Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo Review: Is A Re-Jigged Samsung Galaxy S5 Still Viable In 2018?

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The Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo fills a very specific niche, although it might not be as niche as you think in terms of the number of people who would appreciate it.

Basically, Samsung made a big switch in recent years to making most of its phones sealed unibody designs; it started with the higher-end models of course, such as the Galaxy S6 and onwards, but now with the Galaxy A3, Galaxy A5, and Galaxy A7 (also the Galaxy A8 in 2018) filling in the lower and mid-tier brackets and also sporting sealed unibodies, you’d be forgiven for thinking the days of removable backs and batteries were long dead.

This caused a lot of grumbling amidst a certain section of the user-base. Understandably so, there is, after all, a pretty solid set of arguments in favour of non-sealed phones with replaceable battery cells. Batteries are one of the phone components more prone to faults, and even if they don’t have a fault per se, they do all inevitably wear out over time; even if it doesn’t result in a worse case scenario of complete battery failure, most smartphone batteries will eventually deteriorate to the point where they don’t hold a charge for very long, or will repeatedly switch off or restart for no reason, or take forever to charge up, or a combination of all of the above!

At this point with the old phone design, where you could take the battery out, you could just go down to a phone shop, buy a brand new battery cell and pop it in to replace the faulty one. By comparison, today, with sealed unibody phones, you have to book it in at such a place and let them open it up, root around and swap the battery for you, and depending on the place it might take several days. Plus it will probably cost you more than just a replacement cell, as you’re paying for the labour too.

On top of that, swappable batteries also meant you could carry spares as back-up, meaning battery life on a single charge was no longer an issue. Lastly, it also meant you could solve a lot of problems with phones randomly seizing up by doing a good old “battery pull”, as in, taking the battery out and putting it back in again.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo is most certainly a mid-range handset by current market standards, but crucially it also features the old-style removable rear panel and battery, as well as removable storage (which is not that uncommon to be fair). All of this is achieved by this being essentially a slightly tweaked, re-branded and re-launched Galaxy S5. Yes, the phone that flopped. It’s not exactly the same, of course, there are a few changes.

The Galaxy S5 Neo is priced at around £300, although you can find them cheaper in some places (you can also find them with prices jacked up to stupid levels far beyond the original RRP for some reason), and it must be said, there’s a lot of really decent competition in this bracket.

But does the Galaxy S5 Neo have what it takes? Read on to find out…

Best Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo contract and Sim-free deals

Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo Review: Design & Display

Quite probably the worst aspect of the Galaxy S5 and also the Galaxy S5 Neo, and the reason a lot of people steered clear of the original, is the design.

If one could distil the essence of “meh” smartphone design and mould it into one handset, this would probably be it. It’s not startlingly ugly,  but it is entirely unimpressive, which has a unique kind of ugliness all of its own, rather like those bleak concrete 70’s tower blocks that plague the UK. In some ways this is a worse kind of ugliness than jarring in-your-face ugliness. I mean, at least with something loudly divisive, like say the HTC U11’s blingy exterior, I can say with some confience that someone else, somewhere, with different tastes probably likes it. But here, things are so bland that, just like those eyesore tower blocks, it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that anyone could possibly like it. At best, it’s just sort of tolerated.

Admittedly, Samsung has slightly improved on the original “speckled” back panel (which resembled the skin of a plucked chicken) by changing it to a smooth finish instead for the Galaxy S5 Neo, but aside from that it’s pretty much the same as before.

Same tacky, slightly creaky plastic on the back, front, and frame, which feels out of place on an otherwise solid build; it’s not actually a flimsy phone, it just has the veneer of one which looks cheap and feels similar in the hand.

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The rest of the design is dull as dishwater too. It just looks like a kind of giant silver pill one might be unfortunately prescribed by a doctor (best not ask how it is taken!), with the Galaxy A series looking far more modern and attractive by comparison and coming it at a similar or even lower price point depending on which model and year we’re talking about. Pretty much the only positive things you can say about the design are that it’s IP67 water and dust resistant and it does allow the battery to be removed, which frankly doesn’t seem like a very compelling argument to me, but you may think differently.

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The display, on the other hand, is not at all bad. Again, remembering this was flagship-level stuff three years ago, it hasn’t aged too badly even though we’re now surrounded by QHD+ monsters. Apple may talk a lot of bluster about various phone features, but some of what it says is true and amongst them was the subject of how the human eye perceives image quality on displays. Basically, anything over about 350ppi is going to look pretty damn sharp to most users with normal vision and at typical viewing distances. Higher resolutions only really come into play when you’re talking about compensating for enlarged display panels, hence the current trend.

