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samsung galaxy s5 hands on 7

Hot on the heels of the HTC One (M8) comes another top-of-the-range Android smartie, the Samsung Galaxy S5.

Despite the odd snitty review, the S4 was a runaway success, selling more than 40 million units, and helped Samsung to become the biggest mobile phone company in the world.

So there’s a lot riding on the Galaxy S5. Let’s find out how it stacks up.

First impressions and design

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From the front, the S5 looks very similar to the S4. But it’s all change around the back.

Samsung has ditched the plastic back of the S4 in favour of a dimpled material that feels almost rubbery.

It’s not as tacky as the fake leather (complete with faux stitching) seen on the Galaxy Note 3, and it is an improvement on the S4’s rear plate.

But it still feels a bit flimsy to us, especially compared to the aluminium of the HTC One (M8).

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That's a shame, because if you’re shelling out north of £600 for a device, you want it to feel solid and premium, like the iPhone 5S or HTC One (M8).

The S5 is dustproof and water resistant, so it’s built to survive the elements.

The downside of this extra protection is that the charging port has an annoying cover you have to peel back every time you want to juice up your handset.

At 5.1 inches, the S5’s screen is slightly bigger than the S4’s and it looks bright and brilliant.

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It’s not the lightest smartie around, tipping the scales at 145g – that’s 15g heavier than the S4. But it’s not enough to put a dint in your pocket.

Samsung has added some new colours for the Galaxy S5 too. It comes in gold, white, blue, and black.

They’re bolder and – in our opinion – more appealing than the S4’s more muted colour options.

Software

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Android 4.4.2 KitKat is the order of the day, and it’s overlaid with Samsung’s own TouchWiz UI.

Samsung has given TouchWiz a spring clean, which it desperately needed.

The icons still look like they were designed in Microsoft Paint, but in the sub-menus, Samsung has given them a circular motif that’s cleaner and neater.

This means they’re not in keeping with the main menus, but it’s a step in the right direction. Let’s hope Samsung can bring a more unified, cleaner look in subsequent iterations.

Samsung has also tidied away its own apps into a dedicated folder, making them less intrusive. Again, this is most welcome.

Features

To its credit, Samsung has listened to criticism of the S4 and taken a different tack with the S5.

Gone are the endless gimmicky features that no one ever used.

Instead, Samsung has focussed on improving core functions and trying to make the handset more useful on a day-to-day level.

And it’s largely a success. The camera has a lightning-fast autofocus that takes just 0.3 seconds to find its target.

Samsung has bolted a heart rate monitor onto the back, and built a fingerprint scanner into the home button.

Throw in an ultra low-power mode for saving battery, Download Booster tech that speeds up your downloads, and compatibility with Samsung’s new Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches, and you’ve got features aplenty.

Usability

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So how does it all stack up?

The fingerprint scanner isn’t as good as the iPhone 5S’s.

Like the one on the back of the HTC One Max, you have to swipe your finger down it, rather than just press it like the iPhone 5S’s.

This means it’s not as quick as the iPhone’s. We kept not swiping far enough as well, so had to keep retrying.

But in the plus column, the camera’s autofocus is ridiculously fast – the quickest we’ve seen on a smartphone, in fact.

Like the HTC One (M8), you can change the focus after you’ve taken a photo thanks to Samsung’s Selective Focus feature.

However, unlike the HTC One (M8), you have to enable the mode before you take a snap.

And then the subject has to be 50cm from the camera, or closer.

Once you’ve taken the snap, you have three options: near focus, far focus, or pan focus.

HTC’s Ufocus, meanwhile, lets you focus on any part of the photo by tapping it.

In other words, Samsung’s Selective Focus doesn't quite measure up to HTC’s Ufocus.

But the S5’s camera does perform better than the One (M8)’s in bright conditions.

On a sunny day in the park, the colours of the leaves came out vibrant, and the shots were more detailed than the One (M8)’s.

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As with past handsets in the Galaxy S series, the display is a beauty. Its 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution means images and videos pop from the screen.

While its pixel per inch rating is slightly lower than on the S4 (432ppi on the 5.1-inch S5, compared to 441ppi on the 5-inch S4), you really won’t notice any loss in sharpness.

The S5 is very nippy thanks to the 2.5GHz quad-core chip inside. You zip through menus, and it handled all the apps, games and movies we threw at it without so much as a shrug.

The battery lasted a full day in our tests, but it needed charging by the evening.

There is a very handy ultra power-saving mode which turns the screen black and white and cuts back the number of apps and features you can use on the phone.

When we tried it, it said it would mean our S5 lasted for 11 days, and we could still make calls and send texts.

It could be a lifesaver if you’re out and about and have low battery.

S Health is a useful addition for keeping tabs on your wellbeing, though there are a ton of third-party apps that do the same thing.

A microSD card slot is always welcome, and lets you beef up the S5’s 16GB or 32GB storage.

Verdict

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The S5 is another very good Android phone. It’s not a huge leap over the S4, but in today’s mobile landscape, most successors aren’t huge improvements on their predecessors.

Samsung has stripped away the gimmickry and focussed on improving the features people actually use, and for that it should be applauded.

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