Samsung has been the leader when it comes to sales of Android devices, but they haven’t always been the favorite. They have often been criticized for the quality of their build and the overall software experience. Although they still lead all other Android manufacturers in 2014, it was a dismal year for Samsung. They missed their targets and consumers got bored with the fact that the Galaxy S5 really didn’t offer anything new. At the same time, lower priced handsets were taking a bite out of Samsung’s market share.
Samsung has quickly become the underdog even though they still remain the leader. That combination can be very deadly since they still have the horsepower to get the job done. Companies in these situations either continue to decline or reverse the trend and thrive even stronger. Samsung appears to be going for the latter as they have created a tremendous amount of excitement for the Galaxy S6. Even yours truly was never excited about Samsung phones, but for the first time in a long time, I was looking forward to reviewing one. After spending the last few months using the Galaxy Note 4 and picking it as the smartphone of 2014, I am expecting even bigger things with the S6.
When it comes to hype, nothing ever seems to live up to it. There’s always a letdown, but I am feeling confident that Samsung will deliver. Let’s find out if the Galaxy S6 is indeed the exception to the rule.
Samsung started setting the groundwork for the Galaxy S6 with the release of the Galaxy Alpha, followed by the Galaxy A series and the Galaxy Note 4. They all sported an aluminum frame with a quality build that brought a considerable amount of praise from reviewers, including myself. Last year’s Galaxy S5 was released before those phones, and it was a letdown because people were hoping for what those phones offered. This year’s Galaxy S6 announcement was a completely different story. The excitement was at an all time high because Samsung finally decided to go “all in” with the build quality.
Samsung brought the aluminum frame to the Galaxy S6, but they chose an even stronger aluminum that you won’t find on other smartphones. The Galaxy S6 sports 6013 grade, while other phones, including the iPhone 6, use 6063. Is it a gimmick or is 6013 that much stronger? 6013 grade is found on aircraft fuselages, automobiles, yachts, and mountain bikes, not to mention that it’s 1.5 times stronger and 1.2 times more scratch resistant than 6063. So Samsung not only gave us aluminum, they went that extra mile by giving us “stronger” aluminum.
Based on past Samsung phones, it was hard to imagine that we would ever care about the manufacturing process, but things have really changed. There are 20 steps in order to produce the frame, of which include machining from extrusion, molding to integrate heterogeneous components, diamond cutting on the metal covers, and anodizing.
Next up is the back glass. Samsung didn’t just slap a glass on the back of the device. There are 15 manufacturing steps which include polishing the surface, sides, and the facade of the glass. They also included a nano-thin multi coating process, which adds nano layers of multiple coatings giving it the ability to reflect light from different angles. And I didn’t even mention that it’s Gorilla Glass 4.
The words “beauty” and “Samsung” were never found in the same sentence before now, but 2015 is different. However, while many people feel this is a redesign, I don’t see it that way. It’s more of a serious upgrade because the phone itself looks very much like any other Samsung phone. It’s just built so much better and feels more like a jewel in your hand instead of a plastic kid’s toy. One good thing about all that plastic was that it was durable, and the problem with higher quality devices is that they damage more easily. When Samsung was using plastics, they used that “durability” as their advantage, but they needed to spice things up and they were able to pull it off by changing the materials and making it as durable (if not more) as the plastic of last year and beyond. In fact, SquareTrade recently released a video rating the S6 as more durable than the Galaxy S5, which is actually hard to believe. It even scored higher than the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and the Galaxy S6 Edge. The S6 Edge is more delicate because of the rounded edge display.
Now whether it’s the best looking phone on the market, I will let you be the judge of that. Some people might prefer the all metal design of the HTC One M9, but that device has been sporting the same look for three generations now. The Galaxy S6 suddenly feels youthful and energetic. Whichever you prefer, you can’t deny that Samsung has finally made a quality phone that is good looking.
