After anticipating this moment for some time, we’ve finally got our hands on a fully functional Samsung Galaxy S5 ahead of it’s scheduled arrival in Carphone Warehouse stores on April 11th.

The Galaxy S5 has a host of very impressive specs, running Android 4.4 with a 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801, a 16MP camera, heart rate monitor and sensor, and biometric fingerprint reader to name just a few. But, with a plethora of heavyweight smartphones approaching launch can the Galaxy S5 keep Samsung at the top end of the smartphone food chain?

On first impressions the handset is solid in hand and yet light. Fans of the Galaxy series of phones will no doubt notice the Galaxy heritage in this evolution of the family. The S5 echos the body lines of the S4, there’s no doubt; similar rounded edges and chromed and ridged bezel while at the front the home button is noticeably more rounded than that of the S4.

The micro-USB socket on the bottom of the phone has been redesigned with a sealed cover to accomodate dust and waterproofing features. Infrared has been re-introduced and sits on the top of the phone and the aforementioned heart rate sensor has been integrated just below the camera along with the LED flash unit.

The back of the phone is where the obvious differences lie. The back panel is covered in small dimples which certainly give a more tactile feel to the phone. It grips far better than the glossy plastic of old.
Galaxy S5

The Galaxy S5 is to be available in a number of colours, as you can see, the handset given to us for review was black, Charcoal Black to be exact. The phone is also available in Shimmer White, Electric Blue and Copper Gold – it’s great to see some real variation in colours from Samsung.

Based on customer feedback, Samsung have made the Galaxy S5 waterproof and dust proof to IP67 (military) spec. For those of us that don’t speak military, this means that your Galaxy S5 will survive in about a metre of water for up to 30 minutes – more than enough time to take underwater pictures, wash dust off the phone or retrieve it from the toilet should the unthinkable happen – that should make the toilet texters amongst us breath a collective sigh of relief. I didn’t actually put this to the test – the phone doesn’t belong to me.

The GS5 display is only marginally larger than the S4, 0.1-inches to be exact and sports a similar 1080P AMOLED display. The pixel count might be slight less dense but changes in the technology have resulted in what I thought was a much more crisp and vibrant display with beautiful colour hues and contrasts.

Galaxy S5 measures 142mm x 72.5mm x 8.1mm and weighs in at 145 grams.

Galaxy S5 screenInside, the Galaxy S5 is filled with all of the best components you’d expect to find in a flagship device. A 2.5GHz quad core Snapdragon processor, a 16MP main camera and a 2MP front facing camera, a 2800mAh battery which Samsung says will last for over 16 days of standby time on a single charge.

There’s also the introduction of an Ultra Power Saving Mode which can double battery life when running low.

The S5 is available in 16GB and 32GB options and the additional SD card slot will support up to 128GB. For the more technical amongst us, other impressive features include 2GB RAM, 802. 11ac wireless (fifth generation support), near field communication, USB 3, Bluetooth 4.0. The Galaxy S5 also has the ability to combine 4G and Wi-Fi connections to increase download speeds up to 650Mbps (theoretically). This new technology is called Download Booster.

The GS5 is running Android 4.4 KitKat and retains all the functionality of the operating system. Samsung have also given a re-vamp to it’s TouchWiz interface, this improves the overall look and feel to the Android over-lay. The Samsung Hub has been renamed Samsung Apps, WatchOn to SmartRemote but there are also plenty of familiars; S Voice, S Planner, S Health and S Note. A Kids Mode app, limits access for the little ones; those of you familiar with the Samsung Kids tab will be familiar with this ‘sandbox’ system. My kids love playing with technology so switching on the Kids Mode not only keeps them safe but keeps all of my data, pictures and apps safe too – no more unexplained in-app purchases.

Samsung have gotten on the ‘Biometric Bandwagon’ with the introduction of a fingerprint reader on the Galaxy S5. This feature can be used for unlocking the phone and can also be related to account information in order to make mobile payments.

Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanerSwiping your finger begins at the bottom of the screen and continues into and across the home button. Up to three fingerprints can be added and there is the additional fail safe of a security password in case the biometric identification fails, or indeed if you lose a finger. When registering, your finger must be scanned eight times before it completes registration. I do like this feature and I found it performed well when unlocking the phone – never failing to read my finger. The swipe must take place down the centre of the screen meaning that if you register your thumb, swiping it down the centre of the screen will be difficult ... hence why it’s a ‘finger’print reader I guess.

Samsung have announced a partnership with Paypal allowing users of the Galaxy S5 to make online payments via their paypal account by means of a finger print read. As an avid user of eBay, I’m looking forward to trying this out.

As a rule, cameras on Samsung devices are usually really good quality, particularly when shooting outdoor scenes. One area of weakness has been low light conditions. Things seem to have improved with the Galaxy S5 and there are lots of new settings and tweaks added to the camera software.

The first and most obvious feature improvement when using the camera is the Fast Auto Focus, object acquisition and focus in 0.3 seconds. This remarkable feature is down to the introduction of Phase Detection Auto-Focus, a term that DSLR camera users will be familiar with. This is the first smartphone to use this technology. My immeadiate application of this technology was taking pictures of my kids, who seem to think that if they hold still for any more than 0.3 of a second they might miss out on something, but the technology is equally applicable to capturing sports shots, animals, etc.

Selective focus on the other hand is post-capture feature that allows you to set the area of focus on a photo. This allows you to ‘Pop’ items that are in the foreground (more than 3cm but less than 50cm from you) essentially making foreground items really stand out, or you can shift the focus to the rear of the shot, doing the opposite.

The camera app contains a realtime HDR function, amongst the many other features. This is a very useful feature that allows you to preview photo and video results without having taken the picture. HDR (high dynamic range) imaging is a photography practice that’s been around quite a long time but is a new function on smartphone cameras. HDR, as its name implies, is a method that aims to add more “dynamic range” to photographs, where dynamic range is the ratio of light to dark in a photograph. Instead of just taking one photo, HDR uses three photos, taken at different exposures. You can then use image editing software to put those three images together and highlight the best parts of each photo. In the case of HDR on the Galaxy S5, the phone does all the work for you – just snap your picture and it’ll spit out one regular photo and one HDR photo. The result is something that should look more like what your eyes see, rather than what your camera sees.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is jammed with features, in some cases more than the average smartphone user may ever use. I’ve had to limit myself here ... I could have continued typing for another hour describing various enhancements and quirky little add ons that make this smartphone a true evolution of the Samsung Galaxy series. Visually and aesthethically the phone has not had a massive amount of change made to it, but rest assured that if you’re a fan of the Galaxy or Note series you will not be disappointed.

The Galaxy S5 goes on sale on April 11th in all Carphone Warehouse stores.