Samsung Galaxy S5 – The Good, The Bad, And The Annoying


Samsung’s Galaxy S5 (Fig. 1) has been out for a while. I know because I was one of those on the waiting list. It was definitely worth the wait. The S5 has its good points but that is not the whole story.

The Good

Being a spec junkie, the S5’s features were some of the first things I checked out.

The Galaxy S5’s good points are its main features including the 2.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801. The 28 nm chip has a quad core Krait 400 CPU. This is Qualcomm’s own design that is comparable to the ARM Cortex-A15. It is paired with Qualcomm’s Adreno 330 GPU and a Hexagon DSP. It has 2 Gbytes of RAM. Mine was the 16 Gbyte flash model.  

The Snapdragon 801 has other features that are needed in today’s smartphone market like USB 3.0 support. It makes data transfers fast but, more important to me, it makes charging a lot quicker (see “USB 3.0: A Tale Of Two Buses”). It also has all the built-in peripherals to deliver the two features like a 2.1 Mpixel front camera and a rear camera that can do record 4K UltraHD video or 16 Mpixel stills. The cameras do a great job especially compared to my old Droid Razr.

The Galayx S5’s 5.1 screen is another reason I went with it. It has an HD resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. The Super AMOLED screen has some interesting features. In particular, it can run in a greyscale mode that uses significantly less power. There are essentially three modes the system can run in. The normal mode is the usual color mode. The greyscale mode can be used in two other modes. One is provided by default and it not only limits the screen performance but also limits the number of applications that will run. The other mode is one you can configure yourself that changes the display mode but lets you run any application.

The OLED screen emits its own light unlike conventional LCD displays that are reflective or backlit. The super dim mode that the S5 can use emits only 2 cd/in2 with a corresponding reduction in power utilization. The display also works better than most in high light situations such as sunlight. The phone has automatic brightness and contrast adjustments that can crank up the brightness to 698 cd/in2 when necessary.

Displaymate did an impressive comparison of the Galaxy S5’s display. Check it out for the details.

The Galaxy S5 has a plastic case but it feels nice in the hand and is relatively rugged. Still, mine sits inside an Otterbox case. Even without the case, the S5 is water resistant when the cover is over the USB 3 connector.

The phone has a 2800 mAh battery. That is enough for 21 hours of talk time and 16 days on standby. It has easily lasted a full day with a lot of web browsing although I have not played long movies yet on it. I had on the Droid Razr but that didn’t last as long until I replaced the original battery with the higher capacity version.

Built in sensors include the usual. This includes a 3D magnetometer, a 3D accelerometer and a 3D gyro. It also has a barometer ambient light sensor, and a heart monitor that is part of the camera and flash LED combo. Of course, there are apps to check your heart rate.

There is also Bluetooth, WiFi 802.11a, b, g, n, ac and an NFC (near field communication) interface. NFC still has not found its way into general monetary exchanges but there are other uses such as phone-to-phone linkages that can be handy.

I found the infrared emitter to be more handy in the near term since it turns the phone into a remote control. There’s an app for that, of course.

The main button on the front of the system doubles as a fingerprint sensor. It requires the finger to be slid across it unlike the new iPhone’s sensor. The only problem I have with it is in combination with the Otterbox case that adds a lip that makes using the sensor difficult at best.

The phone has an internal MicroSD slot. This is good but annoying. See why later.

The Bad

The initial lack of a wireless charging feature should probably go under annoying because Samsung will eventually deliver a Qi compatible charging back. They also have a flip case with the same back. I thought wireless charging would be a luxury until I added that support to my wife’s phone and I ran into the USB connector on the Galaxy S5. The standard USB 3 connector is a bit cumbersome and the smartphone was a bit early for the new, reversible USB 3.1 connector (see “USB 3.1 Type C Connector Is Reversible”). Apple iPhone users have had a reversible connectors for a long time.

