Living with the Samsung Galaxy S5, week 2: exploring the depths of TouchWiz

Week 1 in review

Last week marked the beginning of a journey for the duration of which the Samsung Galaxy S5 had a front row seat. Actually, scratch that -- a more proper way to put this would be to say that exposing the S5's every nook and cranny is the end goal -- the journey itself is nothing more than a facilitator. Like we have in the past, we felt like Samsung's latest flagship is a many-layered device -- layers that a uniform review process doesn't necessarily uncover. 

And while much of last week's input dealt with introductions and disclaimers, it did also mark the beginning of what is shaping up to be a really in-depth plunge into the core of the Galaxy S5 -- it's new TouchWiz software. But before I share the insight born out of my latest exploits with the S5's proprietary Android version, a quick overview of last week's findings, along with a few additional notes, are necessary.

It takes two weeks to learn the TouchWiz settings menu

That's right, I complained at large about the mess that is the TouchWiz settings menu last week, and for a very good reason -- it really is messy. That said, it's certainly not impossible to learn, and after about two weeks of time spent one-on-one with the Galaxy S5, I finally feel comfortable in my knowledge that I can locate any setting I might need quickly and efficiently. It still stutters, and I still consider it mighty disorganized, but you will get used to it. At some point.

Goodbye fingerprint scanner, and good riddance!

Despite my utter disappointment with the embedded fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S5, I felt like extending its lease for a few days more, even after the initial first week I had allocated passed. For no other reason than being thorough. Well, my opinion remains the same -- this is not a good enough implementation unless you have nerves of steel. And even then.

Week 2: Exploring the depths of TouchWiz

I barely scratched the surface last week, especially when it comes to the bottomless pit of functionality that is TouchWiz. This changes today. 

Indeed, I finally had enough time to delve deep into the plethora of features the Galaxy S5 strings along. After a while, it's hard to argue there's a certain, bewildering type of uniformity -- most features are either outright great, or just poor or useless. In fact, there are very few software perks that actually behave in a manner that can be categorized as non-extreme. Surely enough, and regardless of where you stand on the Galaxy S5, you're likely to come to recognize this bipolar behavior inherent to the device. With this in mind, let's get this started.

My Magazine

Developed alongside the creators of Flipboard, My Magazine is, by default, available by scrolling to the leftmost homescreen. Even if you're unfamiliar with Flipboard you probably still already suspect what My Magazine is all about -- and you are most likely right. 

In simple terms, this extension to your typical Android homescreen arrangement serves as a moderately-convenient way (you still could just fire up Flipboard, for example) to catch up on news and content across a plethora of fields -- from art, through sports, down to business and politics. 

Unfortunately, you can't hand-pick the sources yourself, though you can give My Magazine access to social media you subscribe to -- e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ -- and content from there will be funneled into a clean-looking, vertical feed. The full list includes the likes of Tumblr, YouTube, Flickr, 500px, and even RenRen and Weibo -- popular with Asian users.

Honestly, I don't mind My Magazine at all, especially since you can remove it completely (long-press on one of your homescreen > Home screen settings > untick My Magazine). But I certainly don't appreciate the very real delay in the transition animation whenever I decide I want to go for a read. It's not intolerable, sure, but it still disturbs me that even with as powerful hardware the interface can still feel sluggish.

Heart rate monitor, because of reasons

Despite its near utter uselessness, the heart rate monitor is definitely one of the stand-out features of the Galaxy S5, if only because of its novelty status.

Interestingly enough, while the sensor initially experienced certain difficulties in detecting your pulse, one of the several S Health updates that were pushed over the course of the last month or so have improved performance notably. The trick to getting consistently fast measurements is to have the 'pillow' part of your finger directly on top of the sensor, and apply minimum pressure -- enough for you to clearly feel the surface, but not so much as to feel like you're pressing it. It usually takes anywhere from 4 to 10 seconds for a reading, and back-to-back measurements appear to be mostly correct, too, with a margin of error of about 5 to 10 BPM.

So far, so good, but an overarching question remains: what practical purpose does this serve? Ever since the Galaxy S5 came out, we've been trying to provide a legitimate answer in Samsung's stead, but none ever sprung to mind. It certainly isn't suited for pro's, or even hobbyists -- if you're serious enough about your exercise, you'll likely want constant, real-time updates, instead of the ability to occasionally measure your heartbeat. Indeed, even friends that rightfully fall into the sporty type category, who are initially impressed, usually need about a minute or two to start wondering what the purpose of the monitor is. The truth is simple, though -- there is none. It's just one of those things that add to your geek cred and nothing more.

