Samsung Galaxy S5 review: The once great all-rounder steps down

£550
Price when reviewed

Latest news: The Samsung Galaxy S5 isn’t widely available any more, but although it’s surpassed by a number of superior smarphones since it first launched (not least the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the more recent Galaxy S7), Samsung has rebranded and relaunched it in the guise of the Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo. It’s a testament to the quality and performance of the original design that, despite its age, it still makes a viable purchase even today, especially at a price of £235.

In fact, we liked the Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo so much that we gave it a Recommended award when we reviewed it recently. It’s a mid-range budget smartphone that inherits most of the internals of its illustrious forebear, and well worth a look if your budget can’t quite stretch to full-blown flagship prices.

However, the S5 Neo isn’t alone in offering a lot for a little these days. If you don’t mind paying upfront for your smartphones, the OnePlus 2 offers faster performance and a bigger screen than the Samsung Galaxy S5, and it looks a lot nicer. The OnePlus 3 ups the ante even further with a cracking camera, better battery life and even faster performance – plus, it’s still only £309.

Then you have the smaller 5.2in Nexus 5X, which is another brilliant phone, with good performance, a 1080p display and a superb camera. And it will cost you considerably less than £300, with recent deals dropping it, temporarily, below £200.

Then there’s the unbelievably good, but unbelievably cheap 5.5in Moto G4. It doesn’t look as nice as the OnePlus handsets and the camera isn’t as good as the Nexus 5X, but at a price of £170 it will actually save you money over the S5 Neo. It has a great screen and performance that’s just as good as far more expensive smartphones.

Last, but by no means least, is the new Samsung Galaxy A5. The Galaxy A5 looks, to all intents and purposes, exactly like a flagship smartphone. In fact, with Gorilla Glass 4 at the front and the back, and a sculpted aluminium frame, it looks and feels eerily similar to last year’s Samsung Galaxy S6.

It has brilliant battery life, lasting 15hrs 26mins in our video-rundown test; a 5.2in AMOLED display that looks fantastic; a decent camera; and a very reasonable price of £290. The Galaxy A5 has exactly the same processor as the S5 Neo (above), so performance is similar, but the design and build quality are vastly superior. If you’re looking for a smartphone that looks as good as it performs, you won’t go far wrong with the Samsung Galaxy A5.

There’s plenty of choice, then, if you’re after a fast-performing phone for under £300. Although the S5 Neo is good, it’s by no means the only choice.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review

We wondered where the world’s number-one smartphone maker could possibly go with the Samsung Galaxy S5. The Galaxy S4’s 5in screen was already hitting the pocketable limit, and with so much tech already squeezed into that phone there surely wasn’t much room for attention-grabbing extras. We were wrong.

Still, cast a glance over the S5’s key specs and you might come to the same conclusion. Aside from the usual processor boost, from the quad-core 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 of last year’s model to the top-of-the-range, quad-core Snapdragon 801 this year, there’s no whizz-bang upgrade to match the quirky duo-camera of its major rival, the HTC One (M8), nor a radical rethink of design.

There are some key differences. The plastic panel at the rear has changed from gloss to soft touch, there are new colours to choose from – including a dubious-looking gold – and Samsung has bumped up the screen to 5.1in. Visit: the best Android phones of 2014 too.

Below the screen is a physical home button, flanked by two capacitive buttons; one for back and another for accessing the recent apps list. The display remains ringed with a ridged, chrome-effect band, with the power and volume buttons in the same positions on the right and left edges. The rear panel is still removable, giving access to SIM, microSD slots beneath, and a user-replaceable battery.

A closer examination of the specs reveals that the new phone is 15g heavier, and a touch taller and wider. For a more radical comparison you need to sit the S5 next to the HTC One (M8); the S5 is lighter, shorter, slightly wider, and – to our eyes at least – far less attractive.

Samsung Galaxy S5

Tricks and tweaks

Yet Samsung has made a number of changes: mostly small, but which add up to a major upgrade overall. Flip the rear cover off and examine the underside of the thin plastic back, and you’ll see evidence of the S5’s water- and dust-resistant protection: a thin rubber strip sealing in the sensitive components.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is IP67 rated, which indicates the phone is protected against dust ingress, and can be submerged in water up to a metre for 30 minutes. Anyone who has ever dropped their phone in the sink, bath or toilet, or who’s soaked their phone in a heavy rainstorm, will attest to the fact that this is a feature well worth having.

Samsung Galaxy S5

The familiar home button hides another new feature: a fingerprint reader for unlocking the phone, similar to that of the Apple iPhone 5s. It’s less convenient than Apple’s touch-recognition approach, though. Only three fingerprints can be registered, and you need to swipe your finger across the button for it to work. As a result, we found it tricky to unlock the unit one-handed.

Then there’s the heart-rate monitor, located just below the camera on the rear of the phone. This is more sensibly positioned. With the phone cradled in your left or right hand, the sensor falls nicely under the ball of your index finger. However, heart-rate sensors work best when they’re constantly monitoring your pulse during periods of exercise or day-to-day activities. With the S5 you have to make a conscious decision to measure your pulse, which makes it less useful.

Camera

It’s the improvements to the phone’s camera that prove the most compelling. Samsung has upped the resolution to 16 megapixels, added DSLR-style phase-detect autofocus, the ability to shoot video at up to a 4K resolution, and is now using a new 1/2.6in sensor. The latter isn’t only larger than the HTC One (M8)’s 1/3in offering, but also boasts new “ISOCELL” technology aimed at reducing image noise.

Samsung Galaxy S5

The result of these changes is top performance and superlative image quality all round. The autofocus system, true to Samsung’s claims, focuses from near to far subjects in around 0.3 seconds – but that isn’t the full story. It can take as long as a second to analyse the scene before that focusing takes place.

Details

Contract monthly charge£33.00
Contract period24 months

Physical

Dimensions73 x 8.1 x 142mm (WDH)
Weight145g
Touchscreenyes

Core Specifications

RAM capacity2.00GB
Camera megapixel rating16.0mp
Front-facing camera?yes

Display

Screen size5.1in
Resolution1080 x 1920

Other wireless standards

Bluetooth supportyes

Software

OS familyAndroid

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