Review: My Samsung Galaxy S5

A little background. I always like to start with a little background; helps set the stage for my commentary.

As of 2011 I was using a Motorola Razr flip-phone. Yes, I know; I can hear the stuttered question: “How can you work in technology and be using such a dated phone and not an iPhone or at least a Droid??” I have a fairly solid rationale, mostly dealing with financial issues associated with divorce. But, that is a post for a different decade.

The summer of 2011 a good friend of mine got married in New Orleans. Both he and the Best Man were using good phones. Roger had a Motorola Droid of some flavor; the Best Man Mike was using a new iPhone 4. The benefit of those phones were immediately visible. The wedding party could break up; “Men, we will go this way. Ladies, you go that way. Family, stay out of trouble.” As we broke up, we could sort of keep tabs on each other using apps like FourSquare. We could see the location of other groups on the phone’s app maps. The ladies could take care of themselves. The concern was the older crowd, the aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and making sure they got to appointed lunch and dinner venues. Roger could use an app to figure out where grandma was located and then help direct that group to the wedding lunch, etc. Brilliant!

Mike had just recently upgraded to his iPhone 4, leaving his iPhone 3GS at home in Colorado. “Hey, I’m not using it any more. I’ll just boxed it up and ship it to you. It’s pretty beat up but it still works.”

Awesome! Mike sent me his used iPhone 3GS and I immediately put it to use. Yes, it was beat up. The outer case was scratched and scarred and rough. Mike is an avid mountain biker and motorcyclist and all-around outdoor enthusiast and the iPhone 3GS had all the wear-and-tear of being a constant companion. Yet, the screen was unmarred and the iPhone was the 32GB version. Lots of space to load podcasts, and, most of all, take pictures and video.

Until the summer of 2014 I used that old iPhone 3GS. I bought a yellow Otterbox case to protect it, bunches of cables to use in the office, at home, and in my truck. I took 1000s of pics and 100s of hours of video. Like the majority of smartphone users, the device became fairly indispensable.

But, as the case with much technology, I ran up against the terminal problem of support. I got stuck behind the Apple OS upgrade wall and as a result apps began to lose support. Also, I became vulnerable to tech envy as I saw people using the newer iPhone 5, 6, and some interesting Android-based phones. Sitting beside my friend, Kathie, at basketball games I could see how slow my iPhone 3 was compared to her iPhone 4. And, I work in technology.

Time to upgrade.

I really debated upgrading. My iPhone 3GS was free, handed down by my friend, Mike. I never exceeded my data plan as I really was not a huge user of data. Though I sent text and MMS messages, I never stressed my 2GB AT&T data plan. I like the iPhone 3 much better than I ever thought I would. I thought I would never adapt to the virtual keyboard, thinking the tactile button-board of the Blackberry or Motorola was superior, yet I did. Even today, in my post upgrade days, I continue to use the iPhone 3, but as a high-end iPod. I don’t have it active as a cellphone, but it serves as a great extra bit of technology for road trips.

I debated briefly about getting an iPhone 5. I am the first to tell people, “Get out of your comfort zone.” In this case, I told myself I had to practice my preaching and leave Apple behind and try the Android world. A few people around me I noticed had Samsung phones, the owner of the coffee shop I frequent, and his dad, and most of his employees; a few students in my department I could see holding these somewhat large phones. Not being particularly shy about getting people to talk about something they like, I would ask, “So, do you like your Samsung? What kind is it?”

Invariably, the response was 100%, “I love this phone!” Sometimes, I would get, “This phone is awesome!” or, “This phone is so cool!” Most of the users were former Apple iPhone users. I would ask, “So, would you go back to your iPhone?” and in every case the answer was typically, “Uh, no; no way,” to “Hell, no.”

I also asked some friends of mine who recently upgraded their older model iPhones to iPhone 5 or iPhone 6. “Do you like your new iPhone?” And, invariably, the replies were pretty much along the lines of, “Oh, yes! I love this phone!”

So, when the personal reviews of technology were seemingly in balance, at least in my circles, what to do?

I would ask, “So, would you go back to your iPhone?” and in every case the answer was typically, “Uh, no; no way,” to “Hell, no.”