Now one of the drawbacks with this beauty is that for the first time, a Galaxy S phone is a unibody. This means that you can no longer swap your battery and Samsung has also opted to eliminate the microSD slot. There is a huge misconception about both of those features as people thought that Samsung enjoyed so much success because they were one of the few manufacturers that offered them. That wasn’t the case because most mainstream consumers never swap out the battery or bother with a microSD card. Apple has already proven this to be true since they have never offered either and they move a tremendous amount of phones. There is a plus to all of this though and that is that the S6 is much thinner than the S5. Coming in at 6.8 mm thick, it’s 1.3 mm thinner. The S6 is slighty taller, but narrower, coming in at 143.4 x 70.5 vs 142 x 72.5. It’s also lighter, coming it at 138 grams vs 145 grams. I have grown to love the bigger phones, like the Galaxy Note 4, but the S6 seems to be the sweet spot for the average consumer.
One of the most underrated features of the Galaxy S5 is also gone because of this new found premium design, and that is that it’s no longer waterproof. You could do just about anything with the S5, and you didn’t have to worry, but that won’t be the case with the S6. This seems like a big loss, but it apparently wasn’t that big of a deal to consumers since the S5 didn’t sell as well as expected.
Samsung has copied Apple very much over the years as in not only with the design of actual devices, but also in trying to build a similar ecosystem. The S6 definitely takes some cues from the iPhone 6, especially with the rounded corners and rounded metal sides. Even the bottom looks almost identical with the microUSB port in the middle and the microphone port to the left and the speaker grill to the right. However there are still differences as in the speaker grill on the S6 is 2 rows of 8 holes, while the iPhone 6 is 1 row of 6 holes. Samsung’s antenna lines don’t follow the same suit either. Now I am not trying to say there isn’t some copycat stuff going on here. Samsung chose to not keep the same flat design for the aluminum frame that is on the Galaxy A series and Note 4. They chose to make it more rounded like the iPhone 6. You only have two choices folks, rounded or flat. Samsung felt rounded was better, and the fact that Apple is doing the same doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a blatant copy like the press has been reporting. Like I said before, the overall look of the S6 is very much like a traditional Samsung Galaxy phone, it’s not like they overhauled the device to copy Apple.
As far as the rest of the buttons and ports go, You will find the power button along the right side with the nano SIM slot just below it. The left side houses two separate volume buttons towards the top. The top of the phone has the IR blaster.
The front of the device has the same Home button that is found on all Samsung devices along with capacitive buttons for Back and Recent Apps. You will also find the front-facing camera and headset speaker at the top of the front. The backside has the rear camera lens, which protrudes a little. I know a lot of people are complaining about it, but it’s really not a big deal. To the right of the lens is the Dual LED flash along with the heart rate sensor.
It’s not the first time that I have praised Samsung for their design and quality of materials. I very much liked the Galaxy Note 4, but the Galaxy S6 takes things up another notch. They have truly delivered the Galaxy S phone that people have been dreaming about for a couple of years, but it does come with one very big hitch, and that is that the S6 is very slippery. The combination of the glass back, rounded aluminum sides, and thinness make it near impossible to use the device with one hand. I do think the S6 is beautiful, but the slipperiness is probably my biggest beef with the device.
The Galaxy S6 features a 5.1-inch Quad HD (2560 x 1440) Super AMOLED display (577 ppi), Corning Gorilla Glass 4, a 64-bit octa-core Exynos 7420 processor consisting of a quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 and a quad-core 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57, a Mali-T760MP8 GPU, 3 GB of RAM, 32/64/128 GB of internal storage, 16 MP rear camera with f/1.9 aperture, LED flash, OIS, and 4K video recording, 5 MP front-facing camera with f/1.9 aperture, IR blaster, Heart Rate Sensor, Fingerprint Sensor, Bluetooth 4.1 LE A2DP, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, Nano-SIM, and 2550 mAh battery.
