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Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4 - should you upgrade?

Published 
18 Jun 2014
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Our Galaxy S5 and Galaxy S4 comparison finds out which is right for you, with benchmarks, camera comparisons and display shootout

Samsung's latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S5, is here. It was subject to truly monumental levels of hype, along with months of rumours in the run up to its unveiling, but now that we've got one in the office, how much of an upgrade is it over last year's model? We've put the Galaxy S5 side-by-side with the Galaxy S4, comparing the two in every area to highlight the differences and improvements Samsung has made.

We've gone beyond mere specification comparisons to include camera quality comparisons, benchmark results, battery life and detailed display analysis to deliver a final verdict on which is the better phone. Hopefully this will help you make up your mind when deciding whether to pick up the new model, or hold onto your current handset until the end of your contract.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4

SIZE AND WEIGHT

Dimensions: The Galaxy S4 measures 70x137x7.9mm and weighs 130g. The pebble-like shape of the Galaxy S3 was replaced with a more rectangular design, with slightly rounded corners to make the handset more comfortable to grip. The Galaxy S5 is slightly larger and heavier, weighing 145g and measuring 73x142x8.1mm. The curves have been toned down even further, to the point that the S5 has more in common with the Galaxy Note 3 phablet than its predecessor.

Although the Galaxy S5 is both larger and heavier, the differences are so slight between the two phones that if you're already used to the size of the Galaxy S4 you're unlikely to notice the change in your pocket should you make the upgrade. That being said, it can be tricky to reach the top left corner of the S5's screen using your right thumb, or the right corner when holding the phone with your left hand - it's an unavoidable side effect of the larger screen (more on that below).

Galaxy S4 vs S5 size comparison

The Galaxy S4 (left) and S5 (right) side-by-side - the scale is accurate to show the difference in physical size between the two handsets

Materials: The Galaxy S4 is made entirely from plastic, with metal effect trim around the sides of the phone and a carbon fibre effect finish on the front and rear of the body. This goes for all colours, whether you opt for the White Mist and Black Frost colours the phone originally launched in, or the slew of new choices Samsung has introduced over the past year. The one difference is the Galaxy S4 Black Edition, which exchanges the carbon fibre effect for a faux leather finish, much like the Galaxy Note 3, although it arrived in the UK barely a month before the Galaxy S5, so may cost significantly more than the standard Galaxy S4.

The Galaxy S5 ditches carbon fibre on the back for a dimpled soft-touch plastic, which should help create more grip than the glossy finish on the S4. The plain black finish on the front looks a lot more stylish, too, although the silver metal effect trim around the edges remains. Unfortunately the handset is still made from plastic, rather than metal, but overall we think it looks a lot slicker than the S4. The finish on the back makes a real difference in the hand, so it feels like a more premium product, although it can't compete with metal phones like the HTC One (m8) or Apple's iPhone 5s.

SCREEN

Screen size: The Galaxy S4 has a 5in display - it's actually 4.99in, but for all intents and purposes there's no noticeable difference between it and other 5in smartphone screens. Screen bezels on the left and right sides of around 2-to-3mm, and space above and below the screen for buttons and a speaker mean the screen accounts for 72 per cent of the entire front panel.

The Galaxy S5 extends this further with a 5.1in screen, although the exterior bezels haven't been reduced, meaning the screen takes up a little under 70 per cent of the entire front face. This explains the difference in handset size, but makes little difference overall to usability. Both phones use Corning Gorilla Glass 3 to protect the panel from scratches.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4 screen

The Galaxy S5 (right) has a slightly bigger screen, but has the same resolution as the S4 (left)

Resolution: Both the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 have 1,920x1,080 Full HD resolution displays. Because the S5 has a slightly bigger screen, this means pixel density has dropped. The Galaxy S4 has 441 pixels per inch (PPI), but the S5 has 432PPI. The difference will be almost unnoticeable in the flesh, though, as both phones have pixel densities so high that it is impossible to see individual pixels without a magnifying glass. In other words, the Galaxy S4 had more pixels than was strictly necessary, so Samsung could afford to up screen size without losing clarity.

