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Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Is Samsung's 2014 Galaxy phone still worthwhile?

The Galaxy S5 was state of the art in 2014, but it's still kicking around. How does it compare to cheaper new phones?

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Content strategy, team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Samsung, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
Jessica Dolcourt
26 min read

Late 2016 update

Back in April 2014, we deemed the Samsung Galaxy S5 an incremental, nonessential upgrade of its predecessor, the Galaxy S4, a CNET Editor's Choice in its day. The Galaxy S5 remains available today, and, given its aging components and feature set, can be found at a relatively affordable price, especially compared to newer Galaxy models.


Samsung Galaxy S5

The Good

Samsung's Galaxy S5 excels at everything that matters -- Android 4.4 KitKat OS; a bright, beautiful display; blistering quad-core processor; and an excellent camera experience. In addition, Samsung's efforts to streamline its own custom interface and reduce pre-installed bloatware pay off.

The Bad

The Galaxy S5 is a only small upgrade over the Galaxy S4. The fingerprint scanner can be confusing to use, and the heart-rate monitor is a niche feature at best. In some regions, the Galaxy S5 costs significantly more than rival top-rated handsets.

The Bottom Line

Samsung's 2014 Galaxy S5 may still be worth your consideration as a bargain phone.

That noted, the newer Galaxy models are way, way better. The beautiful Galaxy S6, anointed by CNET the "first great smartphone of 2015," comes equipped with first-class components and wireless charging support. And its successor, the Galaxy S7, is even better, restoring the expandable storage and water-resistance found on this 2014 model, as well as adding a bigger battery and a more powerful processor. For a more detailed look at how Samsung's current top models stack up against their predecessors, check out our comparison of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge vs. the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, Note 5 and S6+.

You may have heard about one of the Galaxy S6's newer siblings, the Galaxy Note 7. Initially praised as Samsung's ultimate phone, the Galaxy Note 7 was subverted by problems with overheating and, in some cases, catching fire. After a botched recall and some very negative publicity, in September Samsung stopped production of the Galaxy Note 7. To be clear: the Galaxy S5, S6 and S7, along with their larger S6 Edge and S7 Edge brethren, were not involved in the scandal, and are terrific phones that do not explode.

And there are other phones to consider. Apple released its iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and Google recently released its Pixel phone. Still, though the Galaxy S6 and its plus-sized S6 Edge sibling are solid, affordable, full-featured phones that are well worth the money, their successors -- the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge -- are the better phones to buy, by far.

Editors' note: The ratings on this phone have been reduced from their original 9.0/4.5 stars in order to keep it up to date with current competitors. The original review of the Samsung Galaxy S5, first published in April 2014, follows.

Extreme closeup: Samsung's Galaxy S5 (pictures)

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Dimpled design an S4 redux

When it designed the Galaxy S5, Samsung didn't stray too far for inspiration. Indeed, from the front, you can barely tell the Galaxy S4 and S5 apart. The S5's rounded rectangle is stamped from the same steep-sided, silvery-trimmed mold as the S4's, but with an ever-so-slightly more capsule-shaped central home button.

The back panel motif is different, I'll give Samsung that. Tiny dimples cover a rear cover that's blessedly matte instead of coated in reflective gloop. In addition to cutting down glare, the more subdued surface masks accumulated fingerprints. The Galaxy S5 comes in black and creamy white shades, but Samsung has also shown it off in enticing copper and bright blue. Not every market or carrier will sell each color, but at least Samsung has decided to expand its palette to some livelier hues.

The Galaxy S5's matte backing rejects fingerprints like a boss. Josh Miller/CNET

At the end of the day, the Galaxy flagship feels like it always has: like plastic. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but if Samsung is at all striving for loftier ambitions, it hasn't reached the heights of HTC's luxe brushed aluminum or even Sony's sleek style.

