250 miles with the Galaxy S5

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The rain begins soaking through my poncho as I zip along the muddy towpath skirting the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. I’ve come 100 miles by bike through the mountains of western Maryland and still have 30 more to go before setting up camp for the night. For a moment there is a sinking feeling in my gut as I remember I forgot to stow my phone, which is now wrapped tight in the heavy, waterlogged fabric of my cycling jersey. Then I remember that phone is a Galaxy S5.

Stopping for a moment to assess the situation and check that the rest of the gear — the sleeping bags and hammocks, the clothes, the food — is staying dry, I pull out the phone to snap a few pictures. It’s waterproof, after all. To prove the point to my riding partner I throw the phone in a deep puddle. I pick it up, wipe the mud off on my leg, and place the phone back into my pocket. Determining that our situation is unlikely to improve over the course of the next several miles, we do the only logical thing and crack open a beer.

Touring with the Galaxy S5

Our final route would cover nearly 250 miles from the valley housing Deep Creek Lake near the western boundaries of Maryland to the tidewaters of Baltimore. The four day cycling tour would be no walk in the park as we camped each night with the minimal amount of equipment we could stuff into the panniers hung from the backs of our bikes, pumped water from wells leeching their contents from the nearby Potomac River, and followed along a route that led us out of the comfortable confines of 4G LTE service into a world of cellular dead zones. And throughout it all, the Galaxy S5 might just have been the most important tool I brought along.

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Full disclosure: I had brought along a secondary phone — an iPhone — but the device saw little use. I also carried an Incipio portable battery pack with a solid 6000mAh of extra charge in case I needed it. But given that packing light was key so as to avoid the pain of dragging 100 pounds of bike and gear up steep mountain inclines, I had to keep a limit on the sorts of technology I brought along. In hindsight, the Galaxy S5 was probably all I needed, no extra phone or battery pack necessary.

This is not to say the S5 was perfect, and I wasn’t necessarily using the phone in the traditional sense — my glowing endorsement really only concerns its use as a GPS device and camera — but I really could have had no better companion for the trip. That’s if you don’t count my riding companion Lee Cumberland. You can catch a glimpse of the full ride as captured via GoPro and the Galaxy S5 over at his S/V Satori blog.

When it rains it pours

Most of the Galaxy S5 coverage we have seen to this point lauds the device for its IP67 certification. The phone’s resistance to dust and water has for the most part, however, only been demonstrated in very controlled settings. While it’s great to know we can drop the phone in a bowl of water or a toilet without fear, I would not call this a typical situation. I was able to put the phone through the paces in conditions that many folks would be much more likely to find themselves in.

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The first day of riding on the C&O Canal towpath, an unpaved surface of packed dirt and loose gravel, saw no shortage of dust kicked up around the GS5. A major storm system would turn that dry and dusty path into a mess of mud by the next day, and the ensuing storm would soak us to the bone as we toughed it out to keep on schedule. No, this was not a test immersing the Galaxy S5 in a few inches of standing water. This was actively using the phone to navigate and track progress with no qualms about keeping it out of the damp and dirty conditions.

While the water protection was ace, that is not to say the Galaxy S5 was the most accommodating device to use in wet conditions. While damage was not an issue, water build up on the phone’s touchscreen made navigating the user interface impossible at times, and caused some issues when trying to snap off a few quick shots. This is not necessarily a flaw inherent to the Galaxy S5 itself — water would interfere with the accuracy of any capacitive touchscreen — but it does draw a distinction between “safe from water damage” and “usable in wet conditions.” Wiping off the display provided a quick remedy, but in a torrential downpour it wasn’t staying dry for long.

Still, the peace of mind that the Galaxy S5 could survive the rugged nature of the journey is a testament to its design. I did not go easy on the phone, nor did mother nature, but it made it back in one piece and no worse for the wear.

That camera, though

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Perhaps even more impressive than the device’s resistance to water and dust damage was the performance of its camera. The phone was always on hand and I used it to document the journey, snapping a few quick photos here and there as we rode along. Without thinking too hard about the photos or even messing much with the Galaxy S5’s modes and shooting settings, I was able to capture some pretty nice shots. All the photos you see in this post were taken with the phone.

The Galaxy S5 definitely does wonders in the sun. Give that 13MP camera ample natural light and you might just impress yourself with how good a photo you are able to capture. When the clouds rolled in the story wasn’t quite the same, but image quality remained impressive.

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Nearly everyone I have shown the photos since my return has made a comment along the lines of “that phone takes some pretty nice pictures.” And it does. My secondary iPhone might have done a a decent job itself in capturing photos, but the Galaxy S5 made sure that other handset stayed buried deep in my bag.

Battery life for days

Eight hours of GPS tracking per day, constantly connecting and disconnecting from cell towers while searching for a signal and moving in and out of roaming — these are just a few of the pitfalls that the Galaxy S5 had to face over the course of four long days traveling away from the comfort of an easily accessible wall outlet. Despite a life on the road that would test the limits of any phone’s battery, I never had to worry about keeping the Galaxy S5 powered.

