Samsung Galaxy S5 Hands-On: Fingerprint Scanning Flagship Does Just Enough

By Gerald Lynch on at

Upgrading in just a few key areas, and following in the iPhone's footsteps with the inclusion of a fingerprint scanner, the Samsung Galaxy S5 doesn't immediately impress. But that's not to say it isn't a good phone. Quite the opposite -- my brief play with the handset leads me to believe it may be their best yet, despite a few flaws.

What struck me immediately was just how gorgeous the Full HD Super AMOLED display remains. At 5.1 inches in size, it's actually less sharp than that of the S4. But to my eyes it looks brighter and more colourful -- even if the resolution isn't higher, the technology underpinning the display seems improved.

The handset itself looks more like a Note 3 than a Galaxy S4. Its textured back is coloured, with chrome edging. While it lacks the premium feel of the HTC One or aluminium iPhone editions, it's a more solid construction than I've come to expect from Galaxy handsets. It's also now waterproof to an IP67 rating, making it good for 1-metre dunking for 30 minutes. That's despite featuring a removable cover, letting you swap a battery if you so desire.

As with the rest of the phone, the TouchWiz UI is refined, not revolutionised. Icons are now circular in many places, such as the settings bar for instance (which itself now includes links to Samsung's S Finder -- Samsung's answer to Google search -- and Quick Connect for DLNA settings). It's overall a cleaner interface, aside from an overly-busy settings menu.

A quick look then at the hard specs -- there's 2.5GHz quad-core application processor zipping away under the hood, backed by 2GB of RAM, a 16MP camera on the rear, and Android 4.4.2 KitKat running underneath Samsung's own personalisations. A 2,800 mAh battery is claimed to give 21 hours of talk time, while 16GB and 32GB storage options will be available (expandable through microSD. LTE connectivity is also supported globally.

All quite familiar. Arguably the greatest addition then is the fingerprint scanner. While I was unable to test it myself, I had to watch a Samsung rep attempt several swipes across it before his finger would register. Built into the screen rather than a separate sensor -- as in the iPhone 5S --, it also means that your device has to be awake before it can be activated. While it may eventually prove useful thanks to its PayPal integration, it won't help you get inside your phone any quicker.

More impressive then is the camera. Incredibly fast, it snapped photos at a rate of one every 0.3 seconds in its burst mode, and did so with definition from my brief test. Selective focus (blurring the background and leaving the subject in focus) proved a bit hit or miss though, only managing to pick up my preferred focus point with every other shot.

With the S5 launching alongside the Galaxy Gear Fit fitness band, there's a greater emphasis on sports and health monitoring on the Galaxy S5 than on previous models in the line. Placed just under the camera sensor is a heart rate monitor, and placing my finger across it saw it accurately pick up my pulse. It ties into the Health 3.0 app, which lets you keep a track of your fitness regime and (hopefully!) improving performances. How useful it will be remains to be seen however -- for an accurate, constant reading, surely you'd need to be holding the sensor whilst exercising? That doesn't sound practical.

It's a mixed bag then, but there's nothing disappointing here. High-end smartphone fatigue can make us jaded. I'd rather see refinements than needless feature bloating, and for the most part Samsung has achieved that here. The screen is better; the phone is speedy; the UI is clear and well defined. It may not be a game changer but hey; everyone loves a fingerprint scanner, right?