Samsung’s 2015 flagship is here, and the spec sheet reads like a real fighter, with an eight-core processor, Quad HD AMOLED screen, an improved fingerprint sensor, 16 megapixel camera, and a body that for once is made out of high grade materials, none of that plastic from before. Can Samsung’s Galaxy S6 best the competition finally, and can it take best phone of the year upon release in April?
If you can believe it, Samsung has been making iPhone competitors for around six years, and this year, it hopes to have something even more impressive than Apple’s own entity.
We’ve seen quite a few over the years, but in 2015, you can well and truly forget the Roman numerals that were used for the first few models, sticking only with digits, because this is the Galaxy S6.
The new handset takes an update to pretty much everything Samsung held near and dear last year and for the previous few incarnations, and beyond that of the branding, button placement, and screen dimensions, this is a totally new beast, starting with the inside, which features a Samsung-made eight-core processor made from two quad-core chips, one clocked at 1.5GHz and the other at 2.1GHz.
That’s the Exynos 7420, and this is paired with a Mali graphics chip (T760MP8), as well as 3GB RAM, which is above the 2GB sweet spot Android smartphones tend to prefer.
We just mentioned Android, and that’s here too, with Samsung releasing the Galaxy S6 with Android 5.0 “Lollipop” making it pretty much up to date out of the box, though Samsung’s latest version of its TouchWiz overlay is also here along for the ride.
Storage is a little different on this handset, with various storage sizes available at the point of purchase. You’ll have a choice of 32, 64 or 128GB, and you’ll have to decide the storage you want then and there, because for the first time ever on a Samsung phone, there is no way of upgrading via a microSD slot because there is no microSD slot.
Fortunately you can still use microUSB to USB thumb drives if needed, thanks to a microUSB port at the bottom of the phone, which is also used to charge the phone. Other connections are also here, though most of them wireless, with 802.11 a/b/g/n and 802.11ac WiFi, GPS, Near-Field Communication (NFC), infrared, and Bluetooth 4.1 with A2DP, Low Energy (LE), and apt-X. One other wired port can be found, the 3.5mm headset jack that is generally standard on smartphones for playback of audio to headphones and speakers.
Mobile broadband speeds are a little higher, too, with Category 6 4G LTE connectivity offered, meaning download speeds as high as 300Mbps and upload speeds as high as 50Mbps, though results are dependent on the network and where you are at the time of using the phone.
Cameras are also strong on this smartphone, with a 16 megapixel rear camera with autofocus and LED flash, and a front-facing shooter capable of grabbing stills at 5 megapixels. Video is supported by both, with 4K video capture possible on that rear camera, while the front-facing can grab 1440p. Full HD (1080p) video is possible from each, and the rear camera also capable off shooting slow-motion video, too.
Then there’s the screen, which sits atop this hardware, and while the dimensions of this part are similar to the one in last year’s Galaxy S5, it’s a totally different display.
While the S5 relied on a 5.1 inch Full HD 1080p (1920×1080) Super AMOLED screen, the Galaxy S6 instead opts for a 5.1 inch Quad HD 1440p (2560×1440) Super AMOLED screen, providing more clarity than ever before in a Samsung phone.
The screen protection has also changed, as Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 goes away in this phone, used in the S5 and replaced with the latest version, Corning’s even-more-scratch resistant Gorilla Glass 4 in the Galaxy S6 used on both the front and the back.
And there are even a few extras, with the heart rate sensor returning on the back from last year (though in a different place), cloud storage included (this time via Microsoft’s OneDrive), wireless charging built into the body, and the phone also supporting fast charging from select microUSB chargers while an ultra-low power saving mode can offer extra battery life if you need to make the battery last longer.
Finally, there are the buttons and ports, and these are also a little different this time around, but only marginally, with all ports moved to the bottom, showing the 3.5mm headset jack and microUSB jack found at the base of the unit without any covers.
Buttons are all pretty standard for a Samsung phone, with individual volume rocker buttons on the left edge of the phone, a power button along the right edge, and the standard Samsung home key under the screen on the front.