After two days of use with a little over 30 percent left on the phone’s battery I gave it a quick recharge via my Incipio offGRID battery pack. I can’t say enough for that little device either. In an extremely portable and rugged-in-its-own-right package, the offGRID provided 6000mAh of backup juice (enough to get about two full charges of the GS5’s 2800mAh battery) with two USB ports providing 3.1 amps of charging power. Charge times were quick, and they needed to be. The trail waits for no one and we were constantly on the move.

But even without the Incipio battery pack I feel confident the GS5 could have made it to four full days of use had I worked the battery more efficiently, powering down when possible and limiting connectivity to avoid wasting power searching for data networks and downloading emails. If needed, the Galaxy’s Ultra Power Saving mode could have easily kept me connected for the duration had my battery waned to below 10 percent.

The struggle is real

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Riding hundreds of miles over four days is no easy task. Being the smartphone that tags along can be equally grueling. While the GS5 did its job and more, there were some areas where the device still fell short.

For starters, forget S Health. I didn’t bother using the pre-installed app to track the ride due to its extreme limitations. S Health is probably nice for the casual user that wants to track steps or a couple runs or shorter bike rides per week, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Strava, my default app for recording and analyzing my cycling activity.

The Galaxy S5 is also rather bulky and difficult to use with one hand. Opting to ride without a handlebar mount for the phone, removing the GS5 from my back pocket in order to check a map or take a photo typically meant coming to a complete stop. Not that it’s recommended to operate a bicycle with one hand and a smartphone simultaneously with the other, but the Galaxy S5 makes the task highly impractical.

With all the praise being heaped on the Galaxy S5’s display, it’s worth noting that in sunny conditions even the eye-searing brightness of the Super AMOLED display was greatly washed out. At maximum brightness there were still times where a hand was needed to shield the sun from the display.

As a smartphone user, I have my personal differences with the Galaxy S5 and Samsung. I’ve never been a fan of TouchWiz and the cheap feel of of the Galaxy line’s plastic build has provided me enough reason to keep my distance. But Samsung’s latest effort has given me some hope for the Galaxy brand. Sure, it’s still clunky in many ways — four days of solid use was not enough to demystify the bloated and at times overly complicated software of the phone — but it gets a lot right in the process, including battery life, ruggedness, and camera quality. If the Galaxy S5 is at home in any adventurer’s bag, it is equally worth consideration for a place in the average user’s pocket.

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  • RichFromBX

    I liked the S5 when I first go it but the more I use it the more I don’t like it. Sometimes it takes forever for the camera to open, switching screens can be slow and I’ll get short freezes when either closing or opening an app.

    Think I might have to give the M8 another run.

    • worldclassflame

      Lagwiz I mean touchwiz

    • Stark

      I really don’t get why some have issues with touchwiz and lag, while others don’t! I haven’t had a single problem, and I’ve had it since the 11th – no crashes, freezing, lag. And for the first time since the S1, I don’t feel compelled to find some way to optimize the phone just to battle any gremlins within the phone or touchwiz itself – it works fluently. Beginning to wonder if it has more to do with carrier specific handsets and their so called optimizations to the software for their services. I’m on Telstra (Australia) and I’ve never been happier with a Galaxy device.

    • Barry D.

      The One M8 I had the displeasure of using was the laggy. Unless it has something to do with Verizon messing the phone up (which is quite possible.) I was disappointed. I already thought the phone was butt ugly, but wasn’t expecting it to be one of the slowest phone’s I’ve ever used.

  • MK2

    Good write up, glad you put it through it’s paces, despite your personal preferences against.

  • Foramex

    It’s water-resistant. WE GET IT! Now give us some interesting news for a change!
    P.S. No. It wouldn’t last four days of full usage.

    • New_Guy777

      Put it in extreme power saver mode, and yes, it would.

      • WickedToby741

        I don’t think that qualifies as “full usage”.

        • New_Guy777

          Eh, put it on, then turn on GPS… You get the weeks life, phone and texts when you need them, maps usage, and camera availability. Hours on hours of angry birds? Maybe not. But definitely what you need.

  • No_Nickname90

    I’m tired of people pointing out what the camera can do in adequate lighting conditions. The world doesn’t ALWAYS have the perfect lighting.

    That’s why I hate it when people say the HTC One M8 has a horrible camera. The camera is good enough and when it comes to low-light, good lord so much heavenly power. LoL!!

    But my rant aside, this is pretty cool. Though it’s kinda your fault for not having a mount to hold your phone. I mean, I can already see issues with you trying to get your phone while riding your bike. I wouldn’t take out my phone while riding my bike and listening to music I’d fall all over the place and get run over. =.[

    Glad you were able to have fun with your phone. I want to make a memory like this one day. I wonder what phone I’ll have when I attend my first Google I/O. Hmm…

    • toomuchgame441

      Don’t worry, the All New HTC One M8 is designed for people that form their own opinion… you’ve clearly formed your own. The M8 is still IMO the best device on the market… so go ahead…. [fill in the blank]

      • Barry D.

