Editor’s note: This review is part of our series on the top 10 smartphones released this year. The series was designed to explore how business users can be productive with these devices, and how they can take advantage of the devices’ features during the workday.
Samsung Corp.’s series of Galaxy phones have been the best-selling Android phones for a number of years now. The flagship Galaxy S series always uses the latest and most-powerful hardware and comes packed with features.
But with last year’s flagship model, the Galaxy S4, it felt like Samsung had taken the adding feature side of things a little too far and thrown in everything but the kitchen sink. The S4 was overstuffed with superfluous applications and features, many of them duplicating functionality of the Google apps installed on the phone.
This year’s model, the Galaxy S5, takes a step back for the better, and simplifies things by removing a lot of those redundant applications, making its overall user experience a lot more pleasant. On the hardware side of things, the S5 at first glance does not look that much different than its predecessor, but it is substantially more powerful, has an improved faster camera and has perhaps the best screen of any smartphone currently available.
Samsung has also added some key features to the Galaxy S5 that help it stand out from the competition, and many of them are very useful for business users. It has a fingerprint scanner, making it one of the most secure Android phones currently available, and is also dust and water resistant, making it more durable than most other smartphones. A couple of standout software features for business users are its new Samsung Knox 2.0 security and device management tools and the Ultra Power Saving Mode, which can keep the phone going for an additional 24 hours, even if the battery is only at 10 per cent.
The Galaxy S5 is the most widely available Android flagship smartphone in Canada and can be bought from almost every single carrier, including Bell, Rogers, Telus, Wind Mobile and Videotron.
|SAMSUNG GALAXY S5 SPECIFICATIONS|
|Screen||5.1-inch Super AMOLED @ 1920 x 1080 (432 PPI)|
|SoC||2.45 GHz Quad-core Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974AC)|
|Storage||16 GB, with microSD expansion slot|
|Battery||2,800 mAh (removable)|
|Rear Camera||16 MP f/2.2, 31 mm focal length Samsung ISOCELL sensor
w/4K video recording & single LED flash
|Front Camera||2 MP|
|LTE Bands||700/850/900/1700/1800/1900/2100/2600 MHz
(Cat. 4 LTE up to 150 Mbps on Bell & Rogers)
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, IrLED, Micro USB 3.0|
|Build Materials & Colour||Plastic, available in Copper Gold, Electric Blue, Charcoal Black, and Shimmery White.|
|Element Protection||IP67 rated dust and water resistant|
|Dimensions & Weight||142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm (5.59 x 2.85 x 0.315 in), 145 g (5.1 oz)|
|OS||Android 4.4.2 KitKat w/Touchwiz UI|
Even though the Galaxy S5 has a 5.1-inch display, when compared to the other flagship Android phones launched this year, it is one of the smallest. It is an all plastic device again, which is sure to disappoint those looking for Samsung to make a phone from more premium materials, but it is still a well-made, attractive (though perhaps a bit uninspired) looking smartphone. It is available in four different colours, listed in the chart above, and we tested out the both the Telus and Rogers models in black.
The Super AMOLED screen is one of the Galaxy S5’s stand-out features. It is a full HD (1920 x 1080) display that has a super crisp pixel density (PPI) of 432. Also, unlike the AMOLED screens found in previous Samsung phones that had over-saturated unnatural looking colours, the S5 screen’s colours are substantially more accurate. Since it is an AMOLED screen, rather than the LCD used by most other Android phones, its blacks are very deep, and it has an infinite contrast ratio. Samsung has also addressed one of the main weaknesses of the Galaxy S4’s screen, which was its brightness. The S5’s screen has a maximum brightness of 465 nits, which makes it one of the brightest smartphone screens, allowing it to be usable outdoors even under direct sunlight.
While it is an all plastic phone, its build quality is still quite good. It does feel very solid, and the fit and finish of the buttons and ports are good. Also, the back of the Galaxy S5 is a lot nicer looking (and better feeling) that the unattractive glossy plastic back of the S4. It has a nice soft-touch finish with a dimpled texture that reminds us of a leather driving glove. Unfortunately, the Galaxy S5’s sides still have the same cheap looking faux-chrome finish that was introduced with the S4.