The GS5 is only a fraction larger than the Galaxy S4: it measures 5.59 inches tall by 2.85 inches wide by 0.32-inch deep, or 142mm by 72.5mm by 8.1mm; and it weighs 5.1 ounces, or 145 grams. Even though the extra hardware makes it a little taller and heavier than the Galaxy S4, I had no problem carting it around. Even outside my ridiculously heavy purse, which is usually home to at least two phones and a jumble of weighty items, the S5 stayed put in the back pocket of my skinny jeans, and stayed wedged in my hand during several-mile jogs. (Full disclosure: I may have also had a death grip on it.)

This phone, too, has a 5.1-inch 1080p HD AMOLED display that's 0.1-inch bigger than the Galaxy S4's. That means that the screen's pixel density is just a breath looser, though you'll never notice the difference. Images are still extremely crisp and colorful, with high contrast and hard edges. HD photos and videos look especially lush.

Its 1080p HD AMOLED screen is beautifully crisp and bright. Josh Miller/CNET

Samsung does boasts about a new display panel and accompanying technology that help the phone adapt its display more accurately to different lighting scenarios. This is one of those small improvements that few will notice so long as it's working.

External controls are where you expect them on a Samsung phone: power is on the right, the headset jack is up top, next to the IR blaster that's made its triumphant return to control your TV with Samsung's matching app. On the back, the new heart rate monitor cleverly integrates with the camera's LED flash.

What is a little different is the USB housing on the bottom of the phone. Like the Galaxy Note 3, the S5 now features the elongated USB 3.0 port, which is backward-compatible with standard micro-USB cables. In other words, you can still charge the phone with legacy USB cables, but it'll really juice up quickly with the compound USB 3.0 cable Samsung supplies.

Completely close the charging port flap to keep the Galaxy S5 water- and dust-resistant. Josh Miller/CNET

A cover that clips securely into place is one indication that the S5 has met IP67 standard for water- and dust-resistance. A rubberized gasket behind the back cover is another clue. Feedback about the waterproof Galaxy S4 Active prompted Samsung to send the Galaxy S5 down its waterproof path, which means that it can take a bath for up to 30 minutes at about 3 feet down. It also means: time to break out the supersoakers.

Navigation is one other alteration you should know about: the capacitive button to the left of the physical button no longer calls up the menu. Now, it manages multitasking. The target area is a little big if you ask me; I accidentally pressed it more times than I wanted, interrupting myself.

Spiffied-up TouchWiz interface

The GS5 runs Android 4.4 KitKat, with Samsung's latest proprietary TouchWiz interface extending the OS with extra abilities. Samsung has peppered this updated version of TouchWiz with tweaks that freshen up its look and feel. What's different is mostly subtle, like a Google services folder loaded onto the home screen, and an onscreen menu button in nearly every window, like the app tray, for instance.

If you're switching to the S5 from another Samsung phone, the new menu buttons may trip you up when it comes to customizing the home screens, since those controls you're used to for creating folders and selecting wallpapers are no longer there.

For example, it took me a few minutes to figure out how to delete an errant folder from my app tray. While we're on the topic, I wish Samsung had taken this opportunity to make folder creation in line with Google's drag-and-drop style. Here, you still have to premeditate needing a folder and clear a space for it on the home screen. I do like, however, that there's a menu button within the folder to customize its color

Samsung has updated TouchWiz interface adds a menu button to most screens. You can view the phone's Settings in several layouts (R). Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

From the main home screen, an always-listening Google search box awaits your hands-free voice dictation. The feature is very helpful, but only seems to work from this screen -- so this isn't the same all-encompassing experience you'll find in the Motorola Moto X, for instance.

Pull down the notifications tray and you'll notice two new quick-access buttons for S Finder, which operates like universal search, and Quick Connect, which helps you share content with other devices. Swipe right from the Home screen and you'll see the customizable My Magazine newsfeed that Samsung introduced with the Galaxy Note 3.

The S5's Settings menu is one area that's clearly received a visual overhaul with this new TouchWiz. You get a black backdrop, circular icons, and a choice of layouts. You can continue to break out settings into tabs, view them as a list, or plop them into a scrolling menu organized by collapsible subcategories. I prefer the tidy tabs, myself.