One-handed mode: The best implementation by far

Let's cut to the chase: even if you have larger-than-average paws, chances are that most Android flagships currently on the market will prove a tad too large for you to handle completely one-handed. The Galaxy S5's 5.1-inch screen is no exception to that rule, and if you often have to quickly access the device on the move (like I do), you'll absolutely love Samsung's implementation of the so-called one-handed mode.

Available from Settings > One-handed operation, the special mode outshines pretty much every competing solution I've come across to this day, and on two fronts. First, it's super-easy to launch -- just slide your finger from the edge of the screen towards the middle and back, in a very quick motion. This will launch a re-sizable, movable miniature of your whole UI, regardless if you're already inside an app or not. And second, in typical Samsung manner, the mode has several extra features, including quick access to contacts and apps of your choosing, along with easy volume controls. 

Said more explicitly, Samsung really hit the nail right on the head with this one. Bravo!

Toying with Pandora's box: Screen modes

Once the first round of Samsung Galaxy S5 review units started reaching the various news outlets scattered around the globe, a recurring topic was hard to miss (or ignore): the Galaxy S5's display is the best there is, they said. Sidestepping the obvious mind-boggler that is the definition of "best" (in anything, really) for now, we often struggled to recreate the conditions in which the S5 indeed proves to be the "best" display out there. Is it maximum brightness? Yeah, sure, on paper, but certainly not in reality. Color accuracy? Hell no -- at least not according to objective measurements. "If you want color accuracy, go for cinema mode, or any other of the S5's build-in screen modes!", some still argued. However, the truth is that even then the AMOLED screen on the S5 proves color-inaccurate, at least relative to the best out there.

But there are two sides of the coin. Yes, the S5's color rendition will not satisfy color purists, but should you really care? Myself, I wasn't sure. Of course, when pointed out, these discrepancies were hard to ignore (human skin tones should never look alike to a boiled lobster), but the average Joe out there doesn't know the first thing about color calibration, nor does he really care. The best for him is usually what appears most vivid, and in that regard the S5 is in a league of its own. The colors are incorrect, sure, but nothing gets close to the steroid-infused colors the S5's display can produce if you set calibration to 'Dynamic' (Settings > Display > Screen mode). In fact, I've been using the S5 in that very mode for the past week, and it turns out that I don't mind.

But Dynamic is just one out of five screen modes. Adapt Display, for example, attempts to optimize color range and saturation when displaying content from built-in apps including Gallery, Camera, Video, and Samsung's Browser app, but otherwise behaves like the default 'Standard' calibration profile. Don't let the name fool you, though: Standard mode is color-incorrect, with an overly cold color temperature (resulting in bluish whites and grays) and notably incorrect colors (not as much as in Dynamic mode, though). The often-hyped Cinema mode isn't perfect either (and looks completely lifeless), even though, technically, it's closest to a perfectly color-accurate image rendition. Lastly, Professional photo is something of mix between Dynamic and Cinema mode.

Why am I telling you all of this? Quite frankly, for no other reason than to make you aware of the choices the GS5 provides in this regard, and to motivate you to consider your own needs and preferences. And don't be surprised by the strictly polarized community -- the S5's screen, by default, induces either a hate or a love relationship. You simply have to decide which camp you're in, so it's best to check out Samsung's flagship in person before coughing up a few Benjamins.

Air wake up, Smart Scroll, and Smart Stay: Not fit for a triumvirate

Starting with Air wake up, the feature originally debuted with the Samsung Galaxy S4, but it found its way to the S5, too. What it does is simple: wave over the proximity sensor (located next to the ear speaker) with the flat of your hand, and your Galaxy S5 will wake up and introduce you to the lockscreen (if you have one). Sounds simple enough.

I'd strongly recommend you keep that one off, however. The reasons here are two, but one is definitely a bigger factor than the other: first, it's not the most reliable of features (don't try it from a distance over a few centimeters), and second, it's a battery hog. Indeed, we've had days where 8 to 12% (less than that on average) of the total power drain was attributed to Air wake up, not least because you'll often wake your display unintentionally. 

