Hands on: The first things you notice about Samsung's Galaxy S5

Samsung Galaxy S5

Holy hamburgers, Android fans! The most heavily hyped smartphone of the season is almost upon us.

You guessed it: I'm talking about Samsung's Galaxy S5. The latest Galaxy device launches in the States this Friday, and Sammy's doing all it can to make sure everyone and their great auntie's poodle knows about it.

Forget the carefully constructed marketing messages, though: What's the Galaxy S5 actually like to use? I'm in the midst of living with the phone to find out. I'll share a detailed real-world review with you once I've had a chance to get to know the device inside and out, but in the meantime, here are the first things you notice when you pick up Samsung's newest effort:

The design

Let's be real here: This isn't what you'd call a beautifully designed device. With the Galaxy S5, Samsung has stuck to its standard design framework, which revolves around a removable plastic back panel and a chintzy-looking faux-metal plastic perimeter. There's no getting around it: It may be utilitarian, but the phone looks and feels kind of cheap -- and the inevitable comparisons with the recently launched HTC One (M8) aren't going to do it any favors.

Galaxy S5 Design

The only major visual change you'll notice in the Galaxy S5 compared to last year's S4 is the nature of the phone's back panel: This year's model leaves behind the glossy plastic of yore and goes with a textured matte plastic instead (one that, especially in the gold color, is eerily reminiscent of a Band-Aid). It's arguably a step forward in both look and feel, but we're talking more of a baby step than any sort of massive leap.

The size

Samsung has followed the "bigger must be better" strategy with this latest handset, bumping the phone up to a 5.1-in. display (from 5 in. on last year's model) and subsequently increasing its size by almost a quarter of an inch in height and a bit in width. The phone is slightly thicker than its predecessor, too, and half an ounce heavier.

Galaxy S5, HTC One M8

The result is a phone that feels surprisingly large for its class; in fact, the GS5 is almost as tall as the One (M8) and a touch wider as well, despite not having the front-facing stereo speakers that take up a significant part of the One's face. The phone is by no means unmanageable, but it's definitely pushing the limits of comfortable ergonomics for one-handed use.

The display

No question about it: The Galaxy S5's display will catch your eye right away. The 1080p Super AMOLED screen pops with brilliant, vivid colors and crisp detail.

Samsung has packed a lot of fancy new display-related software settings into the GS5 that are supposed to help optimize the screen for specific types of usage. I'll look at those more closely in my in-depth review, but general terms, my first impression is that the phone's display absolutely shouldn't disappoint.

The buttons

Yes, it's true: Sammy has finally let go of the Gingerbread-level Android Menu button and started to provide the Recent Apps button in its place. As you'd expect, this makes an enormous difference in the usability of the Galaxy S5, as all options now appear on-screen throughout the system instead of often being hidden with no visual cues. It's a very long overdue change but a very positive one nevertheless.

That said, it isn't all roses: The Galaxy S5 still uses Samsung's awkward physical/capacitive button combo and still arbitrarily reverses the button positioning from the universal Android standard -- but hey, one step at a time, right?

Galaxy S5 Buttons

All in all, the Galaxy S5 may not deliver the most wow-inducing first impression, but we're only scratching the surface here. There's a lot more to discuss with the device, ranging from the software and user interface (hint: It's still TouchWiz through and through) to performance, battery life, and of course, the camera -- not to mention the new bells and whistles like the GS5's heart monitor, fingerprint sensor, and water-resistant body -- and rest assured: We'll get to all of that soon.

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I'll be continuing to live with the Galaxy S5 around the clock for the next several days. Stay tuned for my in-depth real-world review, and come hang with me over on Google+ for plenty more Galaxy-related chit-chat in the meantime.

UPDATES:

Galaxy S5 deep-dive review: Long on hype, short on delivery

Galaxy S5 vs. HTC One (M8): Which should you get?

Galaxy S5 vs. HTC One (M8): Camera shootout!

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