Features and apps consolidate

Sometimes it's hard to tell where TouchWiz ends and Samsung's apps and features begin. Since the Galaxy S5 already folds in the Galaxy S4's gestures and capabilities and then builds on top of them, I'll just share some newer items.

Let's start with Kids Mode, an optional, 58MB downloadable sandbox. In it, tykes play with approved apps -- even a camera, while keeping the rest of the phone's contents out of bounds. The cutesy interface won't appeal to older kids, who would probably prefer their own profiles if Mom and Dad want to keep their mischievous offspring from snooping, pranks, and unauthorized downloads.

Exploring the Galaxy S5's features (pictures)

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If you're a fan of persistent shortcuts, you're going to love Toolbox, which you can toggle on in the notifications pull-down or through Settings. It's a floating circle that expands to reveal five shortcuts for apps like the camera and calculator. Everything's customizable, and you can move the circle if it gets in your way. I really like the notion, but it got in my way so often I wound up closing it for good. I'd love to be able to call it up with a triple-screen tap, perhaps.

Ultra power-saving mode is for those of you who forget your charger when you leave for a weekend trip. A quick press of a button turns off most connections and transforms your phone from technicolor to grayscale. Limiting color, apps, and activities boosts your phone's run time immensely; we're talking days, depending on how much charge you have left. Samsung says that with 10 percent battery left, you'll be able to make it another 24 hours before charging, a claim we'll test ourselves in the upcoming days.

Another new software tidbit, download booster, joins together your Wi-Fi and carrier data connections to give you faster download speeds. Since it works behind the scenes, this is another one of those features that most people won't actively notice, so long as it's doing its job.

One that you will see, and which Samsung hopes you incorporate into your daily routine, in the updated S Health app and widgets, to try to draw fitness-interest folks of all levels. A pedometer and exercise scorecard meets a built-in nutrition monitor and all-new heart-rate tracker (more on this below). The app looks more polished than before, and the home screen widget (which you can remove, of course) keeps an ongoing tally of your steps.

Ultra power-saving mode converts the S5 to grayscale and dramatically lengthens battery life. Josh Miller/CNET

The new S Health is nice for casual observers, but it needs more rigorous on-screen stats if it wants to compete with sophisticated apps like Endomondo, which also tracks you on a map in real-time and makes elevation rates and pacing numbers easier to find. In S Health, you have to dig through a log for the finer details.

In a nod to criticism, Samsung has cut back on the number of its Samsung-branded preloads. You can still download the ones you want through the Samsung Apps shortcut in your apps tray, and through Galaxy Essentials, an item in your menu button. That's where you'll find apps like S Note, S Translator, a video editor, Samsung Smart Switch, and managers for Samsung's family of Gear devices -- the Gear Fit fitness band, and the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches. The Galaxy S5 will also pair with Samsung's original Galaxy Gear watch.

For more about how the Galaxy S5 and the Gear fit work together, read Scott Steins' in-depth review of the Samsung Gear Fit smart band.

Inside the fingerprint scanner

There are two high-profile features that Samsung's Galaxy S5 waves over the HTC One M8: fingerprint-swiping security and the heart-rate monitor. Both work as well as advertised, as long as you execute them correctly, but at the end of the day, neither one strikes me as important enough to tip the scale in the S5's favor.

Let's start with the fingerprint scanner. It stores profiles for only three fingers, versus five in the iPhone 5S's TouchID system. It's easy enough to set up through the Settings menu.

Samsung Galaxy S5's fingerprint scanner in action (pictures)

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My biggest complaint with scanners like these -- which HTC also has on its supersize One Max, by the way -- is that they can often be inaccurate.

Over the course of all my testing, I've amassed a few tips to get swiping right. First, you've got to swipe down vertically, with your finger in the exact same position it was when you first scanned it. You can register partial prints, like the arc of your thumb, though the read was a little imperfect in my tests. Contrast this with Touch ID, with its concave button for capturing 360 degrees of readability.

A second tip is that you need to make sure you swipe the entire active area, which extends about half an inch above the home button and all the way through the home button (but don't press down). To make the motion crystal clear, I'd love to see Samsung extend the undulating on-screen indicator to the home button as well -- but that would mean (in my fantasy phone) an LED backlight on said button.

