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Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Are there any alternatives in 2019?

Galaxy S5 hero image
Our Rating :
£65.00 from
Price when reviewed : £560
inc VAT

Powerful, with a fantastic camera and incredible battery life, the Samsung Galaxy S5 was a superb smartphone flagship

The Galaxy S5 was first released in February 2014 and was a once great flagship choice. Despite its plastic chassis, the smartphone had a powerful processor for the time and a brilliant screen – but alas, the Galaxy S5 is no more.

That’s right, Samsung’s venerable flagship is now five years old and, of course, you can’t buy it anymore. You might be able to find one on eBay for less than £100, but there are some far finer alternatives you should be considering instead. For that price, you can pick up an excellent Honor 7A or, if you’re willing to spend a little more, the Moto G7 is also a solid choice.

Alternatively, if you’re craving the latest and greatest flagship, the Galaxy S10 is front and centre on shop shelves, although you’ll be expected to pay at least £799 for the privilege.

Our original Galaxy S5 review continues below.

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Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Design

The Galaxy S5 is best seen as a refinement of the Galaxy S4, as both share a very similar outward appearance. The S5 has slightly bolder curves than the S4’s flowing corners, but sat side-by-side they look almost identical. A metal effect bezel surrounds both handsets, although the dimpled, rubberised rear cover on the S5 feels classier than the S4’s glossy finish.

It looks sleek, and at 8.1mm thick it’s also very thin, but we can’t help feel a little disappointed that Samsung has stuck with an all-plastic construction. Now that the almost entirely metal HTC One (m8) is on sale, the Galaxy S5 feels a little cheap by comparison. On the plus side, the Galaxy S5 is now IP67 water- and dust-resistant, meaning it is completely protected against the effects of dust and can survive a dunking in up to 1m of water. This should hopefully put an end to dead handsets after dropping them into drinks, toilets or puddles, and gives Sony’s Xperia Z2 one less killer feature to draw away potential customers. You won’t be able to take underwater photos using the touchscreen, as it can’t detect any inputs when under water, but you can use the volume key as a physical shutter button instead.

Samsung Galaxy S5 home screen 2

Unfortunately, in making the phone IP67 compliant, Samsung has been forced to add a flap over the USB port to protect it from water damage. It can be a little fiddly to remove for charging, and is held in place with a piece of rubberised plastic; should that snap off the phone would lose its weatherproof abilities. The port itself uses the faster USB3 standard, but Samsung bafflingly doesn’t include a USB3 cable in the box. That means you’re stuck transferring data from a PC or Mac at USB2 speeds until you buy the right cable, which costs a few pounds.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Display

The Galaxy S5 has a 5.1in display, meaning Samsung has increased the screen size of its flagship smartphone for the fourth time in a row. It might only be slightly larger than the Galaxy S4’s 4.99in screen, but because both use the same 1,920×1,080 Full HD resolution it means the newer phone actually has a lower pixel density: 432ppi versus the S4’s 441. In practice, however, there’s no visible reduction in sharpness or clarity, and it’s still impossible to see individual pixels with the naked eye.

Samsung’s OLED screens have long been a highlight of its phones and the S5 is no exception; the AMOLED panel covers a phenomenal 99.9% of the sRGB colour gamut and produced incredibly deep black levels of 0.0128cd/m2 – among the best of all the smartphones we’ve tested. Essentially, black images are truly black, rather than being washed out by a backlight.

Although peak brightness doesn’t appear to be as high as other smartphones, producing 339.4cd/m2 when displaying an entirely white screen, it is still more than bright enough to see clearly in bright sunlight. Viewing angles were excellent and the Full HD resolution makes text and images look pin-sharp. Even with Samsung’s PenTile pixel structure technically having fewer sub-pixels than the HTC One (m8)’s LCD display, there was barely anything to separate the two screens. It might now have been usurped by LG’s QHD resolution G3 in terms of raw pixels, but unless you hold the two side-by-side the Galaxy S5 still looks pin-sharp for reading text or looking at photos.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Camera

The Galaxy S5 is the first smartphone to use Samsung’s ISOCELL image sensor, which according to the company can produce clearer, more detailed images than competing sensors by preventing light leakage between the individual pixels that make up the sensor. That sounds like a good idea as there’s a huge 16 million pixels packed onto the relatively tiny 1/2.6in sensor. In terms of raw size, the sensor is bigger than the HTC One (m8)’s 1/3in chip, but then that sensor only has 4 million pixels, in order to reduce noise and improve low-light shooting.

