Powerful, with a fantastic camera and incredible battery life, the Samsung Galaxy S5 was a superb smartphone flagship
The Galaxy S5 was first released in February 2014 and was a once great flagship choice. Despite its plastic chassis, the smartphone had a powerful processor for the time and a brilliant screen – but alas, the Galaxy S5 is no more.
That’s right, Samsung’s venerable flagship is now five years old and, of course, you can’t buy it anymore. You might be able to find one on eBay for less than £100, but there are some far finer alternatives you should be considering instead. For that price, you can pick up an excellent Honor 7A or, if you’re willing to spend a little more, the Moto G7 is also a solid choice.
Alternatively, if you’re craving the latest and greatest flagship, the Galaxy S10 is front and centre on shop shelves, although you’ll be expected to pay at least £799 for the privilege.
Our original Galaxy S5 review continues below.
Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Design
The Galaxy S5 is best seen as a refinement of the Galaxy S4, as both share a very similar outward appearance. The S5 has slightly bolder curves than the S4’s flowing corners, but sat side-by-side they look almost identical. A metal effect bezel surrounds both handsets, although the dimpled, rubberised rear cover on the S5 feels classier than the S4’s glossy finish.
It looks sleek, and at 8.1mm thick it’s also very thin, but we can’t help feel a little disappointed that Samsung has stuck with an all-plastic construction. Now that the almost entirely metal HTC One (m8) is on sale, the Galaxy S5 feels a little cheap by comparison. On the plus side, the Galaxy S5 is now IP67 water- and dust-resistant, meaning it is completely protected against the effects of dust and can survive a dunking in up to 1m of water. This should hopefully put an end to dead handsets after dropping them into drinks, toilets or puddles, and gives Sony’s Xperia Z2 one less killer feature to draw away potential customers. You won’t be able to take underwater photos using the touchscreen, as it can’t detect any inputs when under water, but you can use the volume key as a physical shutter button instead.
Unfortunately, in making the phone IP67 compliant, Samsung has been forced to add a flap over the USB port to protect it from water damage. It can be a little fiddly to remove for charging, and is held in place with a piece of rubberised plastic; should that snap off the phone would lose its weatherproof abilities. The port itself uses the faster USB3 standard, but Samsung bafflingly doesn’t include a USB3 cable in the box. That means you’re stuck transferring data from a PC or Mac at USB2 speeds until you buy the right cable, which costs a few pounds.
Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Display
The Galaxy S5 has a 5.1in display, meaning Samsung has increased the screen size of its flagship smartphone for the fourth time in a row. It might only be slightly larger than the Galaxy S4’s 4.99in screen, but because both use the same 1,920×1,080 Full HD resolution it means the newer phone actually has a lower pixel density: 432ppi versus the S4’s 441. In practice, however, there’s no visible reduction in sharpness or clarity, and it’s still impossible to see individual pixels with the naked eye.
Samsung’s OLED screens have long been a highlight of its phones and the S5 is no exception; the AMOLED panel covers a phenomenal 99.9% of the sRGB colour gamut and produced incredibly deep black levels of 0.0128cd/m2 – among the best of all the smartphones we’ve tested. Essentially, black images are truly black, rather than being washed out by a backlight.
Although peak brightness doesn’t appear to be as high as other smartphones, producing 339.4cd/m2 when displaying an entirely white screen, it is still more than bright enough to see clearly in bright sunlight. Viewing angles were excellent and the Full HD resolution makes text and images look pin-sharp. Even with Samsung’s PenTile pixel structure technically having fewer sub-pixels than the HTC One (m8)’s LCD display, there was barely anything to separate the two screens. It might now have been usurped by LG’s QHD resolution G3 in terms of raw pixels, but unless you hold the two side-by-side the Galaxy S5 still looks pin-sharp for reading text or looking at photos.
Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Camera
The Galaxy S5 is the first smartphone to use Samsung’s ISOCELL image sensor, which according to the company can produce clearer, more detailed images than competing sensors by preventing light leakage between the individual pixels that make up the sensor. That sounds like a good idea as there’s a huge 16 million pixels packed onto the relatively tiny 1/2.6in sensor. In terms of raw size, the sensor is bigger than the HTC One (m8)’s 1/3in chip, but then that sensor only has 4 million pixels, in order to reduce noise and improve low-light shooting.
The S5 took impressively detailed images with natural colours and even exposure; a notable achievement for a smartphone, as most of the others we’ve tested struggle with over-exposure as soon as a bright light source is introduced. When you inspect images closely it’s possible to make out a fair amount of noise, particularly in landscape shots and when shooting objects in the distance, but generally it’s unnoticeable and certainly won’t impact Facebook or Twitter uploads. Despite Samsung’s claim that focus times have improved to below 0.3 seconds, we still found that a few of our shots were blurry – a sign we’d pressed the shutter before the sensor had locked focus on our subject.
Things improve further when you enable the High Dynamic range (HDR) mode. It evens out images, finds detail in grey skies and produces lifelike colours. Even better, the HDR effect is rather subtle – unlike the overblown HDR seen on the HTC One (m8).
It can even mimic the HTC One (m8)’s crowning feature; refocusing your images after you’ve pressed the shutter. It does so using software, so it isn’t quite as fast, and you only get two points of focus to choose from, but the overall effect is impressive. You have to remember to enable the feature, however, as it’s not turned on by default. Luckily the overhauled interface lets you pin two shooting modes as shortcuts, saving you a trip into the menus and letting you enable HDR or selective focus with a single tap.
The S5 coped equally well indoors and in low-light, thanks in part to a bright LED flash. Again, colours were vibrant and detail was exceptional given the lighting, so it should be able to handle any nightclub or dingy pub but still clearly capture your friends. Unsurprisingly noise levels jump up as soon as light begins to drop, so the flash becomes more crucial for very low-light shooting. It only uses a single LED, rather than the HTC One (m8)’s True Tone dual-flash, so colours can appear less true to life, but only marginally so.
The S5 is also capable of recording 3,840×2,160 4K resolution video, though at present we can’t see many people making use of this, as 4K TVs are still thin on the ground. Still, the increased quality is visible in good lighting conditions and it’s useful to be able to future-proof your video clips somewhat.
|Processor||Quad-core 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||MicroSD|
|Operating system||Android 5.0 (Lollipop)|