Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on and first impressions

February 24, 2014
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MWC 2014 Coverage brought to you by: Bitdefender Mobile Security & Antivirus for Android.

The first day of Mobile World Congress brings us the most anticipated device of the show and probably of the first half of 2014. The Galaxy S5 has just been officially unveiled by Samsung, but we were fortunate enough to get early access to it, so we can offer our first impressions and thoughts on Samsung’s new flagship.

With a lot of wild rumors swirling around it, is the new Galaxy S5 everything you expected it to be? To find out for yourself, check out Josh’ take in our Galaxy hands-on preview video above, or keep reading for more details.

Galaxy S5 hands-on image gallery

Design: something borrowed, something old

We were all expecting a big change in the design department, but unfortunately we are not going to get what we hoped for on the Galaxy S5. In fact, the front of the Samsung Galaxy S5 is very similar to the front of the Galaxy S4, and we wouldn’t be surprised if some less savvy users confused one device for the other. The biggest difference on this side is the absence of the hatch pattern present on the S4 – besides that, pretty much everything looks the same.

It’s the back where Samsung has made the biggest changes to the Galaxy S5. After the Note 3 ditched the glossy plastic in favor of a texturized plastic mimicking leather, it’s time for the Galaxy S5 to move away from that long in the tooth shiny plastic. Instead of faux leather though, you get a soft-touch plastic with a perforation pattern, that reminded us a lot of the finish of the first generation Nexus 7. We have to say, this textured material feels nice in hand, though probably not everyone will appreciate its appearance.

The Galaxy S5 comes in four colors: white, a charcoal black that looks more like a dark gray, gold, and electric blue. The most striking is the blue version, as you can see from our video and image gallery, but we imagine the gold model will turn some heads as well.

Samsung placed the flash below the camera module, along with an infrared heart sensor, that we’ll talk about a bit later. On the bottom of the phone, you will notice a plastic flap that covers the USB 3.0 port – as rumors suggested, the Galaxy S5 is waterproof and dust resistant, boasting an ingress protection rating of 67.

Overall, the S5 closely resembles Samsung’s older devices, from the button layout to the chrome sides, and the general profile. That may not necessarily be a bad thing, of course. And we’ll give it to Samsung: even with the 5.1-display and the slightly larger footprint, the Galaxy S5 still handles and feels great in the hand.

A massive specs arsenal

Samsung flagship devices are known for their top specifications and richness of features, and the Galaxy S5 is no exception. Starting off with a Qualcomm processor clocked at 2.5GHz, the processing package is completed by the 2GB of RAM. This latter spec may seem like a step backwards after the Note 3, but it’s not clear how big the speed advantage offered by that extra gigabyte of RAM is.

The 5.1-inch display of the Galaxy S5 is virtually indistinguishable from the 5-incher Galaxy S4, given that both devices pack the same Full HD resolution and very close pixel densities. Colors are vibrant, blacks are super deep, and viewing angles are excellent.

The Galaxy S5 packs a fingerprint sensor that’s integrated into the home key. This is a slide type sensor, so, to use it, you have to slide your finger slowly from top to bottom across it. You can record up to eight different fingerprints. We didn’t get to try this feature out extensively, but the fact that you have to move your finger across the sensor is a bit less convenient than the solution that Apple used on its iPhone 5S.

One of the more special features of the Galaxy S5 is the heart rate sensor located on its back, near the flash. Just put your finger on the sensor, and using infrared, it will determine your pulse. The sensor seemed fairly accurate, but moving the finger slightly while measuring heart beats results in loss beats and incorrect reported rates.

The Galaxy S5 comes in 16 and 32GB storage options, with the usual microSD card slot. The removable battery packs 2800 mAh. One of the coolest new features of the device is the 16MP Isocell sensor, which should make for some amazing pics. The S5 is the first device to integrate Isocell, a technology we’ve reviewed extensively here, that should reduce noise and bloom, even in difficult lighting conditions. The few test shots that we took with the device turned out great in the uneven light of Samsung’s MWC booth, and we look forward to trying it more thoroughly.

Software: TouchWiz with a twist

Just like with the physical design, Samsung made changes to the user interface of the Galaxy S5, but didn’t deliver the extensive revamp that we anticipated. Some elements have received new clothes: the toggles in the notification dropdown are now in line with the design of the TabPRO and NotePRO tablets. My Magazine is present on the leftmost homescreen, but the homescreen has remained unchanged. And the same can be said about the app launcher, which is the old TouchWiz we’ve all known for years.

The Galaxy S5 features a redesigned settings menu featuring round icons similar to those that Samsung used in their MWC teasers from the past weeks. It’s a rather big change, and we think many users will need time to adjust to it.

One neat new feature is the Ultra battery saving mode, which turns the screen to grayscale to save energy. In some cases, switching to this mode can double the remaining battery life. Samsung also revamped the camera app, with a simpler mode selector and easy access to the app’s many features and settings. There’s also Kids mode, PayPal mobile payment integration, and some other new features that we’ll go through in a separate post.

Overall, TouchWiz on the Galaxy S5 is still… TouchWiz. We were hoping for a full-on redesign, but Samsung only touched the S5’s interface in some areas.

Check out our other coverage for more information on the Galaxy S5 and the new Gear 2 and Fit smartwatches!

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