Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Sony Xperia Z2
13th Mar 2014 | 10:28
An early look at Barcelona's headliners
Design and screen
We're feverishly awaiting our review samples of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 – so to help keep you going in this barren period (assuming you've already gazed your fill at the New HTC One /M8 and iPhone 6 info we've parsed) we've pitted these two phones against one another in our early look.
If you're one of those people that think 'well, they're both big phones that do roughly the same thing'…well, you're kind of right.
But it's the smaller (and in some cases, bigger) differences that inspire us to keep reaching for the same handset time and again each day, but these can also be the reason we hate ourselves for choosing the wrong phone for two years.
We've spent nearly an hour with each handset to germinate some opinions on each before our full review (spoiler: they're both pretty good) but given some of you may be already thinking about a cheeky pre-order, here's our look at the specs that both are rocking plus a little bit of extra information to help you make the right decision.
Design is a pertinent issue to both parties, but for very different reasons, and once again that's been brought to the fore with the launch of Sony and Samsung's new flagship phones.
Let's start with Sony's pocket warrior: once again, it's gone for the 'Omnibalance' design which means a more industrial-looking shape with that quickly-becoming-iconic power button on the side.
Straight away it feels like a premium device, one that's made with top quality materials and is put together in a way that doesn't feel like it's going to break. That's improved by the fact every port (bar the headphone jack) is covered to make the Xperia Z2 waterproof, which makes things feel a bit more compact and strong.
The Z2 also has dual front facing speakers, a fact Sony oddly played down when it launched the device – they certainly make your music played without headphones better, and show that perhaps HTC had the right idea with BoomSound.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 has been roundly criticised from most quarters thanks to its…iterative design, which is a kind way of saying it looks a bit like the Galaxy S4 and Note 3 together. It's certainly on the same level as the likes of HTC and Apple when it comes to the design.
However, it does feel the most solid in the hand of all the Galaxy S devices, and the dimpled rubber-esque back is actually really nice to hold, as it's really grippy.
Like the Z2, it's also water resistant, but the only cover is at the bottom to stop water getting in, with the microSD and microSIM slots hidden under the cover.
However, there's a worry about the protection that cover offers, as it took four attempts to make sure it was fully snapped into place – if not, then it doesn't seem like water protection is on offer.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is slightly better protected against dust, but is a little less water resistant, coming in at IP67 rating compared to the IP58 of the Sony Xperia Z2. This shouldn't really affect your purchase decision unless you're planning to submerge the phone deeply for a long time… if you are, then perhaps you should be thinking about a more specialist device.
When it comes to comparing the two dimensionally, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is the smaller device – just.
We're talking 146.8 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm for the Xperia Z2 compared to 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm for the Galaxy S5, with the former weighing 163g and the latter 145g. So the Galaxy S5 is thinner, shorter and weighs less – if that matters to you.
What is it about a screen that matters to you? A strong colour reproduction? Size? Amount of pixels?
Well, there's actually not a lot between the two options here. The Samsung Galaxy S5 has a Full HD display at a 5.1-inch size, and the Sony Xperia Z2 offers the same resolution (1920 x 1080) with a 5.2-inch offering.
The underlying technology is significantly different though, with Samsung employing the same Super AMOLED screen that it has in years gone by.
Not quite the same, as it's evolved significantly over time, but it seems that the Galaxy S5 has the best display Samsung has ever produced. We're awaiting official confirmation of the exact technology used, but it certainly looks brighter and sharper than before despite being slightly lower in the pixels-per-inch stakes compared to its predecessor.
If we're talking PPI, the Galaxy S5 has the win over the Sony Xperia Z2 as well. The former runs at 432 PPI, where Sony comes in at 424PPI thanks to the slightly larger screen. You shouldn't let such discrepancies sway you though, as there's very little in the perception, if anything.
Sony has tried to take on the perceived 'over saturation' of Samsung's Super AMOLED screens by introducing Live Colour LED. In short, this alters the output of the LEDs that light the screen to allow them to produce a wider gamut of colour.
The upshot of this is that images on the screen, particularly red and green, will appear more full, and general output will be improved as well.
Samsung's come under fire in the past for its higher colour range, making things seem a little too colourful at times, but this can be dialled up and down, so shouldn't be a complete negative.
However, the pictures on the Xperia Z2 are just sublime, meaning it's going to be a great phone for movie watching and the like.
User interface, processor and battery
OS / user interface
Both the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 use Android 4.4.2 as the base operating system, which should please the legions of smartphone users who simply must have the latest version of Google's OS on the go.
However, that's pretty much where the similarity ends. While both are fairly close to stock Android in one or two areas, both companies have heavily skinned the operating system to get to their desired look.
Sony's is probably the least intrusive of the two, but not by much. The overall overlay is sparse, but still pushes things like Music and Video Unlimited to the fore. At least the notifications bar is better-stocked than before, allowing users to change things like location in a nicer manner.
However, Samsung has taken this trick much further, making it much easier to change settings and interact with the phone with a single swipe.
The overlay is a lot more stylised too, which may entrance or repel some users, but generally Samsung has gone with the outlook of 'the more you can do, the more you'll love this phone' compared to Sony's simplified UI.
Not a lot between the S5 and Z2 when it comes to the CPU or GPU, so both are running the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 with Adreno 330 to make sure you've got blitzing speed, great battery life and strong pixel power.
Samsung has pushed things up a little by clocking the S5 at 2.5GHz, where Sony has opted for 2.3GHz, but the Japanese brand has decided to throw in an extra GB of RAM, offering 3GB compared to the 2GB in the S5.
