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Samsung Galaxy S5 Review

Samsung Galaxy S5 Review
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Samsung has always strived to stand out from the pack, and the Galaxy S5 does just that with   a built-in heart-rate monitor and fingerprint reader. But that's not why the S5 is one of our favorite smartphones. It's the gorgeous 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display, robust camera and water-resistant design. Throw in more than 9 hours of battery life, and you have a device that can go head-to-head with any flagship.

Design

Although part of me wishes the Galaxy S5 had a metal body, it's still a good-looking phone. But that doesn't mean I definitely prefer the dimpled, faux-leather removable back panel on this handset compared to the superslick plastic back of the Galaxy S4.

The pearl-white matte surface not only feels good, but it also makes for a sturdy grip. If white isn't your color, you can get the S5 in charcoal black or copper gold, depending on your carrier. The sides of the phone are wrapped in silver plastic.

Usually, I'm not a fan of port covers, but in the interest of making the S5 water-resistant, I'll grudgingly accept it. When the port cover and the back panel are securely sealed, the IP67-rated smartphone can remain submerged in 1 meter (about 3 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes.

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The Galaxy S5 is lighter and thinner than the metal HTC One M8, which has a 5-inch display. But the iPhone 6, which sports a 4.7-inch screen, has a slimmer profile than the S5.

Display

A 5.1-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel AMOLED display? Yes, please. The Galaxy S5's screen pairs an explosion of rich color with crisp detail. I was impressed at how well the phone showed off the different reds in the 1080p trailer for The Wedding Ringer.

The darker crimson in a park bench really played up the cherry-red supports holding up the brilliant-blue awning. The scene appeared slightly oversaturated, as the trees in the background seemed to glow. In comparison, the iPhone 6 delivered a more natural-looking presentation. However, theS5 delivered a sharper picture, as evidenced in the intricate design of the lower half of the lamppost.

The Galaxy S5's display registered 373 nits of brightness, which is above the 354-nit smartphone average and the Note 4's 318 nits. However, the S5 is outshined by the HTC One M8 (402 nits) and the iPhone 6 (559).

The Galaxy S5 is capable of reproducing 158.4 percent of the sRGB color gamunt, which is higher than the One M8 (116.1 percent) and iPhone 6 (94.9 percent). But more isn't necessarily better; it depends on whether you prefer more saturated hues.

Audio

The Galaxy S5 can pump out a jam, but you may not like what you hear. The tiny rear-mounted speaker filled my small test space with tinny audio. I heard crisp snares and piano coasting alongside Ledisi's velvety alto as I listened to "I Blame You." Unfortunately, the audio became slightly distorted when she went for higher notes or when the flute began playing.

The S5 measured 73 decibels on our audio test, failing to meet the 81-dB smartphone average and also falling short of the iPhone 6 (also 81 dB) and the HTC One (86 dB).

Fingerprint Sensor

Samsung took a page from Apple's playbook and placed a fingerprint scanner on the S5's Home button. As on the iPhone 6 (and iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 5s), the sensor can be used to unlock the device. Both the iPhone 6 and the S5 can make payments via their sensors.

However, the S5's mobile payments are limited to PayPal, whereas the new Apple Pay system lets consumers make online purchases via the Touch ID scanner at a number of big-box retail stores, including BJ's Wholesale Club, Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods. So, while you can purchase a new laptop on Newegg.com with the S5, those fancy Birkenstocks on UrbanOutfitters.com are out of the question.

Apple's Touch ID is more accurate than Samsung's fingerprint reader. All I had to do to unlock the iPhone 6 was rest my right index finger on the home button for a second. On the S5, I had to swipe, which should have been simple enough, but you have to be conscious of speed and angle to get a consistent result.

Performance

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a powerhouse. Equipped with a 2.5-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 CPU, Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM, it can go toe-to-toe with most smartphones on the market.

