“Whats Next?” Samsung teased us. We all knew that something new had to be coming. After the failure of the Samsung Galaxy S5 which cost some executives their jobs, it was obvious that Samsung had to stop telling us they were releasing the next big thing and actually deliver this time.
The Galaxy S6 has gotten a lot of praise. Honestly, it’s a beautiful phone matched only by the industrial design of the iPhone 6 (sorry, HTC). For Samsung to drop what some saw as their biggest advantages, a removable battery and micro SD card slot, for a complete redesign they’d have to hit it out of the park in other areas to make up for that. Will Samsung’s sins of the past follow them on their new path or will walking down the path less traveled make all the difference?
I think it’s really impossible to start anywhere besides exterior of the phone. The most obvious and major redesign since Samsung started making smartphones is it’s biggest selling point. In Sammy’s recent advertisements, you could be forgiven in thinking that the phone is turned off until the very end. The focus of this refresh is hardware design in a very obvious attempt to beat Apple at their own game.
I have the black model and it’s almost a bit disingenuous to call this black. In any kind of light there is a blue hue to the body that is a throwback to the previous Galaxy S models. It’s subtle, which is new from Samsung. It has just the lightest touch that makes you want to pick up it up when you see it.
And that’s where the fun begins. When you pick up the Galaxy S6 you’re instantly greeted by two panes of Gorilla Glass 4 attached to a metal frame. This is the best feeling smartphone I’ve ever picked up. It actually might be the best feeling product I’ve ever felt. That’s a tall statement that some will dismiss and that’s fine but this is the level of design we’re talking about.
If you’ve ever read any of my writing you’ll know that I’m a big fan of Apple’s industrial design. Samsung hasn’t copied Apple here. To copy is to replicate and what Samsung has done with the S6 is to take what Apple does well with it’s phones and do it better. The S6 isn’t slick in the same way that the iPhone is. Don’t get me wrong, this thing will slide off a table or couch arm if you’re not looking but to hold it in the hand is a far better experience than the iPhone in a body of almost the exact same size.
The metal frame is not only beautiful, but it’s strong. I wouldn’t hesitate to say there will never be bending during normal operation. Samsung slammed Squaretrade recently for saying that the S6 and S6 Edge were just as bendable as Apple’s flagship. In February at the S6 launch event Younghee Lee, Samsung’s Mobile Division Marketing Chief was quoted as saying “Not only does the glass look great but it’s super tough – in fact, it’s the toughest in the market” and “also, the special metal that we use is 50% stronger than the metal in other smartphones.”
My first pain point with the Galaxy S6 comes with button placement. I don’t have an issue with the home button. On the Note 4 I thought the home button was too low and hard to hit but with the ergonomics of the S6, the home button is comfortable and provides good tactile feedback while not sticking out that far. The power button is just okay. I think the placement is too high which I don’t particularly like but with the home button now sporting a fingerprint reader, I don’t use the power button much anymore. I sit my phone down when I’m done with it and it turns off or I’m sticking the phone in my pocket and turning it off in the process and the button placement doesn’t matter in that situation.
What really bugs me are the volume buttons. They’re way too high. I do give Samsung credit for sticking them on the left side, opposite of the power button but I have to completely shift the phone in my hand to change the volume level. It’s a little more natural when I’m holding the phone on a call but still too high to hit without consciously thinking about where they are.
Samsung finally came to their senses and replaced the swipe style fingerprint scanner on the S5 and Note 4 to a press and scan button like on the iPhone 6. I love this change because all I have to do now is press the home button, wait the half second it takes to read my fingerprint and I’m in. When it works. The success rate isn’t as good as say the iPhone 6 but it’s probably 90%. I’ve run into a few times where it’s failed so much it asked me for my backup password or simply didn’t read my fingerprint at all like the scanner didn’t exist. This is a great add to an already good phone that gives you a sense of security and they’ve implemented it in a logical way.
Cameras are quickly becoming the killer feature on smartphones. We’re getting to a post-megapixel race era and trending toward photo quality and accuracy. With HTC’s failure with their new 20 MP shooter on the HTC One M9, Samsung will once again take the cake for the best camera on a smartphone this year. The 16 MP f1.9 rear facing camera produces excellent pictures in all conditions, shining in low light.
Helped by the inclusions of Optical Image Stabilization and excellent post processing software, Samsung smartly has relied on Sony’s IMX240 camera sensor, the same one in the excellent Note 4 camera. The front camera is a 5 MP also with the f1.9 aperture that will let in plenty of light for your selfies at the club.
Samsung has paired down the camera software on the Galaxy S6. Accessible by a double press of the home button from any screen, including the screen being off, the camera app is sensibly laid out. All of your options are at the top of the phone in portrait (and on the left in landscape) like Effect, HDR Auto, Timer and Flash. On the bottom of the screen (or right in landscape) you have your shutter button, camcorder button, front facing camera button and a button for modes.
