Initial review: Samsung Galaxy S5, priced at P34,990

Alora Uy Guerrero
Technostorm Reviews

Specs of the Samsung Galaxy S5 (Price: P34,990):
IP67-certified body (dust- and water-resistant)
Fingerprint sensor
Heart-rate monitor
Dimensions: 142 x 72.5 x 8.1mm; 145 grams
2.5GHz quad-core CPU
16GB/32GB internal storage
microSD card slot (up to 64GB)
5.1-inch Super AMOLED display (1,080 x 1,920 resolution)
16-megapixel rear camera with LED flash
2.1-megapixel front camera
2,800mAh battery
Android 4.4 KitKat

We finally got a long, hard look at the Samsung Galaxy S5, which just debuted in the Philippines for P34,990, after we initially saw it in March.

From a design standpoint, the best way to describe the Galaxy S5 is that it's a tad bigger, thicker, and heavier Samsung Galaxy S4 with weather sealing and an all-new back cover. The body is IP67-certified, meaning it's resistant to dust, sand, and water (up to a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes). The micro-USB port at the bottom edge of the device is protected by a plastic flap. However, in our experience, the downside to plastic or rubber flaps is that they're prone to becoming loose with regular use.

The Samsung Galaxy S5's back sports the same faux-leather material found in the Galaxy Note 3, except this time around, Samsung has dropped the stitching around the edges, preferring to use a dimpled surface to make the phone stand out and easier to hold and use. That's great and all, but we worry that the tiny breaks in the rear cover will eventually accumulate dirt, grease deposits, and other residues.

The overall aesthetic is one of bland conformity, and we can't help but compare it to the desirable look and feel of both old and new versions of the HTC One. Of course, design is a matter of personal taste, but we even prefer some locally branded flagships and mid-tier Lumias to the more expensive Samsung handset.

The customary three-button layout has been altered a bit; gone is the capacitive menu key of last year's model. In its place is a multitask key, which makes sense, given how much app-switching you're likely to do on a powerful phone like the Samsung Galaxy S5. The home button now has an embedded fingerprint scanner for security and authentication with third-party apps.

Samsung has already struck a deal with PayPal to allow the use of biometric data for making purchases. Alas, its fingerprint-scanning technology works by swiping your finger from the top to the center of the home button, which, in practice, is a lot harder to use compared to the Apple iPhone 5s' Touch ID scanner.

In typical Samsung fashion, the company has fitted its latest Android device with yet another headline feature that makes for a good product demo (and likely nothing else): a rear-facing heart-rate monitor. Sure, it may come in handy at some point, but we found the hardware rather difficult to use with the included S Health app, often requiring multiple tries before giving a heart-rate reading.

There's a 16-megapixel camera around the back that's capable of 4K video capture (albeit limited to just 5 minutes), in addition to slow-motion recording at 120 frames per second. Samsung claims the Galaxy S5 camera sensor's phase-detection technology is the fastest on any handset, and while it is quick to focus and take shots, it lacks optical image stabilization to minimize blur and noise in conditions where lighting isn't optimal and longer exposure times are needed. Up front is a 2-megapixel camera that can take 1080p footage, similar to the Galaxy S4's front-facer.

As for its native camera app, the Samsung Galaxy S5 packs some new shooting options, including a selective focus mode that works somewhat like Nokia's Refocus app, and lets you choose to focus either on the foreground, background, or evenly across a photo. Live HDR mode, on the other hand, gives you an accurate representation of what your photo or video will look like with greater dynamic range.

The Super AMOLED screen is superb and is arguably the most striking feature of the phone; it has been slightly bumped up to 5.1 inches (up from 5 inches in the previous model) with a resolution of 1,080 x 1,920 for a pixel density of 432 pixels per inch. The panel makes everything from videos to websites look amazingly crisp and vivid.

A 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 chip with an LTE radio, Adreno 330 graphics, and 2GB of RAM (four times what Android KitKat requires) place the Galaxy S5 on the cutting-edge of smartphone silicon, alongside other Android heavyweights from companies like LG, HTC, and Sony. That said, the device should be able to handle anything you throw at it—even processor- and graphics-intensive games like Real Racing 3. Just don't expect it to be an astonishing improvement on the Galaxy S4.

Internal storage maxes out at 16GB, and the removable battery is rated at 2,800mAh. Samsung's Galaxy S5 also uses the latest version of TouchWiz on top of Android KitKat 4.4.2.

Overall, we think the Galaxy S5 is a good flagship phone in many ways; it combines a water-resistant body with a beautiful Super AMOLED display and serious computing chops. But here's the rub: There's a lot of incredible handsets in the premium segment, Apple iPhones and Nokia Lumias included. Most of these devices are cheaper than the fifth-gen Galaxy S.

Time will tell whether or not Samsung has done enough with the Galaxy S5 to replicate the success of its predecessors. Perhaps it will do just that, but we're not holding our breath.