Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Samsung Galaxy S5

I've been using a Samsung Galaxy Nexus for the past two years, and I've liked it a lot. However, the first one I had became extremely unstable not quite a year into the contract, and I ended up getting a refurbished replacement. That one worked well until my July 4th 5K race, when the GPS decided to take a vacation, leaving me to run essentially without any timing guidance.

A few weeks ago, I lingered a bit too long in Target's mobile phone section, and when the sales manager approached me, I was unusually receptive to learning about the available phones. I was intrigued by the Galaxy S4, which had dropped to $50, and not so much by the Galaxy S5, which was going for $170. The S5 had two new features, a heartrate monitor and a waterproof case. I didn't see much use for the HR monitor, but the waterproofing was somewhat attractive, living as I do in a rainy climate. Still, I didn't think it was worth $120 more.

My Galaxy Nexus' GPS hiccup resolved itself when I turned the phone off and then on again, but the battery life was getting worse and worse. I would start the morning with the battery fully charged, and after a long run (using only GPS and Audible), I'd be down to 40% or less. I looked into buying a new phone battery, but the Amazon reviews left me leery. I then considered getting a Jackery portable battery, but while that wasn't too expensive, it would already be a good percentage of the upgrade cost of the S4.

I kept dithering about whether to replace my Galaxy Nexus until I walked into the Verizon Wireless store next to the supermarket and discovered that there was a sale right now, with the S5 dropping to $100 after the mail-in rebate. $100? Okay, that was enough to reel me in.

Battery: I've now had the S5 for about two days now. It was about half charged when I got it on the first day in the mid-afternoon, and it easily lasted to the end of the day. I recharged it overnight to 100%, and at the end of that day, it was still at 70%. I didn't put it through heavy use, but I did use it comparably to how I used my Galaxy Nexus, with the exception that I didn't go running (so no GPS and Audible hit). On the other hand, I did have the pedometer active throughout the day. I decided not to recharge it overnight to see what it would look like, and in the morning it was at 65%. I finally got a chance to go running in the evening of the second day on the full charge. The battery indicator read 43% when I headed out. Running RunKeeper and Audible for 30 minutes (3.3 miles) drained it down to 37%, which is not bad. So on the battery front, it's much better than my Galaxy Nexus. I guess that's what happens when you upgrade the battery from 2100 mAh to 2800 mAh.

Heartrate monitor: The S5 uses the camera flash to detect blood pulse in the tip of your finger. Based on what I know about my own resting heartrate, it seems reasonably accurate if you take a few measurements and average them. I had resting measurements of 41 and 54. I also took some measurements when I rode my bike on the trainer (i.e., as a stationary bike), and it had me in a tight range between 91-96, which sounds about right. Obviously, this wouldn't be easy to use in a non-stationary setting, certainly not if riding a bike outside, and probably not even when running, although I suppose it's at least feasible there. It's not as useless as I thought it was going to be, but it's not a replacement for an actual heartrate monitor if you're into heartrate training.

Pedometer: Running as much as I do, I haven't felt the need to get a Fitbit or pedometer, but since the S5 comes with a pedometer app, I decided to test it out as well. It seems about as accurate as you could expect a non-GPS step counter to be; I've read about smartphone-based pedometers that measure thousands of steps when the user was driving, but this one didn't measure any steps when driving. It can be fooled if you deliberately bounce the phone in your hand, though. The default goal is 10,000 steps a day, which works out to close to 5 miles. Is that a realistic goal for American office workers? In addition to the number of steps taken, the app displays the distance covered in miles (again, this is not GPS-tracked, but assumed by number of steps) and calories burned. How accurate is the calorie figure? Well, the app does ask for your age, height, and weight, and for me, it seems to be calculating it at about 68 calories/mile walked, which sounds about right. Still, this is essentially measuring a component of non-exercise activity thermogenesis, so I wonder if it might give users a false sense of accomplishment - as in, I burned N calories today over my MMMM steps, so I am entitled to this banana split....

Weight/dimensions: The Galaxy line of smartphones is pretty big, so I got used to just holding my Galaxy Nexus in my left hand when running, as there didn't seem to be too many armbands that could fit it. The S5 is slightly longer but seems to weigh a little less, so overall a good tradeoff.

Waterproofing: Um, yeah, I'm not going to test this deliberately.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with the S5 so far.

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