- Best smartphone camera in town,
- QHD screen looks amazing,
- Impressively slim and lightweight
- Battery life is only average,
- Handset heats up with use,
- Edge variant is expensive and pretty pointless
We, the internet as a collective, complain about a lot of things. We complain when companies change the flavour of a product we like, we complain when a video game developer fails to make a sequel which meets our expectations, or when a celebrity takes a role in a movie and we don’t think they are right for the part. It is rare, however, when our voices are heard and changes are made, but with the Galaxy S6, Samsung’s message is clear: we heard you loud and clear.
In so many ways, the Galaxy S6 is phone that we have been demanding that Samsung make. The internet called the Galaxy S5 out for being plastic and not feeling like a premium phone, worth of its price tag. We told Samsung we hated using its TouchWiz software. We wanted Samsung’s best phone to be its fastest and to have the best camera. As you’ll see as we dig deeper, Samsung has addressed all of these things, and then some.
If you're looking for info on the Galaxy S6 Edge, click here.
Samsung has been in the business of making phones for two decades, and never in this time has it made a phone that looks or feels as good as the Galaxy S6 (GS6). Wrapped in Gorilla Glass 4 glass on the front and back, the GS6 is lightweight, and feels cool to touch. The Gorilla Glass product name is an important element to note here, as it signifies a glass product that is much tougher than the drinking glasses in your kitchen cupboard — this is a super tough glass product that can withstand a serious beating.
The edge of the phone is covered by a stainless steel trim. This is a great finish for this phone, but it is also the main reason why the GS6 looks so much like an iPhone 6 (not that we’re complaining about this). Samsung has moved the volume keys to the left-hand side, which you will find annoying if you like using flip-covers or wallet style covers on your phone.
A super resolution QHD screen is a fitting centrepiece for such a beautiful phone. With 2560 x 1440 pixels in its panel, the screen in the GS6 has nearly twice as many pixels per inch of screen compared with an iPhone 6. It looks amazing, with bright vibrant colours and a sharp, smooth finish across the interface. Samsung’s underlying software does a fantastic job of upscaling content too, so low-resolution YouTube videos don’t look like a pixelated mess when played across these millions of pixels.
Performance and Battery
In most cases, smartphone performance has become a moot point for everyday phone users. As it has been with PCs for a long time, performance testing has become the domain of only the most passionate enthusiasts, with the rest of us happy to shrug off performance concerns and agree that most computers, and now smartphones, are “fast enough”.
And yet, the Samsung Galaxy S6 works so well that we feel it is worth adding emphasis here. Samsung has done a great job at simplifying its TouchWiz user interface to a point where everything feels smooth, fast and responsive. Credit also goes to Google’s latest Android release, Lollipop, though it is hard to know exactly which part is responsible for how well this phone works.
With this stellar performance comes one fairly common drawback. After using the Galaxy S6 for a short time, we have found that it can heat up quite a bit. Admittedly this was while using some pretty processor intensive apps. It is certainly not hot enough to become uncomfortable to hold, but then heat is one of those things that you want as little of as possible. It can decrease battery life and general performance over time, but it is also a known trade off for having some pleasingly smooth performance in increasingly complex applications.
Battery life is less impressive than the phone’s general performance. While most would agree that the performance of the GS6 is ahead of the curve, its battery life is decidedly average. Anecdotally, we get about a day out of the GS6, but never anything more than this. In the two weeks we’ve been using the GS6, we’ve had several nights when the phone had run out of charge before we got it on the charger at the end of the day.
To counteract this, Samsung includes a Fast Charging AC power plug in the box with the phone, which can charge the phone to 100% in about 90 mins. This is impressive, but it isn’t the best solution. A bigger battery and a more power efficient system would be optimal.
There are also two power saving modes in the GS6: Power Saving and Ultra Power Saving. The first is worth considering for everyday use. It slows the phone down some and fiddles with screen brightness (among other things) but it does significantly increase the charge cycle and it doesn’t feel too sluggish.
Ultra Power Saving is a last resort. It turns off most connectivity options and allows you to access only a handful of basic tools, but it also increases battery life to two or three days. If you are going somewhere without a reliable power source, this is a great option to have.
If a sleek new design and zippy performance aren’t enough to impress you, then the 16-megapixel camera in the Galaxy S6 is sure to tip the scales in its favour. This is Samsung’s best camera, which is to say that this camera is one of the best smartphone cameras, ever. Full stop.
Daylight photos are predictably awesome, with a rich, warm palette of colours preferred by the automatic settings. But it is the low light that photos are really impressive. Even with small amounts of light the image sensor, and 1.9 stop aperture lens, is capable of finding an interesting true-to-life image to save in the Gallery.
