make heads or tails of any of it.

Samsung has also added its My Magazine feature into the home screen, which feels like a half-baked and hastily implemented response to HTC's BlinkFeed news-reading service. The feature lives on the left-most panel of the home screen and shows you a small handful of news headlines; when you tap on any headline, you're taken into the regular Flipboard app. The whole thing is pretty pointless, but it's at least easy enough to disable.

Amidst all the clutter are a few genuinely useful features that have been carried over from past Samsung products. The company's Multi Window option is in place, for instance, if you ever want to view two apps side by side on your screen at the same time. It still works only with a handful of apps, but the selection includes quite a few commonly used programs like YouTube, Gmail and Facebook. The phone's pedometer feature, which works with varying accuracy, is also still present.

The problem is that, like past Samsung devices, the Galaxy S5 feels like a bloated and incohesive mess. Samsung may be saying it's going "back to the basics," but it needs to actually do that soon if it wants to stop falling behind other Android manufacturers when it comes to user experience.

Bottom line

No question: The Galaxy S5 has some good things going for it. The phone boasts an excellent display, superb battery life and a respectable camera. It's water-resistant, too, which is a relatively unusual trait in smartphones today.

But Samsung's weaknesses hold the GS5 back in some meaningful ways — ways in which other manufacturers are currently thriving. The phone feels cheaply made, it's unnecessarily large with no accompanying benefit to the bulk and its software is cluttered and visually inconsistent. Beyond all of that, there's just nothing about the device that sets it apart or makes it feel particularly special.

If the Galaxy S5 existed in a world of its own, it'd look pretty darn impressive. The problem is that the real world isn't so one-dimensional — and when you start making comparisons, Samsung's "next big thing" looks a lot less grand.

 

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