Screen technology: Unsurprisingly Samsung has opted to re-use the AMOLED screen technology seen in the Galaxy S4 in the S5. It has been a staple of the company's flagship Galaxy handsets for some time, and has several advantages over LCD technology. Because individual pixels can be turned off when representing black, AMOLED screens have incredibly deep blacks and use less power when displaying them. However, they tend to struggle with bright whites and may not match LCD screens for brightness. The Galaxy S4 manages a peak white brightness of 272cd/m2, but the Galaxy S5 beats it with a more impressive 339.43cd/m2. It also has a deeper peak black level of 0.0128cd/m2, while the fantastic 26,568:1 contrast ratio makes it the best smartphone display on the market today. The S4 had a great screen, but the S5 is better.

Both phones use a pentile arrangement of sub pixels, which interleaves green pixels between alternating red and blue pixels. LCD screens use three sub-pixels (red, green and blue) for every pixel. In many cases, LCD screens look sharper, particularly for text. However, with Samsung's displays running at such high-resolution, this isn't evident. The S5 uses the same diamond pattern for pixels as the S4, where the red and blue pixels are diamond-shaped and larger than the green pixels. This helps increase clarity and we've not noticed any problems with either handset.

PERFORMANCE

Processor: Whereas the UK version of the Galaxy S4 makes do with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor running at 1.9GHz, the Galaxy S5 gets a significant performance boost in the shape of the new Snapdragon 801 running at 2.5GHz. This translates to much faster benchmark scores. In the SunSpider JavaScript test, the S5 completed the benchmark in 408ms and the S4 in 933ms - that's 1.29 times faster. It also score higher in the GeekBench synthetic benchmark, producing an overall score of 4015 compared to the S4's 3227. In terms of performance and responsiveness, the S5 is the clear winner.

Graphics: The Galaxy S4 has a Qualcomm Adreno 320 GPU, which is able to play just about any game currently available on the Google Play Store smoothly. It scores 11,254 overall in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited GPU benchmark, which was incredibly fast a year ago but now falls behind newer handsets. The Galaxy S5 has a newer, faster Adreno 330 GPU, which scores 18,438 in the same test. This makes it significantly faster (a near-on 64 per cent improvement) when it comes to games, suggesting that the S5 will cope with every new release for the foreseeable future.

Memory: The Galaxy S4 was one of the first Android smartphones to come with 2GB of RAM as standard. Many phablets, including Samsung's own Galaxy Note 3 now exceed this amount, but Samsung has decided there's no need for the Galaxy S5 to match it - the new phone sticks with 2GB of memory.

Storage: The Galaxy S4 is available in three storage configurations: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB, each with microSD expansion card slot for adding extra capacity at a later date. Samsung currently only has 16GB and 32GB versions of the Galaxy S5, but it does at least keep the microSD card slot, which supports up to 128GB cards versus the Galaxy S4's 64GB.

Battery: The Galaxy S4 includes a 2,600mAh battery, which according to Samsung is capable of 17 hours of talk time. In our tests, it routinely lasted as long as ten and a half hours when playing video on a loop, although when playing games, or with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G and NFC all active it will last a lot less.

The Galaxy S5 has a larger 2,800mAh battery, but considering it has a slightly larger screen, extra feature, including a heart rate sensor and a more powerful processor, that doesn't automatically translate into better battery life, but it looks as though the S5 is indeed frugal when it comes to power consumption. Samsung says the S5 should manage 21 hours of 3G talk time from a single charge, which is an improvement over the S4, and in our tests it managed an impeccable 17 hours 30 minutes in the video rundown test. That's a major improvement over the old phone, and means you should easily last an entire day without having to find a wall socket to add some more juice. On top of that the S5 has its Ultra Power Saving mode. This drops the home screen and switches the interface to a black-and-white version, with access to just six apps. It's really a mode for travel or a long day away from a power socket, with Samsung claiming it can give 65 hours of continuous use.

CAMERA

The Galaxy S4 has a 13-megapixel, back side illuminated (BSI) rear camera sensor, which is paired with an LED flash. It captures 4,128x3,096 resolution (12.78-megapixel) stills and records Full HD video at 30fps. The 0.23in sensor has 1.136µm pixels.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4 camera

 From the specs, the S5 (right) has a better camera than the S4 (left)

Things improve significantly for the Galaxy S5. It has a larger 0.28in sensor with larger 1.241µm pixels. This means that more light should hit each pixel, which should mean better low-light performance and less noise. The S5's camera also uses the new ISOCELL sensor technology, which reduces the crop factor of the final image and improves dynamic range by preventing light leaking from one pixel to another. It shoots 4,640x3,480 (16.15-megapixel) stills and records 1080p video at 60fps. It is also able to record Ultra HD (4K) 3,840x2,160 video at 30fps.

