Guest review by Peter Wells from Reckoner

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 is here. The flagship device from the world’s most popular smartphone manufacturer is packed with more features than almost any other smartphone on the market. Do all these features add up to a compelling device? 

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Samsung has always made beautiful screens for its devices. The S5 is its best screen yet: the 1080p Super AMOLED display is just gorgeous to look at. The screen is bright, crisp and home to a phantasmagoria of vibrant colours, as you would expect.


To my eyes, the Galaxy S5 is better and brighter than the HTC One (M8) and iPhone 5s. I personally find the screen far too big for my needs; a giant phone screen fits a few extra tweets, but it doesn’t help with much else. I’d prefer a small phone in my hand and a tablet in my bag. Still, the market wants phablets, and if you want one too, this seems the perfect phablet device. Watching videos may even be a little more comfortable on the S5 than a smaller tablet thanks to the overall lightness of the device.

Behind that giant screen is a giant battery, and for most users this may be the best thing about the phone. For those interested in specs, the information is available here.  The specs mean nothing to me — all you need to know is the S5 can leave the charger at 7am, be used all day for email, photos, music, and browsing, and still have a decent amount of charge left by midnight. If that’s not enough, switching to Power Saving mode will get you a full weekend of heavy use from the phone. Then there’s Ultra Powersaver mode, which limits the phone to just a handful of apps, and turns the screen monochrome. In this mode, you can survive 48 hours on just 10 per cent battery.


Powering the phone is a 2.45 GHz Snapdragon 801 chip, with 2GB of RAM. Again, the specs bore me, but this phone is incredibly snappy, menus scroll fluidly and apps launch immediately. I noticed some lag creep in to the phone after a few days use, but that seems more software related. Quit all apps, and the phone’s performance returns. The staff at respected rival blog Ausdroid have further tips to make the S5 software live up to it’s internals.

The S5 is not as ugly as some would have you believe. There’s a certain misguided charm to the dimpled pleather back and the chromed plastic sides. Sure, it looks and feels cheap; the S5 will never sit along the iPhone or HTC One on a design museum shelf, but Samsung shouldn’t care. The plastic shell makes for a very light phone that is comfortable in the hand and easy to grip. In your jeans pocket, you can hardly notice the slim, light S5. So while there are prettier phones available, the Samsung Galaxy S5 feels designed for day to day use.


During the launch event, Samsung reiterated that the Galaxy S5 was designed to be used in real world situations. To further that point,  the S5 is now waterproof and dust resistant, up to IP67 standard. This means the phone can handle being submerged in one metre of water for up to 30 minutes. You can’t go diving with the S5, but it should survive an accidental drop in the toilet or spilling coffee over the handset. Real world situations. 

The Galaxy S5 has a few more unique hardware features, most notably the heart-rate monitor on the back of the phone. I’m not sure who would want to use their phone as a heart-rate monitor and I doubt many would find the S5 implementation compelling. The monitor is slow and fiddly to use, and its location, just under the main camera lens and beside the smaller depth sensor seems a poor choice. Surely heavy users of the heart rate monitor will end up smudging up the camera lens. I can only guess Samsung purchased these little sensors in bulk for the Neo, Fit and Gear range, and threw them on the S5 for the hell of it.

Finally, Samsung include a thumb-print reader in the S5 for faster, secure log in. The thumb print reader is a great idea, but on the S5 it is near impossible to use. To use the feature, you need to slowly (but not too slowly!) drag your thumb down the exact centre of the screen. The S5 had a success rate of detecting my thumb about 3 in 10 times: nowhere near good enough to rely on. Some reviewers seemed to have better luck than I with the thumb print reader, so your mileage may vary.


Hands down, the best feature of the Samsung Galaxy S5 is the camera: it’s the best I’ve seen in an Android phone. The camera features an excellent HDR mode for solid landscape shooting. For portraits, the S5 can capture images with a shallow depth of field, and thanks to the second smaller camera capturing depth information, you can selectively pull focus after a shot has been taken. Finally, there’s a burst mode for capturing fast moving subjects. 

Together, these functions should cover most photographic situations for most people. Like the best point-and-shoots, the camera works best in Auto mode, allowing you to just snap images without much thought, knowing you’ll end up with usable shots.

