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Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Don't upgrade just yet

You know how they say, when it comes to love, it’s what’s on the inside that counts? The same logic can be applied to smartphones: I can forgive the Samsung Galaxy S5 for having last year’s looks, but I want more out of it than a slightly better version of last year’s guts. Especially if the asking price is $600-plus.

It’s the same gripe I had about the iPhone 5s: Not enough of an evolutionary step to justify the cost.

And that’s a shame, because the S5 is a pretty great device. If you’re making the jump from an S3 or older, or are looking for your first Android device, then it’s an amazing choice. But if you’re looking to move up from an S4, don’t upgrade just yet.

The S5 performs well and has a good number of upgrades, but nothing truly stands out. Yeah, it has a fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor, but both are inconsistent in operation and aren’t necessary features.

On the physical front, the S5’s most interesting update is its waterproof casing. Obviously the S4 Active’s waterproof feature got rave reviews, so naturally it made its way onto the S5.

For up to about a half-hour the device can take a bath at depths of about three feet. It’s a nice safety feature to have because a drop in the tub doesn’t have to mean certain doom, and it opens up a new world of options for shutterbugs.

Speaking of photography, the S5’s camera is much improved over the S4’s and is one of the best of any device out there. Packing 16 megapixels, an improved continuous autofocus, faster snapping and better low-light results, the camera’s photos come out colorful and clear and up to the standard you’d expect from Samsung.

The big addition to this year’s S device’s camera is the Selective Focus feature, but it’s kind of a hassle to use and execution isn’t always impeccable. What it’s supposed to do is allow the user to defocus the background while keeping the subject in place, giving a faux-pro effect. Using this feature takes longer than it should, and even though Samsung made a huge deal about it, I just can’t help but feel like the feature got lost somewhere in the shuffle.

The device’s display is also improved, and it was easy to see the difference when I did side-by-side comparisons with my S4. The S5’s 5.1-inch Full HD Super AMOLED display is brighter, angled viewing is clearer and the phone’s various screen modes (which all use different color ranges) should be able to provide any user with something they’re comfortable with.

Despite being larger than its predecessor, the S5 is comfortable to hold and use. It’s definitely heavier than the S4, but it also feels slightly sturdier.

It houses a larger battery, and has a microSD slot for up to 128GB of extra storage to piggyback on the default 16- and 32GB capacity. This is all backed by its 2.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and a battery life of about 18 hours.

Though I don’t consider the fingerprint scanner to be necessary, it does offer more to users than the scanner found on the latest iPhone. Yes, it unlocks the phone, but it also allows you to confirm payments using the PayPal app, and allows users access to specific files within the phone, which is more than Apple’s Touch ID does.

Still, I didn’t use the scanner at all outside of briefly playing with it because it only worked about half the time and it’s not what I’m interested in.

If I didn’t buy my S4 less than a year ago, I’d consider the S5 as my Android phone of choice. Its plastic casing doesn’t bother me, and while its improvements aren’t above and beyond, there are enough of them to make the overall experience slightly better than the S4.

It has everything a solid device should have, but it feels more like the S4 Part Deux than the next step up.

Richard Hall

Richard Hall is an award-winning newsroom developer, editor and blogger for NewsOK. He was born in Austin, Texas, spent his childhood in southern California and has lived in Norman since 1999. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2008. Read more ›