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Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Improved phone still a step behind other Android models

Florence Ion | April 15, 2014
The Galaxy S5 is an improvement over the GS4, but it's not the same big leap that the Galaxy S4 was over the Galaxy S III: It's an all-around great phone, albeit one with shortcomings.

With the Galaxy S5, Samsung has pulled back the reins. The phone maker shifted its focus to refining the features that were already present in predecessors like the Galaxy S4 rather than stuffing more into an increasingly wider polymer body.

The Galaxy S5 is just a bit wider than its predecessor and the dimpled backing has a bit of grip to it so it won't slip out of your hand. There's also a handy one-handed mode that shrinks the interface down a bit, though it's a bit tricky to bring up with the necessary one-thumb-across-the-screen swipe.

The Galaxy S5 features a 5.1-inch 1080p Full HD Super AMOLED display. Samsung touts the display's ability to better adapt to any type of ambient environment, and the screen can go really dim, thus making it easier on the eyes at night. At its highest brightness, however, it's still an exceedingly bright display with lots of contrast. It also maintains color accuracy at extreme viewing angles, and its ever-so-slightly wider display makes for an enjoyable video viewing experience on the train ride home.

With its Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 system-on-chip (SoC), the Galaxy S5 narrowly beat out the HTC One (M8) in Anandtech's benchmark charts. You'll feel a big difference over last year's model even when just scrolling through the TouchWiz UI, which seems to have dialed down the bloat since its last iteration. As far as battery life is concerned, if you need a phone to last you through the day and then some, the Galaxy S5 can certainly deliver. Its 2,800mAh battery pack lasted a whopping 10 hours and 45 minutes in our video playback tests with the brightness at 100 lumens and Airplane Mode turned on. It beat out the HTC One (M8) by 45 minutes--about 7.5 percent longer.

The 16-megapixel rear-facing camera sensor on the S5 is the best camera Samsung has ever packed onto a flagship device. Rather than solely rely on software to fuse together photos, Samsung implemented its new sensor technology called ISOCELL to help improve sharpness and low-light accuracy. In our tests, the colors were spot on and the phone's camera performed impeccably outdoors. Unfortunately, Samsung hasn't improved low-light performance on its flagship phone, producing photos that look grainy lin low light.

Like the iPhone 5S, Samsung embedded a fingerprint scanner into its Home button. Unlike the iPhone, you'll have to swipe straight down over the Home button to move past the Lock screen, which is hard to do when you're holding the phone one-handed. You can also use the fingerprint scanner with participating apps such as PayPal. I got to see a demo of it in action, and if the restaurant or retailer supports it, it's a pretty neat feature. You can also use the scanner to access Private Mode, a new part of TouchWiz that lets you tuck away confidential files. It's a nice idea, but the implementation isn't great.

 

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