Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

The S5 is legend no more. It's real. It's here in Barcelona. And we've got our hands all over it
MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is arguably the most anticipated smartphone of 2014. Its hype-machine is second to none, dwarfing even the iPhone 6 rumour mill with whispers and speculation saturating the interwebs over the past year.

The whispers, however, are dead.

Samsung has officially announced the Galaxy S5 right here in Barcelona, and it's specced to the hilt.

We're excited, and you should be too, so let's just jump into our first hands-on impressions of the most feature-packed phone in the world.

The sexiest Galaxy yet

MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review
MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review
MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

Let's get the most important thing out of the way first; the Galaxy S5 isn't crafted from metal like the Apple iPhone 5s or HTC One

It is however the nicest, most premium Galaxy device we've seen yet, and it's all down to its matte soft-touch dimpled back, which almost feels like rubber.

It's actually made from polycarbonate, and it offers plenty of grip without feeling or looking as tacky as the fake leather rear of the Galaxy Note 3.

It's solidly put together too and feels comfortable to hold in the hands.

The rest of the Galaxy S5's body has plenty to offer too. A surprising amount in fact...

It's waterproof

MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review
MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

That's right folks, the rumours were true. The Galaxy S5 offers the same IP67 waterproof and dustproof powers as its Sony Xperia rivals. 

The extra durability offered by Xperia phones when it comes to wet environments has made them stand out from the fierce competition for a long time, but Samsung has finally decided to crash the Xperia's pool party, meaning that British downpours and accidental spills will threaten your precious Galaxy device no more.

The Galaxy S5 has undergone a few modifications to help it win the fight against water. For starters, its removable back cover now has a rubber seal surrounding it to prevent any leakages, though you'll want to ensure that all the edges click into place before tapping away on the S5 while you're soaking in the tub.

Removing the cover also reveals a 2800mAh battery, microSIM and microSD slot, keeping storage and battery-swapping fans happy once again.

MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

The Galaxy S5 also features the same microUSB 3.0 port as the Galaxy Note 3 (though it's backwards compatible with existing microUSB cables), which offers faster transfer speeds.

The microUSB 3.0 port is protected by a metallic silver-effect rubber plug, which could be annoying to open and close every time you want to charge it, but in our book that's a small price to pay for the protection that it offers.

And that just about covers the Galaxy S5's new body. Except that there is just one more thing...

Be still our beating hearts

MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

See that thing next to the Galaxy Gear's LED flash? That's a heart-rate sensor. 

In conjunction with the Galaxy S5's updated S Health 3.0 app, it can measure your heart rate through pulses of IR light against your fingertip.

This adds an extra dimension for fitness fanatics, who will be able to use their measured heart rates to adjust their training or re-evaluate their goals.

Your heart-rate data will be logged into the new S Heath app, along with step count taken and logged exercises to help you keep on top of your fitness goals.

MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review
MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review
MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

You can also compare calories burned to your overall calorie intake, if you've got the patience to log everything you eat via the vast in-built food database. Barcode scanning is also included, which should speed things up a bit.

Our heart rate was detected within a few seconds (89, if anyone's interested), and it really is as simple as placing your index finger over the sensor.

We promise, that's the last big change to the S5's build.

Except it isn't.

Finger-scannin' good

MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

The Galaxy S5's Home button has a built-in fingerprint scanner, which lets you unlock the device with a swipe of your fingertip.

It's not quite as snappy as Apple's Touch ID Home button (which requires a simple press), but it's still very quick and, more importantly, very accurate.

Unlike the swipe-to-scan sensor on the rear of the HTC One Max, the Galaxy S5's sensor never once let us down in our time with it.

Choose a fingertip, scan it eight times, select a backup password and you're good to go.

The only niggle we have with the setup is that you have to press the power button to turn the lock screen on, prior to swiping. It would be nice to be able to unlock the device with a swipe, even when the screen is off. A battery-saving decision perhaps?