The S5 always seemed to be a step behind the iPhone 6, launching the camera almost a full second behind the Apple device. I also noticed lag on the S5 when I opened the Daily News Mobile app on the three smartphones.

Resource-taxing games like N.O.V.A. 3 took 19 seconds to launch, but the HTC One M8 was slightly faster, at 17 seconds. The iPhone 6 and its A8 processor launched the game in 4.6 seconds.

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On Geekbench 3, which measures overall multi-core performance, the S5 l hit 2,974. The iPhone 6 was hot on its heels, with 2,931, and the One M8 posted 2,480. The Note 4 scored a higher 3,124, but that's to be expected from its zippier Snapdragon 805 CPU.

The Galaxy S5 put up rather impressive graphic numbers on the 3DMark Unlimited test, scoring 18,285. That was enough to dominate the iPhone 6's 16,558, but it was no match for the One M8 (20,965).

KitKat with a Heaping Helping of TouchWiz

The Galaxy S5 runs Samsung's TouchWiz skin on top of Android 4.4.2 (KitKat). Design-wise, TouchWiz is all about bright colors and tons of features. The lock screen is a kaleidoscopic feast for the eyes. Tapping anywhere spews forth a multicolored eruption of bubbles. Swiping upward unlocks the phone, while swiping the icon in the lower-right corner will launch the camera.

The Settings menu and Notifications shade are a colorful cavalcade of circular dots against a black background; it's really rather striking. The shade features 10 quick-setting shortcuts, such as Wi-Fi, Vibrate and Bluetooth that expands to 20 options when you enter grid mode.

Swiping to the far left, past the home screens, will launch My Magazine. Powered by Flipboard, the app aggregates news, as well as updates from your social networks, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

As on most Android devices, long-pressing the home button launches Google Now. Samsung's  Multi Window feature is included, allowing you to open two apps simultaneously. For example, I watched an Usher video on YouTube as I looked up directions to a press event on Google Maps.

Apps

I dream of a world where phones are free from carrier bloatware. But alas, AT&T has weighed down the Galaxy S5 with relatively unnecessary apps like Caller Name ID and AT&T Navigator.

Family Map and Locker are also there, taking up precious space of an already-limited 16GB storage.

If you want to go mobile with all of your payments, you can secure the process with the Softcard app. However, you'll need to get your hands on an enhanced SIM, which most shoppers won't bother to do.

Parents will appreciate the Kids' Mode app — if they can find it. For some reason, Samsung decided to play a bit of hide-and-seek, and hid the app in the Widgets menu. Once found, Kids Mode lets you create a profile for your child. From there, Junior can access kid-friendly, parent-approved apps, including a dinosaur that records what your child sings and plays it back. Adults also have the ability to set time limits and ban certain apps.

Other compelling preloaded apps include Flipboard and Beats Audio.

S Health and Heart Rate Monitor

Hoping to take advantage of the fitness tracker craze, Samsung has placed a heart-rate monitor on the back of the Galaxy S5 and beefed up its S Health app. Located below the camera on the rear panel, the monitor works in tandem with S Health to track your heartbeat.

In addition to keeping tabs on your heart rate, S Health tracks your steps, calories burned and calories consumed. Enabling the GPS feature allows the phone to measure elevation and distance traveled.

After taking a brisk walk around the block, I placed my right index finger on the sensor for a few seconds, and the phone showed me my beats per minute. Unfortunately, the sensor was finicky at times and didn't always display my heart rate. That won't sit well with fitness buffs looking for consistent information — especially with more accurate devices from Fitbit on the market.

S Health's saving grace is its ability to help keep track of your caloric intake. When I was on the fence about ordering chocolate mousse for dessert, I entered it into the food section of S Health.

The app delivered an impressive list of desserts, some from restaurants like Olive Garden and P.F. Chang's, and others from Trader Joe's and Weight Watchers. Each entry had calories broken down by a single serving. After reviewing the potential calories, I went with the fruit salad.