The S5 took impressively detailed images with natural colours and even exposure; a notable achievement for a smartphone, as most of the others we’ve tested struggle with over-exposure as soon as a bright light source is introduced. When you inspect images closely it’s possible to make out a fair amount of noise, particularly in landscape shots and when shooting objects in the distance, but generally it’s unnoticeable and certainly won’t impact Facebook or Twitter uploads. Despite Samsung’s claim that focus times have improved to below 0.3 seconds, we still found that a few of our shots were blurry – a sign we’d pressed the shutter before the sensor had locked focus on our subject.

Samsung Galaxy S5 outdoor Auto

Things improve further when you enable the High Dynamic range (HDR) mode. It evens out images, finds detail in grey skies and produces lifelike colours. Even better, the HDR effect is rather subtle – unlike the overblown HDR seen on the HTC One (m8).

Samsung Galaxy S5 outdoor HDR

It can even mimic the HTC One (m8)’s crowning feature; refocusing your images after you’ve pressed the shutter. It does so using software, so it isn’t quite as fast, and you only get two points of focus to choose from, but the overall effect is impressive. You have to remember to enable the feature, however, as it’s not turned on by default. Luckily the overhauled interface lets you pin two shooting modes as shortcuts, saving you a trip into the menus and letting you enable HDR or selective focus with a single tap.

Galaxy S5 near focus

Galaxy S5 far focus

The S5 coped equally well indoors and in low-light, thanks in part to a bright LED flash. Again, colours were vibrant and detail was exceptional given the lighting, so it should be able to handle any nightclub or dingy pub but still clearly capture your friends. Unsurprisingly noise levels jump up as soon as light begins to drop, so the flash becomes more crucial for very low-light shooting. It only uses a single LED, rather than the HTC One (m8)’s True Tone dual-flash, so colours can appear less true to life, but only marginally so.

The S5 is also capable of recording 3,840×2,160 4K resolution video, though at present we can’t see many people making use of this, as 4K TVs are still thin on the ground. Still, the increased quality is visible in good lighting conditions and it’s useful to be able to future-proof your video clips somewhat.


With Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 801 chipset on-board, the Galaxy S5 certainly isn’t left wanting for speed; it runs at a massive 2.5GHz and is paired with 2GB of RAM, helping it achieve some of the fastest benchmark scores we’ve ever seen from an Android smartphone. 391ms in the SunSpider JavaScript test is on par with some laptop PCs, and despite using a heavily customised interface Android felt snappy and responsive. We could open apps, switch between games and play Full HD video without experiencing any slowdown. The only exceptions were some of Samsung’s custom apps, including the photo gallery, which often took a few seconds to open once we’d filled the phone with photos.

The Adreno 330 graphics chip is also amongst the fastest silicon Qualcomm has to offer, and is easily capable of playing any current games in the Play Store smoothly. We could play demanding titles like Real Racing 3 smoothly and scored 57.3fps in the Unreal Engine-powered Epic Citadel. The HTC One (m8) only scored very slightly higher because its onscreen menu buttons mean it has to render fewer pixels, meaning the Galaxy S5 is among the fastest Android smartphones available today.

Depending on the model you’ll get 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, with even less actually available to customers after Android has taken its share, though Samsung has thankfully included a microSD card slot for adding extra capacity later. The Galaxy S5 supports the newest 128GB microSD cards, so you shouldn’t ever run out of space for your photos, music or videos, although you’re limited to which apps can edit or delete your files because of the new permissions changes made to Android 4.4.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Battery

With such huge power reserves on tap, we expected the Galaxy S5 to suffer in terms of battery life – even with its huge 2,800mAh battery. Thankfully, the energy efficient Qualcomm chip helped the handset reach a best-ever score of 17 hours and 30 minutes in our continuous video rundown test. Compared to the outgoing model, which lasted ten hours 43 minutes in the same test, the S5 should easily last you an entire day of moderate-to-heavy use – even with liberal use of 3G or 4G and that gorgeous screen.