As we’ve seen in previous Galaxy-branded releases, Samsung moves complex camera settings into a Modes folder. With the GS6, Samsung introduces a Pro Mode to give you even more control over how everything looks. You can tweak the image sensitivity, white balance presets, colour mix and exposure compensation. There isn’t the standard shutter speed and aperture controls you find on a dSLR camera but the digital controls give you similar sorts of control.
In Pro Mode, you can now press-and-hold on the screen to lock the Exposure and Focus settings. This allows you to find a happy setting for both, and then move the camera without the automatic settings kicking in and spoiling your composition. Once these settings are locks on a point, you can then slide them around independently; more the focus to something close to the lens and the exposure to a bright spot to lower the exposure. These fine controls take some practice but give you a level of control we haven’t seen in earlier Galaxy phones.
Samsung is renowned for its technical prowess and for the numerous new tech features it manages to pack into phones each release. This year it would seem that Samsung has dialled back on the extras in favour of a more streamlined phone and system, but the truth is that the tech bits are just better hidden. There are as many techy extras as ever.
- Fingerprint Scanner: this feature makes a return with an important improvement in performance. Where as you need to swipe your finger over the scanner installed on the Galaxy S6, this year the scanner is a lot more forgiving and can quickly identify a fingerprint as you place it onto the home key.
- Smart Lock: for use in conjunction with other security measures, like fingerprint, Smart Lock lets you define trusted places and trusted devices, that unlock your phone without you having to fiddle about. For example, if you set your home address as a Trusted Place, then your phone will unlock with a swipe or when you open a Smart Cover.
- Heart Rate monitor: another bit of tech making a return. Samsung has added an option to allow you to take photos with the heart rate scanner, which is great for Selfies.
- Smart Switch: a new Samsung app designed to make it easier to switch from an older phone to a new Galaxy S6. The big selling point is that it works with iPhones.
- Smart Manager: another new Samsung app, this time to improve performance. Smart Manager can clear your phone’s memory (RAM, not storage) delete temporary cache files and scan for malware.
Even if your heart is set on a new Galaxy S6, you still have a choice to make. Samsung has released two models for its flagship this year; a regular GS6 and the GS6 Edge. Both are made from the same high quality materials and have the same hardware innards, the only difference is that one has curved edges on the both sides of the screen — and for this, it costs quite a bit more.
So is the Edge worth the extra expense? To be brutally honest, no. In fact, it makes things a little more complicated and with no significant upside as a trade-off.
For starters, the curved screen edges make the GS6 uncomfortable to hold. To accommodate the unusual design, the stainless steel trim is reduced to a slim, reasonably sharp strip on both sides. On top of this, we all do our best to avoid touching a touchscreen unless we intend a specific action, and this means most people we’ve seen using the Edge end up juggling it trying to find a comfortable grip, but in a way that doesn’t have them touching the edges of the display.
But perhaps more importantly, the Edge display doesn’t do anything worth paying extra for. Here is the (very) short list of tasks that the Edge can do that you can’t do on the standard GS6:
- Set up a list of 5 favourite contacts that you access by swiping in across the Edge,
- Displays the time, weather and date when the phone is in standby mode (you activate this by swiping up and down quickly on the Edge)
- Edge Lighting, lights up with colour when a favourite contact calls or messages and the phone is laying face down on a surface
And, that is about it. It also looks fantastic, sure, but without additional, meaningful functionality, and with the way it impacts on everyday usability, the Edge is not something we would recommend you rush out and buy.
If you thought the Galaxy S4 looked like the Galaxy S3, and that the Galaxy S5 is a cheap-feeling plastic letdown, you were in good company. You are also the perfect candidate to head out to your local phone store and get your hands on the Galaxy S6. The difference is astonishing. While competitors like Sony and HTC seem content to turn out the same phone time and again, we applaud Samsung for addressing it many criticisms and trying something new. It has succeeded.
The combination of this screen, this performance, this camera and Samsung’s outstanding engineering make the Galaxy S6 our favourite phone to date. That’s not to say it is the perfect smartphone, but it as close to perfect as we’ve seen in a while. If you could take this phone, extend its battery life and reduce some of the overheating we experienced, then you’d be closer still to perfection.
As for the Edge, we’ll chalk it up as a swing and a miss. It’s one thing to show off a technical advancement, it’s quite another to charge a premium price for a proof of concept experiment. Save your money this time around and choose the standard GS6, and wait until Samsung figures out what to do with a curved screen before considering whether to pay for one.