The optional fingerprint scanner captures three profiles, but you have to swipe precisely. Josh Miller/CNET

The third tip for successful fingerprint sensing: your finger should be dry. Damp and lotion-slicked digits don't seem to register well. If you time-out on unlocking attempts, you can also get in using a four-letter code; although anyone who knows this code can also use your phone, making the security measure somewhat less effective.

On top of swiping to unlock, fingerprint scanning's other (optional) function will be to authorize transactions with PayPal, a Samsung partner. Instead of typing your passcode, you swipe your fingertip. This is Samsung's answer to the iPhone's in-app purchasing, and it works with any mobile site or app that accepts PayPal.

Heart-rate monitor a smartphone first

The Galaxy S5's other trick, the heart-rate monitor, is a neat one in theory because it's cleverly integrated into the camera flash module, and because it ties so well into the health app. However, it's one of those things I wouldn't personally use every day, even though I do exercise regularly. I'm not entirely who this feature is directed toward, though, since serious fitness geeks will likely want to invest in a more fully-functioning fitness band if they don't have one already. Still, it was fun to establish a baseline by placing my finger over the sensor.

The heart-rate monitor is the first of its type for a smartphone, but it's a fringe feature at best. Josh Miller/CNET

One oddity I did notice is that the heart-rate sensor couldn't seem to get a grasp on my pulse one day while I was running outside -- perhaps because my finger was too cold?

I also wasn't sure about the stats. You can follow a log to drill into a few more details about your readings, but I couldn't glean much from the numbers I've collected so far. To be fair, it takes time to build the kind of database that would become useful for fitness-philes, and Samsung does warn you away from relying on it as you would a medical device. It's meant for light-hearted tracking, not for monitoring serious health concerns.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 logs your heartbeart (pictures)

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Improved camera and video

Already on the forefront of smartphone camera tech, Samsung has bumped up the S5's camera megapixel count from 13 to 16. Images taken on automatic mode are characteristically colorful and clear, especially those taken in ample natural light. Samsung's new, co-processing power and Isocell sensor together make the camera quicker, low light images clearer, and some of the neat tricks you'll read about possible.

The camera's continuous autofocus is as eyeblink-quick as Samsung claims (0.3-second), which gives you a greater chance of nailing that action shot. Of course, most of the rushed-around world isn't going to wait for you to pull out your camera, so expect that you'll still shoot a healthy percentage of blurry dogs, babies, and unsuspecting passersby. Still, I do think fast focus raises your odds of success.

Low light has been a weak point for Samsung in the past, and the Galaxy S5 seems to have indeed improved photos taken without a flash in dim environments. They weren't quite as blurry, grainy, or dark as you'd get on the Galaxy S4.

Video captured in the phone's default 1080p HD resolution is equally beautiful and smooth. Colors pop. Video of my favorite testing subject, a BMX-style trick rider practicing outside of San Francisco's Ferry Building, faithfully reproduced his movements and the scene -- and that's the crux of what you need from smartphone video. However, if you duck into the settings, you can also turn on UHD video, or ultra-HD, which is also known as 4K video.

The Galaxy S5's 16-megapixel camera is one of the best you can find on a smartphone. Josh Miller/CNET

With the basics down, the Galaxy S5 can layer on the special effects and modes. The S5 packs in the same front-and-rear camera dual-shot feature as last year's model, and most of the same filters and modes. A new one, real-time HDR, is one of those simple additions that go a long way. With it, you can toggle this on-screen control to preview the scene with HDR before you commit to the snap.

Samsung also spruced up the settings, turning a long list of toggles into a neatly arranged grid. It's here that you'll see the new selective focus setting, which lets you shift the focus of photos taken in this mode to the foreground or background.