A couple of contributing factors. My mother recently upgraded her suitcase-style cellphone to a Samsung Galaxy and was having a miserable time of it. But, she literally upgraded from a phone the size of a human shoe with a screen unable to show the length of a single 7-digit phone number. That’s like pulling someone from a horse and giving them the keys to a new Honda Civic and expecting them to get on down the road. My sister’s family was a mixed-group. My brother-in-law is a CEO of some tech company and uses a Motorola Droid-type phone. My niece and nephew have an iPhone and Android phone, respectively. The final push I needed was the upgrade options available from AT&T.

In my region of the U.S., only two true contenders for cellular service make sense, AT&T and Verizon. AT&T offered me a free upgrade; I have been a life-long AT&T customer and I had been sitting on an upgrade for about 2 years. A switch to Verizon would be slightly more of a headache than I wanted. I opted to stick with my AT&T plan since I could get my service plan grandfathered and use my upgrade to get a free Samsung Galaxy S5 in white.

As of my writing, I have been an extremely satisfied user of the Samsung Galaxy S5, for a variety of reasons. So, without further ado, here we go.

What did I get?

  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (white)
  • 2.5GHz Quad-Core Snapdragon processor
  • 16GB of on-board storage. I added a 32GB microSD card a week or so later.
  • 16MP rear-facing (main) camera
  • 2MP front-facing (sub) camera
  • See Samsung Galaxy 5 page for more details

After allowing my new phone to charge, I connected my personal Gmail account to Google Play. I realized the phone was immediately installing apps I had installed on my Nexus 7 tablet. Whoa; that’s kind of cool, I thought. And, why not? After all both devices use precisely the same Android OS and I use precisely the same Google account to manage both.

Browsing the internet was amazingly fast and responsive. Now, considering I was moving from the slower iPhone 3GS to a 4G-empowered Samsung Galaxy I should not be too impressed, really. Still, watching pages load fast and rendered correctly was still pretty captivating.

Camera: Pros

I really like the 16MP camera. I take pictures pretty much every day (mostly of my girls, my dogs.) I also shoot video frequently. I don’t use the front-facing camera often. I don’t engage in video chats, or take selfies, and simply haven’t had the need to use the 2MP camera. I have used pretty much every camera function; the panoramic shots are amazing and crisp. The Virtual Tour function is very cool. I can see a real estate agent, or anyone wanting to create a tour of place using their Samsung Galaxy to create a tour and post to YouTube. Simply a great shooting mode.

IMG_3207

I have used the camera for capturing lots of video. The phone is capable of 480p, 720p, 1040p, and ultraHD. The videos I show people without a Samsung are really taken aback by the quality. “You shot that with your phone? What sort of alien tech are you in possession of? Does the FBI know?”

Camera: Cons

The phone is a little sensitive to jostling. If you don’t like a shot and jiggle the phone, you’re likely to get a shot, anyway. The phone will take the picture whether you like it or not. Not a big deal; just delete it later. But, it’s sort of irritating. The camera tends to have some color balance issues. Inside shots tend to be yellowish. I am not a professional photographer, and I think this has more to do with my inside lighting than the camera itself, fluorescent lights behind faded and aged plastic.

The video suffers from the same jostling issue as the pictures. Hold the phone absolutely still and you probably won’t have any annoying pauses in video. If you jostle the phone even slightly,like to get out-of-the-way of a charging dog who takes playing soccer far too seriously, your video might get a little herky-jerky. Again, sort of annoying. Also, when shooting video, making sure no other apps are open seems to make a difference in smoothness of video capture. However, I have used my Samsung to capture video of myself in the classroom. Using a tripod, even a cheap $10 Walgreen tripod, really helps. Students are somewhat surprised when they see faculty using their phone in a classroom. When used appropriately smartphones in the classroom are a definite positive.

Apps: Pros

I have a way to go in terms of evaluating apps. Of course, I use the Google apps, Maps, Gmail, Drive, Chrome, YouTube, and Hangouts. No particular issues with any of these. I use the Android Facebook app on occasion, to post to the university-related Facebook pages. I use the official Twitter app for Android and I also use HootSuite for Android. Honestly, I use the Twitter app on my phone more so than the HootSuite app. I use the HootSuite app on my desktop more so than the Twitter desktop app.

I like the S Health app. I walk to-and-from work everyday and always wondered how I was doing with my walking. I live about a 7 minute walk from my office and make the roundtrip a few times a day. The S Health app reports I walk about 5 miles a day. I think the distance is over-estimated but not sure by how much. I think the phone detects more walking than I actually do, due to the motion sensor. I walk a lot in my building as the areas I am responsible for exist on two adjacent floors.

