on 14 August 2014
**19th September 2014 UPDATE at the end.**
I'm writing this review one week and one day after purchasing the phone from Amazon.
I rarely, if ever, write reviews of anything but I'm doing so on this occasion for two reasons; the first being that, before this, I used an iPhone 4s and the second is that paying over £450 for a phone is clearly a considered purchase for most people.
It was a fairly big decision to 'switch sides' by going from Apple to Android on a Samsung but, so far, I haven't regretted it.
I'd had my iPhone 4s since October 2011 and it was a very faithful servant to me. I certainly think it's still the best of all the iPhones. I got rid of it as it had got to the point where I was having to charge it two or, sometimes, three times per day with normal use and apps would crash as they became more processor and memory intensive so the ageing hardware was unable to cope as well as it used to.
I'm going to do this the old fashioned way and do a list of pros and cons with some comparisons to the iPhone 4s in angle brackets where relevant. Also, I will update this review again at one month and three months to see if my experience with it has changed.
So, the PROS first...
1. Speedy as hell.
This phone is rapid. Make no mistake that the hardware in this device is pretty much as fast as it gets at the moment. Various reviews will tell you that the HTC One M8 gives faster benchmarks but I've tried both of these phones in shops before purchasing and there's basically no difference. My wife has an iPhone 5c and it's much faster than that. A couple of friends have the 5s and it's also faster than that. All of my apps load and close instantly - this includes games and the camera.
[As mentioned earlier, speed and memory is one of the reasons I had to abandon my 4s.]
2. The battery life is fantastic.
As mentioned above, I have had the phone for one week and a day and I have only charged it three times. Basically, it lasts for 48 hours with me. This includes things like listening to Spotify, using SnapChat and Facebook and all the other common apps you can think of as well as emails, texts, taking pictures and watching the odd video on YouTube.
[The 4s battery used to last less than a day when it was new.]
3. Superb pictures from the camera.
Although it has a very high 16mp sensor, resolution isn't always the main determinant of good photos. It's also the QUALITY of those pixels and the lens. Both of these are great and these two factors lead to crisp, sharp photos that are full of colour. It doesn't perform quite as well in low light as it does in brighter conditions but I've found that you can still get good results if you turn on the camera's image stabilisation and are willing to keep as still as you can for a few moments. Of course, that may not always be possible if you're, for instance, at a gig. (I'm going to Leeds festival next week so I will add some photo samples when I update this review.) I haven't yet tried out the video function but the fact that it will will shoot 4k says it all, I think.
[The 4s camera is appalling in comparison but it was using lens and sensor technology that was, basically, from 2010/2011.]
4. Huge, full-HD, bright screen.
Personally, I'm a fan of big phones and the S5 certainly fits that bill. It's about a third bigger than the iPhone 4s and, therefore, so is its screen. It's very bright, reproduces colours beautifully and it does all of this in full 1080p HD. If you're a fan of watching movies or TV shows on your phone, you will not go wrong with this for those reasons. I don't think much more needs to be said about that!
In this day and age, I don't really understand why this isn't a feature of all phones. I've used my S5 out in the rain a couple of times already and, in a curiosity-killed-the-cat moment, ran it under the tap for a while the day I bought it. None of this had any effect on it at all. I also use it in a (non-waterproof) armband when cycling and I've been through some torrential downpours in the past week. The USB/charging port at the bottom has a cover over it to stop water from reaching it and phone actually reminds you to put it back when you unplug your charger which is a nice little touch.
6. Expandable storage.
Not everybody wants to rely on the cloud despite that being Google's aim and the inclusion of a Micro-SD card slot for adding up to 128gb(!) of additional storage is a brilliant move by Samsung. I've got the 16gb phone and have bought a 64gb card to go with it. You will want to do this if you're trigger happy with the S5's stunning 16mp camera!
7. Heart-rate sensor.
This will be seen as a mere novelty to some but as a cyclist and a runner, I think it's fantastic. It actually works really well and seems to be as accurate as a £60 external sensor I used in the past. Use it before you start exercising and then as soon as you finish to see how hard you've worked. Let it keep a record over time and watch your fitness levels increase as your working heart rate goes down!
8. Free stuff.
A year's free Endemondo Premium, six months' free Deezer (a Spotify rival if you're unfamiliar), 3 months free NOW TV Sky Movies pass, 3 months free LinkedIn Premium and a few others. Need I say more!?
Nor for the CONS...
1. The fingerprint scanner.
This is pretty bad. It almost never works at the first attempt. It usually takes me four tries for it to unlock the phone. If it fails to work/recognise your fingerprint five times in a row it won't let you try for another thirty seconds. You can add a password to unlock the phone as a failsafe instead of using the scanner. Frequently, I find myself getting to the fourth attempt and then choosing to enter the code instead to stop it locking. It feels like Samsung rushed to get this into the S5 to compete with the iPhone 5s but they probably should've waited until they could get it right.
2. The rear speaker.
It's quiet, tinny, and sounds pretty bad. I never use this anyway so it's not an issue for me as I always listen to media using my earphones. If you're someone who does like good external audio on a phone, however, you might want to take this into account. The HTC One M8's speaker blows it away in comarison. But again, this is not a feature that I, personally, am concerned about.
3. Build quality.
Although the phone does feel very sturdy, its plastic casing and thinly-built rear cover does leave more to be desired. The velour-esque coating on the back won't be for everyone. I've solved all of this by getting a robust Spigen cover for £9.
That's it - more pros than cons by far!
In conclusion, I'm very happy with my purchase and haven't regretted switching from iPhone to Samsung/Android one little bit.
I hope this has helped you to make an informed choice. As mentioned, I well update this review again in about three weeks.
****UPDATE - 19TH SEPTEMBER 2014****
So I'm a little late with this but better late than never!
The main thing I've got to say after six and a bit weeks is that there seems to be a bit of knack to using the fingerprint scanner.
Initially, I was only using my thumb as that's the only way to unlock it with one hand using this feature.
After a couple of weeks, I decided to register the index finder of my right hand, too. I am having significantly more success with this but it still isn't perfect.
Using the index finger, it now works about eight times out of ten which is a massive improvement on my initial experience!
You have to run your finger along it quite slowly without pressing down too hard. I wasn't always moving my thumb in straight lines and wasn't pressing in with too much force. This new method is much better.
Otherwise, the phone is still running perfectly and I've grown to like it more with every week.
I went on holiday to Ibiza and took some amazing snaps and videos with it. Best non-DSLR camera I've ever owned. And the fact that it's waterproof meant I could take it in the sea and the pool and get some shots there which was brilliant! I would add some of these to show you but it turns out you can't add external links in Amazon reviews.
I'll be back with another update in eight weeks...