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MWC: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

Android 4.4 Kitkat flagship impresses with its rugged design and improved camera
Mon Feb 24 2014, 22:02

BARCELONA: PHONE MAKER Samsung unveiled the long-rumoured Samsung Galaxy S5 during its glitzy Mobile World Congress (MWC) press conference on Monday.

While there weren't two versions as rumours had suggested, Samsung has clearly made an effort to equip the Galaxy S5 with all of the latest technology in a bid to win over buyers. The handset features a built-in heart rate monitor on its rear, Cat4 4G LTE support, and IP67 certification, which means this is the first flagship Galaxy smartphone to arrive resistant to both dust and water.

The design of the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a significant improvement when compared to last year's Samsung Galaxy S4. While the device still arrives crafted predominantly from plastic, with the handset set to launch in black, white, blue and gold models, it features what Samsung is calling a 'perforated' casing. This essentially means that the rear of the device features a dimpled, textured device, which makes it sit much more comfortably in the hand than the previous glossy model.

Samsung Galaxy S5 is IP67 certified

Saying that, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is slightly chunkier than its predecessor, measuring in at 8.1mm thick, compared to 7.9mm. However, this by no means proved a negative during our hands-on time with the smartphone, as the device sat just as comfortably in the palm. It's also slightly heavier at 145g, but we found this meant the device felt more sturdy than its predecessor.

This sturdy feel is aided by the handset's IP67 certification, which means like the recently announced Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone, it's resistant to both dust and water. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is the first flagship Galaxy smartphone to feature such technology, and likely will manage to win over new customers. We're yet to put the handset's waterproof capabilities to the test, but will be sure to do so in our full review. 

Another new feature on the Galaxy S5 is the addition of an iPhone 5S-style fingerprint sensor, which comes baked into the handset's home button. Unfortunately we're yet to test this fully, but it likely means the device is more secure, as well as quicker to unlock.

As if that wasn't enough, Samsung has also added a heart rate monitor to the rear of the handset, which sits underneath the 16MP camera sensor. While this will be a huge bonus for those interested in fitness, those not so fussed will likely find the add-on intrusive.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 touts a 5.1in 1920x1280 HD Super AMOLED screen, which given that rumours had pointed towards an upgrade 2K or 4K resolution display, sounds a little disappointing.

Samsung Galaxy S5 runs Android 4.4 Kitkat

Saying that, thanks to the onboard Super AMOLED technology and Samsung's auto-adjusting display technology, the Galaxy S5's 5.1in screen is still among the best we have seen, with colours appearing vibrant, and text exceptionally sharp around the edges. However, some may feel a little let down, with the S5 not featuring a resolution upgrade compared to the Galaxy S4.

In terms of usability, we didn't find the Galaxy S5's screen uncomfortably large. It doesn't feel any bigger than the 5in screen on the Galaxy S4, and we found it fairly comfortable to navigate the device using just one hand.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 features Qualcomm's new 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor under the hood, paired with 2GB RAM. As you'd expect, we noticed no performance hiccups during our time with the Galaxy S5, with the device proving extremely nippy - be it at firing open multiple apps, multitasking or browsing the web, no doubt aided by the handset's Cat4 LTE support.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 runs Google's Android 4.4 Kitkat operating system, although Google's mobile software is barely recognisable thanks to Samsung's heavily customised user interface.

Samsung Galaxy S5 features an updated Android UI

While rumours had suggested that it would see a drastic makeover much like Apple's iOS 7 software, the look and feel hasn't changed too much. Instead, Samsung has simplified the design throughout with more basic icons and smooth, rounded edges, which look much more grown-up than the version found on the Galaxy S4.

Another new feature is Samsung's 'My Magazine' page, which is accessed with a swipe to the left on the homescreen. This is reminiscent of Google Now and HTC's Blinkfeed, offering up a feed of information that you will likely be interested in.

Samsung has added a bunch of new apps to the Galaxy S5 too, the most notable being its dedicated fitness app, which utilises the handset's built-in heart rate monitor and pedometer. Samsung is also no doubt hoping that this new feature will persuade buyers to adopt the Samsung Gear Fit to accompany the smartphone, its newly-announced take on the Nike Fuelband.

Samsung Galaxy S5 has a focus on fitness

New security features have been added to the Galaxy S5 too, including a Private Mode, which allows users to password-protect content they don't want others to see. An updated version of Samsung Knox will ship with the handset too, and Samsung will detail this in full at a dedicated press conference at MWC on Tuesday.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 has received a fairly major update in the camera department, with the handset touting a 16MP rear-facing sensor complete with a dual-LED flash and the ability to shoot 4K video - another reason why the addition of a higher-resolution screen would have been a welcome upgrade. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 has a 16MP rear camera sensor

There's a slew of new camera modes onboard too. There's HDR, a 0.3 second autofocus which Samsung claims is the world's fastest, and a new Selective Focus mode, which lets you adjust the focus once an image has been taken.

We are yet to test this camera out fully, but it certainly impressed us during our brief time with the phone. The autofocus appeared just as nippy as Samsung is promising, while the handset snaps images exceptionally quickly, with pictures appearing full of detail. Saying that, we're not sure it can match up to the Sony Xperia Z2's 20.7MP rear-facing camera, nor the 41MP sensor on the Nokia Lumia 1020.

We'll be sure to test this out fully in our review when the S5 launches on 11 April.

First impressions
During our early hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S5, it's clear that Samsung has been listening to feedback, with the handset improving on many of the features that let us down with the Galaxy S4 - such as its cheap design, somewhat lacking camera and its over-complicated software.

It's clear the firm is trying to innovate too, equipping the device with new fitness features, and a bunch of new camera tools, although the device certainly has a challenge on its hands thanks to the equally impressive Sony Xperia Z2.

Of course, we'll have to reserve judgement until we give the Samsung Galaxy S5 the full review treatment. µ


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