Smart Scroll is much worse, however. In theory, it should allow you to scroll through the contents of websites, e-mail, and a few other built-in apps, by just titling your head or device. But in reality, either of the two modes is unreliable, uncomfortable, and just not useful overall. I mean, why would you ever want to settle for such an imprecise feature when you have perfectly good hands to do the job for you?

Last on the list is Smart Stay -- the Big Brother-ish feature that ensures the S5 is looking at you at all times, and knows when you're being naughty. I'm kidding, of course -- the idea behind this stare contest is to actually allow the phone to keep the screen on whenever you're looking at it. In fact, Smart Stay works so well that you'll hardly ever notice its presence. It's especially handy if you, like me, prefer to keep a very low display timeout setting to conserve battery, but also read/browse heavily on your phone. 

Next, on "Living with the Galaxy S5"

Even those unaware of Samsung's usual approach towards software customizations should, by now, realize that stuffing the interface with options is a signature Sammy move. I'm certainly not done detailing every worthwhile feature on the GS5, and while we'll continue right where we left off next week, I'll hopefully be able to provide some practical insight on an overly-important category for most: camera performance. 

Instead of focusing on just image (or video) quality, however, I'll walk you through the diverse jungle that is Samsung's camera software and its many shooting modes. Trust me, there are some interesting stuff there. Talk to you in a week!

Related phones

Galaxy S5
  • Display 5.1" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP / 2.1 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, Quad-core, 2500 MHz
  • Storage 32 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 2800 mAh(21h 3G talk time)



1. ZayZay

Posts: 571; Member since: Feb 26, 2011

About the heart rate monitor "Despite its near utter uselessness" Maybe for you it's useless. I use mine at least 5 times a day, specifically when I am working out and trying to keep a steady breathing pattern and heart rate. To each their own though.

6. chocowii

Posts: 478; Member since: Jan 30, 2014

You use it 5x a day to keep a steady heart rate? Who are you? Bruce Banner?

8. ZayZay

Posts: 571; Member since: Feb 26, 2011

I will have to google Bruce Banner.

27. kryme

Posts: 469; Member since: Oct 24, 2013

*cough* hulk

34. ZayZay

Posts: 571; Member since: Feb 26, 2011

Yeah. I'm not a big comic book person so that went over my head.

38. sgodsell

Posts: 7368; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

I have a friend that does physiotherapy for sports and other injuries. She uses her S5 on some of her customers, and she even keeps track of their heart rates. Its not for everyone of course. BTW I have no problems with the finger print scanner. It might not work the first time, but that happens 1 in 15 times for me.

41. kabhijeet.16

Posts: 889; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

Having it in a mobile device is better than buying a separate device for the same purpose.

67. zunaidahmed

Posts: 1183; Member since: Dec 24, 2011

Yeah right.....Why don't we put microwave in our phone so we don't need to heat our food with something else. Not everything is meant to be put together. Try downloading a heart rate app, you would see pretty much the same results. So this extra hardware it total gimmick. But I do love all the other features in S5.

71. kabhijeet.16

Posts: 889; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

Ya right. Who needs a camera in mobile when we have separate devices for that purpose.... ! ! ! Get it?

44. The13thKing

Posts: 849; Member since: Feb 26, 2014

yes FAT old man.

9. maherk

Posts: 6878; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Same here, once you start using it you become addicted to monitoring your heart rate, especially before, during, and after your workouts. Now I don't use the one on the S5 anymore since I had it on my wrist in the Gear Fit. As for the review, while I loved the one posted last week, and I thought it did hit someone of the weaknesses of the S5 (mainly the fingerprint scanner), I did find this one full of hatred toward touchwiz, amoled, and almost everything that has to do with the phone. What bugs me the most is the constant attack on the color accuracy found on the S5, just because Jobs bragged about the color accuracy on his iPhone, tech sites wanna treat that as a model that all phones should follow, gladly they aren't. LG and Sony for once realized that and went with more saturated screens lately, LG starting with the G2 and Sony with the Z2, people love vivid colors, go check what mode people use on their TV's, most of us go with the dynamic/vivid modes, look at them when they want photo sessions taken by professional photographers, again they always ask for those vivid colors. Nokia use almost the same type of screen, but no one seems to complain about it, maybe because they don't have the Samsung brand on the front. Again I don't see the S5 as a perfect phone (the fingerprint scanner, overrated selective mode, speakers quality and mostly it's position are a huge let down for me), but still I end finding this article is biased against the S5, which wasn't the case last week.


