Samsung Galaxy S5 review

Can the Galaxy S5 still be considered a viable buy?

Samsung Galaxy S5 review
It might not look like much, but the S5 is a very capable smartphone

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The interface on the Samsung Galaxy S5 is improved quite a lot over the S4 and previous iterations of the Galaxy family.

This is mostly to do with the new circular icons and geometric layout allowing everything to look a bit more premium and fluid - you could argue that it's relying a little less on skeumorphism, but then that would insinuate that it's trying to look like Apple again, which I don't think Samsung is trying to do here.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review

At least, I hope not. I don't want to write about any more court cases.

The lock screen is the first place to get an overhaul, with the weather and pedometer steps now part of the furniture.

There's a camera swiper in the corner as well, allowing easy access to snapping without having to open the phone (although it's very hard to work out if this has been hit correctly or not). When it works, this is particularly helpful when you've got the fingerprint scanner as the lock.

One of the best parts of the new homescreen is the increased snappiness in Touchwiz - I've never been one to really notice the lag in an interface, more preferring a stable feel under the finger, but those had that tried the S5 said that it was speedier.

The animation transitions between homescreens is a little slow still, as the pages stack on top of one another, but it's a negligible wait.

The notifications area is one of the places that have been tweaked quite heavily, as it's now got that circular font that I mentioned, and looks a lot nicer.

The settings menu is the same, and has been divided up into better sections to get to where you want more easily, although this does take some getting used to if you're already familiar with Android.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review

Android Lollipop launched not long ago and Samsung has already started rolling it out to the Galaxy S5. The update brings new features including lockscreen and heads-up notifications, Mirrorlink and an improved fingerprint sensor, as well as elements of the new Material Design in the look of its TouchWiz interface. But at time of writing many people are still waiting for the update to hit their phones.

Back with the phone as it is now, Samsung has clearly noted the trend towards news aggregation on other handsets and has continued its own integration with Flipboard with 'My Magazine', which lives to the left of the main home screen.

It's basically taking the Flipboard topics and methods of integration and showing them in categories - and it's really not a great implementation at all.

Once you've opened it up, you're asked to choose topics that might interest you... but what is 'New and Noteworthy'? Which 'Sports' are being covered? There's no way to drill down, and instantly I'm greeted with a glut of content I don't care about.

If you drill in a little further, you'll confusingly find that Flipboard's Magazine interface is right there under the surface, allowing you to set custom feeds etc - and it's much better.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review

Samsung has really confused things here, and My Magazine needs an awful, awful lot of work to be considered a plus point - or let me turn it off.

It's a shame, as news aggregation from most parties isn't great or intuitive enough yet - but I can see a time in the not-too-distant future where it does find content I care about, so it would have been nice to see Samsung push that message on.

But that's not to say Samsung doesn't have some other new features to like: for instance, the Toolbox icon, which is a little floating circle on your front screen, allows you to choose five applications that can be accessed by tapping wherever you are in the phone.

I didn't want this activated all the time, but you can see situations where you need quick access in and out of things like the calculator or voice recorder, and this is a great way to offer such a thing.

Multi-Window is still kicking around, but I'd suggest you turn it off generally in the options. The reason is that if you're trying to watch a video, the main app won't let you... you can only have some of the videos previewed and the one you're trying to watch taking up the other half of the screen.

The same trick is repeated through the internet browser and apps, and is really rather annoying when you don't want it.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review

The floating toolbar

Overall, I'm a bit confused about the interface of the Galaxy S5. The power is there: a 2.5GHz CPU from the excellent Qualcomm 801 chip should have been market leading at launch and still be impressive now, and yet I found a lot of slowdown in places.

The camera takes an age to start up, playing a graphically intensive game like Real Racing 3 has a slower frame rate when many cars are in shot (although a reboot did reduce this problem somewhat) and opening the gallery when you've got cloud storage activated takes a long time too.

This smacks of Samsung not having optimised its software for these areas, as oddly things like RR3 will actually warm up as the game goes on, which hints of a phone that can't rouse itself from sleep mode effectively.

I also noted more than one occasion where the S5 would stutter and crash on apps ranging from Facebook to Gmail to Swiftkey. That said, we've now got updated software that goes some way to improving these issues, so it's not as bad as it was at launch.

This confusion is compounded by the fact that in the GeekBench 3 tests, the phone manages to get a respectable 2909, which is slightly better than the HTC One M8.

It should be noted that the HTC has admitted to adding in a 'High Power Mode' that will allow these apps to get the best out of the performance, a practice Samsung has said it has ceased. It's also the equivalent of both iPhone models as well, showing there's very little between top smartphones these days.

There was very little to choose between these four phones in terms of general speed, but that issue with the slowdown in gaming was odd. The gallery speed has been a problem for Samsung over a number of models, so I doubt that's going to change - but for a phone that's meant to have a speedy camera I hope things get altered soon.

I wanted to put out a special mention of the storage, given Samsung came under such fire for the weight of its OS with the Samsung Galaxy S4. Of the 16GB of internal space, you get to use over 11GB, which is comparable with the best on the market having been the worst.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review

This is slightly helped by the fact Samsung has stripped out some of the less essential apps and made them available instantly for download from its own app store – meaning you've got more control over the internal space.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.