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Looking back at the Samsung Galaxy S5

In the aftermath of the Galaxy S6's recent announcement, Josh Vergara takes a look back at last year's Galaxy S5.

Published onMarch 17, 2015

Last year Samsung reintroduced us to the Galaxy S line, bringing a lot of what we already expected, namely a plastic body and the type of hardware specifications many users had pined over. Being frank, we also saw quite a bit of what we didn’t expect and, depending on who you ask, that’s not necessarily a compliment. The phone was polarizing at best to a lot of users, and at its announcement the phone essentially split its fanbase in two, given a lot of its design cues and the choices Samsung made under the surface. But that was then and this is the Samsung Galaxy S5 — now.

Looking back at MWC 2014

Think back to the Unpacked event at MWC last year – while there was a lot of excitement around the new Samsung Galaxy S device, much of what was new about the device definitely surprised the journalistic masses. Not necessarily because the new features and design cues made much sense, but because it felt like the long standing company seemed to be losing its touch. While the Samsung Galaxy S5 made some pretty big promises ahead of the show (or at least the rumor mill did), the actual delivery left a lot to be desired.

Much of what was new about the device definitely surprised the journalistic masses. Not necessarily because the new features and design cues made much sense, but because it felt like the long standing company seemed to be losing its touch.

As an example of the changes introduced, a new divot appeared underneath the camera optics, housing a heart rate monitor. Samsung’s push into the tech health segment was going to be more or less powered by this and other versions of it found on their new wearable devices. And while the S Health initiative was a nice idea with reasonably decent execution, it hasn’t quite proven itself as a full fitness ecosystem.

Another big change was the inclusion of an ISOCELL camera, which Samsung hoped would bring some new buzz to what was already a pretty good picture taking experience in the recent Samsung devices. Of course probably the biggest physical change could be found on the phone’s back, which now looked an awful lot like a band-aid.

Galaxy S5 arrives, but fails to make the right impression

While the Galaxy S4 was somewhat of a misguided but expected step away from all that was great with the Galaxy S3, the arrival of the Galaxy S5 made it quite obvious that the company was losing its way. After all, what do we see at first glance with the Galaxy S5? Awkward lines on the frame that, while helping somewhat with handling, didn’t lend the phone an easy sense of symmetry. The typical Samsung button layout was not going anywhere, but the menu button was finally replaced by a recent apps button – a move that fell in line with the evolution of Android itself. The most scrutinized choice of them all, however, was the backing.

Glossy plastic was the bane of many users when it came to the Galaxy line, and many, including myself, were expecting the faux leather backing of the Galaxy Note 3 to make a reappearance in its smaller brethren. Instead, we got a dimpled backing that, as already mentioned above, many equated to a band-aid look and feel. The cover itself was still quite flimsy, but at least it helped protect the tried and true additions of replaceable battery and expandable storage. Probably one of the most redeeming factors for the phone was the addition of dust and water resistance. Despite the looks of the phone, the Galaxy S5 was a pretty rugged device, giving users a bit more peace of mind when it came to utilizing the handset without fear of damage from the elements.

Underneath the surface, the Galaxy S5 was still one of the fastest phones available, but it was bogged down by yet another iteration of Touchwiz that tried too hard to be everything to everyone. Bringing back all of the S4 features meant that dozens of the phone’s capabilities were doomed to uselessness, and very few of the new additions seemed to buck this trend. The download booster was probably the only feature I personally loved using on my T-Mobile unlimited data plan, but that was about it. Another redeeming element was the camera. Though you would be hard pressed to find anyone that can quantify the improvements ISOCELL brought to the camera, Samsung was still able to bring one of the best Android picture taking experiences and I know users who have benefited from having the S5 in their pockets at key moments.

2014 wasn’t a banner year for Samsung, and GS5 was partly to blame

Despite the number of missteps Samsung made with the Galaxy S5, early reports suggested that the Galaxy S5 would still be one of the best selling devices of the year. Still, there was no denying that a shift was in the air. In particular, the Galaxy S5 didn’t make nearly as much of an impact on techies and tech journalists as Galaxy devices past, resulting in fewer purchases from this crowd. Of course, looking around in the real world, the Galaxy S5 was still fairly common. Given what Samsung is able to do with the essentials and the unique (often gimmicky) extras in their flagship devices, it should come as no surprise that contract toting customers still viewed the Galaxy S5 as a logical upgrade option.

As the year went on, the Galaxy S5 sold reasonably well, but not nearly to the level that Samsung had hoped it would.

As the year went on, the Galaxy S5 sold reasonably well, but not nearly to the level that Samsung had hoped it would. Part of this was the phone’s design and lack of “wow factor”, but pricing also likely played a role here. The changing landscape towards powerful but still affordable devices definitely started to have an impact on mobile technology in 2014. Why pay so much for a Samsung device whose many features might never be used when you can get the essentials in a fast, reliable, and – most of all – cheaper package? A number of devices delivered this cheaper-yet-powerful experience including the Nexus 5, OnePlus One and Motorola’s Moto X.

Galaxy S5 as a turning point

I won’t deny that I used the Galaxy S5 considerably less than other flagships of the time, and even those that came after it. The Galaxy Note 4, in particular, was a much more compelling offering by Samsung and gave me many of the things I had hoped to see in the GS5 like a metal frame, and a more directed, executive design language. The Note 4’s existence along with the metal-clad Galaxy Alpha series all pointed to one notion: Samsung was in need of a refresh and perhaps a rethinking of their design and feature philosophies.

These more recent offerings from the Korean giant made us excited that such a prospect might actually happen — and then the Galaxy S6 appeared. Our initial impressions of the Galaxy S6 have been quite positive, though you’ll have to wait a little longer for our verdict on the newest Samsung device. Regardless, it is reasonable to say that the Galaxy S5 served as a turning point in the company’s history, one that made clear that a company can definitely get a little too big for its own good, and in order to remain relevant, sometimes you have to dial back the very things that first brought you to providence.

Revisiting the Galaxy S5, if anything, shows us were the Korean giant was at only a year ago and makes us all the more excited to see what other changes Samsung brings the Galaxy family as the rest of the year unfolds.

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