I really didn’t find much bad about the Galaxy S5. Any issues tend to be annoying or comparison’s to other platforms. For example, the Galaxy S5’s processor is not 64-bits but it chugs along quite nicely. The large screen is tight on some users but it is one of the things I like about it.

Some reviews have pointed out minor issues. For example, the camera sticks out a bit. If you add a protective case then this issue goes away.

The Annoying

The Galaxy S5 runs the Android 4.4, i.e. Kit Kat. It is the latest and greatest from Google at the point that it was released. On the Samsung S5, it is rather snappy and easy to use. It is combined with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface. Luckily it is customizable so you can turn features on and off. I turned off quite a few but that tends to be a personal preference. Of course, I have about a hundred apps loaded and folders all over the desktop.

Most of the annoying things I ran into are related to apps and not to Android or the phone. The one that is related to Android deals with the MicroSD card support.

The Galaxy S5 can handle flash cards up to 128 Gbytes. This would be great for offloading the built-in flash that is limited by 16 Gbytes (the 32 Gbyte version may be available sometime) and a significant chunk is reserved for the OS and built-in apps.

The problem is that Kit Kat is a bit more restrictive than prior versions of Android. Essentially it limits how an SD card can be accessed because it uses a FAT file system that does not have the same security capabilities as the built-in flash memory that uses a Linux file system. The latter allows Android to restrict a folder or file to a specific group of applications. What Android does not is to restrict access by an application to the SD card to a particular folder.

This mode of operation is fine if the app can be loaded onto the SD card and it is the only app to access the data in a read/write mode. Apps can read data from other folders. I suspect that the typical user will not have an issue with this.

I tend to be more of a power user.  I use an app called ES File Explorer File Manager. One of the things that is used to able to do was top copy files from a number of places like my network file server to any directory, local or SD card. It cannot do that now because of the restrictions.

It is nice to have more protection from apps inadvertently messing with files but it would be nicer to have more control over which apps have this capability. It is not that Android cannot allow this mode of operation. The built-in file manager can do this but it does not have the other functionality that apps like ES File Explorer does. The only way to give this functionality to the app is to root the phone. That is not something I would recommend in general although it is not too hard to accomplish.

So to the other annoying item, the USB connector cover. This is one place that needs to be covered to make the system water resistant. Unfortunately it is hard to remove. Long fingernails help. Of course, wireless charging would help too.

I am sure everyone will have their own view of the Galaxy S5 whether they like it or not. I’ve read that some iPhone users like their new Galaxy S5 (see “Who's buying the new Galaxy S5? Lots of iPhone owners”).

Let me know what you think.

Discuss this Blog Entry 3

on Jun 18, 2014

Just got mine four days ago. All you have said is right on. I migrated from a Droid X (an oldie but goodie by now). The two things I missed was no HDMI connector (I used to connect it to a TV to show photos I'd taken) and no FM radio (although I never really used it anyway).

The 5.1 in. screen makes everything from reading E-Mail to surfing the web much easier. It also allows for a keyboard with more keys and still less likely to hit a wrong one.

It isn't as rugged as the D X, but the feel is good. It is thinner and lighter, even though it is larger and much more capable. The faster processor and 4G make maps a lot more snappy.

It has a lot less bloatware and what it has is more out of the way (like the Verizon folder) and easier to get rid of.

I used to be partial to Motorola phones, but since they have now become just another Chinese company, I have no remorse about buying a Korean phone.

on Jun 22, 2014

There has been an ongoing discussion on the Amazon support forum regarding the issue of storing music on the flash card (vs internal memory) for the Amazon music app. Lots of people are ticked off about the inability to natively store music on external flash to the point of going to another service (like Google) While it is possible to move the files using a file manager, the playlists then stop working.

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William Wong

Bill Wong covers Digital, Embedded, Systems and Software topics at Electronic Design. He writes a number of columns, including Lab Bench and alt.embedded, plus Bill's Workbench hands-on column....
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