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Samsung Galaxy S5


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#1 of 8 OFFLINE   Hanson

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Posted April 28 2014 - 11:01 AM

A few weeks ago, I looked at my Galaxy S4 and thought, "This is actually a great phone". When I got it, I was coming off of the Galaxy Note 2, so there wasn't anything really exciting or new about the S4. But I came to appreciate how solidly it performed. But as soon as they announced the GS5 and the New HTC One (aka the M8) the clock was ticking on the GS4. The only question -- what was I going to replace it with?
 
I looked very long and hard at the M8 because of all the fuss over last year's HTC One. Perhaps it was time to get something other than a Galaxy product after going through three phones and two tablets. The biggest problem with M7 was the 4MP camera, and as long as they upgraded that, I could see myself using the M8 even if that meant losing the IP67 rating of the Galaxy S5 (ie. dust free and water resistant to 1 meter for 30 minutes) and the 16MP ISOCELL camera. In the end, HTC actually downgraded their camera, keeping it at 4MP and losing OIS in the process. A baffling decision to be sure -- according to all manner of reviews, the camera performance is merely adequate. My phone camera is my only camera -- merely adequate is simply untenable. Plus, I crop most of my pictures, so 4MP was not going to cut it. Even worse? The wider field on the M8 meant I'd have to crop even more of the frame to get the composition I wanted. And for my purposes, it's not even 4MP -- 95% of my pictures are 4:3, which is actually a 3MP portion of the 16:9 sensor. I mean, who needs a 16:9 portrait shot? And so the M8 was history.
 
As I noted, the two big features of the GS5 are the IP67 rating and the 16MP ISOCELL camera. The former will be tested out later this year in the pool (whenever it is summer actually comes). The camera has been thoroughly used already and is a HUGE improvement over the S4 camera on both an image level and a usability level. As with any tiny sensor, the quality of the image will increase in direct relationship to the availability of light. That said, outdoor daytime images are sharp and detailed, although that could also be said about the S4 (or S3, or practically any camera on a flagship phone). What really makes the S5 stand out is the real time HDR mode, where you actually get a preview of the HDR image before shooting. It's quite fantastic, and if The Pureview Club is to be believed, it's actually a game changer -- no other phone camera has this feature and it works brilliantly -- once you turn it on, just take the picture. There is no other user intervention required. No more blown out skies or dark, murky shadows. Real-time HDR can be used on videos as well. But what makes this even better is the redesigned camera interface. The Touchwiz camera app has had the feature to pin your favorite settings to the main interface since the S2, but changing modes and such required drilling down multiple menus. The S5 has changed it so that any setting change only requires at most one drill down while keeping the pinned favorites in the interface (although regrettably, it's been slimmed down the three favorites). I can toggle HDR on and off with a single tap. Same with Image Stabilization (essentially the new night mode). And changing video recording speeds only requires three easy taps instead of navigating through four menus. Speaking of which, slow motion records in 720p now instead grainy, blurry 360p. The kids are always bugging me to record whatever they're doing in slow motion, so that's a hugely fun feature. Low light shooting, however, still isn't great. The images, even with digital image stabilization aren't going to have anyone dropping their Lumia 1020s, but compared to the S4, it's a huge improvement. The processing is a little on the heavy side and can result in smeary backgrounds and lost detail, but it's much better than the grainy, murky, detail free low light pictures I was getting with the S4.
 
But there are two other features that I didn't really consider as factors in my decision that have turned out to be huge game changers.
 
The first is the screen. It may be the best screen on the market -- not only does it have the colorful pop and infinite contrast ratio that AMOLED has always been able to provide, but the S5 screen has the color accuracy and accurate whites that always caused it to lag behind it's LCD cousins. It also has a low reflectivity screen and pumps a good amount of nits to allow it to be fully readable in sunlight -- what was once a weakness in AMOLED screens has been flipped on its head -- the S5 has one of the best screens for outdoor use. The triangulation of water resistance, improved camera, and visibility in sunlight came to a head last week, when I recorded the kids (my daughters and my nephews) playing with water balloons on a clear, sunny day. I could get as close to the action with any fear of water damage while taking razor sharp pictures and slow motion video, all of which was instantly viewable without having to cup the screen to keep out the sun. Again, I can't wait to hit the pool with the S5. The pictures and videos should be epic.
 