        The One M8 is also an ugly, laggy, POS from my experience with it. I had the displeasure of setting up my sister in law’s Verizon One M8 because she couldn’t figure it out. YUCK. I don’t like Samsung either but that One M8 isn’t near as good of a phone as the HTC fan boys make it out to be.

    • irishrally

      I’m sick of people saying less than stellar cameras are top notch because they take decent pictures in low light conditions but fall short everywhere else. Or, it’s the best camera because the file sizes are small.

  • Foramex

    You could’ve done it.on any water-resistant phone, Z1 would be just fine for the the job. Yet you chose the S5 for an extremely long article…
    Hmmm…
    Would be more fit to put this one on Samsung.com

    • malcmilli

      The gs5 is the newest water resistant phone. Why would he choose a z1? Also if he did choose a z1 would the article have to go on Sony.com?

      • Foramex

        No. I usually don’t make this comments, but this article is so long and biased I felt I just needed to say something.

        • guitarist5122

          How is it biased? Kevin was on Team Apple till recently.

          • MK2

            He’s still on Team Apple, they just don’t have the readership of Team Android, so he’s been doing more Android work lately. Actually, knowing his personal preferences makes this endorsement all the more meaningful.

        • MK2

          You’re clearly not familiar with the Author…

        • https://www.facebook.com/christopher.johnsc chris_johns

          everyone else is clearly delusional and drinking this guys samsung paid koolaid…im not buying it glad theres someone else here with some sense in their head

          • New_Guy777

            A guy writes about his experience with a new phone, and it’s paid advertising? Two facts…1-This site has done sponsored articles before, and they print that fact clearly (as required by law). 2-No paid advertising would have had anything negative to say at all about the product!

          • WickedToby741

            Don’t really see how he’s drinking the Samsung Koolaid here. At the beginning of the article and basically comes out and says that the review is within a very specific use case. That’s about as close to saying “full disclosure” as you can get. And at the end of the article he criticizes Touchwiz and the plastic build of the phone. I’m not much of an S5 fan myself, but I wouldn’t call this review biased. It was perfectly fair within the review parameters.

          • Barry D.

            LOL you obviously don’t realize the author, Kevin, is an Apple fan boy. He’s just trying out the S5 right now since he reviewed all the other Galaxy S series phones before jumping ship. This review has a lot more meaning coming from someone like him IMO.

    • robjackson81

      Lol maybe he chose to do it on the s5 because THATS THE PHONE HE HAS RIGHT NOW!

    • New_Guy777

      Hater will hate. We’ve gone back and forth on this forum for a little while in other articles, and I get that you dislike Samsung because…well simply because it’s Samsung. But you gotta figure Kevin Krause, a long time writer for Phandroid before moving primarily to the Apple side, would write about what he has, and what he has is an S5. As shocking as it seems to be for you…people are buying that phone. Also, you can’t get the Z1 on Verizon, which I believe is Kevin’s carrier.

  • http://androidforums.com Talton “Phases” Pettigrew

    Nice article, it’s good to see some actual real world reviewing done. Not just the standard “here’s a new phone let me review it like I do every other phone” type of thing. So it touched mostly on camera, battery life, and resistance to water.. so what – those are for some, like me, the most important things.

    All that was missing was a good solid drop or two while cycling, see how it handles some tumbling at that speed. :P

  • guitarist5122

    Kevin has regained respect with the android community. Drinking Yeugling and sporting an S5, good choices man.

  • toomuchgame441

    Cool story… no really, thats a cool story. Its nice to have a type of device that you can depend on in that type of weather for that amount of time.

  • https://www.facebook.com/christopher.johnsc chris_johns

    how much did samsung throw you to write this article…sounds fagazy ive heard dif experences from s5 users…

    • barondebxl

      Don’t be mad cause there’s some positive said about the S5.

  • WickedToby741

    Sounds like the rumored GPE S5 is the way to go, provided you can afford it and justify the price over the Nexus 5 (I’d still get the Nexus).

  • Kyle

    i dont understand how people are allowed to write reviews and or stories on these devices when they get the specs wrong. 13mp??? its 16mp. that would be like me TRYING to seel cars and getting the engine size or how many doors on the car there are. it for one would make me look dumb as hell, and two it would made customers second guess the product, the product , etc and most likely push them towards another. especially today when EVERYBODY is concerned with specs……. BOOOOOOOOOOO

    • New_Guy777

      Saw it, didn’t care. And I am in the market for a car, and see mistakes all the time. Biggest problem is calling cars with a stick “automatic”. Chill.

  • jfelts

    Great work Kevin. Awesome real world test. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.android.com/ HyperTallih

    Amazingly nicely

  • Todd Case

    Very cool. I know some dudes that rode the opposite direction on that same route. http://www.yonderjournal.com/guide/the-cumberland-passage-permanent

  • Johnny Steele

    A great review and excellent read. First time I read a review in its entirety in a long while!

  • Arch9

    *16mp