If you’re worried about running out of power, the new Ultra Power Saving mode can help reign in the processor and screen. It limits the CPU frequency, disables all non-essential services, along with Bluetooth and NFC, then turns the screen to greyscale in order to save as much power as possible. Samsung says you can last up to 24 hours when down to 10% battery, and we’ve routinely gone whole evenings on 5% – giving us enough juice to get home and top up before waking up the next day.

Samsung Galaxy S5 battery

There have been many complaints about the update to Android 5 ruining the battery life, but this isn’t something we’ve encountered with a UK build of Samsung’s take on Lollipop. Even with a phone that’s a year old, with the corresponding degradation in battery life, we’re still seeing a day and a half of life from the Android 5 Lollipop-equipped Galaxy S5.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Fingerprint sensor

Samsung has opted to stick with physical buttons rather than switch to on-screen ones, but swapping the menu key for the standard multitasking shortcut is bound to confuse anyone coming from a Samsung Galaxy S3 or S4. In doing so, however, the company has left room for a major new hardware addition: the home button now doubles as a fingerprint sensor, beefing up security and doing away with the need for passwords.

With the S5, your fingerprint can be used to unlock the device, log in to your Samsung account (used for most of Samsung’s pre-installed apps), and to pay for Paypal purchases once you download a companion app. You can also protect files and folders with a fingerprint, keeping them safe in the ‘Private’ section of the phone. It works exceptionally well, requiring a swipe downwards rather than a prolonged press like the TouchID sensor found in Apple’s iPhone 5s. Both phones unlock in less than a second, although we had more luck with the Galaxy S5 if our hands were a little wet; with the iPhone we had to dry our hands thoroughly for it to work.

It can memorise up to three digits, so you can save the fingers that suit your preferred grip style; our left-handed reviewer saved his left thumb and index, along with his right index so the phone could be unlocked in either hand.

Samsung will eventually be enabling access to the fingerprint login APIs for third-party app developers. Right now it’s more novelty than necessity, even if we loathe to return to typing in our passwords when our review unit goes back, but it has more potential than Apple’s closed TouchID system if developers get behind it.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Heart rate sensor

Samsung started its fitness focus last year with S Health on the Galaxy S4. The app has since become a staple of its Android smartphones, tracking steps using the accelerometer, counting calories with an interactive food diary and helping you keep up to date on your exercise regime. The S5 takes this a step further with a heart rate monitor built into the back of the phone. The heart rate sensor is light-based, using a beam of high-intensity red light to measure your pulse through your fingertip.

It takes a few seconds to get a reading through a dedicated section in the S Health app. If you hold your finger too tightly, too lightly, or not quite in the right place, however, the sensor fails to get a reading.

Although it works as advertised, we aren’t sure that the heart rate sensor is the killer feature to buy a Galaxy S5 for. Currently, it only works with the S Health app and provides a one-time reading, rather than continuous updates like the pedometer. If you’re incredibly health conscious it could prove useful, but it also becomes redundant if you invest in Samsung’s new wearables which have their own integrated HRMs.

Samsung Galaxy S5

Fitness is such an integral part of the Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo and Gear Fit wearables that it’s silly not to keep them in mind when reviewing the Galaxy S5. Samsung clearly designed the two to be paired together, even if they do add around £200 to the cost of the phone. They put notifications, music playback controls, a pedometer and heart rate sensor on your wrist, and work flawlessly with the phone – unlike the collection of third party smartwatches and fitness bands available elsewhere.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Verdict

Even though it’s been replaced several times now, the Galaxy S5 is still quite a phone. Now, at less than £150 SIM-free, it’s an awful lot of handset for the price – especially if the Gear 2, Gear Fit or heartbeat sensor are of particular interest to you. It faces some pretty stiff competition from other, more modern handsets, such as the OnePlus 2 and S5 Neo, but if the idea of a microSD card slot and a user removable battery appeals, then the S5 is still one of the better choices currently available. For more recommendations, check out our Best Smartphones guide.


ProcessorQuad-core 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Screen size5.1in
Screen resolution1,920×1,080
Screen typeAMOLED
Front camera2-megapixel
Rear camera16-megapixel
Memory card slot (supplied)MicroSD
BluetoothBluetooth 4.0
Wireless data4G
Size142×72.5×8.1 mm


Operating systemAndroid 5.0 (Lollipop)
Battery size2,800mAh

Buying Information

WarrantyOne-year RTB
Part codeSM-G900F

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