Samsung Galaxy S5

Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Are there any alternatives in 2019?

Christopher Minasians Tom Morgan
11 Mar 2019
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Powerful, with a fantastic camera and incredible battery life, the Samsung Galaxy S5 was a superb smartphone flagship


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 1,920x1,080 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.

Samsung Galaxy S5 outdoor Auto

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).

Samsung Galaxy S5 outdoor HDR

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.

Galaxy S5 near focus
Galaxy S5 far focus

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 3,840x2,160 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.

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