John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Samsung S5 review

My last device was a Samsung Note 3. I like the pen but since I have pen enabled tablets (Samsung Note 8(Android) and the Asus Vivotab Note 8 (Windows)) I didn’t find I used it enough to justify the inconvenience of carrying such a large phone. A colleague made in interesting comment, he said it isn’t big enough to be a tablet, but it is too big to be a phone. An interesting thought. In the winter the size was less of an issue because I had jackets with big pockets, but now the summer is here and the size of the Note 3 is irritating me. Especially when mountain biking. My device before the Note 3 was a Samsung S4. At the time there was not enough new in the S5 to entice me. Now I am motivated to look again. I looked at the S6 but ruled it out for a number of reasons 1) nano Sim (vs a Micro) 2) non-removable battery 3) no micro SD slot.

The exact model I have is a Samsung SM-G900W8 running Android 5.0

So onto the S5. It really is nothing more than a freshened S4. Samsung have been quietly bringing minor improvements to their product line. Nothing revolutionary. This is in part IMHO due to the quick turn around time between models. Samsung have been moving pretty fast. Physically speaking the S5 like the S4, S3, S2 before them are plastic devices with a big screen and small bezel. There’s faux chrome around the outside of the device but as usual the device is scratch and ding magnet. Samsung have happily gone to an easily gripped dimpled back rather than the uber slippery backs of so many previous devices. Some folks criticize it and even make fun of it, but I like it. There’s the usual assortment of buttons and a microUSB 3 port (compatible with older microUSB 2 so you can use your old chargers) for charging, USB OTG and MHL.
Galaxy S5 Black_comp

72.5 x 142 x 8.1 millimetres (S5) Vs
69.8 x 136.6 x 7.9 millimetres (S4) Vs
79.2 x 151.2 x 8.3 millimetres (Note 3)

145 g (S5) 130 g (S4) and 168 g (Note 3) Oddly it’s heavier than the S4

Processor Quad Core 2457 MHz Vs 1890 MHz (S4) and 2265 MHz (Note 3)
All three are 1920 x 1080 but the S5 is 5.1″, S4 5″ and Note 3 5.7″ so the PPI is better on the S5

Battery is 2800 mAH Vs 2600 on the S4 and 3200 on the Note 3.

Like the S4 and Note 3 the S5 supports Ant+ (for Heart rate monitors etc) as well as BT 4.

So all in all the specs bear it out as an improved S4, on par with the Note 3.

HDMI output
As usual Samsung have half implemented HDMI output. The home screen does not rotate and depending on how many buttons you have along the bottom of your home screen the apps button which is pretty key to using it is off the screen. And as usual the back, home buttons are on the device rather than on the screen further complicating much use of HDMI. That said, it does work.

As usual Samsung support FAT32 and eXFat formatted microSD cards, but not NTFS.

The device is suppose to be waterproof. To enable this there is a rubber seal inside the plastic back. I kept getting messages about it every time it rebooted. No idea if this is an issue or not. Reading around getting at reboot isn’t so much an issue as long as you don’t get it when running. It does however mean you will need to insure you buy only Samsung OEM covers or this message is going to plague you.
There is also a flap and seal on the bottom where the microUSB 3 port is. I wonder how long that will last before it breaks off. And it keeps reminding you every time you unplug the phone to put that door back …
I’m not sure I’m ready to go swimming with the phone to test it out, but on the off chance I got caught in the rain it’s a minor comfort.

I did find a posts on how to disable this message, but they do require root. All in all I think this has been particularly poorly implemented. This nag ought to have a NEVER EVER TELL ME AGAIN click box 🙂

The device has the contacts to support Qi wireless charging and you can buy an optional wireless charging back on Amazon (it’s an official Samsung) if that’s something that your interested in. I looked at the option, it cost about $50 for both the back and charge pad. Wireless charging takes a 2A adapter and outputs about 1A into the phone. So it will not be a quick charge. More on this in a future post.

Like a number of current phones the options button has been replaced with a task switching button. Push and hold it and you get the options button back. Something you have to get use to.

Samsung offer a product called Samsung Switch to make it easier to move between phones. I used it this time and for the future … don’t bother. It copies minor amounts of your stuff (music, pictures, video etc) but for whatever reason didn’t take care of setting up all my accounts. Even the Samsung account didn’t get carried over.

As in the past there is USB tethering, WIFI hotspot but still no bluetooth tethering. I am sad to see that go. It works so well on Blackberry and is so much more power thrifty.

On the back of the phone is the camera and a heart rate sensor. Don’t get too excited about the heart rate it is for when your sitting still. No idea why they bothered. The camera is oddly raised from the rest of the back of the phone leaving the phone always resting on it. A stupid design that is also on the S6.

Samsung’s S.Health has been freshened, but still does not support the Samsung Gear Live Android wear watch. I honestly preferred the UI of S.Health on the S4 and Note 3. This one seems less fluffy 😦

Samsung make some noise about how quickly the S5 charges so I decided to try it out. From what I have read it takes a special charger, the right cable and a phone to make use of the new Qualcom Quick Charge. The S4 took around 3.3 hours to charge from full.

With the factory charger/cable that came with the S5 the phone went from 22 to 91% in a mere 1 hr 5mins, and then another 25 mins to complete the charge. That would project a full charge in 1.6 hours. Quite an improvement. Interestingly the charger is still only a 2A charger.