The S5’s dimensions are pretty compact for a phone with a 5.1-inch screen, and it is only a couple of millimetres taller and wider than last year’s model. However, if Samsung had made the bezels around the screen just a little thinner, it could have been the same. Still, the Galaxy S5 is no phablet and is quite a bit smaller than the 2014 flagships from other OEMs. It is also pretty light, due to its plastic construction.
Its button layout is the Samsung standard of power on the right side and volume on the left. The headphone port is at the top along with an IR port for the universal remote feature, and the USB port is at the bottom. The Galaxy S5, along with the Galaxy Note 3, is one of the few phones to use USB 3.0, which should help when transferring large files to the phone, but doesn’t provide any other benefits. As you can see in the three-frame picture at the top of this article, the port is covered by a flap, which is needed to keep the S5 water-resistant. On the front are physical Android navigation controls, including a home button that also serves as a fingerprint reader.
The S5 has a rear-facing mono speaker, which provides loud and decent enough sound for speakerphone use. However, the audio quality cannot compare to that found on some other Android flagships that have front-facing stereo speakers, such as the HTC One M8. As for call quality and reception, it was excellent on both networks that we used the S5 on, Rogers and Telus
On both Bell and Rogers the Galaxy S5 supports 2600 MHz LTE connectivity, which allows for up to 150 Mbps download speeds (of course, in real-world conditions you’ll never be able to hit that theoretical maximum). On Telus, you only get up to 75 Mbps, due to it not supporting that particular LTE band. The Galaxy S5 also has a unique feature called Download Booster, which aggregates your Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity into one connection for even faster download speeds. This feature only works when downloading files bigger than 30 MB.
The Galaxy S5 has a heart rate sensor located below the camera on the back of the phone. It is designed to be used with the included S Health fitness application, which is used to track your performance when exercising. While this feature does not have any direct business use cases, we are sure companies would like if their employees stayed fit and healthy.
The S5 has a removable back cover, a standard feature found on every Galaxy phone, and something some other smartphone vendors have abandoned. This gives you access to a removable 2,800 mAh battery and a microSD slot for additional storage capacity. While our tests show that the S5 has outstanding battery life that should last most users a full day, there are always power-users who can chew through a battery a lot faster. Being able to swap in a second battery when needed, rather than having to plug in and charge is something we think that many business users will appreciate.
The Galaxy S5 is powered by the fastest 2.45 GHz MSM8974AC variant of Qualcomm’s latest quad-core Snapdragon 801 SoC (system on a chip). This makes it one of the most-powerful smartphones currently available, but no more so that most of the other flagship Android phones that all use the same chipset. It has 2 GB of RAM, which is average for a current generation smartphone, and 16 GB of internal storage. While this should be sufficient for most users, there’s an option to add more storage with the microSD slot. However, it would have been nice to see the S5 with 32 GB of internal storage for the same price.
As mentioned in the introduction, the Galaxy S5 is dust and water resistant, with an IP67 rating. This means that the phone is completely sealed from dust, and can be submerged into up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes, which you can see us testing in the picture above.
The removable back of the S5 and the cover for the USB port have rubber seals to block any ingress of water into the phone, and when we tested to see if the S5 lived up to Samsung’s claims of water-resistance, we found that they are true. So you should not have to worry if your phone gets a drink spilled on it, dropped in a puddle, or even falls in the toilet, which seems to happen to more smartphone users than you’d think. However, this feature only works properly if you ensure that everything is properly sealed tight, so when you power up the phone, or unplug it from the charger, a helpful graphic appears on the screen reminding you make sure that everything is closed up properly.
