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Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport review: A more stylish Galaxy S5 for Sprint subscribers

Picture a bright Galaxy S5 with a textured back cover and a mountain of preloaded apps, and you have Sprint's S5 Sport.

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Jessica Dolcourt
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Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Franchises, How-To, Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads CNET Franchises, How-To, and Performance. With over 15 years in journalism, her experience includes mobile phone and software reporting and reviews, and delivering advice on expansive topics ranging from personal finance to travel and home. Jessica got her start at Download.com and holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).

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7 min read

What's the difference between the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sprint's exclusive Galaxy S5 Sport? Mostly the bright blue or red paint job; the slightly rubberized design with physical rather than touch-sensitive controls; and preloaded fitness-related apps, like Sprint Fit Live, that wrap in some limited-time subscriptions to various services.

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9.0

Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport

The Good

Samsung's Galaxy S5 Sport has a grippy backing and responsive physical controls, and it comes in vibrant colors. It has nearly all of the Samsung Galaxy S5's software and specs.

The Bad

Data is slow if you aren't in Sprint's LTE data footprint. The Sport lacks the convenience key of AT&T's S5 Active. A mountain of preloaded apps makes setup a drag.

The Bottom Line

Sprint's Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport inches ahead of the original S5 by combining identical performance in a slightly more polished package.

That's about it. You still get the 5.1-inch 1080p display, an excellent 16-megapixel camera, a 2.5GHz quad-core processor, a heart-rate monitor, and Android 4.4 OS with Samsung's OS on top. The only thing you lack is a fingerprint scanner, which I personally don't miss. Pricing remains identical to the Galaxy S5: $200 on contract, and $27.09 per month for 24 months, or $650 all-in.

For my money, even if I never intend to dive into the fitness features, I'd buy the Sport over the regular S5 for the looks alone.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport fits right in (pictures)

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Design and build

I like everything about the way that the Galaxy S5 Sport looks, from the rich blue or red shade (I reviewed it in red) to the row of physical navigation buttons below the screen, to the dimpled, slightly rubberized back plate that makes it grippier than the original. I raked my nails all over the backing without leaving a dent, though the combination matte-and-shiny corners seem as scuffable as most phones.

Compared to the Galaxy S5, the Sport looks edgier and feels more secure in the hand. Its volume and power buttons rise higher from the surface and are easier to press, and it does all this while sacrificing only one feature, the S5's fingerprint scanner (which I was never enamored with in the first place).

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Physical controls and vibrant red or blue coloring distinguish the Sport from other S5 variants. Josh Miller/CNET

One other tiny difference is that the S5 Sport, like AT&T's S5 Active, has a single Micro-USB charging port rather than the S5's double-barrel USB/MHL combo port. My one disappointment is that the Sport lacks the Active's programmable convenience key on the left edge, which pulls up the camera and Activity Zone app when you give it a long or short press, respectively.

Like the standard S5, the Sport has a crisp, colorful 5.1-inch 1080p HD AMOLED display, a 16-megapixel camera on the back and 2-megapixel camera on the front, LED flash, an IR blaster, a heart-rate monitor, and a 3.5 millimeter headset jack.

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You won't find the reinforced plastic corners of the Galaxy S5 Active on the Sport, but the combination of matte and shiny here looks pretty darn cool. Josh Miller/CNET

At 5.67 inches tall by 2.91 inches wide by 0.35-inch thick, the Sport is ever-so-slightly shorter and ever-so-slightly wider than the Active. At 5.57 ounces, it's also a tad lighter than the Active's 6-ounce weight. Both fitness-focused variants measure a bit bulkier than the S5 original (5.59 x 2.85 x 0.32-inches and 5.11 ounces).

Also like both those models, the Sport's IP67 rating makes it resistant to shock, dust, and submersion for 30 minutes in a meter of water; about 3 feet.

OS and apps

Samsung's TouchWiz interface rides on top of Android 4.4, bringing a host of settings and software options to the S5 Sport. In addition to Samsung's caboodle, which you can read about in my S5 review , Sprint has absolutely stuffed the Sport with partner apps, including a few aimed at "people with active lifestyles."

Sprint Fit Live is at the forefront of the mix, a carrier-branded hub to showcase partners Under Armour, Spotify, and MapMyFitness. The app, which you open in full or as a widget, contains two parts. The first section amalgamates Samsung's S Health app, Spotify (for workout mixes), and MapMyFitness into a dashboard. The second portion, Smart Health, spoons out articles related to human health.

Partnerships are at the app's core. You'll get a free year of MapMyFitness MVP, owned by Under Armour. You'll also get 6 months of Spotify's premium service for free, if you're on a Framily plan, or 3 months if you're not. These "deals" don't impress me much, since their objective is so clearly to convert you into a yearly paid subscriber. There's nothing wrong with companies trying to run a business; it just adds little value for me personally.