That being the case, the Galaxy S5 Neo’s 5.1in Super AMOLED display with a 1920x1080p FullHD resolution still looks the business at a nice and crispy 432ppi. There are certainly other ways in which Samsung has improved the overall quality of the Galaxy series Super AMOLED displays since, most notably in terms of brightness, adaptive features, always-on features, and some tweaks to the colour and sub-pixel arrangements. All of that said, this is still a visually lush display with a 100% sRGB colour gamut and perfect black depth. Brightness and contrast are also great. Put simply, there are still rivals putting out brand new flagship LCD displays that don’t look this good.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo Review: Battery Life

One of the old Galaxy S5’s few redeeming features was its phenomenal battery performance and the Galaxy S5 Neo is no different. It packs a 2,800mAh cell, which doesn’t sound like much, but in testing is actually good for nearly 16.5 hours of continuous video playback, which is pretty nuts and even better than the Galaxy S6 series. It makes it a fairly reliable daily driver in terms of running the whole day (and then some) before needing a recharge, even if you throw a fair bit at it. All of that coupled with the ability to carry spare batteries means this might be your dream phone if endurance and stamina are your top priorities.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo Review: Performance

Although Samsung has re-jigged the internal hardware of the Galaxy S5 Neo from the original Galaxy S5, performance wise it’s not particularly different. The Galaxy S5 Neo runs a 1.6GHz Exynos 7580 octa-core 64-bit SoC based on 28nm semiconductor architecture. A little long in the tooth, perhaps, but overall offers fairly decent running speeds for most Android tasks and things like web browsing. The GPU is a bit lacklustre, however, and this really shows if you try to do any higher-end gaming on the handset; it’s fine for more basic games, but flashier 3D titles are going to be sluggish and laggy at best and unplayable at worst.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo Review: Camera

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Again, another area where although Samsung has made leaps and bounds in improving in subsequent models, the camera hardware on the original Galaxy S5 was and remains extremely impressive. The phone is equipped with a 16MP sensor with an f/1.9 aperture, autofocus and LED flash, as well as 1080p video capture and HDR. Sure, it doesn’t benefit from the fantastic dual-pixel phase detection autofocus we’ve seen on more recent models, but still, it’s pretty capable nonetheless, in no small part due to that nice wide aperture.

Again, the key points are present once more; rich colour, sharp detail, low noise, decent contrast and dynamic range; pretty much all the main things you might want in a smartphone camera. HDR also improves the image quality by a significant margin, detail becomes better and the overall image has more definition, plus it also goes some way to offsetting overly harsh lighting and overexposure that can result.

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Admittedly, the difference from more advanced Samsung imaging hardware becomes apparent in low-light, where the quality drops off more noticeable than with the latest models, but it’s still not bad in low light by any means.

Additionally, the ease-of-use and easy capture of the interface is still there too, making this, like most Samsung phones, an ideal choice for people who want good quality images but who aren’t full-blown photography buffs.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo Review: Specs & Hardware

  • Dimensions: 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm
  • Weight: 145 g 
  • Display: 5.1in Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 69.6% screen-to-body ratio, 1080 x 1920 pixels FullHD resolution, 16:9 ratio, 432 ppi density
  • Software: Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop), upgradable to 7.0 (Nougat), TouchWiz UI
  • Processor: Exynos 7580 octa-core, 1.6GHz Cortex-A53
  • GPU: Mali-T720MP2
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 16GB
  • microSD Card Slot: Up to 256GB
  • Primary Camera: 16MP, f/1.9 aperture, autofocus, LED flash, 1080p video, HDR, panoramic capture, face and smile detection, touch focus, geo-tagging
  • Secondary Camera: 5MP, f/1.9, 1080p video
  • Connectivity: 3.5mm headphone jack, 4G LTE (Micro-SIM), Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Dual-Band, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi Hotspot, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, A-GPS, NFC, FM Radio, microUSB 2.0
  • Other: IP67 certified – dust and water resistant
  • Battery: Removable Li-Ion 2,800 mAh battery

As you can see, the Galaxy S5 Neo doesn’t have the Galaxy S5’s fingerprint scanner – which is no huge loss, but it does pack a decent selection of connectivity types, including subsidising the rather paltry 16GB of onboard storage with microSD support up to 256GB (something the Galaxy S6 didn’t manage). It also keeps the 3.5mm headphone jack and an FM-Radio, keeping things suitably in-line with the old-school removable battery style.

The storage space might be a sticking point, but I think for people who find the other aspects of this phone appealing (the removable battery, the long lasting battery performance, and the waterproofing) it probably won’t be such an issue; after all, you’re after the pragmatic features for this phone to be tough, to keep going, and are not bothered about it looking glamorous, rather than wanting to stuff it full of high-end apps and content.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo Review: Verdict

In the current market climate the Galaxy S5 Neo feels very utilitarian. It’ll last a long time with the battery life, you can swap batteries in the event of a fault or just to have spares to keep you going longer, it is waterproof and plastic – thus not too delicate.

It has some power, but not enough for the latest games and high-performance content, and it doesn’t have a lot of space for said games and apps anyway. The screen is excellent, the camera is decent.

Overall this is a no-fuss, no frills handset and somewhat attractively priced for what it offers.

Are there better phones out there for the price? Certainly there are those which look a lot better. And there are those which will offer better processor performance and storage if you do have a gaming lean to you, but often those devices will have crap cameras or will be lacking in some other area where the Galaxy S5 Neo is at least well above average.

This is a great little package for those who don’t expect or even want their phone to be luxurious looking and to do absolutely everything. Instead, it hones in on a few key features which really matter to a lot of users; battery life, display quality, camera quality, utility and durability. If that looks like an attractive set of tick-boxes for you, you may have just found your new phone.

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