Being able to survive the elements better than the average smartphone is something that will benefit business users. When you have business-critical data on your phone, you do not want any accidents involving liquids ruining your day.
|Galaxy S5||Galaxy S4||HTC One M8||Nexus 5||iPhone 5S|
|Overall System: AnTuTu X||34918||27340||28344||30076||N/A|
|CPU: Geekbench 3 Pro Multi-Core||2942||2095||2574||2863||2570|
|GPU: 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited||18188||10403||19096||16404||14965|
|BatteryXPRT 2014||18.1 hours||13.6 hours||15.9 hours||13.5 hours||N/A|
As you can see from the performance results chart above, the Galaxy S5 is one of the most-powerful phones currently available. Also, its battery life is outstanding. We used the BatteryXPRT 2014 application to test the S5’s battery, which continuously cycles through a series of real-world tests, including playing a video, working on documents and using the internet. It also includes periods of time with the screen off to simulate when you are not using the phone.
As you can see from the results, the Galaxy S5 can easily last a full day of work and then some on a single charge. Moreover, if this is not enough, the S5 has two power saving modes that can extend battery life even further. The most-aggressive one, the Ultra Power Saving Mode, can give up to an additional 24 hours of use, even if you are down to just 10 per cent battery. Of course, it does this by changing the screen to black and white and shutting down all but the most essential functions of the phone.
The Galaxy S5 is not the first smartphone to have a fingerprint reader, the Motorola Atrix from a few years ago featured it, and the iPhone 5s has one too. On the S5, you vertically swipe your finger over the home button to register your fingerprint, which is different than how the iPhone reads your finger. With the iPhone, you touch and hold your finger (or thumb) on the home button until it unlocks, which makes the fingerprint reader usable when holding the phone in one hand. On the S5, though, because of the movement required to swipe your finger across the sensor, it is awkward to use with just one hand. The fingerprint sensor on the S5 works best when you use a finger from your other hand to unlock it. This, to be honest, doesn’t make it the easiest to use, and the sensor is also quite picky, meaning you sometimes have to swipe multiple times before it logs you in.
Despite its awkwardness, the fingerprint sensor does integrate with certain applications that can be very useful, such as Last Pass, a password manager. With it, you can use your fingerprint to log into websites and applications on your phone, instead of having to remember multiple passwords. Also, for business users the fingerprint sensor is a very compelling feature of the Galaxy S5. It integrates with Samsung’s Knox security features, allowing you to set up two-factor biometric authentication for login and accessing company data stored in a Knox-secured container. This feature makes the Galaxy S5 ideal for use by organizations such as the government that require a level of security above and beyond the norm.
The Galaxy S5’s camera has a 16 MP sensor, which is a step up from the one in last year’s model, which was 13 MP. While increasing the megapixel count usually does little to improve image quality, the sensor on the Galaxy S5 also uses Samsung’s new ISOCELL technology, which improves sharpness, colour accuracy and low-light performance.
The Galaxy S5 has a new hybrid-autofocus system, which is a combination of contrast detection AF (used by most other smartphones) and phase detection AF (which is usually found on some DSLRs). What this means to you is that the S5 focuses very quickly, as fast as 0.3 seconds in good lighting, which is almost as fast as the class-leading 0.27 seconds of the LG G3. The camera’s aperture is f/2.2, which is pretty wide, which helps the S5 take better pictures in low-light, but, unfortunately, the S5 does not have optical image stabilization (OIS), which would help even more. However, there is camera mode called Picture Stabilization that does help with this – it takes a series of photos at different settings and combines them into one good image. While this cannot compare to having proper OIS onboard, since this software process takes a few seconds to capture an image, it does allow the S5 to take better pictures in low-light than some of its competition.
The Galaxy S5’s camera UI is very good – it is easy to use, but still allows you to have control over settings such as ISO, exposure and white-balance when needed. It also is not overburdened with confusing camera modes and just has six to choose from by default (though there are five more that you can download). The six modes that come standard are Auto (self-explanatory), Beauty face, Shot and more, Panorama (also self-explanatory), Virtual tour and Dual Camera. Beauty face detects people’s faces and applies a filter that softens their features, hiding blemishes and wrinkles. Shot and more allows you to add interesting effects to burst shots, such as motion blur to the background of a picture of a moving object. Virtual tour allows you to take multiple images of a space as you move around it, and then creates an animated GIF, and we could see this as a useful feature for someone working in real estate to create animated tours of properties that they are selling. Lastly Dual Camera mode lets you use the front facing camera to create picture-in-picture images.
