The Galaxy S6 is a complete reinvention of the Galaxy S line for Samsung and one that many users have been clamoring for since the Galaxy S II. While Samsung rose to global smartphone dominance during this time, it was perennially criticized for the construction quality of the phones, its bloated software and some key deficiencies versus its competition.
The Galaxy S6 takes these problems head on, but in the process sacrifices a number of features that Samsung had touted prominently in the past. Gone is the waterproofing that was so prominently advertised with the Galaxy S5, along with longtime mainstays of the Galaxy line like the user-replaceable battery and the microSD slot for expansion.
Were the tradeoffs that Samsung made in reshaping the Galaxy S6 worth it for the average user? Or did Samsung over-correct and in the process lose features that made the Galaxy line appealing?
The exterior changes to the Galaxy S6 will naturally grab your attention first, but the change to strategy with the internals of the Galaxy S6 are perhaps even more notable.
For the first time, Samsung is using its own CPU in all regions rather than a split between Qualcomm and its homegrown solution, and considering the complaints regarding the Snapdragon 810, this decision definitely came at the right time. Samsung didn’t chase the megapixel race and stuck with a 16-megapixel camera sensor this time around, but delivered a substantial upgrade to it nonetheless with the addition of optical image stabilization as seen on the Galaxy Note 4. The screen size also remains the same 5.1 inches as its predecessor, critically keeping the dimensions of the phone down at a time when most continue to edge up.
The two most contentious decisions with the Galaxy S6 hardware are the move to a non-removable battery and the loss of the microSD slot. These features were hallmarks of the Galaxy S line and key differentiators versus the iPhone. While I can see why some users are frustrated with these changes, the reality is that they were marketing points that saw little real word usage. The Galaxy Note line may continue to hold the line with those features for the true power users, but for the mainstream Samsung offering, it was the logical move.
The last feature that I will mention here is the much-improved fingerprint reader. No more swiping across the home button to unlock the phone; simply hold one of the fingertips that you have programmed over the home button and it will unlock. I found that this worked quite well as long as you have a pretty consistent grip that you use with your phone, and the occasional failure wasn’t frequent enough to deter me.
Overall I’m thrilled with the decisions that Samsung made when it comes to the Galaxy S6 hardware. The only potential misstep when I first looked down the spec list was the resolution bump, but more on that later.
- Height: 5.65 in (143.4 mm)
- Width: 2.78 in (70.5 mm)
- Depth: 0.27 in (6.8 mm)
- 5.1-inch 1440 x 2560 (557 ppi) Super AMOLED display
- Weight 4.87 oz
- Non-removable 2550mAh lithium ion battery
- Qi/PMA Wireless Charging
- 3 GB RAM/32 GB ROM (64 and 128 available)
- Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 and Quad-core 2.1 GHz
- 16MP rear camera with optical image stabilization
- 5MP front facing camera with Auto HDR
The Galaxy S6 retains numerous design cues that tell you it is a Samsung phone. In fact, a cursory glance at the front of the phone would lead you to believe that little had changed, but the slightest tilt will quickly reveal how significant a transformation has occurred.
Plastic has been banished completely from the Galaxy S6. The front and back are Gorilla Glass 4 panels (hopefully as sturdy as advertised) and the rounded edges of the phone are done entirely in metal as opposed to the chrome colored plastic of old.
While I concede that the HTC One line looks fantastic, I have often had problems with the feel of those devices thanks to the hard edges on the all-metal construction. That sort of thing is extremely personal, as it is a question of how precisely the phone fits in your hand, but for me the Galaxy S6′s mix of well rounded metal edges and glass offers a much more preferable feel. (Nothing is unseating the Moto X in the feel department for me, though.)
While I understand that some are disappointed at the Galaxy S6′s lack of waterproofing, removable battery and microSD slot, I think the design of this phone warrants those sacrifices. The Galaxy S6 looks and feels superior to the Galaxy S5 in every way, and that is precisely what Samsung had to do in order to shake off the air of complacency that had built up around them.
3. Build Quality
As anyone that has been following Samsung for anytime will know, this is one area that has been a source of near-constant criticism for the company. Regardless of how well the phones held up in day to day use, the complaint that the phones didn’t have the premium feel of HTC or Apple remained. With the Galaxy S6, those days are clearly behind them.
This is in no small part due to the Galaxy S6 shedding port covers, removable back and removable battery. While there were positive aspects to each of these features and even the plastic construction overall, the reality is that they were holding the build quality of the Galaxy S line back.