The other fantastic feature that I did not anticipate using much less loving is the fingerprint sensor. Yes, iPhone users will tell me it's old hat. And yes, there is an extra layer of elegance to TouchID, which doesn't require swiping like the Synaptics sensor on the S5. But the bottom line is -- does it work? Yes, Yes it does. It works spectacularly (90% success on the first try, 100% by the third), with one caveat -- you have to set it up properly. And this is where Samsung has either overlooked or decided, for whatever reason (liability perhaps?) to give no instruction on how to use it properly. In fact, the way they present it requires two hands to use, but I can state unequivocally that this is not the case -- I have it set up to swipe with either my left or right thumb with one hand. I don't want to get into a fingerprint sensor tutorial, but suffice it to say, the biggest mistake you can make is to mechanically swipe with the same motion during set up. The more times you vary speed and angle during set up, the more chances you have of unlocking the phone. And while they have spoofed fingerprints under controlled conditions, it's practically impossible to do so on a stolen phone in the real world -- for one thing, getting a nice, full fingerprint is hard to come by on a cell phone, which is operated by finger tips (leaving only partials) and swipes (which smudge the prints to all hell). And say you do find a good working print -- one security advantage with the swiping method over TouchID is that the hacker would have to pick the correct finger and then swipe it at the correct angle and speed. Realistically, you could do this for days without getting it unlocked. For all practical purposes, it's impossible. The one real flaw is with system is that you aren't forced to type in a password after five attempts. You can turn the screen off and back on for one more attempt (which can be repeated infinitely) or you can reboot the phone and get a fresh start. If Samsung implemented a system where you are forced to enter a password after a finite amount of attempts, the fingerprint scanner would be much more secure.
 
Other little features that I love -- you can shrink the screen down to an iPhone sized area for easier one-handed use (this feature can be activated one-handed with a gesture). You can activate Touch Sensitivity mode to use the screen with gloves on and even use a wooden pencil as stylus. Actually, you can use anything metallic or magnetic as a stylus -- paperclips will do in a pinch (although they're awkward to handle). There's a floating Toolbox icon that holds a limited number of shortcuts. I like to use it when I'm in a situation where I will be taking a lot of pictures so I can jump to the camera app no matter what screen I'm in (actually, I wish I could make it solely a camera shortcut -- as it is, I have to tap it once to bring up the shortcut list and then a second time to activate the camera). There's a normal Power Saving mode that steps down the processor and limits radio use, but the S5 also sports an additional Ultra Power Saving mode that changes your home screen to a stripped down black and white interface that limits you to phone, text, and a few select apps. It can stay in standby for one day for every 8% of battery left. This is great if you're caught with a very low battery but need to stay in touch. That time, of course, is standby endurance -- talking and texting will drain your battery as usual. 
 
And it's generally faster and smoother that the S4 was. SwiftKey, for one, flies on the S5. Although I thought I wouldn't like the way the menu key was swapped to the multi-tasking key, I'm actually finding the change more useful. I like how incoming phone calls are pop ups now instead of dumping the screen you were on to switch to the phone app -- it's much less jarring.
 
I'm not finding the battery life any different from the S4, but I have a specific use case that doesn't do the battery any favors. For starters, I have very shitty Sprint reception that taxes my radios. And if that's not enough, I need Exchange Active Sync for work. Hey, at least it's not worse.
 
The one overriding negative is small and yet huge -- the S5 is just a skosh too big. The S4 strained the boundaries of one handed use, and the slightly larger S5 tiptoes over that line. It doesn't feel as comfortable in the hand, and that extra 2.7 millimeters turns out to be the straw that broke the camel's back for ease of handling, requiring some manual gymnastics to reach all four corners. I can do it, and it's not quite a Note, but if the S6 is even larger then the S5, I will skip it. Conversely, if the S6 turns out to be smaller, I'll ditch the S5 as fast as humanly possible.
 
The other negative doesn't affect me, but I thought I should mention that the black model has a slightly rubberized, grippy back plate that's a welcome change from the soapy back of the S4 (I eventually purchased an aftermarket back for the S4 because it was so slick). For some reason, however, the white model, while being attractive and all, is slippery as all get out. It's not soapy like the S4, but it still feels like it's ready to squirt out of your hands, like it was covered in fine baby power. I'm quite happy that I prefer black phones anyway, although the slightly iridescent, light cream color is more attractive that I usually find these things.
 
I have to say that I like this phone much more than I ever liked the S4, as solid as that phone was, because the S5 feels so much more refined and focused. Plus, this is the first phone since the GS2 where I wasn't disappointed in the camera -- I kept expecting huge leaps and got incremental or no real improvement -- not so with the S5. I don't absolutely love it like I loved the Evo 4G. It's not as mind blowing as the GS2. It's not a new form factor experience like the Note 2. But the GS5 is the most complete phone I've ever owned. And in a time when I use my tablet for most of my activities (a new 12.2" Galaxy Note Pro, I might add), I must say I'm still reaching for the S5 an awful lot. Overall, I really like the GS5 very, very much, and I'd recommend it to anyone wholeheartedly. But sometimes, when I take a great picture or have to use it in the rain or need to read something with the sun shining full bore -- sometimes, I have to say, I really love this phone. Its capabilities are remarkable.


