Updated: September 23, 2015
There's a popular saying, when life gives you lemons, find a nice recipe, bake a pie, invite some friends, and organize a lemon party. Right. Which is why I did not object to testing Samsung Galaxy S5. Normally, this would not be a smartphone of choice for me, but then, as far as hardware goes, I don't mind testing and trying anything as long as it's given for free. In this case, yes. Much like iPhone really. So good.
If you recall, I did not like S4 that much. It was decent but nothing spectacular, and my taste leans more toward minimalistic style and functionality like Windows Phone. But then, in their recent Android releases, Google has come up with their own answer to that, called Material Design, and it's meant to be flat and cuddly and good. Enough talking, let's do this little review.
Specifications and such
S5 is almost like Audi S5, loaded with power. It is expensive, and accordingly, it tries to justify its existence by giving you a long list of what it can do, even if you never dreamed of some of the longer words. Design wise, it's more mature kind of, less slippery to hold than either S4 or iPhone 6, but still ergonomically impractical. The back cover texture is intended to wake the 40-year-old salesman in you. That's how Samsung does puberty.
So what we have is, Android 4.4.2 Kitkat, paired to a device with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB internal storage, which can be expanded to 128 GB, quad-core 2.5GHz Krait 400 processor, Adreno 330 graphics, and a full HD 5.1-inch screen. The camera is capable of recording 4K video at 30 FPS, plus you get a 2MP front camera. Stills are available in the 16MP resolution, but this means virtually nothing except the file size of captured images.
Wi-Fi is available in both bands, S5 can use LTE networks where available, and the plethora of sensors includes pretty much everything. You even have USB 3.0, barometer, heart rate meter, and a few other piece of gadgetry. The device weighs 145 grams, and its 2800mAh battery can sustain roughly 1-2 days of moderate usage, on paper. Samsung Galaxy S5 is a big, heavy expensive phone, there's no doubt about it. But can it do any good stuff, or am I going to be ranting NSFW at the end of this little review?
Grandma, what is it like
To be on that holiday site. I will go through what I've done, chronologically, one random activity after another. Basically, I had the phone and then I started playing and tweaking and pressing buttons and menus and such. The most immediate visual change, compared to S4, is the new Android Material Design, which flattens and simplifies and unbusifies the interface, even though Samsung's own custom branding still intrudes all over. But it is far less cluttered and color-jarring than ever before.
The new settings menu is also quite elegant - and it looks more like a typical desktop distro control panel than ever before. You will find a vast abundance of options, way too many for most practical purposes. Indeed, this is one of the distinct features that Android has compared to its competitors. For better or worse, it depends what kind of interface you like, and how much information overload you can comfortably bear.
There's also the would-be premium stuff, the main reason you pay for S5. All of the sharing and casting and sensory thingies, some of which can be quite useful, while others are mostly a sales gimmick to prove that you can stream electromagnetic radiation from one device to another using a whole range of brand new and exciting network protocols.
The task manager is very similar to all other smartphone operating systems. It's a card deck, and you can swipe suspended applications to oblivion. The only difference is the type of gesture you have to exercise, left, right, top, etc. I don't like the narrowing aspect of the projected images, it hurts my OCD chakras. Moreover, you do have a lot of freedom when it comes to customization, and it can be frustrating or confusing if you're not too keen on detail. Luckily, the defaults work well enough.
The store has improved. I'm not really sure what the proper name is, Play Store, Google play, it doesn't matter. Whatever it is, it's better than before, easier to navigate, simpler to use. I like the progress, and it goes hand in hand with the aesthetics spring cleaning.
I am also pleased to see that the vendor garbage addition has been pruned down. It's good. Most of the little programs you have are largely useful and practical. Not all of them, but there's a significant effort to make Android less of a fair and more of a sleek, commercial product than can go head to head with iOS and Windows Phone. Not that it needs to based on its market share, but it is always good to see conscious effort to improve existing products without letting industry leader cockiness win over elegance.
Overall, the core applications work well. Again, they have been simplified, and they also do their narrow task with precision and efficiency. As someone who hates wasted effort, I find this commendable. So much better to have high-quality content, but fewer of it, than a load of random garbage. File manager is also a breeze to use.
Sometimes though, Android, and through it, Galaxy S5 tries to hard. A few of the applications and options are almost trying to make you ultra-happy even if you are willing to accept a more reasonable outcome of your actions. Smart network switch and download booster are two examples. And they work fine if you have the necessary infrastructure, but otherwise, they are somewhat useless.
There are some other confusing choices, like Air View. However, most of the helper applets designed to assist you in making your phone work smarter, better, cheaper, and whatever, actually make sense. Most of the time. But there's progress everywhere.
More unnecessary data comes in the form of several lifestyle applications, with too much color, too much happy go lucky me, too much focus on buzzwords, and we will discuss that in a moment. One of the apps is there to even help you get the most out of your Galaxy phone. Of course, give you some exclusive offers, too. Besides, if you need an app to make the most of your gadget, then it's useless in the first place.
Cloud is also overrated, both as a concept and technology you can use. Your S5 offers both Dropbox and Samsung Cloud. Why do you really need two separate choices, plus, let's not forget Google Drive. What gives?