Snap some pictures in Selective Focus mode to choose the focus point after the fact. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Toggle among focus points to see which you like best. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The GS5 doesn't do away with the traditional modes menu. In fact, you'll find the new Virtual Tour mode in there -- this one cobbles together a 360-degree scene that you can share as a video or in stills. "Shot & more" consolidates five modes into one, like best photo, drama shot, and eraser mode. You choose the mode, take the picture, and choose which eligible mode you want applied. The best thing about "Shot & more" is not having to over think who you want to take your photo; though you'll still have to know you want to do something out of the ordinary.

Although Samsung did strip away a few other modes, you can still download more through the native camera app.

I like what Samsung did to clean up the camera experience, but the Galaxy S5's expanded editing tools are my favorite. Not only do they get a spiffier look, there are a lot more of them, including the ability to resize images, tweak portraits, and decorate, even annotate, pictures.

Panning Shot is one effect now tucked into the Shot & More camera mode. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The Galaxy S5's front-facing camera gets a touch-up, too. The 2-megapixel photos automatically get the airbrush treatment through the Beauty Face mode. This time, though, a slider lets you control the intensity. Crank it up to level 5 for the full mannequin effect, or turn it off entirely -- like I did -- to go au naturel. Regardless, photos are still low-resolution and as grainy or indistinct as you'd expect. Skin tone weirdly took on a blueish hue in one shot, my most of my selfless looked about the way I expected.

Samsung has made some strong strides in the camera department, but I do have one important bone to pick. When you open the camera from a secured lock screen, which I do like being able to do, options are more limited. You can't access camera modes or selective focus. It also takes 3 seconds to load the camera app, which is faster than unlocking your phone and opening the camera from the home screen.

To see how the Galaxy S5 camera compares to other phones, check out Lynn La's camera shootout with the HTC One M8 and iPhone 5S here and be sure to check out our How-To section at the end of this review as she shows you the best ways to use the Galaxy S5's camera.

The gorgeous flowers look spot-on. Josh Miller/CNET
The majestic seagull, about to take flight. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Fast focus helped me score this midair shot of a downtown San Francisco skater. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
The GS5 kept this scene outside San Francisco's Exploratorium museum clearly in focus. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
The Galaxy S5 keeps faces in focus and colors faithfully reproduced. CNET
These squirmy dogs were harder to capture. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
The office mascot, relaxing with a cold one. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
This photo may not be perfect, but the Galaxy S5's low-light capabilities have skyrocketed in the Galaxy S5. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
The Samsung Galaxy S5 casts a blue hue on this standard studio shot; the use of flash is also apparent. Josh Miller/CNET

Performance: Speed, LTE, battery life

If performance clinches the deal for you, the Galaxy S5 is one mean speed demon. Its 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor is at the top of its game, which reflects in both real-world and diagnostic tests. For instance, the graphics-heavy Riptide GP2 racing game was smooth, with all the surface effects and shadow lighting that sticklers for detail may notice. Navigation felt smooth and fast. Apps opened without much delay, and content loaded quickly. After using the Galaxy S5 for a week, the S4 definitely felt a tick slower.

Diagnostically, the Quadrant benchmark returned a result of 23,707, which is very, very fast. This means that apps will load quickly and smoothly and that games and videos will play back seamlessly, showing rich detail.

Speedtest.net results for T-Mobile variant (L); Quadrant result. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Compare the Galaxy S5's Quadrant score with the HTC One M8's result of 24,593 and the LG G3's 23,103 result. They should be similar -- the phones use extremely similar chipsets. Now, take these numbers with a grain of salt. Samsung (and other phone manufacturers) has been accused of manipulating popular benchmark results, receiving backlash for phones like the Galaxy Note 3, which measured 23,048 in our tests.

The phone's diagnostic and real-world LTE test results also come out high. The network's strength in your area will alter your experience. For instance, rainstorms can affect radio signal -- as it did during a San Francisco storm during my test period -- taking three or four times longer to stream and download content than when it's sunny and dry. After the clear skies returned, the Galaxy S5 blazed on both T-Mobile and AT&T networks here. Although I did hit some dead zones from time to time, speeds were consistently strong, hovering around 15-to-20Mbps down for T-Mobile on the Speedtest.net app.

Upload speeds were also strong, something I noticed both using the app and uploading photos and status updates through social networks and emails.