Posts: 650; Member since: Nov 20, 2011

I'm guessing you never placed 2 fingers on the side of your neck...c'mon now that is just sheppness to say you use it 5 times a day and became addicted

25. maherk

Posts: 6878; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

I am not checking if I am dead or not, I am keeping count of my heart beats average while working out.

42. kabhijeet.16

Posts: 889; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

LOL.. by your logic clearly no-one needs a heart rate monitor in hospitals, or stethoscope or Blood pressure monitoring gauge, coz we all have 2 fingers...

68. zunaidahmed

Posts: 1183; Member since: Dec 24, 2011

S5's heart rate monitor is nowhere near as accurate as the stuff you mentioned in hospitals. But putting two fingers on the side of ur neck is almost as accurate as the S5.....

16. piskoltip

Posts: 6; Member since: Jun 01, 2014

You put 3 fingers on your wrist artery (arteria radialis) or your neck (a. carotis) count the beats for 10 sec, multiply by 6 and there you are. No need for any fancy stuff :) If you still need fancy, than you can get a heart rate monitor for jogging, and you get information all the time on the wrist watch, which also gives you accurate information. Maybe went a little off-topic.

40. josh_dent910

Posts: 6; Member since: Oct 11, 2013

Or you could just use your Galaxy S5 and not have to waste time counting...

43. kabhijeet.16

Posts: 889; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

Isnt it more appropriate to Have it in a mobile device you carry all the time rather than buying a separate device for the same purpose.?

23. Pem3108

Posts: 24; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

I think what he is referring to is the fact that there are apps out there that use your cameras LED flash to measure your heart rate. So basically Samsung has not invented anything new, they just like to make a big deal out of it because they couldn't come up with any real new features. My Nexus 5 can measure my hear rate without having the individual heat rate monitor.

28. buccob

Posts: 2968; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

Well I kind of agree with Chris P. here in that it is just a novelty, because there similar apps with results just as precise... I mean, it is useful for some people... but it is not a require piece of hardware...

32. engineer-1701d unregistered

smart stay is the best thing ever

52. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

I happen to know a thing or two about exercise, and I still fail to understand how the heart rate monitor figures into your regime. If you want to keep a steady breathing pattern, you need real-time readings, not random ones that require you to stop your work out, flip out the S5, go to S Health, and perform a reading. If anything, that actually goes against the very idea of a steady heart rate -- you're stopping, after all. Besides, that's why I put the 'near' there -- to obviously account for the few peeps that have found a rare use-case scenario, like you claim you have. In your own opinion, what portion of the entire S5 population even uses it, let alone with actual, real benefit? Certainly low enough for it to be tagged mostly useless.

53. The13thKing

Posts: 849; Member since: Feb 26, 2014

I use it DAILY and it's a fun thing to have, no one else has it and I have fun monitoring my heart beats after working out. And yes you can pop your S5 out, get into SHealth and measure it in 10 seconds, where's the problem? I get 117 bpm I don't get the usual 65 bpm. I know it's not a wow feature but it can help older people (40+) and it's a fun gadget. and yeah I use it with my girlfriend to see who's heart is beating more. lmao I know it might seem silly, but to many people the heart rate monitor means something. about the S5 menu and the S5 in general, it took me less than 2 hours to know every single thing about it and try everything, in fact I can't understand how a tech guy got lost in the menu as it's very easy and clear to use for a normal person like me, and the fingerprint? it's amazing and accurate.

56. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

And precisely how is that a significantly better alternative to an app? In our comparisons thus far, the Instant Heart Rate app delivers very, very comparable results. Oh, and it works on pretty much every smartphone in existence, and doesn't cost a dime, for you or Samsung.

57. true1984

Posts: 865; Member since: May 23, 2012


63. 3rdDegree

Posts: 218; Member since: Jul 13, 2013

He meant its near utter uselessness to him.

2. strikercho

Posts: 156; Member since: Mar 20, 2012

Not surprised. Again:) The expectations could not be high from such a brand.

54. The13thKing

Posts: 849; Member since: Feb 26, 2014

lmao. the BEST brand in the WORLD? please tell me how nothing can be expected from the brand you love.

3. chocowii

Posts: 478; Member since: Jan 30, 2014

TouchWiz is so slow, it took PA editors 1 week to explore it.

4. zuckerboy

Posts: 898; Member since: Dec 22, 2011

I had s2 and it wasnt slow. I have no idea about current touchwiz

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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