After at least two years without causing a stir in the mobile device market, Samsung has finally managed to draw attention to its new flagship, the Galaxy S6. The device comes with a new design, unique hardware construction and leaner software than previous versions of Samsung's TouchWiz interface, which all adds up to the most impressive phone Samsung has released in years. We were very keen to review this new flagship. Read on for the specifics in our Galaxy S6 review.
- ✓New design: glass and metal
- ✓Fast charging
- ✓Excellent screen
- ✓Revitalization of TouchWiz UI
- ✓Low light camera performance
- ✓Processor performance
- ✕No microSD card
- ✕Not waterproof
- ✕Protruding camera lens
- ✕Bottom-mounted speaker
Samsung Galaxy S6 Release date and price
The Galaxy S6 was announced on March 1, during MWC 2015 with the Galaxy S6 release date set for April 10. The Galaxy S6 will launch in black, white, gold and blue.
In the UK the official Galaxy S6 price is 599 GBP for the 32 GB version, 659 GBP for the 64 GB version and 739 GBP for the 128 version. In the UK, the Galaxy S6 release date will be April 10.
While the Galaxy S6 price is not yet official in the US, we're expecting the 32 GB version to come in at 699 USD, the 64 GB version at 849 USD and the 128 GB version at around 1049 USD. The Galaxy S6 release date in the US will be April 10.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Video
Samsung Galaxy S6 Design & Build Quality
You may have heard us say that there's not much to distinguish between the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S5 from the front. Take a look at the picture below for confirmation. The same sensor array up top flanks the Samsung logo, the physical home button and capacitive buttons reappear and all the curves and proportions look the same too. Nevertheless, Samsung has made plenty of changes elsewhere in the Galaxy S6 design.
The most noticeable of these changes is the shift to a metal chassis. Like the Galaxy Alpha and Galaxy Note 4 before it, the Galaxy S6 is bound by an aluminum edge, although the S6 introduces yet another slightly different design to the frame: a combination of rounded edges with a flat plane along it (but only on the sides, not the top or bottom). It seems there are two parts of a phone that Samsung can't quite decide on: the edge and the back. The front seems to have been locked down long ago.
The overall finish of the Galaxy S6 is that of a premium device, while the Galaxy S5 looks cheap in comparison. The proof comes in the second image, where another angle shows just how much of a difference a new build material can make to the look and feel of a smartphone.
It is easy to see that the Galaxy S6 represents a paradigm shift from the rest of the Galaxy S series when it comes to the choice of materials. The new flagship is not only surrounded by a metal frame but its back is one big sheet of Gorilla Glass 4. The phone is extremely lightweight and belies the use of metal and glass in its construction.
Samsung tells us that Gorilla Glass 4 is 50 percent stronger than Gorilla Glass 3, although you'll have to make up your own mind if you prefer having glass (even a very strong glass) on the back of your Galaxy instead of shock-absorbent plastic. No matter how you feel about the glass as a material though, the Galaxy S6's rear-end definitely looks better than its predecessors.
The rounded sides give a comfortable feeling in the hand and you can see that they were designed with attention to detail. Samsung put the power button in a convenient spot on the right of the phone with a nano-SIM tray just below it. The volume keys sit on the left-hand side.
One thing I do not like about the design of the Galaxy S6 is the fact that the camera sensor sticks out so much from the back of the phone. However, this has been a feature of Samsung devices for a while now, in both the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series.
Alongside the camera lens on the back we have an LED flash for the camera in conjunction with a heart monitoring sensor. On the front we have the familiar physical home button which also serves as a touch-based fingerprint scanner. On the bottom there is a microUSB charging port, mono speaker grill, pinhole mic and headphone port. The top of the Galaxy S6 just packs an IR blaster and pinhole mic.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Display
The Galaxy S6 features a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED screen with QHD resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels and 577 pixels per inch. This accounts for 77 percent more pixels than the Galaxy S5, and the highest pixel density for a device with this screen size.
In the screen arena, Samsung never disappoints, producing bright displays, high contrast, deep blacks and extremely sharp and vivid colors. The issue with supersaturation has been corrected in the Galaxy S6 and the quality of the colors on the screen are very sharp, but not over the top.
Brightness, on the other hand, is slightly above average even for Samsung devices (which are always super bright). However, this can be corrected by choosing between various preset display modes and adjusting the screen brightness to suit your tastes.