News. Much like Microsoft screwing it up with their Bing recommendations, Google does a great job of catering to idiots. News are the digital equivalent of cancer, when will the companies realize that. They only promote antagonism, and hurt customer satisfaction. Because if people read crap on a smartphone, they will eventually associate their negative experience with the device, because of a third-party story they read somewhere. However, at the very least, the retardation level in S5's top news is less than what Microsoft did with their generic stuff on Windows 10. For now. Plus I like how proxies make smartphones so confused. All that technology, and it takes a lonely IP address to make everything look and behave differently.
Security is pretty good, and everyone is so keen on encryption right now, which is good against thieves, if not the in-system exploits. Still, you don't need to donate blood to be able to figure out what to do and how to manage your system. Must be Cyanogenmod breathing down Google's neck.
Media - anything for geniuses?
We all know that mobile devices cater lovingly to idiots, as it is very easy to get them excited and pay for useless things. But can people in the top percentile also enjoy the offerings of the first world? Well, to that end, we have to run two separate tests. One, with our own stuff, and then with whatever the Play Store can do.
Your own music and video
After battling Ubuntu Phone for a while, and then trying to subdue iPhone, it was refreshing to just be able to USB connect the device, copy a bunch of files onto it, and then simply play them. Very quick, no problems. Job well done.
The payware alternative
If you want to boost your entertainment stock and make your life more meaningful NOT, then you will probably need to buy some media. In this regard, Google pay is your one stop shop for all things monetary. I am normally leery of buying stuff this way, and usually, you feel like someone is trying to sell you enema in the guise of an organic fruit shake, but I did not get that sensation this time. The experience was effortless and painless.
Moreover, most importantly, for the first time EVER, a commercial store had value. This has never happened to me before. Amazon comes close, and it does offer a lot of good media content, but it is overpriced. And so my Fire TV never quite escalated into a sublime sensory experience. With Samsung Galaxy S5 and Google play, I was actually having fun to a moderate degree, and I'm saying that as someone who normally hates smartphones and dislikes Android. This was a real surprise for me.
Initially, I was dismayed. The very first thing the store offered me was their recommended crap. Fifty Shades of Bullshit. Why the fuck would you ever consider peddling something like this? That moment when you hope for a thermonuclear war. Also, for some reason, the store was showing up prices in GBP, even though my profile was set for Uncle Sam and US English, so I guess this has to do with proxies and whatnot. Or maybe related searches?
Indeed, after cursing for a few minutes, I started exploring and searching for some normal stuff, and lo and behold, most of it was there. Not all, but a decent selection that didn't make me toss this thing into a bin.
You can search for movies, TV series, music, and even books. All these come as separate icons, but essentially, they come down to the same application, which is the store, and you conduct all your searches there. I am genuinely surprised. I did not need to vomit at the end of my little quest.
I also used voice search and it works fine, and it feels improved compared to my Galaxy Note experiments a year ago. As always, it struggles with non-typical, non-dictionary words. Like for instance, the Wild Cats of Kilkenny became webcamking.
The camera, at a first glance, looks like a real deal. It comes with loads of options and tricks, and you may think, hey this really looks nice and I'm a pro LOL. But no. We have seen S5 in action before, and even when compared to an aging Nokia E6, its camera does not do a wonderful job. In this regard, iPhone 6 is much better.
Pretty good, I have to say. S4 was a juice guzzler, this one will actually let you use it for a while before demanding a recharge. Quite refreshing for a change. If you use Wireless and mobile data sparingly, you can easily get away with 3 days of use.
Day to say usage problems
There are a few things that Samsung Galaxy S5 does not do well. For instance, screenshots are rather tricky, and you need to hold the combo keys pressed for a while before anything happens. GPS acquisition is also slow. While Google does remind you it can be done more effectively with Wireless turned on, it still takes time, especially when you compare to an almost instantaneous response from the Windows Phone.
If you use encryption, the lock screen has its own niggles. Then, alarms are auto-set to recur, which can be annoying. Lastly, the integration with Exchange and calendar isn't as good as it can be, and you may wonder why some things look out of place.
I wanted this device to fail, but it did not. Instead, it pleasantly surprised me, and exceeded my expectations. Still, it's not something I would use daily, but it comes closer to my tolerance threshold than ever before, and that's a good thing. Yes, it could be an outgoing model, and it didn't get too much praise from the public, but who cares.
Anyhow, if you decided Android was not good enough because of what Samsung did with their Galaxy S4, then you will probably find the new model much more convenient. It's simply better all around, with a smarter interface and a more logical flow, good accessibility, less kitsch, an average camera, and a solid battery.
All in all, this device could be useful to Android skeptics. The system still does not solve the core problems of chimp thumb usage, nor does it make Google the savior of this world, but the vendor seems to be learning and adapting, and Samsung S5 is a good example of this transformation. Material Design is elegant and fresh, but there's more work to be done until it can compete with the pure simplicity of the Windows Phone. But it is light years ahead of where Android was just a year ago. 9/10. Intriguing.