A press of the modes button will bring up options for Auto, Pro, Selective Focus, Panorama, Slow Motion, Fast Motion, Virtual Shot and the option to download more modes which come in free and paid options. I generally keep my camera set to auto which provides excellent results. For the professional camera phone picture takers of the world the Pro mode will let you tinker with several options like ISO and White Balance to get your pictures… picture perfect.
If you’re a selfie fan, Samsung has made sure to offer you a suite of options as well. Opening up the Mode menu will provide you options for Selfie, Wide Selfie, Virtual Shot, Interval Shot and again, the option to download more modes. The Virtual Shot option lets you use the camera to spin around an object while keeping it at the center of the frame.
In the Settings menu you’ll have the option among others to set your video and picture quality. Your default picture size comes in at 16 MP 16:9 (5312 x 2988) with options of 12 MP 4:3 (3984 x 2988), 8.9 MP 1:1 (2976 x 2976), 8 MP 4:3 (3264 x 2448), 6 MP 16:9 (3264 x 1836) and 2.4 MP 16:9 (2048 x 1152). On the video side you have a whole range of options. UHD (4K), QHD (2K), FHD 60 FPS (1080p), HD (720p) and VGA (480p).
Among the other options in the settings is the ability to toggle on Tracking Auto Focus which will focus on and track a subject selected on the preview screen, turn on Grid Lines, Location Tags, Review Pictures (which will pop the picture up immediately after you take it for you to review), turn off the double pressing the home key for quick launch, turn on voice controls, use the volume keys to take pictures, or turn off the settings. Samsung has done a good job of offering a ton of options and not making them overwhelming and in your face but easy to find. A huge departure from the TouchWiz of past.
The screen on the Galaxy S6 was widely regarded as the best screen on a smartphone. The S5 was a 1080p Super AMOLED panel clocking in at 5.1″ and a very healthy 432 PPI. Luckily for us Samsung wasn’t happy to rest on their laurels for the Galaxy S6.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 features a 5.1″ Super AMOLED touchscreen displaying 16 million colors. It has a 70.7% screen to body ratio and a resolution of 1440 x 2560 diamond pixels which gives it 577 PPI. According to Displaymate, this display is perfectly sharp. That means that a person with 20/20 vision will not be able to discern pixels at 10 to 16 inches.
According to this chart from Displaymate, you’ll see the scientific reasoning on why the display you’re looking at is the best in the business. As someone who has used this for about ten days and owned more phones than I can count, I can tell you from experience that their data is backed up in real world results. The colors are beautiful and there are screen options to tune it to your liking. The contrast deep and rich due to the AMOLED screen.
And I can’t even begin to describe how bright this thing gets. It’s easy to see outside in overcast to sunny situations. Sitting in a dimly (but not dark) room and the screen brightness all the way up, it literally hurts to look at. Luckily the auto-brightness does a pretty good job keeping the screen bright enough to see and dim enough to stay power efficient. For the first few days of owning the phone I turned the auto-brightness off because I’m used to phones keeping it too dark. I tested it out for this review and have never looked back.
Picture and Video viewing on this panel is, no surprise, quite the experience. You get the added benefit of apps like YouTube enabling the 1440p mode since we have a QHD screen which makes watching videos even better than normal. Zooming in on high resolution pictures down to finest details is very satisfying. With the camera you’ll be able to pick up individual blades of grass and with this screen you’ll be able to see the dew on those blades.
The HTC One, this is not. But Samsung gets marks for an admirable try. There is simply nowhere on the face for front firing speakers and making the phone any taller to accommodate them would have been a mistake. The speaker is drilled into the metal frame at the bottom of the phone and provides pretty good sound for it’s placement. You won’t get the full, rich sound of Boomsound speakers but listening to a YouTube video or news report should be satisfying and easily understandable.
On the microphone front, Samsung gets good marks again. I have T-Mobile service here in Ohio and get pretty good coverage. Callers reported that I came through very clear to them, as clear as my iPhone 6 and they sounded great on my end too. I’m getting roughly the same signal on my Galaxy S6, iPhone 6 and Nexus 6 so the antenna that Samsung is producing appears to be among the best. The only issues I’ve had so far is a few times, on both calls I’ve made and calls I’ve received, you simply couldn’t hear the person and they couldn’t hear you. I don’t know if this is a hardware, software or network issue but it definitely happened too many times to pass off as a non-issue.
Samsung has taken a big chance by taking away a feature a lot of Android enthusiasts love, a removable battery. Now secured inside, and smaller than the previous generation (2550 mAh vs. 2800 mAh on the S5) and powering a higher resolution screen, can you really expect the same battery life?
No. No you can’t. The S5 was a battery life champ. In GSMArena’s comparison, the S6 scored 10 hours lower than the S5 in their endurance test (73h vs. 83h. This is a significant difference. The S5 didn’t have the best battery life on the market but it was certainly one of the best flagships. The S6 is just okay. I almost feel bad about saying it’s just okay because of the technical advancements Samsung would’ve had to make to get decent battery life in a phone that has a 2K screen and a smaller battery to work with.
