In 2014 there are a few things I expect from a flagship mobile device:
- Good build quality
- Reliability (software & hardware)
- All-day battery life
My review applies to the black Samsung Galaxy S5 (GS5) on the T-Mobile networking in the San Francisco bay area.
I used the phone over 5 days as my only smartphone, but I have since returned the device. As a moderate to heavy user, I consume 5gb of mobile data a month (streaming music, videos, e-mail, etc.), talk for over 1000 minutes, send countless messages (SMS and SMS alternatives), take and upload photos, and frequently use tier 1 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, Google+, etc.). The phone I will be comparing the GS5 is the iPhone 5s (5s) which I also have running on the T-Mobile network.
Friends and family will call me an Apple Fan Boy, but in reality I’m not brand-loyal. I am, however, very picky about buying and using technology that best suites my needs.
The GS5 is well built, has a gorgeous display (which makes the 5s display look like garbage), has battery life that lasts a bit longer than the 5s, supports USB 3.0 data transfer with quick charging capabilities, and is water resistant and dust proof.
The GS5 meets almost all the expectations I’ve listed above…almost. In comparison to the 7 month old 5s, the GS5 adds the benefit of water resistance and marginally longer battery life. For what I need a smartphone to do, the GS5 doesn’t get the job done any better or quicker than the 5s, and that made me sad.
The ultimate reason why I returned the GS5 is because of the software. Before any Samsung or Android owner gets upset, I know all about getting a different rom onto the phone and tweaks, work-around etc. Here’s my point - I’m not willing to pay $700+ (yes there’s plenty of sales tax in California…) for a phone I need to “fix”. If a Google Play Edition comes out - like the one for the HTC One M8 - then that would persuade me to recommend this phone.
What was so bad about the software? Frankly, nothing new if you’ve owned a recent Galaxy device, such as the GS3, Note 2, Note 3, and GS4.
- Tons of Samsung software and settings are included. Some of which are thankfully disabled by default but still reside on the device and beg to be updated and launched every now and then. The settings menu is cluttered with pages icons (even changing it to the list-view is overwhelming). You can turn off some of the included apps, but the average user won’t know how to and won’t bother to.
- The My Magazine feature on the home screen is powered by Flipboard. Unless you sign up for an account, it’s really a pain to read and share articles that the app presents to you. The integration with your social networks, which excludes Facebook, is limited and not that useful. The app itself is also not very responsive when it comes to scrolling - I’m sure that can be updated with a software patch.
- The Samsung and Google Android Keyboards; while they do a decent job correcting my typing and they both feature swipe functionality, they are no match for Apple’s keyboard when typing on the go such as on the MUNI in San Francisco. A strange bug that seems to plague my friends and coworkers with Samsung devices is that the keyboard will begin to automatically capitalize the first letter of each word in a sentence. It’s unclear how it begins to do this but none of us can figure it out. I end up re-typing my messages frequently on the GS5 in comparison with the 5s. That’s not helpful when composing e-mail messages because it requires me to check my message a few times over to ensure that no random corrections were made.
- I was an early adopter of Android and unfortunately some of the underlying issues seem to still exist years later. It only took about 2 days into using the phone when apps such as the gallery and Chrome would crash when I tried to open them.
- Google has re-enabled the ability to move apps to an SD card if you have an SD card installed, but the bug with short-cuts and widgets disappearing still exist. I recognize this is actually a limitation of the Android system, but would have thought Samsung could work-around it using their modifications.
- There’s also the issue of Apps still being treated as second class citizens in the Android ecosystem. This isn’t specific to the GS5, but tier 1 apps such as Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp, Instagram, even Google+ (just to name a few) have less functionality and don’t run as smoothly as their iOS counterparts.
What about the rest of the phone?
- The camera is good. Competitive with the 5s, though it’s not much better, unless you need to zoom/crop your photos. 4K video is a nice plus but the file sizes are huge and if you’re not holding the phone steady or have it mounted on a tripod, little shakes show up in a big way when viewing the footage.
- The fingerprint sensor…well I didn’t even bother as I don’t bother with it on the 5s either. Reviewers have said it’s not as good as the 5s and judging by the way you need to swipe it perfectly down the center each time for it to work, I would agree.
- The heart-rate sensor works as advertised, but it’s not much better and doesn’t work any faster than what you get with 3rd party apps that utilize a phone’s camera and led flash to record your heart rate.
- The water resistance works - you can wash your phone if you’re afraid of germs and enjoy time around the pool etc.
- The call quality is good, but the speaker for audio as well as speakerphone is terrible. It is absolutely tinny and rattles the device at higher volumes. Surprisingly the earpiece for calls also vibrates the phone during calls if volume is above 50%. Luckily I use Bluetooth headsets which connect really well and give me a longer range than I’ve experienced with the 5s. I have to give the 5s a slight edge when it comes to call quality though. HD Voice calls over the T-Mobile network are noticeably more clear and offer a greater range of sound on the 5s.
- There’s one software feature I did find myself using, only because I have unlimited data - Download Booster. This feature allows the phone to download over Wifi and your cellular data network simultaneously for files over 30mb in size. This made downloads blazingly fast when I’m on good Wifi and LTE networks.
In conclusion, the GS5 is a good smartphone that many people have already purchased and many more will purchase. Talking with Samsung owners, it seems most of them try to ignore the app notifications and admit defeat when they run into the bugs that I’ve experienced. Of course there are those who will root their device and just put vanilla Android or some other flavor of Android onto their device, but that’s not what the majority of Samsung’s customers will do. It’s unfortunate that Samsung didn’t hold back on their kitchen sink approach because I feel it gives Android a bad name.
What do you think?