Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Cameras

The rear camera has a decent 16Mp sensor (3Mp more than the Galaxy S4) and it has a few new features to boot. Super-fast auto focus means you can take a photo in 0.3 seconds, according to Samsung. We can't time this precisely but it does seem to be very nippy indeed. The problem is that the camera app takes a good few seconds to load in the first place – strange considering this is in no way a slow phone. Rivals all manage to start up their camera apps quicker, so you may well miss the moment when whipping out your S5.

A selective focus mode allows you to choose from three different focal points after you've taken a photo – near, far and pan. This is fun to play around with but is hit and miss – HTC's Duo Camera takes this a step further with the ability to focus anywhere on the image.

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera

Image quality from the 16Mp sensor is good, and the extra resolution compared to the myriad of 8Mp smartphone cameras is certainly noticeable once you start cropping photos. In other words, you shouldn’t be left with a blurry, blocky mess.

Photos are generally nice and sharp, and the 0.3 second claimed focusing speed seems to make a difference when trying to capture the moment. We did end up with a few blurry shots, but if you take your time and hold the phone still, you can get great results.

Here's an automatic shot, which has been cropped down to 1500 pixels wide (click to view this larger version):

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera test - St Pancras

Here's the same scene but with HDR enabled - it makes a big difference:

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera test HDR - St Pancras

Here's a 100 percent crop of the above image, showing the level of detail you can expect:

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera test 100 percent crop

Videos are also decent. We haven’t tested the 4K mode yet, but Full HD videos were sharp and fairly detailed. Some people might say footage is over-sharpened and over-saturated, but we think it looks good: (don't forget to watch full screen, and select 1080p resolution)

You can use the HDR mode in both photos and videos, and results are good. It’s nice that the live preview shows what a photo will look like in HDR mode instead of having to review the shot after taking it.

Overall, the S5’s camera is impressive and certainly one of the best available on a smartphone.

At the front is a 2Mp camera which provides a clear and detailed picture for selfies and video calling. It can record video in up to 1080p resolution.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Software

At first glance and going by the main homescreen, Samsung hasn't done much to the software despite it being Android 4.4 KitKat. However, things have tweaked here and there. Round icons grace the drop down notification bar and settings menu which by the way is huge but you can hide and expand each section. See also: Samsung Galaxy S5: new features and software.

As we mentioned earlier, the notification bar has an optional brightness slider and you can customise which quick settings are displayed. You can also switch on app recommendations which will suggest apps when you, for example, plug headphones in.

Samsung Galaxy S5 KitKat software

It's nice to see only a small amount of pre-loaded apps with Dropbox and Flipboard making up the only non-Google or Samsung apps.

Similar to HTC's BlinkFeed, Samsung's Magazine interface is placed to the left of the main homescreen and gives an aggregated personalised news feed – you can choose which news subjects and social networks are included. We prefer BlinkFeed but if you don't like this kind of feature then luckily you can switch it off in the homescreen settings.

New features include a Kid's mode which allows the own to restrict the content and play time of a younger users. The interface is fun, colourful and the child can't exit back to the main phone without knowing the PIN number.

There's also a private mode which we mentioned earlier when talking about the fingerprint scanner. This allows you to, surprisingly, store private content such as photos and videos which you don't want anyone to be able to access.

Samsung Galaxy S5 TouchWiz

Despite having KitKat, the lock screen is frustratingly simple. You can only launch the camera app and optionally view additional information in the form of weather and pedometer. This means the Galaxy S5 says no to adding lockscreen widgets and accessing the notification bar if you're using the fingerprint scanner.

While Samsung's TouchWiz interface has got better, it's still a bit too busy for our liking and doesn't match up to HTC's Sense in the style stakes. Sections such as the messaging and contact look dated, too.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Battery life

Samsung continues to offer a removable battery which will please some users and the battery capacity has increased compared to the Galaxy S4. It's now a 2,800mAh battery inside and although that's certainly not the biggest we've seen, it's about how you use and manage that power which matters.

Samsung Galaxy S5 battery life

We're impressed with the battery life of the Galaxy S5. After a full working day or regular use and testing we've got a little over two thirds of the battery remaining. The smartphone should last most users two days which is a good result even if we do want more from battery technology.

The Galaxy S5 has an Ultra Power Saving mode which helps to avoid the handset dying and stretches the battery life. When the battery level hits a low percentage this will kick in, switching the screen into a greyscale interface and switching off all unnecessary functions, leaving you with just the basics like SMS messaging and calls. Samsung says that in this mode, the Galaxy S5 can last for 24 hours in standby on 10 percent. At 80 percent the Galaxy S5 suggests that it will be able to continue on for a whopping 10 days – it's like getting into a time machine back to the 90s.

Samsung Galaxy S5 ultra power saving mode

The ultra power saving mode takes a bit of time to launch and exit but it works very well. You can add apps to use while in it, even things like Twitter are supported. We used the Galaxy S5 in ultra power saving mode for an entire weekend and only used around 10 percent of battery – impressive stuff.

Specs

Samsung Galaxy S5: Specs

  • Display: 5.1 inch Full HD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) display, 432 ppi
  • Processor: 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
  • GPU: Adreno 330
  • OS: Android 4.4.2 (KitKat) with TouchWiz
  • Camera: Main (Rear): 16 Mega pixel phase detection autofocus with LED flash, up to 4K video
  • Sub (Front): 2 Mega pixel camera, Full HD recording @30fps
  • Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (MIMO), GPS/GLONASS, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 (LE), Infrared (Remote Control), 4G LTE (Cat 4)
  • Memory: 16/32GB internal, microSD slot (up to 128GB), 2GB RAM
  • Dimension: 73 x 142 x 8.1 mm, 145g
  • Battery: 2,800 mAh removable

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