Everyone with a smart phone needs a good weather app. I like WeatherUndergound; they give as much weather data as possible. WU incorporates local weather stations a la “citizen science.” Some weather stations allow people to connect the station to the Internet. WU grabs this local supplementary data and publishes it along with other weather info from local National Weather Service (NOAA/NWS) offices.

The Galaxy S5 comes with an IrLED. Why is that cool? Your television remote uses an IrLED to manifest your watching choices. That’s correct; you can control your HDTV, cable box, and many other devices using the “Ir blaster” on the phone. The Smart Remote app is easy to set up and you can jump from show to show, or program a show to watch later from your phone.

Apps: Cons

My recent Thanksgiving trip to Kansas City illuminated a few of the phones weaknesses. I learned about micro USB 3.0 immediately before and during the trip. To contrast, my truck stereo has a typical USB 2.0 jack. Previously, I simply plugged my Apple charging/data cable into the USB port, set my stereo to iPod, and off I went, listening to EconTalk or StarTalkRadio podcasts.

I plugged my charging cable into the USB port on my stereo, connected the mini-USB to my Galaxy, and nothing happened. Well, not entirely true. My stereo declared it was “reading” but evidently it was reading silently to itself. While I appreciate the consideration, stereos are designed to share content. I grabbed another cable and the same thing happened. In fact, I further realized the phone was not charging from the USB, either. My iPhone would charge; why not my Galaxy?

I then grabbed the actual charging/data cable and consider the ends. The mini-USB cables should charge the Galaxy, to be clear. I think I just had a bad cable. But, the Galaxy needs a true micro-USB 3.0 cable to be serviceable. Those are not cheap. Even with a true micro-USB 3.0 cable connecting my Galaxy to my truck stereo I could not get any podcast to come through. Today, I am blaming my stereo and not the Galaxy. The stereo is clearly marked to support iPods and iPhones and not Android. Yesterday, I dug out an old 1/8″ audio cable and connected the Galaxy using the headphone jack to the stereo’s auxiliary input jack. I finally got my podcasts to air through the stereo though I had to increase the output volume on both the phone and stereo in order to hear sound. I arrived at a solution, not one I like, but a solution nonetheless.

Perhaps this is simply a mismatch in generations of technology. The stereo pre-dates Android popularity but not iOS popularity. The Galaxy would not charge via the USB port so I grabbed a 12-volt USB power adapter and used that to charge the phone while the audio cable provided sound. I felt like I was hacking the Millennium Falcon for about 20 minutes, or trying to get Serenity off the ground, with cables and cords strung around the trucks cabin.

Conclusion

Despite a few quirks, I do like the Samsung Galaxy S5. The door protecting the data/charging port seems flimsy, but what can you do if you want some resistance to water? I expect the door to fall off one day.

puregeargalaxys5dualtek3The phone is just large enough to be unable for me to text using one hand. Granted, I have a nice DualTek case protecting the phone which adds to the Galaxy’s overall size. But, still, I’ve held the iPhone 5 in a Otterbox case and I can still compose a text message with one hand.

I don’t have a problem with the size, though. My eyes don’t work as well as I would like and the Galaxy’s EMOLED screens is big and bright. I get a little frustrated with the keyboard at times. The registration of the keys seems to be off from where my fingers think the letters and numbers should be. I had the same issue with my iPhone 3, but the issue seems slightly more pronounced on my Galaxy.

I bought an after-market clipcase to pack the phone around. While I could shove my iPhone 3GS in a pocket I am reluctant to do this with my Galaxy. I have, but I’m a smaller framed fellow, and a giant phone in my hip or back pocket just doesn’t work for me. I clip the nylon case at my waist tuck in my phone, and I’m off. I see some fellows who are working on remodeling some buildings near my office using their Galaxy phones. They do carry their phones in front or back pockets. I worry about cracking my phone, so I choose not to carry mine in pockets.

I also have not used the thumbprint scanner. I have read other reviews seeming to indicate the scanner is sort of wonky to set up and use. By “wonky” I mean the scanner doesn’t recognize thumbprints or prints well, in general.