While the phone feels better constructed than any previous Galaxy S, the simple truth is that even Gorilla Glass 4 isn’t as durable as plastic, meaning that rather than just worrying about dropping your phone on the front glass, you have back glass to worry about as well. Drop tests seem to bear out that this isn’t a huge issue as long as the phone doesn’t hit squarely on the back or front, but if a cracked back on your phone is going to kill you, then you may want to consider a case.
The Galaxy S6 features a Quad HD Super AMOLED display at 5.1 inches. As I mentioned in the hardware section, the bump from 1080p to Quad HD seems questionable to me given the trade off for battery life, but it becomes hard to argue with the decision when actually looking at the screen. It’s flawless regardless of how close you get to the screen, and while that may not be necessary, it unquestionably leaves you impressed the first time you see the screen powered on. Simply put, the display on the Galaxy S6 is the best I have seen on a smartphone to date.
Samsung is one of the few companies that actually takes advantage of the extra pixels that a Quad HD screen offers with multi-window mode. I don’t find myself using it day to day, but if you would like to be able to watch a YouTube video and handle Twitter simultaneously, then the Galaxy S6 is one of the only phones with the pixels and software to make that happen for you.
Samsung’s AMOLED screens are typically highly-saturated out of the box, and this is no exception. I don’t personally have a problem with this, as much like photos, the goal isn’t necessarily to perfectly reflect reality. If you want the more natural look, you can change things up in settings, but for most users the wide color gamut that Samsung starts you out with will be the preferred choice.
Samsung was once the king of bloatware and while I won’t begin to say that it is completely free from this issue (there are at least a dozen apps that fall into this category, depending on your carrier), I will say that it is far better than it once was.
More importantly, Samsung has toned down its own TouchWiz overlay to the point that I actually think it is a pleasant experience that most users that aren’t completely dedicated to the Nexus cause will appreciate. The themes are visually interesting, and for the most part the software is helpful.
While I wouldn’t call it a crucial feature, I have used the multi-window mode occasionally now that is is more easily accessible through the Recent Apps view, and with the insane resolution of this screen it is actually practical to scroll through the web or your Twitter or Facebook feed while watching a YouTube video.
You have the option to disable any of the apps that Samsung offers that you don’t want to use, but deleting them is still not possible without rooting your device. Now that 32GB is the base storage option, this isn’t a huge concern anymore as you have over 25GB of space available. And given the available options for cloud-based photo and video storage, you should be able to fit quite a few apps on there before running into any issues.
Samsung has been using its own Exynos chips for years in a number of regions, but has typically relied on Qualcomm for the U.S. among others. For the first time, though, the Galaxy S6 is shipping with the same Exynos processor across all regions, and whether it is as a result of the reported overheating issues with the Snapdragon 810 or not, the results are excellent. Coupling the processor with 3GB of RAM certainly isn’t hurting anything either.
While any of the flagship smartphones are going to deal with basic operating system tasks and apps just fine, the area where you might notice the difference is gaming. I threw every fast-action high-resolution game that I had at the Galaxy S6 and it dealt with them all without dropping a pixel or overheating in the slightest. Regardless of where you fall on the Snapdragon 810 issue, I can at least assure you that the Exynos processor powering the Galaxy S6 will hold up just fine until you are ready to upgrade again.
7. Call Quality and Audio
I was testing the Galaxy S6 on Verizon and the call quality was excellent, as it typically is with Verizon in my area. Now that the lineup of phones with Verizon’s HD Voice calling is getting fairly expansive, I was able to test that feature out for the first time. I knew HD Voice was going to be roughly double the clarity of existing calls, but it is still an impressive thing to hear. I can’t wait for this to be the standard, and hopefully the carriers work toward compatibility across networks.
The audio quality on the Galaxy S6 is a step up from previous Galaxy phones, but still limited by the decision to stick with a single speaker now placed at the bottom of the phone. While the speaker is adequate and holds up to reasonably noisy environments, this is one of the few areas that I see as still warranting an upgrade for next year. Front-facing speakers would be ideal, but at least adding another speaker to the top of the phone would help considerably.
A smartphone that offers standout camera quality has been the white whale for Android devices for years now. While there have been some that offered the ability to capture fantastic images under the right conditions, nothing has been able to consistently capture solid photos in all environments with the ease of a standalone point and shoot camera. The Galaxy Note 4 took tremendous strides in this department last year, adding optical image stabilization to the already-solid camera package Samsung was using, and the Galaxy S6 successfully builds on that foundation.