In our outdoor test shots with high dynamic range (HDR) disables, both phones capture detailed images, although the Galaxy S4 tended to overexpose the sky and, as a result, lightens the rest of the scene, producing a slightly washed out final image. The Galaxy S5 manages to accurately capture the sky, but produces a darker exposure in order to balance out the rest of the image. Both cameras show signs of noise when you start zooming in to your images, but the Galaxy S5 stays sharp and does a better job preserving detail than the Galaxy S4. The street signs and specials board outside the pub is legible on the Galaxy S5, but is pixellated on the Galaxy S4. Both phones cope well in low-light too, although the Galaxy S5 copes slightly better in terms of noise and colour accuracy when using the LED flash.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4

Galaxy S4 (left) vs Galaxy S5 (right) with HDR disabled 

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4

Galaxy S4 (left) vs Galaxy S5 (right) with HDR disabled

Switching on HDR helps both phones capture more dynamic range in a scene, although on the Galaxy S4 you have to change the shooting mode to HDR and wait around 1-2 seconds per shot for the phone to process your images. You'll have to open the Gallery app to see the results, whereas the Galaxy S5 has live-view HDR. That means the screen shows you what your image will look like before you press the shutter. HDR can be enabled in other shooting modes, and images are captured faster with no delay between shots.

In terms of quality, the Galaxy S4 does a respectable job, accurately capturing the clouds and overcast sky, although certain scenes benefit more from HDR than others. Colours are more lifelike and images aren't as washed out when a bright light source is visible in the image, but the Galaxy S5 does a better job overall. Colours are much more accurate, giving you a sense of what the scene was actually like when looking through your photo albums at a later date.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4

Galaxy S4 (left) vs Galaxy S5 (right) with HDR enabled

 

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4

Galaxy S4 (left) vs Galaxy S5 (right) with HDR enabled

The front camera appears to be the same on both phones - it captures 1,920x1,080 stills and 1080p video for Skype video calls or Google Hangout video messages, and there's no major difference in image or video quality.

FEATURES

The biggest new addition for the Galaxy S5 is the fingerprint sensor built into the home button. It currently lets you authorise PayPal transactions, lock down a particular folder to keep it away from prying eyes and, of course, unlock the handset from sleep mode. The Galaxy S4 has to make do with screen-based security using a PIN, password or pattern.

The Galaxy S5 is geared towards fitness, so Samsung has added several new features that aren't present on the S4. These include ANT+ support for pairing heart rate monitors, exercise trackers or pedometers and a heart rate sensor built into the rear of the handset just beside the camera. The S5 is also water- and dust-resistant, which should keep it safe if you get caught out in the rain when on a run.

Although it lacks these fitness-specific features, the Galaxy S4 is still compatible with Samsung's entire range of wearable tech, including the original Galaxy Gear, new Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit smart band. These of course all work with the new Galaxy S5 as well. Both phones have Samsung's S Health app built in by default, which uses the integrated accelerometer to measure the number of steps taken per day. From this, it can calculate the distance walked and calories burnt, keeping track to give you an idea of your general level of fitness. However, the Galaxy S4 won't be able to factor heart rate information into its measurements, as there's no built-in HRM.

SOFTWARE

Android The Galaxy S4 originally launched with the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system, but has been upgraded to 4.3 and most handsets are expected to receive an update to the latest 4.4 KitKat release in the coming months. The Galaxy S5 will arrive with the very latest 4.4.2 build of KitKat, ensuring it is up to date when it launches in April.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4 home screens

 The S4 (left) now runs Android 4.3, although it will get an upgrade to Android 4.4; the S5 (right) ships with Android 4.4

TouchWiz The biggest visual change between the Galaxy S4 and S5 is TouchWiz, Samsung's heavily customised Android skin. The colourful icons have been given a pastel makeover, losing their 3D effect in favour of a flatter appearance that's vaguely reminiscent of Apple's iOS 7. The settings menu has been completely overhauled, with rows of icons rather than lists, but the underlying functionality doesn't appear to have changed significantly from one generation to the next.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4 Settings

 While the S4 (left) uses a standard-looking Android interface, the S5 (right) has the brand-new TouchWiz interface

My Magazine, a customised version of the excellent Flipboard content aggregation app, has been integrated into the home screen, so it can be accessed with a single swipe to the right - much like how Google Now is accessed on a Google Nexus 5, but otherwise both phones feel familiar in day-to-day use.