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This dimpled backing gets a rubberized treatment that resisted my fingernail scratches. Josh Miller/CNET

If you are interested in any of these tools, good news. You won't have to download Sprint Fit Live, but here's the catch. If you want to use it, you're tied to the default Under Armour wallpaper that comes preloaded on the phone. Yes, you can toggle the cheesy "inspirational" messages on and off, and use your own Gallery photos instead of images of athletes being sporty, but it seems like Sprint would want to make the download of a standalone app an option for use with other wallpapers. It doesn't matter too much either way, since standalone apps exist on their own.

In addition to the aforementioned fitness apps, there's Samsung's Activity Zone with a compass, barometer, and flashlight (the S5 Active has this too); Lumen Toolbar; Sprint ID; Sprint Zone; Wi-Fi calling; Amazon and eBay; Eureka Offers; Messaging+; NextRadio; Scout, 1Weather; more Sprint apps; Lookout Security; and Flipboard. Whew! If those app tray icons don't blur your vision, Sprint has also prestocked an entire home screen with several of those icons, plus a Featured Apps widget showcasing eight more.

I would never pass up a worthy phone because of preloaded apps -- which you can hide or disable -- though people who complain of bloatware will find plenty to protest here.

Camera and video

Photos and videos on the Sport's 16-megapixel camera were just as strong as on the original Galaxy S5. Internal components are identical, and as with the S5, the Sport's camcorder defaults to 1080p but can record in ultra HD at a 3,840x2,160 resolution.

For a deeper analysis of the Sport's camera app and image performance, see my Galaxy S5 review .

Performance: Speeds, processor, battery life

First, a caveat. The S5 Sport's network performance was a real problem for me. The phone runs on Sprint's LTE Spark network, though during my testing period, I connected to an LTE network only once -- Sprint is just that weak in San Francisco right now (though the carrier did send me a few spots in the city where it will connect). The rest of the time, I was using either Wi-Fi or 3G data speeds.

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Sprint's 3G data network in San Francisco slowed down the Sport's performance, though LTE was fast enough when I got it. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

As a result, my data experience was slow, with speeds never reaching 2Mbps down when using the Speedtest.net app. Contrast that with the 19Mbps down and 9.73Mbps up I was able to get when I was briefly within LTE range north of San Francisco. Websites took their sweet time to load, but they did load eventually, with mobile-optimized websites performing the best. If you live in an area where Sprint's network is poor, beware. However, if you're in a strong Sprint LTE region, you'll hopefully avoid these sludgy speeds, especially as Sprint continues to upgrade its network.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport performance testing

Install CNET mobile app (5MB) 1 minute
Load up CNET mobile app 7.5 seconds
CNET mobile site load 18.8 seconds
CNET desktop site load 27 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 19 seconds
Camera boot time 2.7 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 2.5 seconds with autofocus; also has burst-mode

Processing power is the same on the S5 Sport as it is on the S5, which is to say quick and light on its feet. Graphics looked great and apps were responsive so long as they didn't rely on data to complete their tasks. Not to sound like a broken record, but you can read more about the 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor in my S5 review .

Battery life remained long-lived on the 2,800mAh juice pack, easily lasting a full day from morning to night without a charge. Lab testing with our video loop app resulted in a runtime of 15 hours, 18 minutes on a single charge, which is very good, particularly for a removable battery.

According to FCC tests, the Sport has a digital SAR of 1.25 watts per kilogram.

Call quality

I tested the Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport's call quality in San Francisco on Sprint's network. Call quality was totally decent overall, though not without its audio oddities. In typical Samsung fashion, volume sounded best ratcheted up all the way, but that left no reserve for combating noisy environments. A software feature to boost volume also boosts imperfections, and even adds some new ones.

Still, volume was strong and voices sounded fairly natural on both sides of the line. We didn't detect any background noise, though my testing partner did hear a slightly digital quality to my voice, one that also presents itself on other cell phone calls.

Podcast

Speakerphone quality took a noticeable dive when I held the Sport at hip level, though it was still good enough to sustain conversation in a relatively quiet room. My caller's voice sounded a little mushy and echoey, and the audio crackled from time to time as he spoke. On his end, my calling partner said I sounded quieter and a bit warbly but not distractingly so.

Buy it or skip it?

Is the S5 Sport particularly sporty compared to the regular S5? Its grippy back plate, physical buttons, and preloaded activity apps sure help, though you can buy any aftermarket case or download specific apps to fit your lifestyle and sport without ever needing to buy this phone.

Since it contains all the same high-end hardware features, plus a colorful, distinctive design that's also exclusive, I would urge Sprint customers to buy the Sport over the S5 anyway. It costs the same amount, and the only thing you really "lose" is the fingerprint scanner on the front, but you gain some personality in the process. If Sprint's network is weak where you live, it isn't worth switching to the carrier just for the Sport. However, if the carrier serves you well, the S5 Sport is undoubtedly a high-performer with a bolder aesthetic and fitness predilections you can safely either embrace or ignore.

See CNET's other top-rated smartphones here.

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9.0

Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 9
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