Samsung Galaxy S5 performance (T-Mobile)

Install CNET mobile app (5MB) 11.8 seconds
Load up CNET mobile app 6 seconds
CNET mobile site load 4.4 seconds
CNET desktop site load 15.4 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 17.5 seconds
Camera boot time 2.2 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 0.3 seconds with autofocus; also has burst-mode

That said, the phone's 2,800mAh ticker took my pummeling in stride. Its reserves predictably dropped the more videos I streamed -- a lot -- but didn't drain much overnight when I left it, unplugged, as my alarm. It's always tough to tell battery-life needs when you're intensely testing a new phone, which requires constant use, even during times you may ordinarily lay your phone down. How much charge the phone holds also decreases over time, much to everyone's consternation.

3DMark Unlimited test

Apple iPhone 5S 14556
Samsung Galaxy S5 18321
HTC One M8 20795

Graphics Test 1 (GPU)

Apple iPhone 5S 104.6
Samsung Galaxy S5 108.3
HTC One M8 113.8

Graphics Test 2 (GPU)

Apple iPhone 5S 66.5
Samsung Galaxy S5 69.9
HTC One M8 81.3

Physics Test (CPU)

Apple iPhone 5S 25.6
Samsung Galaxy S5 49.5
HTC One M8 56.8

Even though the Galaxy S5 have and HTC One M8 have the same CPU and GPU clock speeds, the M8 scored a few points higher in each test. This could have to do with Samsung's aggressive throttling. When the CPU and GPU get too hot -- like when running a demanding game -- they automatically lower the clock speed to prevent the device from overheating.

This happened earlier during benchmarking tests -- the Galaxy S5 originally got a result of 14,000 in 3DMark (versus the HTC One M8's 20,795 score) -- but CNET editor Eric Franklin, who ran the tests, was forced to test it on an icepack to keep the S5 cool.

He also tried running the benchmarking test in the freezer for a few seconds. 18,000+ was the highest the phone would consistently get, but if you're not willing to play games with an icepack in your hands, you'll likely see lower performance than what's seen in the charts.

Still, 18,000 or even 14,000 are great scores compared to the majority of smartphones. In later benchmark tests for the iPhone 6, the Galaxy S5 still scored higher than Apple's flagship, with the iPhone scoring around the 17,000 mark. It's just unfortunate that Samsung doesn't have a more elegant way of dealing with heating issues. For more on how the Galaxy S5 stacks against the newer iPhone 6 and other handsets, check out the comparative benchmark tests from the iPhone 6 review.

All the specs

Apple iPhone 5S 1.3GHz dual-core Apple A7PowerVR G64301GBiOS 7.1
Samsung Galaxy S5 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801Adreno 3302GBAndroid 4.4
HTC One M8 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801Adreno 3302GBAndroid 4.4

In CNET's video runtime test, the Galaxy S5 clocked an impressive 15 hours, 18 minutes of video playback before shutting down.

The Galaxy S5 has 16GB internal storage, though it's also on sale for 32GB; both variations have 2GB RAM and expansion slots that take up to 128GB in external storage.

FCC tests measured a digital SAR of 1.6 watts per kilogram.

Call quality

The Galaxy S5 came through on call quality when I tested the phone in San Francisco using T-Mobile's network. For the most part, audio was extremely clear, without background haze or interruptions.

Voices sounded natural, and loud enough when I increased the volume nearly all the way. I'd like a little more in volume reserve for those noisy situations. As with other Samsung phones, the Galaxy S5 has a digital sound-booster, but this routinely introduces aural imperfections, like buzzing and scratchiness, so I wouldn't recommend it.

On his end of the line, my longtime audio testing partner said the volume was so loud on his end, it was almost on the brink of being uncomfortable. It was, however, crystal clear and noise-free. Voice tones sounded warm and natural, and only a shade less lively than i do over a land line.

Speakerphone was a different story. When I tested it at hip level, volume immediately dropped for both my testing partner and me. His voice sounded distant and muffled even at full volume (my test partner used the term "mushy"), and the phone buzzed in my hands.