There is no doubt that the multimedia experience on the Galaxy S6 is better than that found on its predecessor, but it's not enough to outdo the S6 Edge variant, thanks to the curvature of its screen. However, when compared with the quality of images in the Galaxy S5, the sharpness of the S6 alone is enough to put it ahead, but the colors are also warmer and more saturated in the 2014 flagship.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Special Features
Amongst the Galaxy S6 features are two that are worthy of the ''special'' moniker: fingerprint sensor and wireless charging. The fingerprint reader was already present in the Galaxy S5, however recognition was quite problematic (although software updates did improve it eventually). In the Galaxy S6, the swipe gesture has been replaced with a touch-based sensor that works as flawlessly and quickly as you need it to.
Wireless charging is another built-in feature of the Galaxy S6. While a wireless charging plate doesn't come with the S6, it will work with any Qi standard charger. Of course, the included charger is of the fast charging variety, which we cover in greater detail below.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Software
Even during the Galaxy Unpacked launch event, I could see that Samsung had brought purpose to the design of its user interface. With a more logical structure and a significant reduction in unnecessary buttons in the menus and settings, the design team of the South Korean manufacturer has successfully made TouchWiz more intuitive and simple to use. After testing the S6 for longer, I can definitely say that Samsung's skin is more lean, light and fluid.
Just as Google has invested heavily in animations and colors with the release of Android Lollipop, Samsung has done the same with TouchWiz. TouchWiz is more colorful and bright than ever before and all the Material Design elements of Google's new design language are visible in the notifications and quick shortcuts bar.
The Galaxy S6 comes running Android 5.0.2 Lollipop. Samsung's user interface has undergone a redesign to work better with Lollipop, and it is lighter, simpler to use and more intuitive. Different colors are now applied to individual applications and there is consistency across the board.
In relation to TouchWiz Samsung has made a very positive improvement. However, one thing that has attracted a lot of attention with the new TouchWiz is the possibility of removing bloatware, or pre-loaded apps. You can not uninstall all of the manufacturer's apps, but you can disable them for the most part. With rare exceptions, almost everything can be disabled or uninstalled in the new version of TouchWiz.
To give you an idea, all pre-loaded Google Apps, with the exception of "Google Settings," can be disabled. The same goes for Microsoft applications like OneDrive, OneNote and Skype and other social applications such as Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp: you can't delete them but you can disable them.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Performance
The Galaxy S6 specs revolve around the first mobile processor built on the 14nm process: the Exynos 7420, with 64-bit support, eight cores and the new LPDDR4 memory system. While it is true that the Galaxy S6 does not offer support for microSD expansion, the team at Samsung made this call because they opted for a new flash memory based on Universal Flash Storage (UFS) 2.0.
The reason UFS 2.0 is a big deal (and worth ditching microSD for) is because it brings with it much better memory performance, which is faster and less energy demanding. This allows the average consumer to watch high quality videos, play games and make use of other high-bandwidth entertainment, at the same time as you are running various applications or downloading or uploading files without having to worry about lags or interruptions to functionality.
The Exynos 7420 has eight cores, with four running at 2.1 GHz for the heavy lifting and another four clocked at 1.5 GHz. The Exynos 7420 also packs a Mali-T760 GPU and 3 GB of RAM. These heavy-hitting specifications, in conjunction with the optimized performance of TouchWiz, provides a smooth experience, without any sudden closures or choking applications.
What this means is that switching between screens, scrolling up and down in the browser or settings, launching the app drawer and opening and closing apps is extremely fast. We'll have to live with the Galaxy S6 for a month or so before we can tell you how it handles being weighed down with heaps of cached data, tons of apps, photos and files, but at this early stage, we're confident that the Galaxy S6 is above average in performance.
When it comes to the fingerprint sensor's response or using the quick shortcut to the camera app with a double press of the home button, the S6's reaction time is less than three seconds. With regard to the Mali-T760 GPU, it's safe to say that it is more than up to the task of providing a good graphical experience.
During my test, I played Real Racing 3, Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series, Spiderman and Dead Trigger 2, and all the games had above-average quality images. Only Game of Thrones season one showed a delay in the movement of the on-screen characters, but this probably has more to do with the quality of the app than the device's performance.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Audio
The speaker is, unfortunately, positioned at the bottom of the device. Still, if I had to choose between rear-mounted or bottom-mounted speakers I'd opt for the latter. We can't always have front-facing stereo speakers like those found on the HTC One M9, the Xperia Z3 and even in the Moto G (2014), for example.
You might assume that a smartphone rocking a QHD display at the top of its game would also deliver a superior audio experience, but for reasons unknown, Samsung chose to keep the S6 in the middle of the range when it comes to audio quality. You can get stereo sound with headphones though.