A fingerprint sensor can be found under this home screen button, different from the previous generation of the technology found in the S5 due to it no longer needing a swipe of the finger.
The phone is manufactured from glass and metal and takes a nanoSIM using a pin-ejectable tray found on the right edge.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 has a non-removable battery that is rated at 2550mAh.
Every year around this time, we see the first few flagship smartphones make their way out to consumers eager for the latest and greatest, keen to ditch their old phones for something new and sit on the cusp of technology for at least the next few minutes.
They’ve seen the releases at Mobile World Congress, read our initial hands-on pieces, and hopefully heard the good news because these products can make their way out from the factory lines into their hands.
This year is no different to previous years in that regard, and just like we’ve seen for the past couple of years, HTC and Samsung are there first, revealing their hands for the first major smartphone releases for the first half of the year, with the next major release likely happening in the second half of the year, or somewhere between August and September if you need a more confirmed date.
That time is normally reserved for the bigger screens, at least for Samsung, and if you like a smaller handset — one that’s pocketable — now is the time to take a look at what manufacturers are doing.
We checked out HTC’s new model recently, and we suspect the Taiwanese manufacturer had to move quickly to get in before the Korean giant Samsung, but it may have been for moot, and only to say “we got there first”.
Unfortunately, getting in first isn’t always such an important claim, and this year’s release for Samsung looks and feels a lot better from a technical point of view, with better specs, a better screen, and a design found in the Galaxy S6 that aims to be thinner than Samsung has previously offered and just as well made as other competitors.
Is this Samsung’s best phone yet?
Pick up the phone and it’s hard not to see where the design comes from on this one. We’ve heard a few words tossed around for this phone, with “brave” and “bold” mentioned, but we’re more likely to go with “familiar”, as Samsung has improved the material choice, but not necessarily tried something bold or exciting with regards to design.
Indeed, it is very easy to compare Samsung’s Galaxy S6 to Apple’s iPhone 6, with a similar front and a damn near identical bottom edge, but there’s more to the S6 than merely an iPhone clone.
In fact, it wasn’t until we saw someone using a Galaxy S4 on a bus before the S6 came out that we realised the new phone is more of a refinement of that model, with softer edges improved with metal instead of the plastic Samsung has been using for ages.
So the Galaxy S6 appears to be a cleaned up S4, though it’s a modern take at what a smartphone should look like, meaning it’ll probably look like everything else out there including the iPhone, and possibly a few other handsets.
In fact, the back reminds us of the LG Optimus G and Samsung’s Galaxy S5, making us wonder if there were only a few ways to keep this phone looking simple, which is more or less what Samsung has done.
Basically, it’s a modern smartphone, though we wish the rear camera didn’t extrude slightly, as it makes the 6.8mm profile look a little like it’s levitating on a table when we know all too well the camera is propping the phone up.
In the hands, this design is comfortable and solid, evoking the feeling we’ve always wanted from Samsung when we asked, pleaded, and wondered incredulously why Samsung was still sticking with plastic rather than making its products feel just that much better with metal or glass.
At 138 grams, the phone is very light, and thanks to its slim design, barely makes an impression in the pants, which can only be a good thing.
Samsung hasn’t also had to rebuild the wheel, with the buttons in the right place — power on right, volume buttons on the left, home at the bottom flanked by soft buttons for menu and back — resulting in a familiar and comfortable hold, something previous Galaxy owners will appreciate.
Switch the phone on with the right-side power button and you’ll see the screen come to life, and wow, what a screen it is.
We’ve seen Samsung improve over the years with regard to screen quality, and it was one of the first companies to embrace the whole 1080p screen thing, charging ahead of Apple and its claim of a Retina-grade screen with more pixels pack in per inch, but the latest screen manages to trounce Retina once and for all with the highest amount of pixels packed into a smartphone per inch ever.
From a technical point of view, Samsung is relying on a 5.1 inch Super AMOLED display like no other, showing the 2560×1440 resolution and revealing roughly 577 pixels per inch.
If that makes no sense, the better way of understanding this is that the human eye is comfortable at roughly 300 pixels per inch, not looking for pixels and what not, with Apple’s Retina clocking in on the iPhone 6 at 325ppi (pixels per inch).