LG's Knock Code feature, which made its debut on the G Pro 2, offers a solution for unlocking the device even when the screen is off. A combination of taps on different parts of the screen instantly unlocks it and it's a great feature in its own right, though you could argue that it's less secure than a fingerprint scanner.

MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

The Galaxy S5's fingerprint scanner does have another very useful trick though - PayPal integration.

Partnering with the online payment giant, the Galaxy S5 will let you purchase goods with your PayPal account with a single swipe of your finger, meaning you'll never have to enter your login info ever again.

We're hoping to see support for online bank account payments in the near future, which will save a lot of hassle when shopping on-the-go.

The Home button can also be used to protect sensitive files and folders, and it should offer far more security than a regular password.

16MP imaging powerhouse

MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

The Samsung Galaxy S5 packs in a 16MP sensor with a single LED flash, and Samsung boasts that it has the fastest autofocus around - up to 0.3 seconds. We couldn't quite measure that, but it did focus extremely quickly in our time with it, with shots seemingly being captured the instant we pressed the shutter button. 

We couldn't transfer the photos to a PC to analyse them in detail, but if past Galaxy flagship devices are anything to go by then we don't think we'll be disappointed.

Like the LG G Pro 2, the Galaxy S5 also has post-shot focusing, which Samsung calls Selective Focus. And, once you get the hang of it, it works well.

Once you focus on a nearby object, the S5 takes two photos - one with the foreground in focus, and the other focused on the background.

Press edit, and you're then presented with three options - blur background, make sharper and pan focus - which let you focus on the subject, the background or both at the same time, after you've taken the shot.

The Galaxy S5 also offers a live HDR mode for both stills and videos, allowing you to see what shots and movies look like with HDR on, in real time. It's a very useful feature that takes the guesswork out of HDR shots, which can sometimes look unnatural.

Like the Apple iPhone 5s, the Galaxy S5 can record slow-motion video at 120fps, in addition to 4K UHD recording. The latter will eat up a lot of storage space, making your collection of microSD cards come in very useful.


MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

The Galaxy S5's screen was heavily rumoured to feature a 2560 x 1440 QHD resolution, but it looks like that'll be landing in the Galaxy S6 instead.

While you might be disappointed at the lack of a QHD screen, we suspect battery life and rumoured production issues might be the culprit. 

Of course, whether or not anyone actually needs a 5in device with a QHD screen is another matter entirely, but there's a small part of our inner geek - the part that likes big rockets, fast cars and explosions - that would have liked to see the S5 land with an insane number of pixels.

Still, the S5's AMOLED screen retains its full HD resolution while getting a very slight size increase to 5.1 inches, and it looks as sharp and as vibrant as ever, with strong colours and good viewing angles. We didn't get a chance to pit it against the Barcelona sun, but it seemed bright enough to cope with outdoor use.

Power and battery life

MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

While Samsung didn't share the exact details of the processor, it did reveal that the S5 has a 2.5GHz quad-core krait processor, which points to the brand new, mighty Qualcomm Snapdragon 805.

It's impossible to judge the speed and battery life of a device without putting it through its paces for a week, but during our session with the Galaxy S5 it handled Android 4.4 KitKat effortlessly.

One very interesting feature which we sadly didn't have time to test was the S5's simultaneous 4G and Wi-Fi download function, which Samsung tells us is a much faster way to download large files after combining both types of network connection.

It sounds like a genuinely useful and innovative feature, which we hope to see in all future Galaxy flagships, if it delivers the promised speeds.

Initial verdict

MWC 2014: Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on review

On paper, the Galaxy S5 is packed with more features than any other smartphone currently available, thanks to a combination of its fingerprint sensor, heart-rate sensor, clever camera tricks and waterproof design.

It's taken the most innovative features from other phones - the Xperia Z1's waterproof design, the iPhone 5s' fingerprint sensor - and combined them all into one true superphone.

It's a genetic experiment gone very, very right, and we can't wait to spend more time with it for a full in-depth review to see what magic it can unleash in the real world.

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