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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.

The Galaxy S5's camera interface is rather cluttered and confusing compared to what's present on other phones, but it does have a decent array of shooting modes and options available for those who want them — including a burst mode, where you can hold down the shutter icon to capture multiple images in a rapid-fire style, and an HDR mode that can help improve the look of outdoor shots.

The phone also has a new Selective Focus mode that aims to emulate the type of background-blurring effect provided by the One (M8)'s dual camera setup. Here, though, you have to think ahead and enable the mode in advance for it to work — and even then, it's unreliable. I tried using it in numerous shots where an object was clearly in the foreground and the phone was rarely able to detect the object and process the image properly.

The Galaxy S5 can capture both 1080p and 4K-quality video. It offers several options for improving the quality of your videos, too, including a video stabilization setting and a video-specific HDR mode.

The GS5's front-facing camera, meanwhile, can capture 1080p-quality HD video along with 2-megapixel photos.

The software

The Galaxy S5 runs a new version of Samsung's custom TouchWiz software, which is based on Google's Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system.

The menu is so complex that the only reasonable way to find what you need is to use the newly implemented search function.

While early speculation suggested Samsung might scale back and simplify its software with the GS5, the actual evolution is far less dramatic than many were anticipating. There are changes here and there, most notably within Samsung's suite of preloaded apps, but overall, the software is the same garish mishmash of conflicting styles and overwhelming elements we've grown accustomed to seeing from the company. As I opined in an editorial earlier this week, focus, taste and restraint just don't seem to be in Samsung's DNA.

The GS5's revamped settings section pretty much says it all: Samsung has created an interface that's so visually overwhelming, it's almost comical. The menu is so complex that the only reasonable way to find what you need is to use the newly implemented search function. (Hint: If your settings are complicated enough that you need a search function for users to be able to navigate them, you might be doing something wrong.)

Ironically, Samsung's marketing tagline for the Galaxy S5 is "back to the basics." In reality, the only thing basic about the GS5's software is the fact that not many new circus tricks have been added into the mix. Most of the old, rather silly stuff — wave here to do this, roll your eyes four times to do that and so forth — is still there, as are many of the superfluous Samsung services like S Voice, the Samsung app store and the Samsung Web browser.


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