If you’re looking for an Android phone that works well in just about every situation, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is your best bet.
The device received largely positive reviews when it was released in April, but has since been overshadowed by bigger, faster, flashier, metal-ler handsets, even from Samsung itself. The Korean OEM admitted that user acceptance of the Galaxy S5 was undermined by its utilitarian design and, despite the addition of a fingerprint sensor and heart rate monitor, a lack of key differentiating features.
Earlier this month, Samsung said that the Galaxy S5 was not meeting its sales expectations, selling 40% fewer units than its predecessor over the same period. And yet, months later, the Galaxy S5 is still the workhorse Samsung built it to be, and still a great smartphone.
First, it’s the right size. I test a lot of smartphones, and the trend towards larger displays is one I fundamentally disagree with. In fact, the GS5 is on the larger side of the one-handed use spectrum — pulling the notification bar without adjusting the device in your hand is still a stretch, but a comfortable one — but it’s a good size for most people. The 1080p AMOLED display is sharp, bright and colourful, with excellent viewing angles and resposiveness. Other manufacturers, Samsung included, have upgraded to QHD but there are few tangible benefits from further increasing density beyond the GS5’s 430-ish DPI.
It’s also made of the right material to withstand everyday wear and tear. iPhones are pretty, but scratch easily; Xperias are lovely, but shatter. The Galaxy’s chrome plastic sides may be egregiously cheap-feeling, but over the past few months no smartphone in my repertoire has held up as well to daily case-less abuse as the Galaxy S5. And say what you will about the Band-Aid back cover but it provides just the right amount of grip while repelling fingerprints and stains.
The plastic construction also made it easier (and likely cheaper) for Samsung to add water resistance to the Galaxy S5. With its USB port flap closed and back cover secure, the Galaxy S5 can be immersed in water up to one metre for 30 minutes, something of which few flagships can boast. While some may decry the addition of a port tab as inconvenient, it has been outweighed by the comfort I’ve felt being able to use my device safely in inclement weather. In this case, it’s the little things.
Its 16MP camera is consistently great, capturing high-detail photos in almost any light — almost. Autofocus is fast and consistent, and despite the 16:9 sensor I often felt comfortable leaving the house with just the phone and no additional camera gear. There are few other smartphones I can say that about. Battery, too, lasts well into the evening, and that it is removable means extending its life is as easy as buying a second cell. I haven’t had to do that, but frequent travellers will find comfort in that.
Moreover, the Galaxy S5, like all Galaxys before it, is the first to be certified for non-software enterprises. Want to use the latest mobile payment solution, like Suretap Wallet or UGO Wallet? Buy a Galaxy. Want a Mophie juice pack battery case for your Android? Buy a Galaxy. Want solid Bluetooth support with all the latest wireless speakers? Buy a Galaxy. Because of the brand’s proliferation, third-party support is almost assured across every vertical, making the Galaxy a more likely candidate than, say, an HTC or LG device, for continued patronage. It’s a circle of care that’s no other manufacturer has been able to interrupt.
As I found myself testing the Gear S smartwatch and UGO Wallet mobile payment system this week, I found the Galaxy S5 was the only current device on the market that supports both. The more I used the smartphone, I realized that apps tend to run faster, load more quickly, and generally work with more stability than on most other flagships, likely because most Android dev houses can only afford to buy two, maybe three devices — one a Nexus, the other a recent Galaxy.
Galaxy devices also have a wide range of accessories, charging docks, cases and low-cost screen covers that are more difficult to find on other Android smartphones. While big names like Otterbox and Incipio may stock just one or two models for the LG G3, they have dozens for the Galaxy S5. It’s a virtuous cycle perpetuated by Samsung’s brand recognition.
The Galaxy S5 has its flaws, and its successor is unlikely to resemble its plain plastic frame, but the device does so much well that it’s hard to pinpoint a single advantage over more recent competitors. That’s the problem — it’s boring — but being boring doesn’t make it bad. Being boring means that it will get the job done, day in, day out, which is what you want in a smartphone, really. In many ways, Samsung fixed most of the GS5’s aesthetic issues with the Alpha, but I’d rather take a water-resistant, mobile payment-friendly, big battery-sporting plastic phone over one with a splash of metal.