For the first time ever, Samsung is using their home-grown Exynos processor on all variants. In the past, it was only utilized on select international models since it didn’t play nice with most LTE bands. Samsung might have made this move due to performance issues with the Snapdragon 810 or maybe they wanted to finally use their own hardware, which is more profitable. It might be a combination of both, but I think it was inevitable that Samsung would move in this direction at some point. Maybe it happened a little sooner. The S6 sports the Exynos 7420, which on paper is better than the Snapdragon 810 anyway. Both are quad-core, but the Exynos sports 14nm FinFet technology vs 20nm on the Snapdragon 810. This means that it’s not only faster, but also more energy efficient. The Exynos sports a quad-core Cortex-A57 clocked at 2.1 GHz and a quad-core Cortex-A53 clocked at 1.5 GHz. That’s exactly what the Snapdraon 810 is built on, except the A57 is clocked at 2 GHz. It’s hard to say if the average person would be able to tell the difference between the two processors, but let’s face it, you’re getting the best of the best either way. I will say that it’s nice to finally have a Galaxy phone with the Exynos processor. I always felt left out of the fun since they never sent Exynos-powered phones to the U.S. The S6 is super fast out of the box, and it’s probably the fastest phone I have ever tested.
A few years ago, Samsung was trying to play catch up in the display department, but now they dominate it. Even when they keep the resolution the same from year to year, they still seem to improve on the colors and clarity. However, the S6 gets a major bump from 1080p (1920 x 1080) to Quad HD 2K (2560 x 1440). For some, that might seem like overkill, but as I mentioned in my Note 4 review, Samsung actually uses this resolution to their advantage. Samsung is notorious for multitasking and allowing users to open multiple app windows on the display at the same time. When doing this, the user will enjoy a better resolution for those smaller windows. So with three floating windows on the display at the same time, you are getting about 720p for each window. I like nice displays, but I don’t claim to be an expert that can see every fine detail. I leave it to the experts, like DisplayMate, which found that the performance on the S6 “matched and even exceeds” the performance on the Note 4. The bottom line is that the S6 sports the highest pixels per inch (577), the best color accuracy, and highest contrast ratio of any smartphone out there. Will you be able to tell the difference? All I can say is that anyone I show a Samsung phone to is always in awe of the display.
Another notable is that Samsung is using its own UFS 2.0 storage, which promises to increase data read/write speed by 2.7x over the Galaxy S5. I am not sure I noticed the difference, but I have seen benchmarks online that prove Samsung to be true. This can only add to the reason as to why the phone is super fast, and it might also help in the longevity of the device. I have found that most phones are speedy out of the box, but start to bog down several months later. It’s possible that this new technology might slow that process down.
The speaker I mentioned at the bottom of the device is also an improvement. It’s not stereo sound like HTC’s BoomSound, but it’s certainly good enough here. I still don’t think consumers crave an amazing sound experience from their phone’s speaker system, just something that doesn’t sound awful.
While Samsung upgraded just about every facet of the S6, they didn’t with the battery. In fact they actually downgraded it to 2550 mAh from 2800 mAh on the Galaxy S5 to accommodate the S6’s thinner profile. On top of that, the S6 has a Quad HD (2560 x 1440) display versus last year’s 1080p (1920 x 1080), meaning that the smaller battery now has to power even more pixels. On the plus side, the S6 has a more power efficient processor, so how does all of this add up?
Let’s start with our video rundown test in which we loop video while the device is connected to 4G LTE and the display is set to about 66% brightness. Last year’s Galaxy S5 was able to last 11 hours and 51 minutes. Unfortunately the S6 didn’t come close. It didn’t even fair as good as the Galaxy S4, which lasted about 9 hours. The S6 was only able to last 7 hours and 48 minutes. This is obviously not very good, but I also understand that you’re typical day is unlikely to be looping video all day.
On light days, I am able to get about 16 to 17 hours. Light means that I was mostly connected to Wi-Fi and using the phone to handle some emails, take a few pictures, and streamed some music via Bluetooth. The on screen time is usually about 2 1/2 hours. Other busier days where I am dealing with more emails and other communications, I was getting 14 hours.