I work some pretty weird hours. I take my phone off the charger at 1 AM but keep it on the charger in the car or my Tylt Vu most of the morning and walk out of work at 11 AM with around 75-80%. With this kind of head start I can generally last until 8 PM when I head to bed with about 4 hours of screen on time. I don’t game really at all and stick to reading reddit, checking social networks and texting with WiFi off and a decent T-Mobile LTE signal indoors.
I would’ve loved to have seen more out of the Galaxy S6 in the battery department. For most people, it should be fine to get through the day if you’re not on it all of the time or playing battery sucking games. Samsung has tried to ease the pain of a non-removable battery with multiple new charging techniques. On board is both wireless charging standards, Qi and PMA along with adaptive quick charging. This certainly helps for convenience sake, especially with the explosion of wireless and quick charging accessories but we hope in future software updates we can get more out of the battery and fix the current cell standby bug forcing users to turn off features like WiFI Scanning, VOLTE, and WiFi Calling.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 launched with Android 5.0.2 Lollipop with Samsung’s skin, TouchWiz on board. 5.0.2 was not the most recent version of Lollipop at the time of the phone release which is a bit disappointing but we hope that Samsung has learned the error of it’s ways and pushes the update to 5.1.1 as soon as possible.
Samsung has been maligned for it’s TouchWiz skin basically since it debuted years ago. Slow, laggy and a memory hog, TouchWiz also gets dinged for it’s over the top colors and gingerbread-esque icons. Not only that but Samsung’s apparent need to touch every part of the system with their own ideas is very apparent in areas like the system settings and notification tray.
Luckily in this version of TouchWiz Samsung showed the tiniest bit of restraint. The settings menu, in my opinion, is still a mess but at least this time, we have options. Settings are sorted into color coded categories that are supposed to be easier to find but miss the mark. One of my favorite touches Samsung added is the ability to add 6 quick settings at the top of the settings menu for easy access. I have my battery, display, sounds and notifications among others since those are the things I’m mostly likely getting into the setting’s menu to look at or change. This is an example of a practical change that adds to the experience of the S6.
Another practical change made to the phone is in the notification shade. We still have the blue and green color scheme of old but samsung has kept it’s quick toggles on the top of the notification shade with notifications appearing below it. I know some like the way stock Android Lolipop hides the quick toggles above the notifications and a second swipe down but after using Android for years I have to stick with having my most important toggles one swipe away for easy access as my default.
The default launcher comes back with a nice looking time and weather widget and terrible icons. I seriously don’t know how Samsung can look at these icons and think “Yep! Nailed it.” but they do. They’re largely unchanged from previous versions and the app drawer icon is stuck down in the bottom right corner, unable to be moved.
I find a lot of little choices like this that make me just wonder why they’ve chose this path. There is no reason to stick the drawer icon there and not let you move it. There’s no reason to continue putting effort into “features” like S-Finder when better options ship with the phone. Stop forcing me into your implementation of Google’s already good features like Google Now (S-Voice, I’m looking at you.)
TouchWiz lag is also back, I’m sorry to say. With early leaks and reviews saying that the Exynos processor powering the phone was virtually impossible to lag, I certainly got my hopes up. They were dashed pretty early on. Scrolling through menus and even just going through the app drawer brought stutters and home screen redraws. Running Nova Launcher seemed to have solved some of my problems but Google Keyboard still lags a bit after multiple swipes and an occasional stutter remains even though its much less often.
The phone ships with it’s normal bloated apps from the carrier. I count no less than 6 T-Mobile apps (T-Mobile TV? Really?), 3 Microsoft apps, 6 Samsung Apps and 3 Social Apps that I can’t uninstall and come pre-loaded on the phone and fit nicely into folders in the app drawer. I thought we were going to turn the corner soon on pre-installed, undeletable software shipping with phones but I guess 2015 will not be the year for poor consumers who have to deal with these shit apps taking up precious space in our phone.
I’ve mentioned a few times that Samsung took some major chances with this phone. Going from a plastic, in your face phone packed with every feature you can think of to a beautiful, refined phone and a touch of restraint in the software is a big step for Samsung. Gone are the days of cheap feeling, creaky phones and now we have a premium feeling, metal framed phone that will turn heads.
Samsung removed some features that were difference makers for a lot of people. No more removable battery. Luckily we have fast charging (0 to half battery in a half hour) and wireless charging (both major standards included) but those take much more time than just throwing in a fresh spare. Gone is the micro SD card slot for expandable memory. Luckily Samsung raised it’s base model storage from 16 to 32 GB and you can buy the S6 with 32, 64 or 128 GB of storage but it’s going to cost you a premium. Micro SD cards are cheap, a hundred dollar premium at every increase in storage is not.
Gone is waterproofing. Luckily you don’t have to deal with flaps and warnings about flaps and worrying about tearing off said flaps or if they were closed when your phone got wet but we do get a beautiful phone out of it. The Samsung Galaxy S6 isn’t a perfect phone, but it is the best phone on the market. Samsung took a chance with the Galaxy S6 and you should too.