Name: Samsung Galaxy S5
Price: $200 (w/two-year contract), $600 - $660 (off contract)
The Back Story: In a smartphone market where Android garners an 80-percent share, Samsung owns 27 percent of it—solidifying the company’s position as the largest phone manufacturer in the world. This has been achieved through the colossal success of its flagship mobile franchise, the Galaxy S, which has sold over 200 million units since first announced back in 2010. The GS3 put the series on the map, where as the GS4 propelled it to mainstream stardom thanks to an excessive marketing blitz and strong corporate sponsors. So in sticking with tradition, Samsung’s just launched its next-gen handset for the first half of the year: the Galaxy S5.
Ditching the motion-command artifices of its predecessor in favor of a health-centric scheme, the GS5 keeps things fresh with an innovative fitness approach that’s met with powerful hardware and refined software features. So as the second biggest smartphone of 2014 hits retailers, everyone is thirsty to know whether it's worth dropping their upgrade on Sammy's new baby or its biggest threat, the HTC One M8. That all depends on your preference.
• Fitness factor: Jumping on the fitness tracker bandwagon, Samsung’s engineered its phone to double as an activity monitor for recording biometric data. The GS5’s companion S Health app spearheads the entire experience by working in unison with some of the phone’s newly integrated hardware like the built-in heart rate monitor and pedometer to record physical activity from BPM (Beats Per Minute) to calories burned. Its ability to track taken steps already has it performing half the duties of the FitBit and Jawbone UP. So workout fanatics have the luxury of utilizing the handset as a tracker or they can invest in the company’s new Gear Fit alternative, which synchronizes all stats to both devices and looks dope on the wrist.
• Ridiculously fast and powerful: One of the phone’s hottest features every user should become familiar with is Download Booster. This opens the lane to use 4G and Wi-Fi simultaneously to speed up downloads over 30MB faster. It’s incredibly fast and works wonders when transferring large files such as videos to a cloud server. Then on the hardware front, Sammy stuffs Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 801 quad-core under its plastic hood, solidifying its rep as a multitasking savant with benchmark-crushing performance. Our Quadrant Standard results had the handset producing higher scores than the One M8. Apps load quickly, multimedia playback (games, HD videos) runs smooth, and UI navigation is on-point.
•.Great 16MP camera: The mobile camera wars continue to heat up with Samsung introducing its own heavyweight shooter, bearing the image quality and editing software to take on HTC's and Nokia’s offering. Leading the forefront is the upgraded HDR mode, now offering a line preview in the viewfinder and boosting shutter speeds. Test the "burst shoots" feature and you’ll see how serious it is. Most of the popular modes found on the GS4 remain intact including Eraser Shot, Best Face, Best Photo and Drama Shot. A faster auto-focus system accommodates instant photo-capture too. Plus the camera is capable of shooting in UHD (3840x2160), though we recommend investing in a 64GB card because these clips swallow tons of memory.
• Intuitively vibrant display: The Super AMOLED display has become synonymous with the Galaxy series, boasting incredible picture quality that’s been arguably unmatched. This version of the signature panel produces crisp sharp visuals highlighted by its vigorous color palette. Images look richly detailed and HD content shines. But it is the technology behind the screen that makes the viewing experience awesome, with Samsung developing a custom image chip that automatically changes the colors to enhance visibility in different lighting conditions and environments. The screen can also enable a grayscale screen to kill color for power-saving purposes.
• Ultra Power Saving Mode: Make no mistake about it—Samsung is going to give Motorola a run for its money for best mobile battery solution. The Ultra Power Saving Mode stretches the last few minutes of vitality to a couple of hours upon hitting the 10 percent mark. Even though you’ll be restricted to calls and text messages only, it’s still a clever way of keeping the GS5 alive till accessing a power outlet. A software update that integrates email support or social media notifications would propel the feature’s stock.
• Pricing and carrier deals: Tagging the GS5 at $200 with a two-year contract was the safest bet Samsung could have placed, especially with the handset carrying a higher standalone price than every other smartphone out. Certain carriers are promoting some sweet deals as well, primarily Verizon with its BOGO (Buy One, Get One) promotion right now. Might want to jump on that ASAP.
• Enough with the plastic already: Samsung’s affinity for plastic continues to plague the Galaxy line, as the artificial leather and metal surrounding the handset doesn’t come close to the One M8’s marveling all-aluminum design.
• Unresponsive fingerprint scanner: You get the feeling Samsung only brought on the feature to compete with Apple. Yet like its competitor, the end result is flawed. Synaptics Natirual ID sensor is inaccurate most of the time, forcing several failed attempts, and prompting us to enter our alternative password. That's just too much work to access the home screen.
• Download Booster limited to T-Mobile: What is arguably the coolest feature on the GS5 is exclusive to T-Mobile at the moment. The other major carriers—AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon—have yet to confirm when the Download Booster will be available on their variants.
Final Say: The Galaxy line continues to get better with every new entry and the Galaxy S5 sits right at the front of the line. Doing away with the GS4's critically panned gesture-command system, Samsung’s gone back to the basics by doing what it does best—upgrading the spec sheet with current hardware components and focusing more on proactive features better optimized for user interaction such as its ad-free Milk music service and S Health services. But the more things change, the more they stay the same, with the mobile maker refusing to acknowledge how its plastic design and gimmicky approaches (ex. fingerprint scanner) continue to displease seasoned mobilephiles seeking affluence and simplicity from a $600 smartphone. However, if these two caveats mean nothing to you, then there is no reason why the GS5 shouldn’t become your next smartphone.