I got a Samsung Galaxy S5 (The T-Mobile flavor, SM-900T) a week ago. I’m pretty pleased with it overall, but many of the impressions worth sharing are not positive, particularly of the small-but-stupid variety. Much of the animus (and credit) is really for Google, not Samsung.
The phone I want would have about a 4.7″ display, a sliding hardware keyboard, and removable battery and SD card, but that feature set is apparently like wanting a pony right now. The SGS5 was about as close as I could get (The Alcatel OneTouch POP Astro wasn’t too far off from the low end, but it does not appear to even have a known root method). The decision was made partly because the market trends for little handheld computers seem to be getting less to my liking rather than more, so buying a flagship device that I can keep for years seemed reasonable. It’s predecessor, a HTC MyTouch 4G slide, was purchased in 2011 on much the same principle – it ended up being one of the last reasonably-first-class phones to have a keyboard.
- Buttons: Having one tactile and two touch along the bottom is weird. The back and switcher touch areas keep getting unintentionally activated as all touch buttons do (especially bad in landscape), and the home button takes disproportionate force to activate. I also miss having a dedicated menu key, I always hate playing “Find the menu” on iOS devices, Android didn’t need the same misfeature.
- Input: Typing with a software keyboard does, in fact, suck. You can type what the keyboard auto-correct wants and nothing else, or with some extra attention to make sure its staying aligned and not doing something weird, painstakingly tap out what you want with almost-accuracy, but it’s in all ways worse than a HW keyboard. It almost makes awkward shit like voice input look acceptable. Hacker’s Keyboard is the best thing I’ve found as far as typing what I mean instead of highly-probable gibberish, I was already using it on my Touchpad, but it’s even more slow and awkward on the smaller screen. Again, there are no devices with real keyboards right now, so I don’t have a choice.
Size: After a week of using it, I’d still rather it had smaller flat dimensions and was thicker. I almost want it to be thicker, this thing borders on too thin to hold comfortably, especially since if you touch the lower face it hits one of the touch buttons – I might try a battery case or the slightly-thickening Qi charger back so I’m not just carrying around a plastic buffer to fix bad design. In the same vein, I still can’t entirely figure out how to work it comfortably one handed, things between 4.7 and 7 inches are basically in the bottom of the utility parabola. It’s not like I had much of a choice, there are currently only
intentionally crippled“market differentiated” models and phablets.
- Crapware: There is a bunch of crapware in the stock ROM, and most of it is Samsung’s fault. Some of Samsung’s bundled apps also have scary EULAs on them. At least things can generally be disabled from the applications manager. I killed S-Voice (which invites itself to the party if you double-tap home, causing UI lag and interfering with Google voice in some circumstances) from the applications manager so I didn’t have to click through a second “Your phone will record your voice and call home with it” license that I wasn’t going to use. I let S Health assert itself because I couldn’t immediately figure out how to get to the sensors it uses without (a known bug causes Google Fit to turn on the heartrate sensor at inappropriate times, so that isn’t an alternative), then declined all the online features I could. I may cripple it’s Internet access at a later date. I don’t even know what “My Magazine” is supposed to be, but it went away in a hurry, following this guide.
- Root: Android without an adblocker is unusable. Adblockers require root. Ergo, I only lasted 3 days before rooting the thing so I could install AdAway. I used this guide which worked without requiring a complete reflash. It’s basically “Use the Samsung Odin utility to flash a suitable TWRP recovery [boot into TWRP to let it assert itself before the existing software can fight you?], use TWRP recovery to flash SuperSU, done.” as most such rooting efforts are, unless you have to do something fancy to get the bootloader unlocked. It did trip the Knox counter, but I don’t care.
- Needing to put persistent sketchy grayware haxx from slimy download sites in the shitty Android dev community onto your device to take control of your own hardware is pretty terrible, it’s my fucking hardware, just give me a physical write enable switch with a warranty void sticker or something, then I can re-lock it after myself on my choice of firmware instead of having to introduce another untrusted 3rd party to the mix.
- In related news, I did the HTC Unlock + JuopunutBear thing for S-OFF to my Dad’s old MT4GS the other day to make it into a usable spare, he upgraded to an LG G3 the same time I got the S5 and his MT4GS was still running Gingerbread. The old revolution mechanism for S-OFF still worked when I did mine, which involved much less voodoo – the grounding at specific-but-not-anything-like-clock-specific timing thing is pretty bizarre.
- Storage: I read that Lollipop unfucked the SD card situation, this appears to be not-entirely-true. I’ve had several apps fail to interact properly with the external SD card, usually by refusing to write.
- I can’t figure out how to get arbitrary apps to the “Yes, they can use the damn SD card” prompt google added in Lollipop. A couple file managers/cloud storage tools/etc. prompted and brought me there, but I can’t get some arbitrary things I’d like to point there. I think app has to make a call to activate it?
- I had to unmount the SD card to get some APKs to install (First offender was a Monument Valley APK from HumbleBundle). Wat? Then Play Music wouldn’t re-index the music on the SD card until I wiped out the app caches and user data.
- SD cards would be a lot better if they weren’t being software crippled so vendors can charge a 3x markup for storage that isn’t user upgradable or usable for fast bulk transfers, and will be rendered inaccessible if the phone fails in any of the most common ways.
- Speaker: Why is the speaker rear facing?! There is no one back there who wants to hear my phone. It makes the sound quality depend on what’s sitting behind it, and even makes the back vibrate in a depressing plasticy way.
- Rotation: The stock ROM’s rotation lock widget can only lock into portrait. What? It then offers to keep my front-facing camera running all the time to make it try to stay aligned with my face, which ain’t gonna happen, and wouldn’t do what I want anyway. Just make the damn rotation lock widget work in landscape, I’ve got Youtube to watch when I cant’ sleep, and flicking into portrait when it isn’t held just so isn’t a feature.
- UI Widgets: The sliders-that-are-actually-checkboxes in this thing’s default theme are annoyingly misleading. Don’t make tap-to-toggle elements look like sliders. I’m not sure whose fault that one is, but your design is bad and you should feel bad.
- Shutter Lag: It has “Auto Night Detection” in the included camera app. This appears to be the “Add terrible shutter lag” switch, because when it decides there isn’t enough light, the shutter lag renders the camera almost unusable. It’s so fast when there’s enough light that after I turned the shutter sound off (I didn’t even have to hack it, there was a button in the stock app!) I took a bunch of multiple exposures because I didn’t note that it had taken.
- Connector: The Micro USB3 connector really is awkward. Micro USB2 connectors never really bothered me, but the extra degree of fuckery getting the little notch lined up pushes it over to annoying. The Type C connectors will actually be an upgrade for the next-gen devices, despite being incompatible with everything. I might toss $50 in to a Qi back and pad, I kind of like my Touchpad’s wireless charger, despite occasional silent failure.
- The fingerprint reader is surprisingly handy – I was expecting a dumb gimmick but it is slightly better than pattern unlock. Unfortunately, it claims to only allow 3 prints to be registered at a time, which is not quite enough to cover all the natural ways of picking the thing up. HOWEVER, you can train each print twice, and it doesn’t care if the first and second sample set for a print match, so it’s pretty easy to register up to 6. I only needed 4 to cover most comfortable ways of holding to unlock.
- This is, in all seriousness, possibly the fastest computer I own. Goddamn.
- The screen is so saturated and dense it almost looks fake, and black is black, you can mistake a solid black screen for off. Dat AMOLED, it’s good tech.
- I can get ~24 hours of normal use out of the battery, which is pretty respectable.
- Google Now in recent Android on a powerful phone is almost impressive enough to be useful. Almost. It’s still basically a mechanism for getting me to say “OK Google” in an increasingly exasperated tone in public places.
- In recent-er versions of Android, there is an “ICE – emergency contacts” contact group, that can be accessed (not just dialed, but looked up) from the lock screen emergency dialer. This is a good feature, I wish they’d prompt about it during setup (I find lost phones on occasion, and right now returning locked ones usually requires getting the carrier, who would really rather the owner buy a new device, cooperate). I’d kind of like to be able to add special labels to the ICE menu (“Home”/”Mom” whatever so someone could figure out what to do in an emergency or loss).
Again, I’m overall pretty pleased with it. I’ve been varying how I carry it – behind my wallet in my left pocket (nothing scratchy in my usual layout) works pretty well, I bought a passable belt case for a couple bucks from amazon, and sometimes just let it dangle from my shirt pocket – but it turns out carrying the larger flatter device is a smaller adjustment than using it.