Samsung has wisely backed off the megapixel race and stuck with another 16MP sensor from Sony this year. At f/1.9, the camera is capable of performing well in low light and reliably captures colors and details in what might be a slight exaggeration of reality, but it’s an exaggeration that is more pleasing to the eye.
Speed is another huge factor where cameras are concerned. Samsung offers two quick access options for the camera: either a swipe up on the home screen or a double tap of the home button. The ability to use a hardware button for this feature is excellent, as it means that even pulling the phone from your pocket, you can start to double tap and have it ready by the time it’s pointed at the action.
There’s an HDR option that provides excellent results when lower light becomes an issue, as long as your subjects aren’t quick-moving children or animals.
Video capture is similarly wonderful on the Galaxy S6, with the option to record 4K video at up to 30fps and 1080p video at up to 60fps, and the 720p resolution offers up to 120fps, which allows for some slow motion antics. The best bang for your buck is probably found at 1080p, as you retain use of both optical and digital image stabilization as well as the HDR mode, whereas these features are lost at 4K.
The bottom line is that I can state with certainty that regardless of what device on what platform you are coming from, the Galaxy S6 camera is not going to disappoint.
9. Battery Life
The Galaxy S6 uses a 2550mAh battery, one of the few steps back from last year’s Galaxy S5. This seems a particularly odd move given the substantial boost in power needed for the Quad HD display and the fact that users are no longer able to swap in a replacement battery should things get dire. However, Samsung asserted that the new 14nm Exynos processor offered sufficient energy savings to warrant the move.
For the most part, my results have borne out these claims. I haven’t had difficulties making it through a day with the Galaxy S6, but tests have shown that overall the S6 does offer slightly decreased battery life from its predecessor. Down the road as the battery ages, this could start to present an issue for power users, and of course you won’t be able to swap out a new battery to start the clock over on your battery in a year or two. The ability to fast charge (50 percent in about 30 minutes) with the charger included in the box with the Galaxy S6 helps alleviate some of the concern, and with the convenience of Qi charging, I find myself far more likely to just drop my phone on the charging pad here and there throughout my day.
Overall I think users would have been better served had Samsung stuck to a 2800mAh battery with the Galaxy S6, but it shouldn’t present an issue for anyone other than edge case power users, and these are precisely the people that will know to take advantage of fast charging and Qi charging to further ameliorate any problem.
Physical extras aren’t too common with smartphones anymore, but Samsung does actually still throw a pair of heapdhones in with the Galaxy S6, and while I wouldn’t use them personally, it’s a nice gesture on Samsung’s part to make sure users have at least one set of headphones (so they aren’t subjected to relying on that built-in speaker). Beyond that, I will also credit Samsung with providing the fast charging adapter in the box. I’m absolutely baffled by the manufacturers skimping on this accessory, as it makes for such a clearly superior experience for users.
Samsung has continued to lead the pack in for the last few years is offer a number of free software and services to go with its devices. Now clearly, the companies that you are signing up with hope that you will want to keep using their product and eventually pay them for it, but in the mean time you get to test out some interesting software for free.
You can hit this link for the full list, but some of the highlights are a free book each month via the Kindle app, three months of Audible and Evernote, 100GB of OneDrive storage for two years, six months of Pocket Premium and Endomondo Premium. There are over a dozen other offers worth over $500 in total, and while I’m sure you won’t use all of them, there are a number of services in there that I pay for personally and are worth taking a spin with the free trials.
As I said at the outset, the Galaxy S6 is in many ways a total departure from the Galaxy S phones that have come before it. The exterior changes are the most obvious, and from the seamless glass and metal construction to the Quad HD screen, this phone looks like Samsung leapfrogged a couple generations in the often evolutionary advancement of the Galaxy S line.
For those that valued the removable battery, microSD expansion or even the waterproofing found in the S5, I can only say that thankfully with Android, you always have options, and the Galaxy S just isn’t the option for you anymore.
The reality is that most users never took advantage of any of those features, and the tradeoff for the considerably more streamlined appearance of the Galaxy S6 is more likely to draw in mainstream users. And critically, the Galaxy S6 isn’t just a pretty face. It continues the Galaxy S tradition of offering a nearly-unbeatable specs list, and this time, couples that with possibly the best smartphone camera to date. As of right now, the Galaxy S6 has clearly staked its claim as the Android smartphone to beat in 2015.