Samsung’s Galaxy S5 might be a brand new smartphone, but it’s also quite familiar in a number of ways. The look of the phone is very similar to the Galaxy S4 aside from the new texture on the back, and the software is unmistakably similar as well. In fact, I noted in a recent post that the best thing about the Galaxy S5 just so happens to be its gorgeous display. The screen, of course, was also the best thing about last year’s Galaxy S4.
As it turns out, these two flagship phones also have something else in common: Their worst feature.
It was a feat even more impressive than the legendary home run Babe Ruth called in game 3 of the 1932 World Series.
Samsung is clearly very good at spotting trends. It took the concept of a smartphone with an oversized display, which at first seemed ridiculous, and made it the new norm. Every other smartphone vendor — well, almost every other vendor — now sees “phablets” making up the bulk of its handset shipments.
The company is also very good at selling phones. Yes, of course smartphones are much easier to sell when they’re backed by multi-billion dollar marketing and advertising campaigns, but if a company doesn’t have good products to back up all that marketing muscle, success is fleeting.
Samsung’s software customizations made to Android are nice enough, the mobile components it designs and manufactures are top-notch, and the services it offers alongside its smartphones are improving.
But one thing isn’t at all good at is making high-end smartphones that look and feel like high-end smartphones.
Like the Galaxy S4, S III, S II and S, the Galaxy S5 feels cheap. Very cheap.
While competitors like Apple, HTC and others opt for premium materials on their flagship phones (which still cost the same amount to end users as Samsung’s phones), Samsung uses plastics that feel flimsy and toy-like.
And it’s not that plastic inherently feels cheap on smartphones — Nokia has shown us time and time again that a plastic phone can still look and feel premium.
Samsung’s phones do not look or feel premium.
The Galaxy S5 is also the latest example of another problem that plagues Samsung’s handset designs: poor taste. The back of the Galaxy S5 features a textured pattern and a style that the company refers to as “modern glam look.”
As much as I hate smartphone cases, I would probably use one on the Galaxy S5.
Of course, design is a matter of opinion and there is plenty of room for argument. There will certainly be people — millions of people, perhaps — who like the look of the S5. No one would argue that the Galaxy S5 looks and feels like a premium smartphone to the extent that the HTC One (M8) does, or to the extent that the iPhone 5s does.
Rumors suggest that Samsung is working to finally release a new smartphone with a housing made from premium metal. This would be an interesting play; there’s no question that tens of millions of people around the world don’t necessarily mind cheap feeling plastic, but millions more might be lured away from Samsung’s rivals by sleek new smartphone made of high-end materials that match its high-end price tag.
The Galaxy S5 is most definitely not that phone.
Samsung’s latest flagship Android handset represents a big improvement over previous generations in many key areas. The display is the best I have ever seen on any smartphone and the new health features are impressive and useful. But the S5 still looks cheap, still feels cheap, and is still nowhere close to being in the same league as top rival phones when it comes to design or fit and finish.
I typically loathe smartphone cases, but the Galaxy S5 is a $650 smartphone with a look and feel that might actually be improved when you cover it with a $10 plastic case.
This post is part of a new feature on BGR that supplements our standard product reviews. In this series, BGR takes a closer look at the best and worst qualities of some of the most popular consumer devices in the world in an effort to dive deeper into exactly what makes them stand out.