Curious as to how different the screen clarity is between the Apple iPhone 6 and Samsung’s Galaxy S6? Drag the slider above to see the difference in our interactive comparison!
Samsung’s Galaxy S6 is over 200 higher than this, and even clocks in at a higher pixel count than LG’s G3, which at one point compared its similarly impressive high-resolution screen to the viewing of art books, suggesting that this is as good as looking at a piece of art in a book, or a photo in a book.
The reality is Samsung’s screen isn’t far off that level of beauty, with a screen that looks phenomenal no matter where it is when it’s switched on, and a brightness that makes it usable in pretty much any environment.
We can only imagine how beautiful this screen will be when viewed up close and with Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Gear VR viewer, because with even more pixels packed in than the Galaxy Note 4, your eyes will be in for a treat.
Wondering what the difference is between the screen on the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S5? Drag the slider above to see what they look like on the pixel level…
Fortunately, the excellence continues when you get down to using the Galaxy S6, because it’s a little different from previous Samsung phones, and that can only be a good thing.
For years, we’ve seen Samsung’s Android overlay “TouchWiz” refined and modified as Samsung tried to straddle that line between what Google wanted, what customers expected, and what Samsung visioned would make it stand out.
In 2015, that line is simple, with more widgetised homescreens that advanced users love, a simple app menu screen with left and right swipe navigation that customers appear to like, and Flipboard integration for magazine-like news and media on the left most screen that can now be switched off.
But perhaps the best part is that for the first time ever, Samsung has removed practically all of the bloatware. Don’t like having apps that you can’t get rid of? Good, because on our review unit, most of it was gone.
Samsung’s S-Planner (calendar), S-Health (combined health tracker), and S-Voice (voice assistant competing with Apple’s Siri) are still here, but that’s pretty much it, and from our experience with the handset, you — the customer — are finally free to have a phone free of the crap and bloat that manufacturers typically install.
And it’s a nice change, because it helps to keep the phone snappy, speedy, and performing very well.
We suspect the Samsung octa-core processor under the hood is also keeping things snappy, and our benchmarks indicate that this is one of the fastest chips we’ve ever seen in a phone, but Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S had a similar chip, similar screen resolution, and a bloated operating system, and it didn’t perform nearly this well.
Seriously, this smartphone goes, like a rocket, and you will find it rarely slows down, which is a positive thing.
As expected, 4G connectivity is also strong in this phone, hardly a surprise given the Category 6 LTE support Samsung has provided, which now makes it the second Samsung phone in Australia to nab the tech, just behind the Galaxy Note 4.
Testing it on the Telstra network, we found speeds as high as 70Mbps down and around 30Mbps up, though depending on where you are and what network you’re on, you may actually get faster speeds altogether.
All you really need to know is that the phone offers that same super-fast 4G speed we’ve come to expect out of every 4G device we test.
It’s also packed with the features, many of which have been left over from previous generations of Samsung phones, such as the high definition audio support with 24-bit FLAC playback, health tracking via S-Health, and smart network connecting to work out when you’re out of range of WiFi and you should jump over to 4G instead.
A couple of newbies have also arrived, including Samsung’s Smart Manager, which shows you how your battery is doing, how much storage you’ve used, if your memory (RAM) needs clearing, and if the phone is secure, offering options to fix all of these and boost them switching power saving modes on (battery), removing apps and deleting unnecessary files (storage), stopping software from running (RAM), and scanning and securing the phone using Samsung’s Knox security system (security).
Some apps are missing, however, so be aware that if you’re looking for Group Play for multi-phone audio playback, or Group Camcorder to grab videos all at once, or even Samsung’s messaging service “ChatOn” ready to go on the phone, you’ll be a little disappointed.
Likewise, Samsung’s S-Translator is also missing in action, likely because of how strong Google’s own Translate app has become.
Honestly, we’re not missing these that much, but if you want these, they’re not here, at least as far as we can see.