The upshot for the general phone buyer is minimal though, as that extra RAM will deliver very little tangible benefit given the way Android is set up at the moment.
Similarly, Samsung is putting out that 2.5GHz speed to mostly hit the headlines – unless you're the user of some highly specific apps or like taxing your phone to its theoretical limits regularly, you're not going to see a lot of difference here.
Now, here's something we can really say will separate the two – but the only trouble is that, right now, it's hard to say which will be better.
If you're taking it down to pure numbers, then the Sony Xperia Z2 has a huge 3200mAh battery, where the Samsung Galaxy S5 is coming with a 2800mAh power unit – albeit one that might be slightly kinder in its power delivery.
Both have the same CPU and GPU, with Samsung's running a little hotter – so the early impression would be that Sony should edge it in terms of out and out battery life.
However, both brands are pushing technology that will help you last when things start getting a little low – and we're not talking about the boring old power saver modes which kick in when you reach a certain level of juice left.
Sony's still plugging away with Stamina Mode, which does seem to yield some results on its devices. This means that when the screen is off, data and other key connectivity is almost completely shut down. However, you can 'white list' some apps to still be able to get info, so the likes of email and Facebook can still let you know life changing information when you're supposed to be relaxing.
Samsung looked like it had simply copied this idea with its Ultra Low Power Super Battery Hyper Saving Mode (note: not actual name) – but closer inspection revealed a new system that's designed to, apparently, give you 24 hours of use with only 10% of battery left.
In this mode, the screen will move to black and white only, and six applications can be appended to the home screen – these include the likes of Gmail and internet browser, so data is still enabled.
It remains to be seen how much functionality you'll actually get in this mode if you're hell-bent on saving power, but it's a novel approach from Samsung.
Camera, features and price
Sony has always prided itself on having one of the best cameras around thanks to its Cybershot heritage, but Samsung's efforts in 2014 have been about getting something that will simply deliver shots that users want.
A 16MP sensor is a slight hike in specs, but that's not what Samsung is touting. Its 'big thing' is actually twofold: the ability to take a picture, with autofocus, in a fraction of a second, and the chance to take a snap and then blur out the background... in actual fact, change the focal point post-snap thanks to the Selective Focus mode.
Sadly, the latter feature is bordering on the completely useless. The phone takes a few photos in succession and then stitches them together, and once processed will then let you change the focus to one of three levels. The whole thing has to be enabled each time, takes a long time and fails on too many occasions (when you shake the camera).
However, the speedy autofocus does really work, with clear pictures appearing even when whirling the phone around to simulate drunken antics. Samsung is at least trying to innovate in the right way here, but we fear that it's not going to have enough of a headline spec in this area.
Sony hasn't done a lot better in terms of upgrades, but that's mostly because it's updating a phone that was only launched in September. It's got the 20.7MP sensor with G Lens, Bionz image processing and Exmor RS technology, designed to improve images no end.
It too also has the same background de-focus ability, and it seems to work better than Samsung's option in our early tests. However, we've got some qualms over the snapper; while it's immensely powerful, on the Xperia Z1 it wasn't the best in low light, introducing a lot of noise to the pics.
Given the Xperia Z2 hasn't been overly upgraded in this area, we're worried the same thing will be happening again - but we'll give Sony the benefit of the doubt. Plus it's also added in the same slo-mo video ability that Apple did with the iPhone 5S (although Sony is calling it TimeShift video), so at least there's new stuff to play with.
On top of that, both phones are able to shoot in 4K, which is probably more of a gimmick than anything else at this point - Sony is highlighting how it will allow you to zoom into the footage and still have Full HD sharpness, but that sounds like it could be hard to actually achieve.
This is where things get a little more friendly for Samsung, depending on your viewpoint. The Galaxy S5 has a lot of new features in the health and fitness arena - not least the fact it actually packs a heart rate sensor on the phone itself, nestled just below the camera.
It's something fun to show off in the pub, and does actually work... although because it only will read your pulse when you ask it to, it won't be great at showing long term health benefits as you'll probably forget to do it on some days. Much better would have been the phone to monitor your heart rate whenever you picked up the phone somehow, and allowed for a daily average.
But there's more too: the S Health app is better than ever at tracking your activity, can give more info about your dietary habits and will offer the most information about your surroundings (it's even able to monitor humidity).
Samsung has also pulled another feature into the mix by using a fingerprint scanner – it's not as good as Apple's implementation, simply because it needs a press and a swipe to enable, but it's more feature packed thanks to being able to safeguard certain areas of the phone.
The South Korean brand has also signed a deal with PayPal to let you securely pay for things online using your biometric data from your digit – although we're awaiting information on whether this will apply to all websites that run the payment method, or just those that opt in.
Sony, on the other hand, has focused on making a strong and easy to use phone, devoid of a real headline extra beyond, perhaps, the 4K video recording and waterproof, well-polished body.
It's also running MHL 3.0, which is actually a nifty feature because it supports 4K video and 7.1 surround sound… it might be ahead of the curve, but that's fully where we like our technology to sit.
If you're thinking you're going to choose one of these phones based on whichever is cheaper, then chances are you're going to be out of luck. Both are being offered for the same price SIM free (sadly right at the very top end of the price spectrum) and while we don't have much in the way of contract prices, we've been reliably informed that both will sit at the top of the price tree.
That makes a lot of sense given they're the flagship devices for their brands, and we expect the New HTC One / M8 to follow the same structure when it appears.
So there you have it – two phones packed to the rafters with new features. The only question is whether you fancy one that's more sleek and refined, that eschews headline features to create a more dependable package, or one that gives you power, functionality and new options to move the smartphone message on.
We'll leave you to work out which is which.