Still not great numbers, but Samsung tries to make up for it with two features: Quick Charging and Wireless Charging.
Quick Charging: Much like other Qualcomm Snapdragon phones, the S6 has the ability to charge up quicker than other phones, assuming you’re using a compatible charger. By including one in the box, Samsung doesn’t force you to go out and buy one, which is a nice plus. With just 10 minutes of charge (from 0%), you will be able to use the phone an additional 4 hours. You can charge from 0% to 50% in about 30 minutes and a full charge in about 90 minutes. You can also use any other Qualcomm QuickCharge compatible cable.
Wireless Charging: Wireless charging is nothing new, but it could become mainstream with the S6. Samsung has installed both wireless charging standards (Qi and PMA) on the phone without the need for a case or new back panel (like in the past). This means that all you to need to invest in is a wireless charging pad, so Samsung is hopeful more people will adopt it. Qi is still the most popular, but you will find the PMA standard in places like Starbucks. By including wireless charging, you will be able to juice up your phone more often and easier. The good news is that you won’t have to connect a wire to the phone, but the bad news is that the charging rate will be much slower. It will take 3 hours to charge from 0% to 100%, It’s actually perfect for your nightstand. All you need to do is lay the phone on the charging plate when you go to bed. You don’t even need to take off your case as it works through it.
Another very nice touch is that the notification panel will not only show that you’re charging the device, but it will also tell you how long it will take until the phone is fully charged.
Some of you might have come up with the bright idea that you might be able to plug your S6 into the wired charger and place it on the wireless charger at the same time for even faster charging. Forget it. That’s not going to work.
Now these two features are all well and good, but what happens when you’re on the road and cannot get to a charger easily? Portable chargers won’t be able to rapidly charge the device, so that is the issue at hand. Having a removable battery would help, but again, the majority of people don’t buy them. I travel frequently and I never carry an extra battery. Samsung might have been better off with a 1080p display here. Most people would be satisfied with that kind of resolution and battery life would probably be much better. They also could have made the phone a tad thicker, and nobody would have cared. The bottom line is that removable or not, you want to maximize battery life regardless.
Now if you do find that you’re out and about with no charger in sight, you can always use Ultra Power Saving Mode, which isn’t ideal, but it keeps the device running with only the essentials. You could have 5% remaining, and still use the phone for an additional 2 hours.
The Galaxy S6 sports Android 5.0.2 Lollipop underneath the newest version of TouchWiz. TouchWiz has never been a fan favorite, but Samsung started toning it down with the Galaxy Note 4. Don’t be fooled, there is still a decent amount of bloatware on the S6, but it’s not in your face as much as it used to be. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t uninstall any of it either. You can disable them though, which gives you the impression they are uninstalled, but they still take up space on your device. On the 32 GB version, you will have approximately 23 GB of free space to use for apps, photos, music, and video. I think that’s plenty for most people, but for those that feel they need more, they can opt for either the 64 GB or 128 GB model.
The Fingerprint Scanner is back and better than ever. Last year’s rendition actually worked well, but the fact that you had to swipe your finger made it a deal breaker for most. Fingerprint sensors need to be easy and quick, which means a simple touch just like what the iPhone sports. Apple got it right the first time, and Samsung is getting right the second time. Setting up your fingerprint is easy too. You will touch the front Home button several times (about 20) so that it can record your finger from most angles.
It’s now so much quicker to unlock the phone and it’s now good enough that I use it as my choice of security. You can even use Lollipop’s built-in Smart Lock feature to override it when the phone is connected to a trusted Bluetooth device or in a particular location like your house. However, touching your finger is so quick, that I don’t feel the need to use Smart Lock, whereas with a PIN code, password, or pattern, it makes more sense. Plus, when the Fingerprint Scanner is bypassed, you will then have to swipe your phone, which you don’t need to do when using the Fingerprint Scanner. It will only confuse you. The Fingerprint Scanner is so good, that you now don’t have to worry about any of that stuff. Just keep it secured at all times. You can save up to 4 fingerprints, so you can easily save one or two fingers from each hand. You will always have the backup password for a spouse or significant other or you can save one of their fingers too.
