Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy S5 review

Samsung has unveiled its latest flagship smartphone in the form of the Galaxy S5, which will launch globally on 11 April, and we got an early look at the hotly anticipated device at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

With a fingerprint scanner, heart rate sensor, smarter camera, super download speeds and a new IP67 water and dustproof build Samsung has clearly been hard at work. But are these new sensors and extras enough to make this the phone of 2014?

Fingerprint scanner

Following in the footsteps of Apple, Samsung has added a fingerprint sensor to its home button on the Galaxy S5.

Setting up the fingerprint scanner requires eight swipes of the button to teach the S5 the print of the digit you want to use, so when you need to unlock the device in future your print is recognised. Up to three fingerprints can be registered at one time.

A simple swipe seemed to unlock the phone perfectly everytime we used it.

The scanner can also be used with PayPal to authorise payments for items within the browser. Once PayPal is selected as the payment method and it recognises an S5 user with a registered print, all it takes is a digit swipe and you've paid - scarily easy, but effective.

Fixed on fitness

S Health 3.0 is here and it's built to measure every waking moment of a user's day. The pedometer and calorie tracking information is still there but now a physical heart rate sensor is also included.

The heart rate scanner is located on the back of the device where your index finger naturally sits. Hold for a few seconds and it will show your heart rate on the screen in a pulsing line before giving you an accurate readout of your current state. Great for regular updates, but not ideal for tracking while in training.

Combined with the Gear 2 or Gear Fit we can see the appeal but having it on the S5 alone feels like a bit of a for-the-sake-of-it extra. It works very well though.

The cleverer camera

The 16-megapixel camera can auto focus and snap within 0.3 seconds, which really is blisteringly fast. This uses phase auto focus, like that found in an SLR, which separates the light into two beams for comparison delivering the most accurate depth.

The shots in the internal lighting conditions we experienced were decent – especially considering how quickly they were shot. Then there are all the usual options Samsung offers and a few new ones for good measure.

One nice extra is Selective Focus. It allows you to shoot an item in the foreground and after the picture has been taken you can alternatively choose to refocus on that item, on the background, or on both. It's much like the Lytro-style technology found in the new Nokias.

This feature worked well and processing took only a few seconds. We did notice that if there was any movement those changes could be seen in the two different focuses - meaning it takes two photos a period apart rather than the same photo at different depths.

HDR Live is useful. This option is used to balance light and dark in a photo. When pointed at a bright light the darker areas of our test shot were black but after tapping HDR it updated, live, to show on the screen what the photo would look like - with brighter dark sections.

In video mode the camera can manage 4K UHD recording at 3840 x 2160 resolution. This worked fine but really chewed up the storage, and probably battery we'd imagine. But with microSD expansion that's not too much of a worry for anyone eager to get more use out of their 4K TV.

Speed just got an upgrade

The new Download Booster feature is utterly brilliant. It seems simple but will make such a difference. We can see everyone introducing this soon.

Download Booster can be turned on with a simple button swipe to get files using both Wi-Fi and LTE as superfast downloads. It could chew up more battery but will be great for large files needed in a rush, or when you're at home and power isn't an issue. We didn't get to test this at the show but were assured it's the fastest phone you can get right now. Just in time for Netflix in 4K then.

Operating system

The look of the Galaxy S5's user interface is new, with Android 4.4 KitKat and an improved and updated TouchWiz layer on top. The layout has seen the icons smoothed and rounded much like Apple's iOS 7 - which is even more apparent on the ultra-clear Super AMOLED 5.1-inch 1920 x 1080 resolution S5 screen.

A swipe to the left of the homescreen now takes you into Samsung's My Magazine page. An interesting move at a time when Google is offering the same path to Google Now on the Nexus 5.

Build quality

The edging is now a ridged silver-looking material that's actually plastic and, to be honest, is a little slippery in one hand. But with the new IP67 dust and water resistance, a drop into a puddle shouldn't be too much of a problem. It can, in fact, be submerged up to 1 metre in depth.

The back is dimpled so despite being plastic it does offer a bit more of a reassuring grip. The bottom USB 3.0 port now has a plastic cover for water and dust protection.

The Galaxy S5 is well weighted so its sits comfortably in the hand regardless of using it in horizontal or vertical profiles.

We didn't get to test it but the new battery saving feature offers 24 hours battery from only 35 per cent of battery, says Samsung.

First impressions

Samsung has upgraded the speed of its flagship handset thanks to a new 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and 2GB of RAM. But not resting on its laurels, Samsung has continued to push innovation by adding sensors galore. The heart rate monitor might be a bit of a gimmick and even the fingerprint sensor could be considered that - but they're good to have as extras and to add greater potential future software development options.

The new HDR Live camera, Selective Focus and 4K UHD video options for the camera are great upgrades that could prove very useful in day-to-day use. As will be that super fast 0.3 second snapping speed.

The Download Booster, which uses Wi-Fi and LTE to speed up downloads, could be one of the best features in a time when internet connection is so important.

Combined with the Gear 2 or Gear Fit the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a complete life tracker and complete life managment device - we can't wait to get our review sample to really push its apparently near-boundless limits.



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