One of the most wasteful things we do is replacing a perfectly functional smartphone with a new one every few years, merely because our “contract” is up.
After all, the Samsung Galaxy S4 that I have used since 2013 has more computing power, and more capabilities, than my desktop computers of 10-15 years ago. But despite this fact every 2 years when my contract with Verizon is up, I find myself on their website, perusing the newer models.
The newest iteration of Samsung Galaxy phones is the Galaxy S6. This is a very high-performance device with a beautiful screen, and a very high-performance processor. Unfortunately, it is not to me a useful upgrade. Apparently trying to more closely emulate the iPhone, Samsung did away with Galaxy line’s signature features which included a
removable battery, a micro-SD card slot, and in the Galaxy S5, waterproofing.
All of those features were important, but I was particularly excited about waterproofing. Given that I am fond of sports in the snow, and on the water, this is a potentially valuable attribute in a smartphone. The S4s replacement, the Galaxy S5, was said to be waterproof, and “ruggedized” compared to the Galaxy S4. If the S6 is waterproof it is not a feature they are advertising.
So given this, when my 2 years was up I strongly considered keeping my S4. But I realized that its android upgrade life was probably over, and if I didn’t grab an S5 soon, that model would no longer be available. Happily the S5 was also cheaper than the S6 and I obtained one through my local Verizon shop.
Side-by-side with the S4, it’s a fairly underwhelming upgrade. The phones are similar in appearance with the S5 slightly larger, and a different texture to the back of the phone. Much of this is still plastic, which has never bothered me, but apparently has been irksome to smartphone enthusiasts, who demand that their phones be made of metal. There is of course a fingerprint scanner, which is said to work not so well (I don’t lock my phone). There is a heart rate monitor next to the camera flash which I also never use.
I have always thought, even before I acquired one, that the S5 screen was brighter with better contrast by default. One annoyance: The button at the lower right of the phone now controls multitasking, instead of functioning as a “back” button like it did on the S4. As this is a “soft” button I would love it if a future upgrade allowed users to program its function.
I read a lot about battery life prior to purchasing this phone. The word on the android forums was that after the lollipop upgrade, battery life becomes abysmal. I have absolutely not found that to be true. My S5 set up the same as my S4, has significantly better battery life, to the point where the network of chargers I had strategically placed throughout my life, are now hardly utilized. Plus there is a special USB- 3 cable that comes with the phone that charges much faster than the older micro usb chargers. Everything happily, is backwardly compatible.
The S5’s camera is I think a real upgrade from its predecessor. It sports a 16 mega-pixel imager which is slightly higher resolution than the S4s 13 mega-pixel chip. More pixels on a small chip is normally not a positive, but the technology has apparently evolved over the years, and the new chip offers both high-resolution and lower noise, particularly at low light levels. The phone continues to offer a f2.2 lens with somewhere around a 28 mm equivalent field of view.
The new standard camera app is full featured with lots of the special imaging modes beloved of casual photographers. It seems to have a more reliable auto focus, and the particularly nice facial recognition feature. It is capable of doing both high definition (1080) and 4K video, capabilities I admit I have yet to explore (but certainly will).
The files I have downloaded from the camera continue to be a little frustrating. The like any android phone it can be plugged into my computer, with easy file access, for whatever reason, Adobe bridge cannot generate thumbnails until the files have actually been cut and pasted into the computer itself. Another frustration is the fact that we are stuck with JPGs, when other purer android applications such as those in the Nexus phones, offer RAW files as an option. In fact unfortunately, the one advantage (for me) of the S6, is that it does support RAW shooting, with certain aftermarket apps.
Nonetheless the phone’s JPGs are bright and colorful, with good detail, and low noise at reasonable light levels. Again, this is not a low light shooter in any way comparable to real cameras. The generated files are reasonably malleable, a reasonable latitude for adjustments to be made by opening them, for instance, in Adobe Camera Raw. Thus I believe this camera is definitely useful in a pinch, but for me the field of view of the lens,, (and in fact most camera phone lenses), is somewhat limiting for the kind of composition I usually prefer.
For the sake of completeness, I will tell you that most of the other features of the phone, are either little different, or improved from its predecessor. Menus are cleaner, and in the newest software upgrade from several weeks ago, there is a new native app, that functions to clean out memory, and close programs that are sapping power.
So overall I’m glad I upgraded. I hope that Samsung will support this model through one or 2 Android operating system upgrades, and might enable more features found in generic versions of Lollipop. A very pleasant smartphone, and clearly superior to its predecessor.
I still feel a little guilty though.