Samsung has also introduced themes this year, which gives you more ways to customize your phone. It’s not as robust as what HTC is offering on the One M9, but it’s good enough for now. You will be able to download various themes from the Samsung store and apply them. These themes include wallpapers, icon styles, colors for core apps, and sounds.
Unfortunately you can’t further customize the themes by tweaking the icons or even sharing your own creations like you can do on the One M9. This will probably change as Samsung adds new features. Just like on the One M9, altering icons can only affect Samsung’s core apps, not third party apps as they are given outlines around their original icons.
Samsung Pay is also new, but it isn’t ready for primetime yet. It will launch over the summer and it just might be the best mobile payment solution ever. Samsung recently bought LoopPay putting them in the forefront. LoopPay’s technology works with 95% of the credit card readers in the wild so you will be able use it pretty much anywhere. Mobile payments is still in its infancy, so Samsung Pay is probably not a reason to buy the S6, but it’s one more thing this phone offers that others don’t.
Most of the old bag of tricks like Multi Window, S Health, Private Mode, Smart Stay, Briefing (left most home screen), and Ultra Power Saving Mode are back, but users will find some of this stuff useful, and if not, they won’t get in your way. For example, even if you don’t bother with the majority of what S Health has to offer, the fact that it tracks your steps each day is enough in my book. So open the app and set that up. Private Mode keeps those pictures and documents from prying eyes, and Ultra Power Saving Mode can buy you a considerable amount of time if you can’t get to a charger. Multi Window is one of those things that I never use, but there are times in which I am like, “oh that is cool,” like when you’re talking to someone on the phone and you can minimize the Phone app to a small floating icon that you can easily get back to after you have done whatever else you were looking to do. Briefing is Samsung’s Flipboard style news feed that is your left most home screen. It can be easily removed if you don’t care for it.
As much as people hated TouchWiz in the past, you have to hand it to Samsung for providing some useful stuff over the years. I am talking about things like when someone calls, you get a small popup so you can continue what you were doing, then answer or decline the call. That is something that Google adopted with Lollipop, but Samsung has been doing it for a while now. They have also offered so many customizable Quick Setings in the Notification tray. A lot more than what stock Android offers. Samsung listened and got rid of the real crap and kept what users might find useful. They even streamlined the Settings screen in that everything is now on one page, no more tabs. Samsung also implemented Material Design in a big way with their core apps. In fact, I would say they did a better job than what HTC did with Sense. Samsung utilized the Action Button and ripple animations, of which you won’t find on the One M9.
The only negative with TouchWiz is the main home screen still resembles Gingerbread with the App Drawer icon all the way to the right. This is actually smart because it keeps things consistent for consumers, which they crave. You can still use a third party launcher if you wish.
The bottom line is that you no longer need to fear using a TouchWiz device anymore.
Samsung has been one of the leaders when it comes to smartphone cameras, but they always fell short of the iPhone’s ability to take amazing photos. Samsung was one of the last to adopt optical image stabilization (OIS), but once they added it to the Galaxy Note 4, it quickly became the best camera on any Android phone from last year. Samsung didn’t stop there as the S6 gets even better low light performance with an aperture of f/1.9 on top of the same 16 megapixels the Note 4 featured. No other smartphone can match that. It’s obvious that Samsung wanted to finally offer an Android phone that could hold its own with the iPhone, and they have succeeded.
Let’s start with the software. Samsung keeps the same look and continues to not pre-load a lot of different modes that you don’t want to use. However, you can easily download them from Samsung Apps via the Camera app if you wish. If there was one complaint with Samsung’s camera interface, it has been that it almost was too simple in that you couldn’t tweak many settings. Most people just like to point and shoot, but there are people who know what they are doing, but they were out of luck unless they used a third party app. For those that want to point and shoot, you can do that, but if you want to manually tweak things, there is a new Pro mode that allows you to make changes and save up to three profiles for easy retrieval. You can adjust the exposure, ISO, white balance, and so on. Samsung also added an HDR Auto mode so you don’t have to think about whether you need it or not.