This is a bit of a disappointment, especially for those looking forward to making the most of the new processing power of the Exynos 7420 and the graphics capabilities of the Mali-T760 GPU. So while you may have unparalleled visual performance when it comes to games, you might find yourself frustrated with the audio you're getting.
Part of this is the lackluster speaker, but another part is the unfortunate placement of it, so when you're playing a game and holding the phone in landscape orientation, you'll more than likely cover the speaker grill with your palm. The audio quality of the Galaxy S6 speaker is satisfactory, but it can't compare with the audio found in the Xperia Z3 and HTC One M9. The S6 speaker is 50 percent louder than the S5, even if it's not any better sounding.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Camera
The Galaxy S6 camera packs 16 MP on the back and 5 MP on the front. Both cameras have HDR mode in real-time and f1.9 wide-angle lenses which are especially great for low-light shooting. The main camera also bring Optical Image Stabilization to the mix ans well as an impressive Pro mode for manual settings.
The rear camera is once again capable of selective focus, includes an infrared sensor for establishing superior white balance and color correcting images, features rapid activation and delivers various useful modes including slow motion, fast motion, 4K video, panoramas and more, including the possibility to download further camera modes. Samsung has also provided a nice camera shortcut accessed by double pressing the physical home button, even from the lock screen.
In my Galaxy S6 camera test, the Galaxy S6 proved itself to deliver above-average performance in almost all situations. Performance may fall short a little in macro shots and grain does creep into the image in poorly lit environments, but this is true of basically every smartphone camera. Moreover, as we have already shown, when we compared the low-light performance of the Galaxy S6 camera sensor with the iPhone 6 and LG G Flex 2, the new Samsung flagship came out on top.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Battery
There is clearly some serious battery management at work in the Galaxy S6, because the 2,550 mAh non-removable battery is a far cry from the 2,800 mAh removable battery found in the Galaxy S5, or the 3,000 mAh-plus batteries found in many other current flagships. You do get the bonus of rapid charging and Qi wireless charging, but still, a small non-removable battery is a big risk for Samsung.
For an average user, you could reasonably expect between 16 and 18 hours of usage with the Galaxy S6 battery. In the AnTuTu battery benchmark test, the Galaxy S6 is positioned amongst not-so-illustrious company in the battery stakes and as you would expect from a phone with a QHD display, the screen consumes the majority of that limited battery capacity.
The Galaxy S6 supports both WPC and PMA protocols for wireless charging, which makes the phone compatible with any wireless charger available on the market that supports either WPC or PMA standards. In addition to this universal wireless support, wired charging on the Galaxy S6 is 1.5 times faster than on the Galaxy S5. Thus, after only 10 minutes plugged in, the S6 has sufficient power for four more hours of usage.
Like the Nexus 6 and Moto Maxx before it, the Galaxy S6 has succeeded on the fast charging front. To give you an idea in the real world: when the S6's battery was at about 13 percent I started charging it with the rapid charging adapter included with the S6. At the same time, I put the Galaxy S5 on to charge from a dead battery. After an hour and 50 minutes, the Galaxy S6 was at 100 percent and the Galaxy S5 had only drawn 33 percent in the same time.
I'll reiterate what I said above, the battery performance of the Galaxy S6 is twofold: rapid charging and universal Qi support compounded by superior processor performance and software optimizations. Samsung also offers the now-familiar standard and ultra power saving modes, both of which will limit the use of the features to one degree or another
Samsung Galaxy S6 Technical Specifications
The Galaxy S6 comes with three options for internal storage: 32 GB, 64 GB and 128 GB, all with LTE data speeds, a fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor. Moreover, in my experience, the heart rate sensor seems to now be more accurate than it was on the Galaxy S5.
The Galaxy S6 is clearly a new lease on life for the Galaxy S line and, after the significant changes made to TouchWiz, I can now safely say that I can live with the thought of using TouchWiz as a primary interface.
While Samsung decided to kill off two of its most defining characteristics – the removable battery and microSD expansion – the Galaxy S6 has made up for these with impressive battery, processor and software optimizations as well as far superior memory technology. Even with 128 GB of internal storage, 4K video is still a problem and ultimately needs to be saved to the cloud.
Perhaps most importantly though, Samsung's engineers decided to stop adding features to high-end devices and instead improve upon those that really matter for a better user experience. The Galaxy S6 may well be an expensive smartphone, but it is, in my opinion, the best smartphone on the market today.