I tried a number of other 2A chargers including one that came from Blackberry, one that came with an old tablet of mine and one that came with the Note 3. In all cases the result was the same. The charge rises quickly up to 90% and then slowly tops up the remainder. So a lot faster than the S4 and a noticeable improvement. And it seems to not make any difference at all the cable charger as long as it can put out the required 2A. The magic is in the phone. So no need to buy new car/home chargers to take advantage of this quick charge (If you already have a 2A charger)! The cable however does make a difference. It takes a good quality cable to make it happen. If you have a thin flimsy USB cable I found it fell back to slower charging. It didn’t require a USB 3 cable.


Samsung have included a new driving mode. The idea is good, but as is common with Samsung it is poorly executed. The app can be configured to automatically start with a bluetooth connection. Once started you can use a limited number of voice commands to do stuff hands free. But oddly it keeps the screen on even when on battery preventing the screen from sleeping, killing your battery. And while it connects automatically it does not disconnect so you are left having to remember to turn it off (and thus re-dim the screen). And to round out the misses Samsung do not allow you to turn the mode on when using a wired headset. You know, like cycling? Using drive mode is clumsy at best. I didn’t find the read message worked at all, but the announcing of the message or call did. And sadly, Samsung replaced their older handsfree mode with this new feature so all in all it is a net step backwards. So I turned this one off.

The My Files app has been upgraded to include FTP support, sadly no SFTP. None the less it’s nice to have the new feature.

Overall I found if there was a bug that existed on the S4 (or the Note 3) it is likely still there in the S5. Take for example the music player. I use mine in shuffle mode all the time. And randomly it goes off of shuffle mode. Next thing I know I am listening to songs who alphabetically follow each other. Irritating.

Radios in the S5 seem pretty much the same as the S4. If there is somewhere I got crappy reception with the S4, it’s crappy on the S5. Speaking of radios the S5 (like the S4) has a complete complement of radios including WIFI 2.5 and 5GHZ, bluetooth 4, and Ant+. I have a number of Ant+ sensors such as a heart rate monitor and bike cadence/wheel sensor so I like this functionality.

I had an S-View case for my Note 4 and liked it. It protects the phone from drops, protects the screen in the pocket, turns on when opened and displays a small window of notifications when closed. I looked into one for the S5 and first of all discovered I had (unknowingly) bought a knock off from Amazon for half price in spite of it being listed as a Samsung. It didn’t show the small display in the window and was never recognized by the phone as an Sview case. Anything that is too good to be true probably is. Second I discovered the case connects to the phone with two pins. These same pins (well one of them anyway) is the same one used for wireless charging. Which means you can not use a wireless aftermarket kit with the Sview case. It’s one or the other. Now Samsung do carry an S-View case with wireless built in so you get both. It’s pricey though at $69. Wow.

Update 7/22 battery life:
I did some runs on standby battery life. I left the phone alone and measured power consumption. In the past WIFI/Edge connected were the lowest power consumption by far with LTE being one of the worst. So I started with WIFI and got 1.9% per hour or a projected battery life of 52.9 hours. On LTE I got a shockingly similar 2%/hr or a projected battery life of 49.6 hours. This is the first time I have ever seen this. They clearly have HEAVILY optimized standby power consumption. Wow. Now active power consumption can still kill a battery in short order, especially with fast processors and a bright vivid screen like this. Turning on the WIFI hotspot jumps power consumption through the roof (as usual) up to a whopping 12% per hour or a projected battery life of a measly 8.3 hours. This is why I seriously wish Samsung would put back bluetooth tethering.

So all in all the S5 is a moderately improved S4. The Quick Charge and LTE standby power consumption are HUGE steps forward. The quick charge can go a long way to relieving the angst that comes from allowing your battery to get low through the day by being able to charge it back up quickly. And since this even works with external battery packs is handy when travelling.

Update 1/29/2016
I’ve lived with this phone for now for 6 months. That’s a while for me to hold onto a phone. That said there are a number of things about this phone that have come to drive me nutz. The irritating cover over the power connector (to make it waterpoof) makes me just want to tear it off, and the lack of wireless charging means I have no choice but use it. And I get a nice nag that reminds me each and every time I unplug the phone to put the cover back on. No kidding Captain obvious.

I bought a kit and added wireless charging but because it has to be taped in place over top of the battery it means I loose the feature of carrying a spare battery. Which was one of the reasons I erroneously chose the S5 over the S6.

There’s a sensor on the phone that attempts to detect if the back cover is not on properly. Every time I reboot the phone I get a nag telling me to make sure the cover is on right. I tried an official Samsung S-View cover and it constantly nagged me to make sure the cover was on right. And the only way to get rid of the nag was to root the phone. All this noise to make a phone waterpoof? Grrr.

Samsung Touchwiz interface gets heavier and heavier with each release. On this phone there are what seems like regular pregnant pauses where the phone goes off and does who the heck knows what.

For some reason the back cover has acquired a couple of chips out of the edges of it. I’ve had to buy a replacement one.

And lastly, the outside plastic faux chrome is scratch and chip magnet. Buy a gel case if you have one of these phones before your phone looks like crap.

If you get a choice between an S5 and an S6 … easy choice. Go with the S6.

July 3, 2015 - Posted by | Android

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