4G and Wi-Fi

Both the Galaxy S4 and S5 support all major 2G, 3G and 4G LTE frequency bands, although the S5 supports the faster LTE Category 4 and LTE-Advanced modes while the S4 makes do with LTE Category 3. This only matters if you have a 4G contract, as 3G networks don't benefit from the newer hardware. The S5's newer 4G chip will only really make a difference when LTE-Advanced (carrier aggregation) networks are introduced. Even then, it's likely that you'll need a new contract, so there's little practical detriment buying an S4.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4

Apart from this disparity, all other wireless technologies look to be the same across both phones. They both support 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS and GLONASS geo-location and an Infra-red blaster for controlling TVs or other home cinema equipment.

Other small differences include the micro USB3 port on the Galaxy S5, as opposed to the standard micro USB2 port on the S4. This is only going to make a difference if your computer has USB3 and you're copying a lot of music, photos or videos to the phone. The S4 also uses a micro SIM card slot, whereas the Galaxy S5 uses the newer, smaller nano SIM standard.

VERDICT

In many ways, the Galaxy S5 is a by-the-numbers update to the Galaxy S4, but the minor improvements made in almost every area add up to make a big difference overall. It's incredibly quick, has fantastic battery life, an excellent camera and a bigger, better screen. However, the Galaxy S4 is no slouch, and unless you put it side-by-side with the S5 it absolutely holds its own against the current crop of Android smartphones. The S4 is also great value on contract and you can buy it SIM-free for around £270. Find a good model second hand and you could save even more cash, although as with all pre-owned phones be careful of buying a locked model that won't work on your mobile network.

If you're a year into your contract and are contemplating the upgrade from an S4, your best bet is to buy a SIM-free S5. However, with these costing around £500, it's quite an expensive upgrade. Galaxy S4s are currently selling for around £200 second-hand, so you'll be looking at spending an additional £300 to get the latest and greatest Samsung has to offer. However, if you aren't currently tied to a contract and are deciding whether to sign up for two years or pick up a second-hand bargain, you'll end up with a great handset no matter which option you go for.

SPECS

Manufacturer Samsung Samsung
Model Galaxy S5 Galaxy S4
HARDWARE
Processor Quad-core 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 Quad-core 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600
RAM 2GB 2GB
Screen size 5.1in 4.99in
Screen resolution 1,920x1,080 1,920x1,080
Screen type AMOLED AMOLED
Front camera 2-megapixel 2-megapixel
Rear camera 16-megapixel 13-megapixel
Flash LED LED
GPS Yes Yes
Compass Yes Yes
Storage 16GB 16/32GB
Memory card slot (supplied) MicroSD MicroSD
Wi-Fi 802.11ac 802.11ac
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0 Bluetooth 4.0
NFC Yes Yes
Wireless data 4G 4G
Size 142x72.5x8.1 mm 136.6x69.8x7.9mm
Weight 145g 130g
FEATURES
Operating system Android 4.4 (KitKat) Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)
Battery size 2,800mAh 2,600mAh
BUYING INFORMATION
Price SIM-free (inc VAT) £560 £319
Details www.samsung.co.uk www.samsung.co.uk
Part code SM-G900F I9505

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A good, comprehensive article, but a few corrections are needed. S5 still uses a micro-SIM, not a nano-SIM. I've checked this myself and had to get a nano-to-micro SIM adapter to use my iPhone 5's SIM card in the Galaxy S5. Also, at least in the U.S., S5 only comes with 16 GB integrated storage, compared to S4 which has 32 GB options at some carriers.

Also, the s4 does connect to a separate heart rate monitor via ant technology. I use it every day an is a great feature.