And some things have changed, with the remote control functionality sticking around, but repackaged, no longer a part of Samsung’s Smart Remote and instead switched over to Peel Smart Remote, which is exactly what HTC did over on the 2015 One smartphone.
Perhaps it’s easier for smartphone makers to rely on something tried and trusted like Peel’s remote app than reinvent for its own devices.
Beyond the apps, the usability, as we’ve noted, is spot on and very strong, and the interface is fast, easy to work with, and slicker thanks to the inclusion of Google’s Android 5.0 “Lollipop” and its reliance on Material Design, or a look that is closer to paper and block colours.
You’ll find folders can have their colours customised on both the home screen and app menu with either cyan, orange, yellow, green, or grey, as an example, and while we’d like to see more control — you know, your favourite colour perhaps, with more control — this is a great start for colour-focused organisation.
The interface also feels flatter and less three-dimensional, which makes the high-end Super AMOLED Quad HD display just pop and look fantastic, and when you go into various apps, you’ll find a stronger emphasis on basic colour contrasts, complete with circular shortcuts at the bottom of each app to help you out, such as the red “compose email” button in the stock email app, the orange “compose SMS” app in the stock messaging app, the dark green dial-pad in the phone app, and the light green “add calendar date” to the S-Planner calendar app.
It’s easy to remember knowing there will pretty much always be a “start something new” button in the bottom right corner, and while it would be nice to switch sides if you could — because some of us are lefties — it’s an inclusion that makes the entire interface feel geared at people, because you can always press it with the thumb or forefinger.
Even the flaws with Samsung’s older versions of TouchWiz have been cleaned up and dealt with, and now you can change the shortcut dock in Australia out of the box (something you couldn’t do for at least two years straight) and silence the camera, plus images now rotate in the gallery for you, which is something customers have been crying out for.
Samsung has also left in a gesture typing interface, and while it feels improved from last year and allows you to quickly go back to words you meant to type instead of suggested ones, it’s still not perfect, not always adding in that space.
You get used to it, that said, or you do what regular Android users do and switch to a different keyboard, as you’re totally free to do.
Over to the camera, and just like most of the smartphone, this is an area that impresses us greatly.
We’re all taking photos now, usually with our smartphones, as this space has practically killed the basic point and shoot camera, and for many is beginning to encroach upon our time spent using larger and more capable cameras, with the reason continually coming back to convenience.
But the quality is often sacrificed, and while you’ll often get better shots with a larger sensor often from a larger camera, a smartphone is much easier to carry than a larger camera, which tends to make the pocket look big, bulky, and extruded beyond acceptable social conventions, not to mention likely breaking your pants in in a way that doesn’t help you keep them in good condition.
In the Galaxy S6, however, you’ll find a camera that works with you rather than against you, with plenty of detail, fast shutter responses, and a mode that works better in low-light than we’ve seen from Samsung in pretty much ever.
The interface is easy enough, and while Samsung made it possible to change your interface last year, it was a clunky solution that we can’t imagine anyone would have touched.
This year, simple is the word Samsung seems to have remembered, ingraining it into its collective head and bridging that Android overlay simplicity over to the camera, which can be opened via a shortcut on the lock screen, a shortcut on the menu, or just by double tapping the home button.
Once loaded, you’ll find a few options for you, with high-dynamic range (HDR) settings, self-timers, flash choices, and arty effects available including faded colour, grayscale, tint, as well as other downloadable options in the auto mode.
For the most part, the automatic camera setting does a very good job of taking shots, and we found optimal results in places where there was strong light and where there was little light, and many a smartphone camera would have shut up shop and just say no way with the style of photos we were taking.
We even found we could get up close and personal with objects, with decent macro shooting abilities found on the Galaxy S6, something we generally struggle with.
You’ll find a few other modes available to you, with selective focus trying to emulate Lytro’s “after-shot focus”, a panorama mode, slow motion video, fast motion video, a virtual shot, and even a few downloadable options including a very useful “rear-cam selfie” that picks up on your face when you aim the 16 megapixel camera at your head, which in turn results in the a better quality selfie than the front-facing shooter.
