Samsung was kind enough to send me a Galaxy S5 phone, and I've been testing it out for the past week. Unfortunately for Samsung, its biggest shortcoming is not something the company can do anything about.
The phone itself is excellent. It's thin, the battery lasts all day, and it's supposedly waterproof, though I wasn't brave enough to test that particular feature. The camera takes lovely pictures, and I never had any complaints about the S5's speed. However, I didn't do any benchmark tests — I stuck to general impressions that any smartphone user would have.
Unlike some reviewers, I haven't had any trouble with the fingerprint sensor that's built in to the home button. Apple's Touch ID implementation is a bit more elegant than Samsung's, but it works just fine.
The best feature of the Galaxy S5 is definitely the big, beautiful 5.1" screen. Watching high-def videos is a pleasurable experience and blows the iPhone away when used side-by-side. And therein lies the problem.
Other than the screen, the Galaxy S5 falls short when compared to the iPhone in almost every way. Waterproof though it may be, the phone is still made of cheap-feeling plastic, some 18 months after Apple introduced the all-aluminum iPhone 5. But even that plastic falls short when compared to Apple's plastic iPhone 5c. The 5c feels solid, with a fit-and-finish approaching that of LEGOs, the ultimate standard in plastic manufacturing.
The Galaxy S5 is fine, but it just doesn't feel as polished as its main competitor.
The software is where it all falls apart. I admit, I'm a dedicated iOS user, but I've made temporary switches to Android several times over the years, and I continually find it lacking. Launching the phone for the first time (my tester is on AT&T), I had to go through a number of setup screens — no big difference from the iPhone there — but, unlike on Apple's locked-down device, I was asked numerous times about AT&T products that were preloaded on the device. Then, after I had skipped all of the offers, my home screen was still filled with icons for the AT&T Locker, AT&T Navigator, and more. I appreciate all the stuff AT&T wants to shove at me, but it reminds me of the heady days of preloaded crapware that one would find on a 2002-era Dell.
Android has come a long way over the past few years, both in usability and design, and I appreciate the ability for Android users to customize their system in a nearly infinite number of ways.
As an alternative to Apple, for those who don't buy into the company's Jobsian locked-in ecosystem, the S5 and Android are perfectly legitimate alternatives. Even the gadget review site The Wirecutter says the Galaxy S5 is its favorite Android phone, though it still prefers the iPhone 5s.
The iPhone still gives the better user experience, both in hardware and software, with the exception of the Galaxy's big, beautiful screen. So, what happens when Apple launches the iPhone 6 with 4.7" and 5.5" options later this year, and Samsung's best differentiating feature disappears?
Have you tried the Galaxy S5? Do you think a larger iPhone would remove Samsung's biggest competitive advantage? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.