The buzzing motion and sound became stronger and more distracting when I turned on "extra volume." Even in a moderately noisy environment with ambient road noise, I found myself screaming into the phone and straining to make out my caller's words. He added that the speakerphone was a little echoey.

Versus the HTC One M8, Galaxy S4, and beyond

Though the Samsung Galaxy S5 has a heap of positive attributes and very few drawbacks, it still may not be the phone for you. Galaxy S3 owners should definitely upgrade to the S5, but if you already own a Galaxy S4, for example, I recommend that you wait. The S5 improves upon its predecessor in almost every way, but the changes are incremental, certainly too small to necessitate abandoning a perfectly good phone -- especially if you're still under contract.

Then there's the question of rivals. In the foreseeable future, the S5 will continue to face heat from Apple's iPhone 6. As it long has, the debate between iOS and Android continues to hinge on what you want out of your phone. If you prefer the variety that Android brings and Samsung's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to features, then the GS5 is the phone. But if you want to stay in Apple's ecosystem and favor the simplicity that iOS entails, then stick with the iPhone. Honestly, I doubt that any die-hard Apple fans will give up their iPhones for the GS5 anyway.

Side-by-side: HTC One M8 (L), Samsung Galaxy S5. Josh Miller/CNET

Rather, it's the beautiful HTC One M8 and the powerful LG G3 that are the Galaxy S5's most formidable competition. Although both companies can't outcompete Samsung's advertising behemoth, the One M8 boasts HTC's superior craftsmanship and a graphically lush Android interface of its own. HTC's phone also blasts by the Galaxy S5's external speakers. Comparing them standing up side-by-side on full volume, the M8 did indeed sound fuller, louder, richer, and far less jangly. Drop the phones on their backs and there's no comparison. Samsung's external speaker muffles itself. For another look at how the One M8 stacks against the Galaxy S5, check out Brian Tong's Prizefight video, which pits the two flagships head-to-head.

As for the G3, not only does the device look more sophisticated, but LG also pulled all the stops out when it comes to offering users a punchy, expansive display. Its larger 5.5-inch touchscreen has an ultra-crisp 2560x1,440-pixel resolution and 538ppi, while the Galaxy S5's screen hits below at 432ppi. For more on the two devices, take a look at our LG G3 vs. Samsung Galaxy S5 Prizefight episode.

Samsung reasserts its dominance when it comes to the camera. Not only do its photos look more detailed across the board, with more natural colors, Samsung's sensor has also vastly improved low-light performance. Then there's the topic of 4K video, which the Galaxy S5 and LG G3 have and the HTC One M8 does not (that phone stops at 1080p HD). Images taken on automatic mode in dimly-lit situations look truer to life on the Galaxy S5 than they do on the HTC One M8, and the M8 photos, while still pleasing, tend to blow out the background. One exception may be with indoor photos. While both phones struggled here, the Galaxy S5 quality dropped the most.

The Galaxy S5's new sensor vastly improves the phone's low-light shot. Josh Miller/CNET

On specs alone, the Galaxy S5 has more tricks, hands-down. But when you add core hardware and Android functionality, they're all evenly matched. The superphones have 128GB external storage capacity, but the HTC One M8 gives you 32GB for about the same prices the Galaxy S5's 16GB, at least in some markets. If you don't save a ton of media on your phone, or if you already have an expansion card, HTC's memory boost may not matter to you.

At the end of the day, these phones are fairly neck-and-neck, with Samsung pulling ahead in camera quality and software capabilities, the One M8 besting the Galaxy S5 on look, feel, and value, and the G3 holding its own with a solid screen.

So, do you buy it?

The Galaxy S5 absolutely is a premium, fast phone that I would buy and use every day. Its improvements over the Galaxy S4 are small, but they add up to a smoother experience. The phone's high-quality camera won't let you down, there are plenty of features to keep you occupied, and the display is bright and beautiful. And even though it is plastic, the water-resistant seals are an extra perk if you often head to the pool, hot tub, or beach.

