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Samsung Galaxy S5 Smartphone Review

Will the gravity well from Galaxy S5 capture your interest, or will you streak past with escape velocity?

Camera: Photo Quality

In this section, we will evaluate the quality of images shot with the Galaxy S5 in different lighting conditions and examine its HDR mode, which is important for getting good results from the S5’s camera. All images were taken using the Auto mode unless noted. Also, you can view the full-sized image for each photo by either clicking on the stand-alone image or clicking the text links below the images that are within a slideshow album.

Daylight Images

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Full Size Images: [Galaxy S5 outdoor daylight sample 1: f/2.2, 1/438 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 outdoor daylight sample 2: f/2.2, 1/50 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 outdoor daylight sample 3: f/2.2, 1/33 sec, ISO 64], [Galaxy S5 outdoor daylight sample 4: f/2.2, 1/848 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 outdoor daylight closeup 1: f/2.2, 1/432 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 outdoor daylight closeup 2: f/2.2, 1/100 sec, ISO 80]

The first image with the car was taken in bright outdoor conditions without the use of HDR. There's a lot of detail in that shot thanks to the S5’s 16MP sensor, and the colors are bold but still accurate and natural-looking. At ISO 40 there is no noise, and the PDAF quickly focused on the car and captured the shot before it drove away. The only issue is that the dynamic range of this picture isn’t particularly good, with the shadows being too dark. In general, we found that without HDR turned on, the photos we took with the S5 often had dynamic range issues, which can be seen in some of the other daylight images above.

Indoor Images

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Full Size Images: [Galaxy S5 indoor sample 1: f/2.2, 1/33 sec, ISO 64], [Galaxy S5 indoor sample 2: f/2.2, 1/17 sec, ISO 320], [Galaxy S5 indoor sample 3: f/2.2, 1/109 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 indoor sample 4: f/2.2, 1/50 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 indoor sample 5: f/2.2, 1/33 sec, ISO 125], [Galaxy S5 indoor sample 6: f/2.2, 1/33 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 indoor sample 7: f/2.2, 1/33 sec, ISO 400]

The Galaxy S5 struggles a little more used indoors. The image of the ties above again demonstrates that it reproduces colors accurately, but the Auto mode favors ISO over shutter speed, resulting in a little blurring from camera shake if you look closely. We’d have preferred to see the ISO raised a little to speed up the shutter, which would result in a crisper hand-held image. The rest of the indoor images have the same problem of shutter speed being set too low. But again, the colors look great, and the white balance is spot on. However, as the ISO value increases, even at the still relatively low ISO 320 and 400 of the first and last image, the S5’s noise reduction post-processing starts to muddy up the picture and destroy detail.

Low Light Images

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Full Size Images: [Galaxy S5 low light outdoor sample 1: f/2.2, 1/213 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 low light outdoor sample 2: f/2.2, 1/33 sec, ISO 200], [Galaxy S5 low light outdoor sample 3: f/2.2, 1/17 sec, ISO 2000], [Galaxy S5 low light outdoor sample 4: f/2.2, 1/33 sec, ISO 125], [Galaxy S5 low light indoor sample 1: f/2.2, 1/17 sec, ISO 2000], [Galaxy S5 low light indoor sample 2: f/2.2, 1/17 sec, ISO 2000], [Galaxy S5 low light indoor with flash: f/2.2, 1/30 sec, ISO 125]

Even though the first photo was taken at dusk, there was still enough light for the S5’s camera to set the ISO to a low 40 and shutter speed to a fast 1/213s, creating a great-looking image even zoomed in close. In the remaining low-light pictures, the S5 really begins to struggle.

At higher ISO settings, noise becomes a problem. The first outdoor image in the slideshow above was taken at ISO 200, and its noise reduction algorithm is already smearing detail and creating a "soft"-looking picture. The third one, shot at ISO 2000, is an almost unusable blotchy mess. The last two images shot indoors also have the same problems, while the last image shows that the S5’s flash is bright and effective. Unfortunately, Samsung's ISOCELL sensor doesn't handle low-light conditions well enough to make the S5 a top performer. Still, all smartphone cameras struggle with low light and the S5's performance isn't substantially worse than most of its competitors.

