Why the Galaxy S5 is a terrible phone

After recently upgrading to a Samsung Galaxy S5, I thought I’d share some thoughts about the phone. A mini review, if you will. Here’s the straight up, tl;dr version: I’d say take a pass on this device.

Sure it’s an upgrade to previous Galaxy devices, but in so many ways it’s a downgrade too…

First, build quality. The water resistance is admittedly a nice touch, but on the whole the device feels cheaper than the S4 and S3. The dimpled back adds a soft touch feel – in theory – but compared to other devices with similar materials (like the Moto X), it doesn’t feel quite as nice. And buyer beware: the white version feels even cheaper. There’s just not enough surface friction offered by the back and it makes for one slippery device, especially when you factor in the size. I constantly felt like I was going to drop the phone.

Speaking of size… Yeah, it’s a pretty big phone. And yet it didn’t need to be. The LG G2 manages to cram a 5.2″ screen into a phone that is smaller in every dimension than the S5 which only manages a 5.1″ screen.

The screen is beautiful, I will give it that. And compared to previous AMOLED devices from Samsung the screen is actually quite usable outdoors in direct sunlight. The problem, while we’re discussing the front of the phone, is that you also have to deal with some ugly design choices. On the black model, there is a curious off-black border running around the inside bezel. Every time I see it it just looks oddly out of place. Secondly, the chrome bezel extends above the screen surface by a couple millimeters so your finger will be rubbing up against it a lot. Maybe it’s a personal preference thing, but I’d rather have a completely flat screen surface from edge to edge.

s5_bezelThat bezel also lends to weird overall aesthetic for the phone. I think it comes down to the chrome look plus the ridged design that is reminiscent of a 60’s kitchen appliance or car dashboard to me. Don’t ask me why. It has a sort of retro look to it… At first I sort of thought it looked neat. After a day or two I came to despise it. It just looks so out of place in the context of my gadget-heavy environment.

Oh and one more thing: Samsung has clearly put all chips in to the hardware button pot. Which is fine… The physical home button has some tactile advantages. But I find the home button on the S5 to be overly clicky. And by that I mean noisy. Whenever I’m using the S5 in a quite room it makes me cringe a little with all the noise it makes. Also, after switching to the G2, the navigation bar and nav ring customizability is a nice change (partly because it allows me to achieve consistency with the navigation bar on my Nexus 7).

Finally: the feel in hand. I already mentioned the material, which feels cheap. But it gets worse: The phone has the hollow feeling that I despised so much in the Nexus 5. The S5 is a light phone for it’s size which is both a blessing and a curse. It certainly makes for better pocketability – but hold it next to an S3 and it feels “hollow”. Tap on the back and it sounds like an empty piece of plastic. The S3 feel higher quality because it feels “dense” despite the plastic.

So that’s the design of the phone. I’ve never gone from liking to hating a device so quickly based strictly on feel (well save for the Nexus 5 maybe).

Now for the software. At first glance I was excited because it looked like maybe Samsung had lightened TouchWiz.They have in a way I suppose… there are less in your face features. But the settings app is heavier than ever. It’s actually quite insane. The settings app normally consumed about 150 – 170MB of RAM based on what I saw. That is crazy. And there are a crazy amount of options.

s5_drawerAnd exactly what is all that RAM being used for? I have no idea. But it’s clear that this phone has memory issues. Apps were constantly reloading during moderate multitasking operation. This is not something I would expect from a modern phone. I know the resolution bump from the S3 places some extra strain on resources, but come on…

And then the lag. Ugh I hate that word. But it probably is an apt description of what’s happening on the S5 out of the box. Primarily I’m talking about multitasking. Both bringing up the recent apps list and switching to new apps have longer delays than I’ve seen on other phone in a long time. Honestly, it’s quite possible that if you’re coming from an older phone you won’t be bothered by it… But for a phone with a Snapdragon 801 processor it is baffling.

Finally that brings me to my last point: development. Every new phone takes a while for the development community to warm up to, true. But it seems like the S5 is going to be an even bigger challenge because of all the model variations. The Canadian version, with the G900W8 model number, is off to a slow start (surprise surprise). Yes you can root it, but not a whole lot else and this point. I have no doubt that developers will eventually pick up the pace and solve some of Samsung’s software blunders. But until then it will be a frustrating wait.

At the end of the day, I ditched the S5 and picked up an LG G2. No it’s not a perfect phone… the screen isn’t quite as nice, the camera isn’t quite as fast and the plastic build might not be to everyone’s taste (I like it though). But at the end of the day, it’s a phone that I enjoy using a lot more than the S5.

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