There are two other important features of the Galaxy S5’s camera that need to be mentioned. The first is its Selective focus mode, and a sample image taken with this mode can be seen below.
Selective focus mode allows you to change the focal point of images with a prominent object in the foreground. By doing this, you blur the background (or foreground) to create an image that looks like it was taken with a telephoto lens. As you can see from the above, this mode can create very pleasing images, but is not as flexible as similar refocusing systems found on other phones, such as the LG G3 and HTC One M8, which allow for more granular control over the focus point.
The second important feature is the S5’s HDR mode. While HDR modes (high dynamic range) have been available on smartphones for some time now, on most the effect is achieved by taking, then combining multiple images at different exposure levels to create the effect, which causes a delay between shots while this is processed. Thanks to the powerful ISP (image signal processor) of the Snapdragon 801 SoC, the Galaxy S5 can produce HDR images, both still and video, in real-time.
As can be seen from the sample image above, the HDR mode does make a huge difference, especially when taking pictures outdoors in bright conditions with lots of contrast, such as this. At the same time, the HDR effect that the S5 produces is quite natural looking, unlike the results that HDR modes on some other phones produce. For business users who take a lot of pictures outdoors, who just want to be able to take a good picture quickly, the S5’s HDR mode can mean the difference between something useable and not.
The Galaxy S5, like most of the current crop of Android flagship phones, is capable of shooting 4K video, but seeing as 4K clips take up so much storage space, and of course only look better when played on a 4K display, you’d be better off shooting video in 1080p. Because the S5 can apply HDR to video too, it is capable of shooting excellent quality videos, even in challenging lighting conditions.
User interface & software
The Galaxy S5 uses Samsung’s TouchWiz Nature UX 3.0 interface (what a mouthful). It is the latest version of TouchWiz, the Android UI Samsung has been using since the original Galaxy S. While it does have a bit of a reputation for being a resource hog that slows the phone down, that only applied to older versions. This latest version performs on par with stock Android, considered by many to be the fastest and smoothest Android interface. The Galaxy S5’s software is built on Android KitKat 4.4.2, which is almost the latest version, and an update to 4.4.4 should be expected from Samsung soon.
One pleasant surprise you’ll notice with the S5 when you open the application drawer, at least on the Rogers model we tested, is a surprising lacking of carrier bloatware applications pre-installed on the phone. Whereas previous Galaxy phones came loaded with Rogers applications that took up storage space and could not be uninstalled, on the S5 there are only three — My Account, for checking your account status, Suretap wallet for Rogers’ mobile payment system, and App Zone. App Zone is a basic app store that allows you download other optional Rogers apps to the phone, which gives you the choice as to which, if any, you want to use. We also tested out a Telus model, and since Telus does not have any carrier applications beyond a My Account app, carrier bloatware is not something you have to worry about on its phones.
The third screenshot above shows Multi Window mode, first introduced by Samsung on the Galaxy Note 2, which allows you to multi-task on the S5 by having two applications open at the same time in a split screen mode. Like TouchWiz, each iteration of Multi Window has improved, with more applications supporting it, and on the S5 there are now twenty-five apps that you can use with Multi Window. For business users, this feature should come in very handy – instead of having to task switch back and forth between important data, you’ll be able to see the spreadsheet you are referencing in an email in front of you as you compose it.
The first screenshot above shows off the quick settings menu, that features the new circular icons introduced on the S5. The quick settings menu can be customized to show up to 12 shortcuts to commonly changed settings, and it is an example of the many areas of customization that can be found on the S5. While you cannot change the UI’s visual appearance much beyond the wallpaper, there are a lot of other settings and features you can tinker with to make the S5 your own.