If those things matter to you, or if you've always been a Galaxy phone fan, then by all means grab the Galaxy S5. And of course, if you've ordered a Gear Fit, Gear 2, or Gear 2 Neo, or you already own the original Galaxy Gear smartwatch, it's a no-brainer; it's one of the select Samsung phones that will work with these wearables.

I would, however, skip the Galaxy S5 if you like metal covering your smartphone, if you don't need every feature under the sun, or if you prefer a cleaner version of Android. Also move along if you're on a budget -- in some regions, the Galaxy S5 costs significantly more than other premium handsets.

After you buy it

The Samsung Galaxy GS5's camera is a wonderwork, combining the best in performance and features. Some features you probably haven't even bothered to use yet or maybe you didn't even know they existed.

Luckily, CNET's How-To team -- in this case, honorary member, Lynn La -- spent hours with the GS5's shooter, getting to know its every nook and cranny. We're passing that knowledge on to you with some handy tips to get the most out of the Galaxy S5's camera.

Lynn shows you how to configure your default settings, explains why (and when) to use HDR, and show you how different photos effects alter your shots. She also goes into why if you're not using elective focus, you're totally missing out.

Samsung Galaxy S5 variations

Samsung issued no fewer than five different models of Galaxy S4 in 2013, and although we may not see quite so many with the Galaxy S5, the company is well on its way to drawing out the S5 line.

There's the Galaxy S5 Active with its physical home buttons and camouflage, red, or grey backplate. Right now it's only being sold through US carrier AT&T, but Samsung will likely branch out and eventually offer the heartier variation more globally. In addition, Sprint released its own rugged version of the handset, called the Galaxy S5 Sport.

Although the S5 Active and Sport have the same resistance to shock, dust, and water as the standard Galaxy S5, they're toughened up just a tad with its reinforced plastic corners. They're not grippy or bouncy, but they are burlier than the S5's delicate silvery rim, and far less prone to dents and gouges. (I know a little something about this from personal experience.)

The Samsung Galaxy S5 Active, side by side with the Galaxy S5. Josh Miller/CNET

Oh yes, there is one more difference, and that's the physical convenience button on the Active's side (unfortunately, the Sport does not have this key). Tap it to call up the Activity Zone, a dashboard with a barometer, compass, flashlight module, and stopwatch. The flashlight, by the way, can also emit Morse code -- and translate it for you.

With identical pricing (at least on AT&T and Sprint, $200 with a new contract) and internal specs (OK, minus the fingerprint scanner) the title of "better" version is a toss-up. I personally like the physical buttons, but think Samsung could have done a better job making the Active and Sport grippy and easy to hold.

Beyond the Active, Samsung has also revisited the concept of point-and-shoot turned smartphone with the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom (the "K" references the word "camera" in German, "kamera"). But what you really need to know is that this hybrid, with its 20.7-megapixel sensor and 10x optical zoom is much more streamlined than last year's model.

Although more trimmed-down, it's still bulky and heavy, and awkward to use as a phone. On the phone side, the specs fall short of the Galaxy S5's top tier marks with a 720p resolution on its 4.8-inch display and 8GB of internal storage, which is rather small for a phone that takes such large images. Still, there's Android 4.4 KitKat and a total of six cores stuffed inside.

The Galaxy K Zoom sells globally, with a £400 off-contract price tag from Samsung's online store, and AU$749 in Australia, as well as sales in other regions. Don't expect it to come to the US, though.

Finally, there's the Galaxy S5 Mini, a scaled-down version of the device that waters down the specs of the original, without sacrificing too much on performance. It retains the same aesthetic and waterproof features, but its 720p screen is smaller at 4.5 inches.

At this point, it's also safe to say that the Galaxy S5 family tree will also sprout a Google Play Edition that strips the phone of Samsung's TouchWiz Android layer. The Google Play Edition is a much more niche device, and one that Google would peddle from its online Google Play store for fans of the unaltered Android OS who don't want to root their Samsung-ized phones. You tend to get more storage space to yourself that way, and the operating system updates quicker, since it doesn't have all those layers of extra software to push through.


Samsung Galaxy S5

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7