Camera and Camcorder

The S5's 16-megapixel rear camera is capable of capturing vibrant, detailed images. Shot for shot, the S5 held its own against the iPhone 6's 8-MP iSight camera. In the floral shots I took at a nearby bodega, the S5 delivered rich color, but it sometimes appeared oversaturated.

Credit: Tom's GuideCredit: Tom's GuideThis immediately became apparent when I looked at the red roses near the center of my shot. On the S5 version, the flowers looked almost as if they were glowing, whereas on the iPhone 6, they looked a more natural color. Due to its higher resolution, the Galaxy S5 offered the sharper presentation, showing off fine details in the petals.

Credit: Tom's GuideCredit: Tom's GuideI discovered that the S5 struggles with low-light shots, producing bright but fuzzy images, whereas the iPhone 6 delivered much sharper images.

The selfie I took with the 2.1-MP front camera showed off the stitching in my sweater. A slight yellow tinge made my turquoise sweater take on more of a greenish tint. My face looked flawless though, thanks to the Beauty Shot feature. It eliminates tiny blemishes and smoothes out uneven complexions.

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A 1080p video of NYC traffic was pretty as a picture, but better. As the traffic whizzed by, the golden taxis held my attention, allowing me to make out the smaller text on some of the ads on the top of the cars.

Camera Features

Instead of overwhelming shutterbugs with feature upon feature, Samsung wisely decided on a more streamlined presentation. For example, Shot & More lets photogs add effects after the shot is taken. There's Best Face (selects your subject's optimal expression) Eraser Mode (deletes errant photobombers) and Drama Shot (stitches multiple photos together into one shot).

Thanks to the Selective Focus feature, you can switch the focus to the foreground or background with the touch of a button. Although the effect worked, it would have been nice to select a more precise focal point.

During my testing, I discovered that the S5 had a faster focus than its predecessor, the S4. The iPhone 6's focus, however, was nearly instantaneous.

Battery Life

The Samsung Galaxy S5 can get you through a workday and then some. The phone lasted 9 hours and 42 minutes during our battery test (continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE at 150 nits of brightness). The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and HTC One M8 were about an hour behind, at 8:43 and 8:42, respectively. The Apple iPhone 6 tapped out early, with a time of 7:40.

If you need your phone to last longer, you'll like that Samsung has added the Ultra Power Savings Mode. When the mode is activated, the phone enters a severely stripped-down version of the interface. The display enters gray-scale mode, application usage becomes restricted, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are disabled, and mobile data is deactivated when the screen is off.

Note 4 or S5?

In a battle between the Galaxy S5 and the Note 4, who wins? The cheaper S5 offers many of the same features as the Note 4, including a vivid display, S Health and Multi Window mode. It's also lighter and easier to hold than its larger brother and provides longer battery life.

The bulkier Note 4 delivers a larger 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display with an ultrahigh resolution of 2560 x 1400p. And don't forget the powerful Qualcomm 805 processor that delivers impressive performance. The device features a more evolved version of Multi Window and an enhanced S Pen for taking notes, drawing and more.

Overall, the Note 4 is the better option for power users. However, the S5 is still a great choice for people looking for a powerful phone with a jack-of-all-trades sensibility.

Bottom Line

The Samsung Galaxy S5 does a lot of things well. Its Super AMOLED display offers stunning visuals, while its Snapdragon 801 CPU delivers strong performance. Features such as S Health continue to grow, becoming more useful, despite a gimmicky heartbeat monitor. And let's not forget the more than 9 hours of battery life that can be extended even further.

The iPhone 6 has a more elegant design and a higher-quality camera, but if you prefer Android, the Galaxy S5 is a great device for work, play and everything in between. Its compelling features make it one of the best smartphones on the market.

Follow Tom's Guide senior writer Sherri L. Smith @misssmith11 and on Google+.  Follow us@TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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