Samsung Galaxy S5 Review

Living in a multi-connected, multimedia world, we are surrounded by a plethora of devices designed to enable our artistic expressions and facilitate our need for zero time lag communications. Probably no single device sees more use in this world than the ubiquitous smartphone. Whether calling, texting, surfing, gaming, navigating or shooting, smartphones do it all in stride.

And while you may have a perfectly good, high-end prosumer camera tucked safely away in its bag in the trunk of your car, it may not be the right tool for the job. Sometimes the right tool is the one you have in-hand at the time of need and if you go for your prosumer camera, you may miss the opportunity. Can the Galaxy S5 serve as that “right” tool? Can it deliver the photo and video goods when called upon to do so? 

Basic Stuff

At 5.1 inches, the S5’s display is slightly larger than its predecessor. Sporting a screen resolution of 1080 x 1920 and 432 pixels per inch, the Super AMOLED touchscreen display delivers brilliant color and sharpness. Compared to others we’ve seen it’s surely one of the best currently available.

Of particular interest to us video folks is the exceptional battery life. Equipped with a 2800 mAh removable battery the S5 can record – or play – several hours of video between charges and will easily run all day under normal use.

Sometimes the right tool is the one you have in-hand at the time of need.

Another distinctive feature is its IP67 certification. This means it is certified to be water resistant to a depth of approximately three feet for up to 30 minutes, and it is dust proof. If you’ve ever dropped your phone in the toilet, hot tub or cat’s water bowl, you will surely appreciate this feature. We tested it out by submerging the S5 underwater while recording video. It never missed a beat. Other than the expected muffling of the audio, it continued to record underwater and functioned perfectly in every respect after we brought it up and dried it off. To ensure the integrity of the seal, the USB 3.0 charging port uses a gasket equipped cover. The cover is effective at keeping out the elements but can be a little tricky getting open and its attachment point feels a bit iffy, so care should be taken not to break it off. USB 3.0 enables faster charging using the included cable, which has sort of an oversized double pronged connector look to it, but a standard USB phone charging cable can also be used – although charging will take a little longer. 

Camera Stuff

Samsung introduces its new ISOCELL image sensor technology in the S5 in order to address challenges common to small sensor, small pixel cameras like the ones found in smartphones. The unique design is said to reduce electrical crosstalk between pixels, resulting in sharper images and greater color accuracy. From our point of view, it seems to work just fine.

The opening lock screen on the phone must be swiped to unlock it, but if you want to go straight to the camera you can speed up the process a bit by swiping the camera icon in the lower right portion of the screen. The camera comes up; auto focuses and is ready to go. In tests, we found the autofocus to be snappy and accurate most of the time.

Once in the camera app, the Mode button offers up several shooting mode options such as Panorama, Virtual Tour and Dual Camera, with the ability to download more from Samsung Updates. A host of Effects are also available such as Vignette, Sepia and Fisheye – also with the option to download more.

For a little more control, click the Settings (gear) icon to pull up a neatly arranged grid of options. Here you will find manual controls such as ISO, with setting options of Auto, 100, 200, 400 and 800; center-weighted, matrix and spot Metering Modes, an Exposure Value slider and White Balance options of Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent and Fluorescent. A handy customizable sidebar allows you to add up to three of your most used functions for quick access without having to go into Settings each time.

Still pictures may be snapped at resolutions up to 16MP with stunning results. Colors pop, contrast is high and edges are crisp. Photo editing options are available such as the ability to rotate, crop or resize; adjust contrast and saturation, alter individual red, green or blue channel levels, apply effects like sepia, vignette or light flares. You can remove red eye, brighten the face and even add stickers or text. Video editing, however, is limited to a simple trimming function.

Video resolution options range from VGA (640 x 480) through HD and Full HD, up to Ultra HD (4K) at 3840 x 2160! Shooting in 4K is a great idea and produces fabulous results. In reality though, it isn't terribly practical due to the five minute shooting maximum, resulting in a clip that consumes 1.68GB of space. Our phone came with the currently available 16GB of internal memory (32GB available at a future date). A sizeable portion of this was already taken up by the operating system and apps leaving 10.5GB of free storage. A little math reveals that this only leaves room for approximately six of these five minute clips. With well planned shots and frequent offloads one could shoot a commercial or short film in 4K but forget about weddings or other events requiring longer shots. In 1080p shot lengths extend to just over thirty three minutes at 3.99GB per clip. Fortunately, the S5 features a microSD slot stacked over the SIM port under the rear cover for up to 128GB of additional storage space, although the five minute 4K limit will still be problematic in many shooting situations.

In all cases, colors are beautifully reproduced with good dynamic range; textures and fine details are captured with great clarity. Rolling shutter issues appear to be almost non-existent and low light shooting results are pretty impressive with very little grain even in very low light situations. If you’re a golfer and want to record your swing in slow motion for later analysis the S5 has you covered with three slow-mo settings – half speed, quarter speed and eighth speed. In each case motion is smooth and fluid although there does seem to be a slight increase in video noise in lower light scenarios. Conversely, you can also shoot in fast motion at two, four and even eight times normal speed. Again, motion is smooth and fluid but without any apparent degradation in quality.

A couple of nifty features are the Live HDR (High Dynamic Range) and Selective Focus. Dynamic range is a measurement of the difference between the brightest parts of an image as compared to the darkest. HDR mode captures several different exposures then blends them together to give you the most natural appearing image possible – at least it’s supposed to. Thanks to the S5’s robust Snapdragon 801 processing, Live HDR allows you to see the effect on the display BEFORE committing to the shot.

Selective Focus produces a pretty decent shallow depth of field effect. For Selective Focus to work, your subject must be well lit and stand out from the background. It must be within 1.5 feet from you and three times that distance from the background. Make sure Selective Focus is turned on and take your picture. You may get a message saying the subject was not detected. In this case, reset the scene according to the above parameters and shoot again. Once the shot takes and is processed, you must find it in the Gallery. Click the icon that appears then select Near Focus, Far Focus or Pan Focus (everything is in focus). 


We really do live in a highly competitive world of smartphone photo and video content creation. If the device you reach for the next time happens to be the Samsung Galaxy S5, we predict that you will not be disappointed.

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
Price varies depending on service provider contract.
$650 with no contract 

Tech Specs

Operating System: Android 4.4 KitKat
CPU: 2.5GHz Quad-Core
Display: 5.1 inch, Super AMOLED touchscreen; 1080 x 1920 pixels
Front Camera: CMOS, 2MP
Rear Camera: CMOS, 16MP
Recording Resolution: (4:3) 640 x 480 (VGA); (16:9) 1280 x 720 (HD), 1920 x 1080 (Full HD), 3840 x 2160 (UHD 4K); at 30fps
Video Playing Format: FLV, M4V, MKV, WEBM, WMV, 3G2, 3GP, ASF, AVI
Internal Memory: 2GB RAM, 16GB ROM
External Memory: up to 128GB microSD card (optional)
Battery: 2800 mAh; removable
Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2.4G+5GHz); USB 3.0; Bluetooth 4.0
Sensors: Gesture, Fingerprint, HR, Hall, Accelerometer, Geomagnetic, Gyro, Light, Barometer, Proximity
Weight: 5.11 ounces
Dimensions: 5.59” x 2.85” x 0.31”


  • Beautiful display
  • High quality camera
  • Great battery life


  • USB cover attachment point a bit flimsy
  • Selective Focus can take many tries before detecting the subject

Contributing Editor Mark Holder is a video producer and trainer.

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