Last month Samsung released their latest flagship device, the Samsung Galaxy S5. Though I’ve been happily using a Moto X for about half a year, I lost the device, so I decided to pick up a Charcoal Black Galaxy S5. Over the past month, I’ve been using the device heavily, and while I’ve been impressed with certain aspects of the device, I’m struggling to understand why so many loyalists flag the Samsung Galaxy line as the quintessential Android phone. Confession: I’m not seeing it that way.
Read on for both the good and bad of the Samsung Galaxy S5.
The Good of the Samsung Galaxy S5
There’s no denying that the Samsung Galaxy S5 has a beautiful display. The screen is a 5.1 inch Full HD Super AMOLED Display. Couple this screen with a feature that Samsung is calling “Local Contrast Enhancement” which adapts the screen colours to fit your environment, and I have no doubt that this is the best smartphone screen I’ve ever seen.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 also comes with IP67 certification, meaning the phone is completely water and dust resistant. Though Samsung claims the device is not certified for use of more than 30 minutes underwater, reviews have shown the phone lasting for much longer. This is a feature I love, and it’s an extremely practical feature. We carry our phones on our bodies wherever we go, and they should be able to stand up to all the elements we face in the wild. With the Galaxy S5, this is finally a reality. The only downside to this feature is that there is a small cover over the USB charging port, which I quickly got used to, but I still fear that it may break off due to its flimsy connection.
Finally, the camera on the Samsung Galaxy S5 is incredibly sharp. The 16-megapixel shooter comes with seriously fast auto-focus, and a really nice flash. When turned on, face detection works well, and there are a number of fun video modes to play around with. With almost 40 settings and modes for the camera, however, it can be a little overwhelming. I choose to take my photos on auto, and leave the editing up to an app like VSCO Cam or Google’s fantastic photos app built into Google+.
The Bad of the Samsung Galaxy S5
The Samsung Galaxy S5 includes a brand-new fingerprint reader that allows users to unlock their phone and authenticate purchases using PayPal (not yet in Canada). While the feature is exciting in concept, it falls extremely short of Apple’s iPhone 5S integration at first use. The reader requires a downward swipe, which is quite difficult to perform on such a large device, and often causes the phone to wobble out of my grasp. It seems Apple put forethought and planning into their fingerprint reader, requiring the regular press on the home button – a motion that has been part of every iPhone user’s routine since day 1. The Samsung reader feels like a cheap imitation, failing so often to read my fingerprint that I’ve disabled the feature completely, replacing it with a pattern lock.
With the rise of fitness bands such as the Fitbit Flex, or Jawbone, Samsung decided to include a heart rate monitor into the back of the Galaxy S5. In theory, this is a great way for athletes to track their progress of lowering their heart rate over time using the S Health app, but in reality, its implementation is quite impractical. The heart rate monitor on the Galaxy S5 might please a small percentage of users, but taking one’s heart rate requires the user to be still and refrain from talking for about a 30-second period. It should come as no surprise that people measure their heart rate while engaging in rigorous physical activity. Forcing users to stop what they’re doing is another way that Samsung’s features are more of a hindrance than a help. To work well, the reader should match the current behaviour of users, not require them to change. Samsung seems to understand this somewhat, because their new second generation Galaxy Smartwatches can record a heart rate during exercise.
My first two gripes with the Samsung Galaxy S5 are avoidable, and that’s good news, but the amount of bloatware Samsung installs on the phone is both a major obstacle when using the phone, and very hard to ignore. Samsung opts to ditch stock Android for their own launcher called TouchWiz. Immediately, I was not a fan of TouchWiz’s large icons, limited customizability, and childish colours. In fact, the launcher was unintuitive, making it hard to navigate the phone at first use. Samsung seems to understand this, and have included both a TouchWiz Easy launcher made to simplify the experience, in addition to an even simpler Kids Mode launcher. Simplicity in design is a beautiful, yet difficult to achieve principle that when mastered, makes a device both intuitive and enjoyable to use. Samsung has failed on both these factors, and it should be clear from the fact that Samsung bundled three launchers with the phone. I do not expect the average Android user to know what a launcher is, let alone how to switch it, and Samsung oversaw this when designing their phone experience.
The bloatware continues when users discover that Samsung felt the need to include their own custom versions of Google apps that are already included on the phone. Two calendar apps, two camera apps, two internet browsers, two contacts apps, two email apps, two gallery apps, two search apps, two SMS apps, two music apps, two translator apps, two TV remote control apps, and even two app stores come with the Samsung Galaxy S5. I can’t even begin to explain what a poor user experience this causes, even for a very tech-savvy person like myself. In most cases, Samsung’s own apps fail to add anything over the stock Google experience, leading to user confusion over which app they’re meant to use for simple tasks like sending a text message. To add insult to injury, Samsung’s overcomplicated settings menus present users with an overwhelming amount of features they’re likely to only use once in a blue moon.
In a world where phone hardware and specs can be quickly matched by competitors, the true differentiator of mobile devices is their software. With the Samsung Galaxy S5, the software falls extremely short and from experience, Google’s stock version of Android is more user-friendly, visually appealing, and intuitive. When I bought the Galaxy S5 from my local wireless store, the employees raved about Samsung’s Android lineup, and were confused as to why a techie like me would opt for a Moto X as their device of choice. In all honestly, I think these people are buying into the hype that surrounds Samsung and their $14 billion marketing spend.
I’ve never had a phone as perfect for me as the Moto X – from the curved fit in my hand, to the touchless controls I used almost hourly. For this reason, I encourage people to go out and try different devices. Decide for yourself what works. I think Samsung overcomplicates the Android experience, and for that reason, I’m likely switching back to Motorola for my next Android phone.