Outside of auto mode are features including Panorama mode, “Beauty Mode” to give portraits that over-Photoshopped look, and Dual Camera to shoot picture-in-picture with the front and back cameras at the same time.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 camera beats the HTC One (M8) in most situations, though I prefer the HTC in low light. Both cameras finally match the iPhone in most situations. I’ve posted a gallery of example shots to Flickr and you are encouraged to peruse them and pass judgment on my ability.



Touchwiz, Samsung’s flavour of Android,  has had another makeover. The has changed the most; every icon is now a flat, colourful circle. It’s an interesting look, and the least-awful settings menu Samsung has shipped, but it’s still too easy to get lost in the settings. In all, there are 62 main settings buttons. Tapping each opens a submenu list of further options. There are so many Settings options, there’s three separate “Quick Settings” views: two in the Notifications panel, and a bizarre little floating Toolbox. It’s daunting for a nerd, let alone a standard end user.


On the home screen, TouchWiz throws more options at you. There’s a One-Handed mode which shrinks the screen and a multi-window mode for side-by-side apps. Both features seem gimmicky at best when attempting to use them.

Last year’s tentpole features, the Air view modes and gesture control to allow the vain yet communicative to answer the phone while getting their nails done, are now nearly forgotten. They’re both hidden somewhere in the 62 settings.

Even the excellent camera can not escape the software team’s insistence on over-complicated menus. Keep the camera in Auto mode and you’ll have a great experience, but if you  tap any of the onscreen buttons, your screen is swamped with menus upon submenus.

Camera options

The HTC One has a Flipboard-esque social magazine built in to it’s launcher, called Blinkfeed. Samsung goes one better: it’s social magazine is actually powered by Flipboard. It’s a great little feature that I might use if not for the limitations of the TouchWiz launcher.

Samsung continues to support the third-party launcher market by making the dock implacable in Australia. It’s such a shame, as this is the best TouchWiz launcher so far, but no one should use Samsung’s Messages or Browser app over Hangouts and Chrome. I’d recommend you immediately install a third party launcher, and if a less technically minded friend purchases an S5, install one for them. Nova continues to be my recommendation for a full-featured yet easy to configure launcher, the excellent Aviate ‘smart’ launcher is also compelling.


Samsung’s now-famous suite of bloatware is back, including Wallet, Music Hub and S Voice. New to the collection is S Health, a fitness app to tie-in with the heart-rate monitor of the phone and the new range of wearables. In a strange twist, all Samsung’s apps now live in a separate Samsung Store, and that includes third party apps too, like Amazon’s Kindle App. I’m sure there’s a longterm strategy for this second app store but right now it all seems a little messy and confusing.

Samsung’s phone (as in, the actual phone function to make calls) and contacts app are the same bulky mess of previous versions. S Planner (Samsung’s calendar app) has improved over the years, though I still prefer Google’s Calendar, also available. For those using Exchange email, you’ll need to use Samsung’s Email app. Thankfully, this improves slightly with each iteration of TouchWiz, though it still contains a hilarious ‘quote level’ bug that makes quoted email unreadable after a few levels. 

Email Quote Level

The Notifications menu in TouchWiz is another point of frustration. Samsung’s clock, quick menu items, S finder and Quick Connect buttons, and display brightness slider fill up almost half the screen before you get to notifications. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but it’s just clunky design. And being Touchwiz, it’s once again a hideous blue and green colour scheme.  


Finally, the Samsung Galaxy S5 uses it’s own emoji, instead of the built in Kit Kat emoji. This shouldn’t matter, but it does. The KitKat emoji are just about the cutest things in the world, why would anyone prefer Samsung’s emoji to these adorable little bastards?


The Galaxy S5 continues Samsung’s tradition of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. I can’t really fault the strategy, it seems to pay off well. 

Of all the newer features the S5 introduced, the stand out features are the excellent battery life and great camera. Realistically, that’s all most smartphones should be focusing on right now: we’ve hit a point where both Android and iOS are so feature rich that handset  manufacturers need to look back to hardware innovation. 

Having a phone that lasts a full 24 hours on a charge may not be sexy feature — it may not scream innovation — but it’s a killer feature for me. Add to that a camera that can match the iPhone, and challenge most point and shoots, and this  is one great device. Just don’t look too hard at that dimpled pleather backside…

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is RRP $929 outright on on plans from the major telcos.

Peter Wells is a contributor at Reckoner, an excellent technology blog that you should be reading.