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The Samsung Galaxy S5 ships this week. Is it worth your cash?

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(Read caption) The Samsung Galaxy S5 launches today. Is it worth your cash?

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In recent years, to an astonishing extent, the smart phone market has been divided mostly between a pair of devices: The Samsung Galaxy and the Apple iPhone. Both are high-powered, high-end devices, with plenty of top-end hardware and processors capable of outpacing the laptops and desktops of yore. Both have also received only minor upgrades in the last couple of generations – the idea being: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

That, essentially, is the idea behind the minimally-updated Samsung Galaxy S5, which goes on sale around the world Friday. In the States, the phone is available through Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, starting at $200, providing you sign a two-year data contract. That puts the device in the same general price range as its arch competitor, the Apple iPhone. 

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On board, you'll find a 5.1-inch display, a pair of cameras (one forward facing, and the other back facing), a 2.5 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, and the Android 4.4 KitKat operating system. New this year are some improved lenses for the cameras, an optical heart rate monitor, and a pedometer, as well as a dimpled plastic casing that evokes the surface of a golf ball. 

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So is the thing any good?

Well, a lot of reviews have hit the Web Friday, and most are positive – with a few caveats. 

Describing the plastic body, Samuel Gibbs of the Guardian argues that the Galaxy S5 "looks cheap compared with some of its metal- and glass-clad competitors, particularly the HTC One M8 and the iPhone 5S. It also looks almost identical to the Galaxy S4, but with a dimpled plastic back that feels a bit like the vinyl seats you get in airports." 

Over at Laptop Mag, Mark Spoonauer acknowledges the fact that the S5 doesn't exactly represent a radical makeover, but posits that the device represents "a shift for Samsung away from throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks to placing bets on fewer innovations." And that shift works, he says. 

"While the fingerprint reader could be more consistent, the S5 is a more refined product than the S4. We love the bright and colorful display, longer battery life and sharper camera with real-time HDR," Mr. Spoonauer writes. "And even though a heart rate monitor feels gimmicky on a phone, the S Health app itself has value – especially when you pair it with a Gear Fit or Gear 2 smartwatch."