As for pre-installed modes, you will find Auto, Pro, Selective Focus (Bokeh), Panorama, and Virtual Shot. They also offer two extra video modes: Slow Motion and Fast Motion. Samsung offers a bunch of photo modes that you can download from their Apps store. Most of them were included on past Galaxy devices. They include Surround Shot, Food Shot, Beauty Face, Rear-cam Selfie, Sports Shot, Sound & Shot, Animated GIF, and Dual Camera.
The front-facing camera was bumped to 5 MP, which isn’t as impressive as something like the HTC Desire Eye’s 13 MP offering, but it’s the quality that matters here folks. Samsung not only gives you wide-angle, but you also get the same f/1.9 aperture that’s on the rear lens. This means that your selfies will be awesome even in very low light. You also have a number of ways to capture your photo. You can use the heart rate sensor, your voice, the volume button, the normal onscreen shutter button, or even tap anywhere on the display, which I believe is new this year.
Now the software means absolutely nothing if the phone can’t deliver quality pictures, Samsung wanted to match the prowess of the iPhone, and they did it with flying colors. What you really want is your phone to take a great picture on the first try, and Samsung nails it. The focus is super fast, making it great for those action shots. Low light is unbelievable too. There are situations in which the you would think the image was taken with a decent amount of light, but it wasn’t. The only issue I have seen is that the lens brings in so much light (from where I don’t know) that the color representation isn’t always spot on. That’s a minor inconvenience when you consider other smartphones might offer a little better color, but there is way too much noise and grain. I had noticed this color issue on the Galaxy Note 4, but it’s not as harsh on the S6.
With so many great features to love about the Galaxy S6, the camera is probably the best one to me.
Here are a few example shots from a variety of situations.
Outdoors – Low Light
Indoors – Low Light
I titled this review “Knocking on the door of perfection” which implies that the S6 isn’t perfect, but it’s damn close. Let’s face it, when it comes to technology, no matter how much you love a gadget, there is always something to complain about. There is no such thing as perfect when it comes to our little toys, but no Android smartphone has ever come so close ever. I know that might sound like a cliche since that should be the case with each new phone, but that’s not always true. The Galaxy S5 might not have gone backwards, but it certainly didn’t jump forward. Other phone’s have suffered the same fate. Look at the HTC One M9. A nice phone, but if it’s better than the One M8, it’s can’t be by all that much.
The Galaxy S6 jumps forward in a big way. It has probably the best display ever on a smartphone, an amazing processor, built in wireless charging for the two main standards, one of the best cameras ever to grace a smartphone, and a design that is not only of high quality, but built with precision. Sounds perfect right? As I said, there is always something. For some, it might be the lack of a removable battery and/or a microSD slot. Others might complain about the fact that it’s not waterproof like its predecessor. For me, it’s the slippery design that makes it near impossible to use one handed and the battery life. As to the slipperiness, most people will slap a case on it and live another day, but I like my phone’s naked. I will just have to be extra careful. The battery is an issue, but it’s not any worse than what I have dealt with the last couple of years. Unfortunately, it’s a big change from what I enjoyed on the Note 4, but I can get by. However, there will be those days, like when I am at Disney with my family, in which I will barely get 8 hours out of it (taking lots of photos), and I will need to find a place to charge it, but I won’t be able to. Thankfully for 358 out of the 365 days in a year, it won’t be too much of an issue.
So the Galaxy S6 isn’t perfect, but it’s the best damn Android phone, and will probably be for some time.
We live in a world in which hundreds of Android phones are released each year, but there is really only one phone to buy. Unless you’re on a very tight budget, that phone is the Galaxy S6.