Flagship (mostly) fantastic: Samsung’s Galaxy S5 reviewed

But if you like complexity, and you’re escaping another phone because of the control you want here, you’ll be sorely disappointed when you realise that Australian Galaxy S5 owners don’t get to see to much of this. Overseas it’s different, and we hear people from other nations can change their devices in ways we cant, but Aussies, well, we’re an unlucky bunch.

As an example, you can’t change the shortcut dock at the bottom of the screen. At all. Not one bit. Nada.

Which is a shame, because the first thing this reviewer does when he gets an Android (or iPhone) to review is fix the dock so it matches his life, removing the apps he’d never use and replacing them with ones he would.

And that makes sense, right? A phone serves you, not the other way around.

It didn’t always used to be this way, either, but ever since a firmware change happened midway through the life of the Galaxy S3 — oh, we remember Samsung — the Australian shortcut dock has been locked for Samsung devices made available locally. It was locked on the S4, which we complained about in our review, and it’s locked on the S5 too.

But that’s not all.

You also can’t open apps from the lockscreen. We could on the S3, and the S4 brought in lockscreen widgets (which we suspect nobody used), but on the S5, there’s nothing. There’s a slide to open, or a fingerprint unlock, or another security measure, but that’s it. No camera access from the lockscreen, no drag to open an app like the web browser or phone call… nothing.

It’s strange, because you can actually customise the interface of the camera, though you can’t seem to decide what mode the camera opens up in first.

And you can change the order of the items in the “My Magazine” page, but even though it’s based on Flipboard, not all of your settings from Flipboard seem to work here. In fact, just like HTC’s BlinkFeed, you can’t add your favourite webpages and RSS feeds, so once again, you’re stuck with what Samsung suggests.

From what we gather, though, this lack of customisation might extend from making the Galaxy S5 as easy to use as possible, while still providing a modicum of room to move.

In a way, that’s similar to what Apple provides in its iPhone: a complicated product that removes the layers of complexity, resulting in something that is simple and just works.

That’s what it feels like Samsung is trying to achieve in the S5, keeping the homescreens, the widgets, the menus and dropdown bars, but doing everything the company can to appeal to iPhone users curious about the big screens and Samsung style by simplifying Android so that it’s less fussy and easier to adopt quickly.

But in some ways, the company has done too much.

Not being able to change the dock will frustrate customers, especially those who don’t want the stock internet browser, and want to change the shortcuts to something more beneficial for them.

Samsung can argue that it has provided a solution for these customers in the “Toolbox,” a new option that stays on the screen when it’s switched on and provides user upgradeable shortcuts in any location. Think of it as your favourite five programs that can appear at a moment’s notice from a small circle you can keep on screen at all times.

That’s nice, and we’re delighted to see some customisation here, but seriously, it doesn’t make up for a dock you can’t change. It really doesn’t. And a more secure fingerprint unlock doesn’t make up for the ability to open your camera from the lockscreen. Sorry, but it doesn’t.

Moving items around on the homescreen is a little different, too. It could be that we’re seeing the result of the ongoing lawsuits through these steps, but if you hold down on an icon on the homescreen and try to move it, you’ll be instead asked to hit the edit icon on the screen, which is a little pencil that, when pressed, actually lets you move icons and widgets around. Strangely, you can still remove icons and send them to trash by holding them down, but changing where things sit can’t be done this way.

Unfortunately, what it results in is a phone that has the control gradually being shifted away from the user.

Do you want to make the phone look and control the way you want? Too bad, if you leave the phone running stock, because Samsung doesn’t want to let you.

Ultimately, you can always replace the Android overlay with one of your own choice, and if you’re against some of these choices Samsung has made, that’s what we’d recommend, as it can make a phone with excellent hardware perform just as it should: excellently.

But with TouchWiz working the way it is on Samsung’s Australian Galaxy S5, this is, more or less, a phone made for people who don’t care about customisation or change, which given the nature of smartphones, totally confuses us.


There’s no doubt that the S5 is an excellent handset, but it won’t be the same level of excellence for everyone, namely people who like to change things. The hardware is top notch, the screen is mesmerising, and outside of the battery, the performance is bloody good and will last you until the next model or two pops up, without a doubt.

Add to this the awesome concept of being able to pay at the supermarket with our phone and we’re delightfully intrigued with what the Galaxy S5 has to offer.

But then there’s the lack of customisation, an issue which can be dodged by installing workarounds to get around the way Samsung has compromised the phone for Australia. It’s a shame, too, as these flaws mean the phone is never truly yours, which is such a terrible concept.

In fact, every time someone asks us what’s wrong with the S5 and we tell them, we get told that these issues would stop them from buying it.

We asked at the beginning of this review of the Galaxy S5 was Samsung’s best handset yet, and honestly, we’re not sure.

There are things about the S5 that are marvellous, there really are, and then there are things that just drive us away, and make us think Australians are getting the dodgy end of the stick.

Fortunately, you can get around these issues — we’ve even written a guide on it — but you shouldn’t have to. You really shouldn’t have to, especially since tweakers will do it by default, but regular people expecting a phone just as good if not better than their current model will be anticipating something extraordinary in this handset.

So basically, if you don’t mind dancing around Samsung’s flawed Australian version of Android, the Galaxy S5 is a great handset, providing decent specs and cool features, just remember to charge it daily, because it needs it. And if you don’t mind not being able to customise your phone, you’ll love this handset more than anyone else.

Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating0 Votes
Fast system performance; Textured back makes it easy to grip; Beautiful screen; Excellent 4G performance; Water and dust resistant; Still features a remote control; Built-in heart rate monitor is a neat idea; Amazing screen that works beautifully in direct sunlight; Monochromatic power saving option will really help in the most dire of times; Security features for fingerprint scanner and Aussie banks are a nice touch;
Australians are given virtually no control over customizing their handset; Battery life needs work; The occasional slow down tends to rear its head in the worst possible way; Remote control can't learn from unknown remotes; My Magazine seems less customisable than HTC's BlinkFeed;