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Galaxy S5 deep-dive review: Long on hype, short on delivery

JR Raphael | April 21, 2014
Samsung's Galaxy S5 Android phone follows a very popular predecessor, but the latest version doesn't stand out in a sea of thoughtfully designed competitors.

Odds are, you've heard of Samsung's Galaxy phones. How could you not? The company spends billions marketing its brand and making sure it's as synonymous with smartphones as Domino's is with pizza.

Samsung Galaxy S5

But advertising alone isn't a reason to buy a mobile device (or a pizza, for that matter); beyond all the carefully crafted hype, what really matters is what the product is like to use in the real world. And by that measure, Samsung's Galaxy line isn't very far ahead of the competition. In fact, in many ways, the company's products are falling increasingly behind.

I've been living with Samsung's latest device, the Galaxy S5, for the past several days. The phone is available now for $200 with two-year contracts from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon or for $660 spread out over a two-year payment plan from T-Mobile.

So is the Galaxy S5 the right device for you? Read on, and let's find out.

Getting to know the Galaxy S5

If you've seen any of Samsung's past Galaxy S phones, you've pretty much seen the Galaxy S5. The device follows the same basic aesthetic as its predecessor, which results in a phone that comes across as rather chintzy, particularly compared to the premium build of a handset like the recent HTC One (M8).

Like last year's Galaxy S4, the GS5 has a faux-metal plastic trim around its edges and a thin plastic panel on its back. The back panel now has a matte finish with tiny dots all over it — evidently the key to a "modern glam" look, according to Samsung's marketing. Wedge your fingernail in the right place and you can peel the panel off to reveal the phone's battery compartment. All in all, the phone's design revolves around basic functionality and lacks the attention to detail and quality of construction other smartphones possess.

You can peel the back panel off to reveal the phone's battery compartment.

At 5.6 x 2.9 x 0.32 in. and 5.1 oz., the Galaxy S5 is meaningfully bigger than its predecessor — almost a quarter of an inch taller, a bit wider and half an ounce heavier. Consequently, the phone feels surprisingly bulky for its class; it's almost as tall as the One (M8) and a touch wider, too, despite not having the front-facing stereo speakers that take up a significant part of the One's surface.

I wouldn't go as far as to say the GS5 is unmanageable, but it's definitely pushing the limits of comfortable ergonomics — especially for one-handed use. The bump up in size actually feels like a bit of a regression, with no new benefit as a result of the added heft.


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