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Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review: Evolution, not revolution gives hope to rivals

Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review: Evolution, not revolution gives hope to rivals

There is a reason why Samsung and Apple are always pitched as the two smartphone companies going head-to-head: no-one else gets a look in. Between them the Galaxy and iPhone ranges have the market sewn up. By the end of 2013 8 of the top 10 selling handsets were Apple and Samsung devices, including all of the top 7.
It would be unrealistic to expect that to change in 2014. Both companies can outspend their rivals many times over and have far greater brand awareness. That being said now is not the time for blind loyalty. I came away greatly impressed by the HTC One M8 following my hands-on review and having now spent time with the black and white editions of Samsung’s new Galaxy S5 I can confirm: any lead the Galaxy range did have has now gone.
Design – Plastic not so fantastic
Samsung has come under great pressure to copy the metal body of the HTC One, but it has stuck to its guns with the plastic chassis of the Galaxy S5. It does feel different to the S4. The S5 has a more textured and dimpled finish which makes it easier to hold than both its predecessor and the slippery M8, though it lacks the grip of the rubber finish on the black edition of the LG Nexus 5 (the white edition is bizarrely slippery).

The S5 also finds a middle ground in terms of size. While it fractionally increases the 5 inch 1080p display of the S4 to 5.1 inches there is a significant increase in size and weight. The 5.39 x 2.75 x 0.311 in (137 x 70 x 7.9 mm) dimensions and 4.58oz (130g) weight of the S4 jump to 5.59 x 2.87 x 0.318 in (142 x 73 x 8.1mm) and 5.1oz (145g) with the S5. This difference is noticeable in hand, especially compared to the smaller and lighter Nexus 5 but with the HTC One M8 ballooning to 5.76 x 2.77 x 0.37 in (146.4 x 70.6 x 9.4 mm) and 5.64oz (160g) it is not a bulky handset by 2014 standards.
Samsung has also aced the display. Like the S4, the S5 sticks with Super AMOLED and while it is true AMOLED can over saturate colours, it is far brighter than its LCD-based rivals and has a genuine wow factor.

New Features – Greater Speed, Battery Life and Water resistance
So what made the S5 bigger and heavier than its predecessor? Speed, stamina and a boat load of new features.
In terms of speed the S5 gets a bump to Qualcomm’s top of the line Snapdragon 801 chipset and Adreno 330 graphics. It shares this combination with the HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z2 and results in an entirely lag free user experience. The UI never stutters, apps open almost instantaneously and there has yet to be a game released on the Play Store which can make it break sweat.
In fairness the S4 was no slouch so the real appeal in the S5 is the 801’s power sipping ways. Samsung claims the S5 can deliver 11 hours of video playback, 10 hours of web browsing over LTE, 21 hours of talk time or 390 hours of standby. I’ll need the handset for longer to judge this thoroughly but having used it intensively for a few hours, the modest reduction in charge suggests it should last a full day even with heavy use. The holy grail for most users.

An enlarged 2800mAh battery (up from 2600mAh in the S4) aids this, but is dwarfed by the 3200mAh capacity of the Xperia Z2 so Samsung combines it with what it is dubbing an ‘Ultra Power Saving Mode’. HTC boasts the One M8 can last 30 hours with 10% battery remaining using a similar option and Samsung says you’ll get close to that with 24 hours from 10% in Ultra Power Saving Mode on the S5.
Another practical gem with the S5 is its water resistance. Users will need to shut a flap which covers the power port (the flap feels flimsy in hand) but then the S5 will survive for up to 20 minutes in a metre of water. This won’t mean you take the S5 swimming, but it does mean you don’t need to be shy using it in the rain or grabbing it to answer a call in the shower and you can take the occasional photo underwater.


The potentially sporty implications for a water resistant camera are also coupled by some significant biometrics.
While the Galaxy line is infamous for bloatware and somewhat gimmicky features such as eye-tracking and needless services like S Voice, the S5 brings the more tangible benefits of a fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor.