Saturday, May 10, 2014

Samsung S5: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Well, impatience got the best of me and I took the leap with a new phone on Friday.

I didn’t jump on the Samsung Galaxy S5 when it was first released, because I wanted to see what kind of problems popped up (sure enough, some people’s cameras weren’t working, etc.), and I also figured the price would drop after a little while.

Amazon has been offering the phone for $99 from the get-go, and sure enough, Verizon just started letting it go online for $99 (with an automatic manufacturer’s rebate) and for $149 with a $50 mail-in rebate if you purchase it in-store.  Since I wanted mine immediately, I went with the in store purchase.  Hopefully my rebate doesn’t get “lost in the mail.”  I think mail-in rebates are shady.

As an added bonus, I didn’t realize there was a promotion going on that netted me a free LG G Pad 8.3 with a free-for-life additional 1GB/month of data with the “update” of my plan.  I was grandfathered in on an unlimited data plan, but truth be told, the only good it was doing me was “bragging rights.”  Not to mention, I’m sure the time is not far off when Verizon will simply say: eff all y’all and end all unlimited plans anyway.

So, I’ll be receiving a new tablet at the end of the month when they’re back in stock.  I asked the salesperson (who was surprisingly knowledgeable and tech savvy –I even heard him make suggestions to a couple of customers, to their benefit, that I’m sure Verizon would have frowned upon) several times if I got the free extra GB/month regardless of whether or not I added an extra line to my plan for the tablet (an extra $10 a month), and he assured me the data became part of my plan regardless of whether or not the tablet was activated.  There was a $35 “upgrade fee” for the device, but he told me I don’t have to pay the $10/month, so basically it was a one time fee of $35 to get the extra GB/month for life (plus a free tablet).  So I plan on using the tablet wifi only and just enjoying the extra GB/month (which had better be there, because it was a big part of my decision making regarding which plan we’d go with: the 3GB my wife and I share for data is a bit precarious, where 4GB seems “safe”).

So after two days with my S5, here are some of my thoughts…

YouTube freeze/hang.

This one is a big deal.  I can’t watch a YouTube video (via the app, or inline on a webpage) without it hanging around 30 seconds in.  The audio continues to play, but the video hangs (still frame, not black).  I can move the timeline position cursor and the video will start to play again, but after another 30 seconds it will freeze back up.  I can’t find anyone else experiencing this.  I’m hoping a factory reset will take care of the issue, but I haven’t gotten around to trying it yet.  If that doesn’t work, I will HAVE to return this phone.  Hopefully it’s just this particular unit (and I can just swap for another S5), because obviously you CAN’T have a phone that doesn’t play YouTube video these days.  The only thing I’ve read that might make sense as to a reason why is that Android stopped licensing Adobe Flash and YouTube still uses Flash for video.

UPDATE: Don’t know what was causing the YouTube problem, but it disappeared about a week later.  Perhaps a YouTube issue?

Camera Lag, Problems in Lower Light, Photo Review Function

Camera lag is insane when “picture stabilization” is on.  Thankfully I realized this was just a result of using the stabilizer, because I was getting REALLY annoyed every time I tried to take a photo and it took literally 2 seconds or more before the picture would snap.  Once the Image Stabilizer is disabled, the camera really does achieve the advertised “almost immediate” (.3 seconds) shutter speed.

The camera is almost as great as they said it would be.  I’ve seen a lot of reviews complaining about less-than-bright-light situations, and I ignored them until I actually started using the camera and found out they were right.  Shooting in-doors leaves the camera struggling to focus, and most photos, even with sunlight streaming from a window, aren’t as crisp as they should be.  Ticking “Photo Stabilization” will have the camera automatically use the feature if the camera senses there is not enough light, but this means you will need to wait AT LEAST 2 seconds for the camera to figure out what is going on and actually snap the shot (which is absolutely not feasible unless you’re shooting ONLY still life or turtles).

Surprisingly the thing I hate most is the “review” feature.  Reviewing a photo is off by default, and when you turn it on, it’s pretty annoying.  You cannot set a photo review time limit like you can with ALL OTHER CAMERAS.  For instance, normally when you take a photo (on EVERY other device), you are presented with the recently snapped photo for two seconds, and then your camera/phone goes back to the live view.  With this phone, if you set “review” to on, once you snap a photo and are presented with the photo, you actually HAVE to click the back button to get back to the camera.  Pretty stupid.

The burst mode is amazing (and is considerably faster than the iPhone’s burst mode).  I guess it makes sense, since this thing can also shoot 30fps 4K video (holla!).

The Fingerprint Reader

The fingerprint reader is great.  I know it’s horrible practice, but previously I’ve only locked my phone while I’m traveling.  With the fingerprint reader, it’s convenient to have it locked all the time.  I’ve heard a lot of people bitch about it only working on the third or fourth try, and even if that were true, I think that would still be more convenient than entering a password, perhaps still more convenient than inputting a pattern.  However, I think the problem lies within the way people scan in their fingerprint when setting it up.  Think about how you’ll be holding the phone.  Each time you scan your fingerprint, hold the phone a different way, and/or hold your finger a different way.  This way the phone will be memorizing all kinds of options for that particular fingerprint.  It’s pretty rare that I have to swipe my finger (I actually use my thumb –and sideways) more than twice.

I realize “hackers have cracked it!!!” but it takes a good deal of effort, and it’s better than nothing at all (which is what I had been doing previously).

Form Factor

I hate the size of this phone.  Which is to say I hate the size of ALL “flagship” phones these days (other than the iPhone, which is the most perfect form factor, including materials, ever built, but I definitely don’t want an iPhone).  I still have my Droid Incredible as a bedside clock, e-mail checker, and baby monitor (set up with a Foscam), and every time I set my S5 down and pick up that Droid, I long for better days gone by.

While the phone is ridiculously large, it is pretty amazingly thin and light, so that’s cool.

I’m also not wild about the bezel (the silver triple-band around the edge); it’s not a big deal to me though, as I knew I would be ordering a case immediately.  So the “look” of my phone will be solely based on the case, not how it arrived from the factory.


Something that I love Android for… you can kill the bloatware!  You can’t actually remove bundled apps from your device, but you can disable any app including the ones you are forced by Verizon to endure.  This means I can turn off VZNavigator and never have my phone ask me about it again!  YAY! Just go to “manage apps,” click the “all” tab, press the app you hate, and click “turn off.”  Excellent.  All “turned off” apps will be available in a new tab called, you guessed it, “turned off.”  I also just realized that you can long-press an app’s icon from within the main “apps” application, and if the app is a bundled (non-removable) app, you can drag the icon to “disable” from there.

My Magazine

Speaking of bloatware… long press any blank spot on one of your home screens.  Select “Home Screen Settings.”  Untick “My Magazine.”  Your welcome.  By the way, while you’re there, either select “none” for “transition effect” (especially if you’re experiencing UI lag) or switch to 3D rotation, which looks much cooler than “stack.”

Sync Photos with Gallery

Google used to be great when Picasa was their only photo solution.  Then they started pushing Google+, and it SUCKS in regard to photos.  I still use Picasa, but it’s hard to keep Google from screwing things up (they try REALLY hard to force you into Google+ for photos, and it’s left a lot of users who’ve lost years of photos in the process REALLY mad).  HANDS OFF MY STUFF, GOOGLE! To make sure your gallery isn’t doing things you don’t want, go to “Settings” and select “Accounts.”  Click on “Google” and then click on your name/e-mail address.  From here you can select what things will actually be syncing from Google to your Phone.  Calendar? Contacts? Yes. Google+ Photos? Picasa Web albums? NO.

Deselect Syncing Gmail

From the above instructions, I also DEFINITELY de-select syncing of Gmail.  I want to see my e-mail on my phone, but I don’t want it deleted forever if I delete from my phone.  I like to be able to read an e-mail and delete it, but know it will still be in my inbox when I check again on my computer.  I can’t seem to find a way to have Gmail automatically download on my device without selecting “sync” though.  This is very annoying, as I am only able to manually check e-mail from the S5.  Perhaps the answer lies in using the Samsung Mail app (linked to Gmail) instead of using the dedicated Gmail App.  This might make a few other things work better anyway (the device often wants to use just “mail” instead of Gmail to do things). [update: I am now using Samsung’s “e-mail” instead of Gmail from my device]


I am a little disappointed by the lag I am experiencing.  It’s not so much with the UI, but most often in app (and mostly in Chrome). I heard others mention this, but when I tested the phone out in the store, I didn’t experience anything that bothered me.  But as I really start to use the phone in “real life,” sure enough, there are some pretty significant lag issues every once in a while.  How can this be the case?  This phone has the most powerful, fastest processor currently on the market.  Samsung, you are REALLY screwing things up by not harnessing the full potential of this phone’s processor (or by bogging it down with useless nonsense).  If it continues to be bad, I will likely return the phone and go with the older Moto X, which my wife has and seems smooth as butter (even with a much slower processor).  Some suggestions I’ve found include cutting the animation times in half or removing them altogether, and loading a different UI (though that seems counterintuitive).

The one thing I’ve definitely done, as suggested here (

You can go further in Settings > About device by tapping the Build number seven times to turn Developer mode on. Now go to Settings > Developer options > Windows animation scale and set it to Animation is off. You can do the same thing in Settings > Developer options > Transition animation scale and Animator duration scale.


Hopefully I don’t regret not waiting for the LG G3 when it’s announced on May 27.  I have a feeling the S5 camera and fingerprint reader will remain good reasons to have chose the S5, but I guess we’ll see!

UPDATE: I don’t regret not waiting.  The Samsung S5 is clearly superior for my usage needs, and the more I use it the more I love it.  I have even did a 4K Film Shoot UNDERWATER (down to 13ft.)!!!  The camera is amazing.  It’s not great for “fine art” (the in-camera processing shows over-sharpening glitches/pixel issues when blown way up), but for a camera that’s always with me (and able to do HDR), it’s pretty fantastic.  The one thing I still can’t get over is the size, and any time I’m using the GS5 and then pick up my old Droid (still using it for a bedside device) it feels like I’m picking up a matchbook.

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