#2 of 8 OFFLINE   RobertR

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Posted April 28 2014 - 11:22 AM

NIce review, Hanson.  I'll keep my S4, but I do like the sound of the water resistance and the better camera.  Have you recorded any 4k videos?



#3 of 8 OFFLINE   Hanson

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Posted April 28 2014 - 11:28 AM

A couple, but they are pretty huge and I couldn't see any difference on the phone. I think it's more useful to take a short 4K video to extract 4MP images from them rather than as video in and of itself. Plus there's no image stabilization for 4K video like there is for 1080 video. But I should be able to see the difference on my Note Pro. 99% of my videos are going to be 1080p or slow motion.



#4 of 8 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted April 29 2014 - 07:16 PM

Quote:
What really makes the S5 stand out is the real time HDR mode, where you actually get a preview of the HDR image before shooting. It's quite fantastic

That sounds really neat. Can you elaborate? Is this a real-time preview mode, where it's taking multiple photos and computing and displaying HDR images in quasi-real time video to the user?

Quote:
And this is where Samsung has either overlooked or decided, for whatever reason (liability perhaps?) to give no instruction on how to use it properly.

Strange. The iPhone walks you through setup. You're encouraged to use multiple finger positions and orientations. I assume another fingerprint sensor would also need such variety in its training.

Quote:
I could get as close to the action with any fear of water damage while taking razor sharp pictures...

I'm interested to see if waterproof phones become de rigueur. I see the appeal. I don't know what, if any, trade offs there are (aside from the connector cover dingus you have to open and close)

#5 of 8 OFFLINE   Hanson

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Posted April 30 2014 - 08:31 AM

I don't know how it works (it appears to be magic) but the screen will preview the HDR image before you take the picture. On other cameras, you don't know what you're going to get until the picture is taken and processed. Also, the image doesn't require multiple shots, so you can use it for action shots without any ghosting effects. Here's an example:

 

hdr.jpg

 

Ideally I would show you something from outside on a sunny day, but NJ weather isn't cooperating today. What you see are the screenshots from the viewfinder without HDR on top and with HDR on the bottom. So even before the picture is taken, the HDR processing is active. 

 

While there is a tutorial to set up the fingerprint sensor, it's a more finicky beast than TouchID. Instead of giving out tips on how to best achieve good results or on how to set it up for one-handed operations, they do a genereic, "swipe your finger". No tips, no techniques, nada. The average person can approach TouchID and get it working reasonably well. The S5 fingerprint scanner will probably not work well for most people because of the lack of specific instruction. Hence the reviews of the S5 fingerprint scanner are overwhelmingly negative, but a small group of users who have cracked the code (including myself) are getting a lot out of it.

 

The port flap is, of course, the biggest trade-off with waterproofing. This is where wireless charging is awesome and exactly where Samsung dropped the ball -- the ship time for the replacement cover that enables wireless charging is still 1-3 months! Why aren't these ready at launch? Just terrible. Apparently the speaker doesn't sound as good, and according to Anadtech, the waterproofing doesn't allow heat to dissipate as quickly.

 

But the waterproofing has its quirks as well. There is no plug for the headphone jack, which while waterproofed will take in water and randomly activate headphone mode until it's dried out. And there is an area of the back outside of the gasket zone that will take in water. That area is waterproof, but if you remove the cover or jostle the back before the water is all dried out you are potentially exposing the battery and internals to water. So it's not recommended to use as an underwater camera. Note that this is due to the removable back -- the Sony Z2 doesn't have a removable back and has an even higher water protection rating (8 instead of 7) and they encourage users to take underwater pictures. Samsung specifically warns users against immersion. I think all the returns of the S4 Active due to water damage taught them that lesson. The S4 Active had an advertised underwater camera mode. The S5 does not.

 

Waterproofing is the number one requested feature Japan, and all Android manufacturers put out Japan models with waterproofing. Everyone buys waterproof cases for their iPhones there. And dust proofing is popular in the Middle East. So having one product line to market worldwide is a big incentive. And of course, this is a feature that the iPhone lacks. So it's a pretty popular differentiator.  


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#6 of 8 OFFLINE   pjckmen

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Posted June 09 2014 - 12:30 AM

I am glad I found your video today. I recommend it to everyone.. Thanks for your work!!


#7 of 8 OFFLINE   truevalue

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Posted July 02 2014 - 06:31 AM

I have S4 and so far I'm satisfied with its features and specs. If I will upgrade, I'd probably wait for the S6 or maybe the new iphone. I heard they'll come out with a bigger screen. Let's see.



#8 of 8 OFFLINE   RobertR

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Posted July 02 2014 - 09:47 AM

I have S4 and so far I'm satisfied with its features and specs. If I will upgrade, I'd probably wait for the S6 or maybe the new iphone. I heard they'll come out with a bigger screen. Let's see.

I'll wait year by year and see what advances are made.  Right now I'm thinking that my S4 should serve me for at least a couple more years.






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