During my recent road trip I used Google Maps and the on-board GPS extensively. I opted for a less direct route to Kansas City, cutting diagonally across the state and taking the back roads and “blue highways.” The GPS and Google Maps positioned me remarkably well. So well, in fact, I wonder how useful inexpensive handheld GPS units really are. I’m sure my reported position was augmented by cellular tower connections and not restricted to mere GPS signals. If I was out in the Boonies the GPS accuracy would drop off, I suspect.

In October, I used my Galaxy for a mapping workshop at Louisville Community and Technical College – Southwest. Using ESRI’s Collector for ArcGIS I used only the GPS on my Galaxy and ArcGIS Online to create a polygon around a bit of landscaping. While land surveyors might be shocked and appalled at building a campus map around GPS, Collector, and ArcGIS Online, the accuracy of the polygon I created around the flowered landscaping had to be within 6″ or so. Very cool. And a great way to get kids and adults thinking about their world, collecting data, thinking about data collection and usability.

I’m happy with the Samsung Galaxy S5. I would make the choice again, for sure. I read blogs and reviews which sound dismissive of the Galaxy brand, or are unimpressed. Look, people, like Louis CK has admonished, get over yourselves. This technology barely existed 5 years ago. A decade ago this was nearly science fiction. And 70 years ago, in the Dick Tracy-era, this was only technology one say in comic books. I think we need to appreciate our technology a little more and be less arrogant about our impressions of technology.

Because of how closely aligned the Samsung products are, I would imagine the Galaxy Note 3 and Note 4 are just a brilliant as the Galaxy S5. I have a friend who treats his Galaxy Note 3 like his office away from the office. That is pretty much my approach to my Galaxy S5, an office away from the office. If you have worries about doing something different from an Apple iPhone, I would not be that concerned about change. All of your media can be transferred to the Android device, stored in the cloud via Drive, or on microSD cards (which Apple refuses to allow.)

So, don’t be too afraid to change. We need to get out of our comfort zone occasionally.

PAX

****** Update // December 6th, 2014 *****

I collected a few different cables to mix and match and try to resolve by connection problems to my truck stereo.

My 12-volt USB charger adapter I used for my Thanksgiving road trip was a piece of garbage. The indicator light beamed confidently, yet the USB charger was not truly competent. It was a piece of conference swag, and I tossed it in the garbage. I used a different USB charger, one that both glowed and did its job. I discovered another USB charger which arrived with an after-market accessory pack I bought when I bought my Galaxy S5. I now had two for testing. 

I bought two new USB 2.0 to mini-USB 3.0 cables. One Samsung-labeled cable I bought from an Amazon cellular accessory online store. The second cable I bought from Radio Shack.

Two new cables, two new USB 12-volt adapter chargers.

Today, I ran some tests using my Galaxy S5 and the Nerdist podcast featuring Carol Leifer. Great podcast, by the way. 

I got cables connected, one to the audio port on the truck stereo, the other to my headphone jack on the Galaxy. Got the sound setting adjusted and heard a nice podcast through my stereo. Great!

I then connected the USB charging cable to the 12-volt adapter. Loud, squelchy noise blasted over the top of the audio podcast. I switched cables. I tried the other USB charger. I tried every permutation; the noise never abated. I don’t have the issue with my used iPhone 3GS. I have this annoying squelchy noise when my Samsung Galaxy S5 is connected.

The noise varies with the truck’s acceleration. I’m guessing some bad electromagnetic shielding is responsible somewhere. Perhaps the stereo is not grounded well.

However, I’m struggling with the difference between the way the signals are handled between the iPhones and the Samsung devices. Why should there be such a difference?

I’m not finished testing to figure out where the weakness is located. In the near future I’ll borrow a friend’s car. I’ll use the USB and audio ports to connect the Galaxy S5, see if I can replicate the problems.

I’ll report back when I have some results.

****** Update // December 29th, 2014 *****

I’ve determined the problem is mostly on my end of the Galaxy. Using a late model Ford Explorer I connected the Galaxy S5 to the sound system. No noise or irritating whine resulted from the connection.

I spent time on a recent Saturday and improved the wiring of my truck’s stereo. I focused on making sure I had a good ground connection and the antenna cable was secure. When I connected the Galaxy S5, I still had a slight whine but a vast improvement over my previous experience. I can say at this point the problem is not the phone but my stereo.

I have not yet tried a Bluetooth connection. I am still somewhat troubled an iPhone can be connected and recognized almost immediately, while an Android device is not. So many more layers of complex menus must be navigated to get an Android device to perform. 

 

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