HDR Mode

Full Size Images: [Galaxy S5 HDR: f/2.2, 1/247 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 No HDR: f/2.2, 1/334 sec, ISO 40]

The Galaxy S5’s HDR mode is an integral part of its imaging experience. Unlike most phones, where HDR is a setting buried in the options menu, the HDR button is right on the main screen of the camera UI. It's a good thing too because the S5 has a bit of a problem with dynamic range when shooting outdoors (see image above). Therefore, it's a good idea to keep HDR on in that environment.

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Full Size Images: [Galaxy S5 example 1: f/2.2, 1/264 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 example 1 (HDR): f/2.2, 1/289 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 example 2: f/2.2, 1/265 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 example 2 (HDR): f/2.2, 1/254 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 example 3: f/2.2, 1/1532 sec, ISO 40], [Galaxy S5 example 3 (HDR): f/2.2, 1/1316 sec, ISO 40]

The most impressive aspect of the Galaxy S5’s HDR mode is that it's displayed real-time in the viewfinder, leveraging the power of the Snapdragon 801’s ISP. This lets you see how the HDR picture will appear before taking it, and removes the processing delay after each shot. We also found that the S5’s HDR algorithms produced a fairly natural-looking picture with more detail in the shadows.

Overall, the S5's camera performs well in good lighting as long as HDR mode is left on. The 16MP sensor provides a lot of detail and white balance is accurate, but when the light dims, so does does its performance. Samsung's ISOCELL sensor fails to offer a substantial improvement in low-light capability, leaving noise reduction to overly aggressive software. It's too bad Samsung didn't give the S5 OIS, which would allow it to leave the shutter open longer and capture more light.

  • Agera One
    A one year late review?
    Reply
  • grumpigeek
    My Galaxy S5 in in an Urban Armor Gear case that looks great and protects the phone, so I don't really care what it looks like.

    The device is 100% reliable and I have found the battery life to be excellent - way better than any smartphone I have had previously.

    Reply
  • implantedcaries
    Guys you are reviewing a mobile which was released a year and then calling it average compared to competiti
    Reply
  • firefoxx04
    I have an s5. This review would have been welcomed a year ago.

    The phone is top notch. I've known this for a while.
    Reply
  • implantedcaries
    Guys you are reviewing a mobile which was released a year back and then calling it average compared to competition?? Seriously? Yes I agree S5 is not the most exciting prospect out there for new mobile buyers now, but it wasn't so in 2014 when it was actually launched. Also its one of the very few mobiles already receiving lollipop updates.. No mention of that.. Any hidden agenda against Samsung?
    Reply
  • Porcodio
    Temperature and humidity sensor? Is that correct?
    Reply
  • FritzEiv
    Folks, you're right. This review is quite late. We began testing the S5 a long time ago, but we've had a bit of a backlog of smartphones to review since Matt (our senior mobile editor) started on staff and we're just catching up. We aren't trying to pretend it's a new phone, thus we haven't put it up in our main feature carousel; but we did want to publish this and others just to have them for archival and future referral and comparison purposes. We are working on other smartphones that are little more current and then we hope to be "on time" as new ones arrive. Hence, for example, Matt's performance preview of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 earlier this week. We've been a bit more timely on devices like the OnePlus and the iPhone reviews as well. But hey, continue your sarcasm, because we probably deserve it. Just want you to know why we are doing this, that we're not trying to fool anyone, and that we'll be caught up in short order. Thanks for your patience.

    - Fritz (Editor-in-chief)
    Reply
  • Mac266
    One thing in this review irritated me: the whole "it's ugly" thing. It might not suit you, but lots of people like the way it looks. Aesthetics are purely subjective, and should definitely not be judged a con on one mans opinion.
    Reply
  • peterf28
    Iam not buying a smartphone again where the chipset drivers are not open source. Like what samsung did with the S3, it is stuck on Android 4.3, and there is nothing you can do. All the custom roms are unstable crap because there are no up to date drivers For current kernels. It is like buying a PC without the possibility to update the OS . Would you buy that ?
    Reply
  • jdrch
    FYI phone speakers are placed on the back of phones to take advantage of acoustics when the phone is laying on a surface. The surface spreads and reflects the sounds back to the user much better than the speaker itself would. Try it yourself.
    Reply