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

Why you can trust TechRadar We spend hours testing every product or service we review, so you can be sure you’re buying the best. Find out more about how we test.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review

The snapper on the S5

The camera on the Samsung Galaxy S5 is one of the more powerful on the market, featuring an Isocell unit that offers up 16MP snaps.

There are a whole host of other features here as well that a lot of people will like: real time HDR mode lets you see how your photo can be enhanced before shooting, for instance.

But the big thing that Samsung's touting is the speedy autofocus, which can manage to work out the image sharpness in up to 0.3 seconds.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review

It's fast, and there's no doubt that it can indeed focus that quickly. However, I've got a couple of gripes before we get into that.

I've mentioned it already, but for some reason it can take a few seconds to boot up the camera, which is way longer than the competition. If you're trying to use the 'quick swipe' from the lock screen, it can take even longer as it's very easy to think you've hit this icon when in fact you haven't swiped far enough.

The camera then takes around 3 seconds to even be ready to start firing, which means if you trying to capture a moment that has come upon you suddenly, you'll likely have missed it.

The autofocus, as I mentioned, is indeed fast and will often get what you're trying to shoot - especially if it's on a well-framed scene. However there were a few occasions when I was waiting to capture something and the autofocus went green, despite the subject clearly still being blurry.

It's an odd situation - I kept finding myself cleaning the lens or flicking through the settings to see if there was something amiss, but there was nothing to be seen.

At least the HDR mode works well, and it's nice to have it alongside Selective Focus as one of the main options. You really do get some better snaps with real time HDR, and it doesn't take very long to process at all, which is a plus.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review

Selective focus is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it can work in macro mode, which means you can take some close up shots and have the background blur out, which is what you'd want (and can't be done on some competitors).

On the other hand, too often it would tell me that it couldn't work out what I was taking a picture of, so the picture couldn't be altered after the snap.

The output wasn't blurry enough for me either - if you compare it to the HTC One M8, which has a weaker sensor but faster shutter speed, better defocus and all round better chops in the low light scenarios, you'll realise that this is something of an afterthought for Samsung... or at least that's how it feels.

But if it sounds like I'm railing against the camera in the Samsung Galaxy S5, then apologies – I'm certainly not. It's a competent and powerful sensor, but one that needs more effort to unlock the stunning pictures than the rivals.

The larger sensor needs a little longer to process pictures (we're talking nanoseconds for the main pictures in automatic mode) and the autofocus isn't as sharp as I'd like, but line up your shot and you'll definitely get a better image.

If you're trying to take a picture of something in candlelight, the S5 is the better option. If you've got a glorious landscape, you'll get better colour reproduction with the S5.

However, the modes are a little redundant as before – GIF-creating animated shot aside, I can't see ever wanting to use any of the modes.

Samsung has dialled these down massively since the over-complicated S4, and it really helps. Touch Up beauty mode will never cease to scare me, and as much as I like Virtual Tour, I can't ever envisage a time when I'll ever want to share a walk-through of my house.

It's one of only a few devices on the market to offer 4K video recording as well - however, I think we're at least a year or two off needing such a capability, and it will certainly require more storage to shoot in this high-res format for now, regardless of how it looks.

The camera in the Galaxy S5 is as competent as it is powerful – it's nowhere near as good as the Nokia Lumia Pureview sensor, but then again, it's more adept than the HTC One M8 if you're willing to put the time in.

However, the One M8 is the better option for day to day point and shooting – the sharpness is actually comparable as too many S5 pictures didn't quite come out as pleasant as I thought they had when viewing on the screen.

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.