Review: Samsung Galaxy S5

 


Ploop.

You know that sound. You’ve just unlocked a Samsung phone. Now get ready to play.

That’s really what the GS5 ($200 with a contract) is about—playing. It’s active and out there; you kind of want to take it on a raft in the middle of the ocean, Temple Run 2 loaded onto it for leisure, and see what happens. I talked a little while ago about brand identities, and how Samsung is poised to become even more über popular as it transitions into the phone for the active person. The GS4 was the evolutionary end (it seemed at the time) to Samsung’s feature-loaded, look-at-me phone, and the GS5 isn’t so drastically different that it would be called a reboot. However, there are a few major—major—differences that demonstrate how the new GS5 is worth a closer look for an adventurer.

First, some basics. The GS5 has the fastest processor on the market, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, and it’s snappy. The TouchWiz IU is cool and fun, if a little “middle school,” with bright colors and soft app icons. The display is bright, 5.1-inch tall, 1920 by 1080 pixels, full-HD resolution at 432 pixels per inch. The body is very similar to the GS4, but more rectangle-shaped, and the plastic back has little dimples, giving it a more premium look than its predecessor. And yes, it texts, has email, makes phone calls… it does everything basic that’s important. So why buy one? Well, it’s the upgrades, both small and large, that make this phone best for the active person.

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First one: Water-proofing. Well, water-resisting. Samsung took a page from Sony’s Xperia playbook, and it’s paid off. They’ve added a little flap over the USB port—I can only imagine engineers shaking their head, saying “obvious”—and the plastic body is water resistant itself, so you can dunk it in a toilet and not have to worry about frying the phone’s guts. I haven’t tried that, per se, but I did drop it in a cup of water. No change. While you can’t quite drown the thing, water-resisting is a huge step in the right direction for phones that people will use when they’re out and about.

Second: The integration of S Health. S Health is a health app that tracks your workouts, acts as a pedometer, and syncs to your Gear Fit smart bracelet. It also has a food component, where you can input your meals and track your macros, and a Coach component that sets goals for you in the exercise, food, sleep and even stress departments of your life. This might be the most obvious appeal for the fit, active dude. I haven’t seen a health app so comprehensive, and the GS5 is not only a phone that does everything better, but is fully integrated into your lifestyle. Although setting a goal of “Love your life” in an app (it’s in the “stress” component of S Health) seems a little… odd, these goals can be helpful reminders. Love your life!

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And I’d probably be remiss without mentioning the f***ing heart rate monitor that Samsung’s built into the GS5. Place your finger on the back, around the camera, when the little red light flashes, and you’ve just checked your pulse. The monitor reads the capillaries in your finger to determine how alive you are, but I think there’s still a little work to be done on it. My heart rate ranged from 85 bpm to 115 bpm, and I wasn’t exactly jumping rope. Just standing there. Maybe a software update will fix it in the future—right now, it’s still a neat party trick.

For those prone to getting stuck in the woods (hey, we’ve all been there), the phone also has an ultra-power saving mode, where the screen goes black and white and only calls and texts work. Pretty useful for, again, some of the more adventurous people out there.

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The camera is also a huge selling point for the GS5, with a crisp 16-megapixel resolution, and six different modes to take a shot, including “Beauty Face,” the obvious choice for selfies, and a neat little dual camera feature, where you can shoot something in front of you and your face simultaneously. The fast autofocus won’t let anything get away without capturing it forever, and the phone is replete with editing techniques. The camera is arguably the best on the market right now.

There are a few more negligible aspects to the GS5; the fingerprint scanner can be frustrating, for example. But the bells and whistles from the GS4 have been toned down, the over-the-top features not in your face, and overall, the user experience is great.

Who will want it? Well, a ton of people. Samsungs are some of the most popular phones in the world. But I think who it’s geared toward is the more active person—its features like water-resistance and S Health lead me to believe that the GS5 is more in on health and fitness than any other smartphone. If you’re one of those kinds of guys, this is definitely the phone for you.

Available at AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon.

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