The Rogers version of the S5 supports the Suretap mobile payment system (for purchases under $100), which we were able to try out. It works with Rogers own pre-paid MasterCard and a small selection of retailer gift cards, such as Indigo and Swiss Chalet. Once funds are loading onto the card, using NFC, you can tap the S5 to any contactless point of sale terminal to make a purchase. Our experience with it was quite positive, and while it was not that much faster than using traditional forms of payment, for the business user always on the go, being able to spend a little less time in line at Tim Hortons is definitely a bonus.
The last screenshot shows what Ultra Power Savings Mode looks like – as you can see the S5 goes into a black and white mode, and you are limited to only six applications. In addition to saving more power, mobile data is turned off when the screen is off, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are disabled.
The S5 comes with the latest version of Samsung’s S Health fitness app, and it works with the built-in heart rate sensor to track your exercise routine. There is also a useful Kids Mode – which is a guest mode that only gives your children access to a selection of child-friendly apps, such as some games. For business users, this will come in pretty handy since you can let your kids play on your phone without worrying that they’ll accidently delete any important work information. The S5 also has a Smart Remote app, which works with the IR port on top of the phone to turn it into a universal remote. The app has a TV guide that works with Canadian TV providers so you can browse what’s on, by time, channel or genre, and have the S5 change the channel to that show.
Security and management features
From a security and manageability standpoint, especially for users at larger organizations, the Galaxy S5 stands head and shoulders above its Android competition. The S5 incorporates Samsung’s latest Knox 2.0 suite of enterprise security and management features, which when fully utilized there are few mobile devices as secure as the S5, including BlackBerry 10 phones like the Z30. For companies looking for a device to standardize a BYOD (bring your own device) or COPE (corporate owned, personally enabled) strategy around, the Galaxy S5 would be an excellent choice.
Samsung’s Knox 2.0 is made up of three pillars – device security, management and services, and businesses can use either some or all of the features depending on their needs and budget. The device security pillar includes Trusted Boot, which ensures that the phone’s bootloader has not been tampered with, to prevent the installation of less secure custom ROMs. It also includes the Knox container, which allows business applications to run securely, isolated from any personal applications installed on the phone. In order to access them you need to log in to them with your corporate credentials, which is where the two-factor authentication using the fingerprint scanner comes into play.
For the management side of things, Samsung’s Knox integrates with leading MDM providers like Airwatch and Soti, and also works with Samsung’s own cloud-based Knox enterprise mobility management (EMM) tool. Knox EMM, which is a subscription-based service, is great for smaller organizations who do not want to invest in an on-premise MDM solution. Knox EMM also provides users with a portal where they can manage aspects of their device themselves, including password resets, locating a lost device, and remote lock and wipe. The last pillar of Knox 2.0 is the Knox Marketplace, which is a corporate app store which provides access to over 140 key business apps.
Since going over everything that Knox 2.0 has to offer would take an article in itself, you can learn more about it on Samsung’s site here.
The Galaxy S5 is a feature-packed Android smartphone with an amazing screen, excellent camera, outstanding performance and long battery life. It is also one of the most secure and enterprise ready Android phones currently available, and would be one of our top choices for larger organizations looking for a device to standardize their BYOD or COPE program on. The only area that the Galaxy S5 is a bit of a let-down is its less than premium looking all-plastic construction. However, seeing as any sensible user should be protecting their phone with a decent case, its outward appearance is not as important as its overall performance and features, which are hard to beat.
The Galaxy S5 is available on every Canadian carrier, apart from Mobilicity. On Bell, Rogers, and Virgin Mobile, it is $100 on a two-year term, $700 outright. On Telus, it is also $100 on contract, but $730 outright. On Wind Mobile, it is $230 on the WindTab payment plan, $730 outright and Videotron has it for as low as $0 on contract, $700 outright. Koodoo has it for $575 on their Tab, $725 outright, and Fido has it for $400 on a two-year Tab24 agreement, $700 outright. Other regional carriers such as Eastlink, MTS, SaskTel and Tbaytel have it for $100 – $200 on contract, $700 outright.