Samsung's Galaxy S5 launches on April 11, kicking off the next round of the Korean smartphone maker's fight to stay on top of the mobile market. But while past models in the Galaxy S line have aimed to show off cutting-edge features to set up Samsung, the S5's message seems to be: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
And the Galaxy S5 is a good phone. It earns an unreserved recommendation. But the truth of the matter is that there's really nothing here that's worth of breaking your contract to buy.
It's a bit unfair to ding the Galaxy S5 for not being exciting, especially since Samsung has done a commendable job smoothing out some of the rougher edges of the Galaxy S4 -- a phone, which, if anything, suffered a bit from having so many features that they bordered on gimmicks.
But in terms of gee-whiz features, the only really notable one on the Galaxy S5 is that it's water resistant. That means you can use it in a rainstorm, or maybe even at the beach, though maybe not for scuba-diving. Yes, we've seen other waterproof phones before from Sony and even from Samsung itself. But it's notable that we're now seeing the feature in mainstream phones as a more standard feature, rather than in a separate model.
And it works. As long as you keep the flap on the power port closed and make sure the back cover is snapped tight, your phone should be good for short stints in the water -- even when fully submerged.
For something like that, seeing is believing, so here you go:
I've dropped the Galaxy S5 in a vase of water probably more than two dozen times over the course of this review, in an effort to simulate how long it might take someone to fish a dropped phone out of the sink, out of a bathtub or, yes, out of a toilet. I still haven't been electrocuted. And, each time, it's proceeded on with barely a hitch, even continuing to play Netflix video while submerged. (We picked "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" for that honor. It seemed appropriate.)
Being a little bit boring is not necessarily a bad thing. To its credit, the S5 is a more coherent, sensible package than the S4. The 5.1-inch screen is a slight bump up from the S4, which was 5 inches, and has a beautiful display. The phone is very fast, and handles apps that demand a lot of processing power without a hitch. It also includes improvements to its camera and its battery life -- promising up to 24 hours of life on standby mode. All those features from the S4 that seemed silly, such as the eye-tracking scrolling, are still available in the phone, but buried deeper within the menus for the Samsung faithful who want to use them.
The phone also has a heartrate monitor built into the back, to complement the "S Health" features such as pedometer software that Samsung has built into its most recent smartphones. A fingerprint scanner on the device lets you unlock your phone with your digits, and you can even pay for things using your fingerprint as authentication via PayPal. The scanner doesn't work all the time -- you have to glide your finger over the home button to get a reading -- but Samsung does offer the option of a backup password, just in case.
Even the new design, while still an all-plastic affair, is an improvement over past models. The phone is light but doesn't feel flimsy, though it can't compete with the tactile feeling of quality you get from an iPhone 5s or HTC One M8. The textured back does still put one in mind of an adhesive bandage -- especially in gold -- yet still feels nice to the touch.
It also has a couple of features that put it ahead of the competition. For one, it has a removable battery, which is important for folks who want to be able to carry a spare to swap in when necessary, and something neither Apple nor HTC offers in their flagship models. Samsung, like most other Android phone makers, also offers the option for expandable memory with an SD slot that will take a card up to 128 GB.
In short, it's not a flashy phone. It's not a head-turner. The S5's fingerprint scanner could use some work. But feature for feature, it's a phone that can compete with any other on the market -- and shows what Samsung can do with a little control. All of those features add up to a stellar phone, and certainly one worth looking at if you're in line for an upgrade.
Correction: An earlier version of this article originally stated the Galaxy S5 supports an SD card up to 128 MB, but it actually supports a card up to 128 GB. We regret the error.