That’s not to say that the wide angle lens of the front-facing selfie camera is all that bad, but rather that the 5 megapixel output is weaker than the 16 megapixels from the camera at the back.
Most people won’t be bothered, though, and you can turn down the beauty mode if need be, but it’s more than that, with more of warped portrait due to the wide angle lens being used.
Our point of view is that the rear selfie cam mode (which can be downloaded for free from Samsung’s downloadable camera mode section) produces better selfies, though you don’t get to see yourself on screen at the time of the shot.
You, of course, can be the judge.
We wish the company would have paid more attention to its so-called “pro” camera mode, which offers controls for exposure balance, sensitivity (ISO), white balance, focus, and colours, but nothing else, and the typical assortment of aperture and shutter speed — you know, controls people who are pros generally value — are missing.
Overall, however, the Galaxy S6 camera is a stunner, and it’s one of the first times we’ve been hugely impressed by the efforts of the engineers working in Samsung’s mobile phone camera department, producing a smartphone camera we’d be happy to use from day to day.
And beyond it, there are so many positive reasons to admire the Galaxy S6.
Without a doubt, this is Samsung’s best phone to date.
But it’s not perfect, and while Samsung has certainly had several years to bang out new products that constantly get better, the Galaxy S6 has a few misses that are very easily noticed.
The most important of these will likely reveal itself to be the battery life which unfortunately is just mediocre, and pretty much unchanged from what we saw in the Galaxy S5.
Last year, we could only hit a maximum of a day with the Galaxy S5, and this year in the Samsung Galaxy S6, we’re seeing much the same, with phone calls, music playing, web surfing, social networking, messaging, emails, the odd game, and the general mish-mash our day entails revealing roughly that one full day of service, and less if you’re a power user.
That’s not a fantastic result, though it is in line with what another 2015 flagship appears to be offering, so we can’t imagine Samsung will talk this up as a failure, but rather consistent.
No removable battery doesn’t help this, meaning you can’t just slip in a fresh battery if you want to gain more life, though Samsung has made things a little easier with fast charging, which can bring your battery back from the dead more speedily, and it shouldn’t be too hard to find a USB charger these days since microUSB is the standard.
That said, we argue that you shouldn’t have to, and a phone should be able to survive the full day, at least, especially if you’re being asked to hand over at least a thousand bucks for the privilege.
If you’re used to a day of battery life with charging in between, you won’t likely be bothered by this, but those of you expecting more, either look elsewhere or bring a microUSB cable or battery bank where you go, because you’ll probably need one. We keep one in our luggage at all times.
You’ll also find a few software quirks, such as the built-in file explorer having a few problems talking to on-the-go microUSB to USB thumb drives, with our test to get our photos from one side to the other (from phone to USB drive for use in a computer) crashing the file exploring app, though we suspect this will be one of those bugs Samsung will rush to fix.
Likewise, the fingerprint reader can be a little troublesome, not always getting a good read, even though the technology is vastly improved on the swipe mechanism Samsung used last year.
At least this year you can simply hold your finger or thumb on the home button instead of dragging it across, but it’s still not perfect, and even the fingerprint setup needs some refining, with a drawn out process that isn’t quite as user friendly as Apple’s (it gets close) often making you wonder what you’re doing wrong.
We’re also curious why the backup password can’t be more simple than requiring letters and numbers, because it would be much easier if you could just throw in a simple four digit passcode if the fingerprint scan doesn’t read your finger properly — something that isn’t your fault — rather than deal with six characters made from a combination of each.
But our other big problem beyond the battery stems more from how this phone appears to evolve, and that is by forgetting the steps of its predecessors.
We’re not going to be the only review that bangs on about this, but it’s a little surprising to see two of Samsung’s biggest features from the past year or two (at least) missing in action on its 2015 handset.
Take the water-resistance, which Samsung clearly did take because it can’t be found on the Galaxy S6.
Not because the S5 felt cheap in our hands, with a plastic body and faux-metal trim, but because it featured an IP67 rating, meaning dust and water were no longer the natural enemies of the smartphone, or this specific smartphone.
You could drop the phone in a pool and wash it off with water, and it would still work, or even use the phone while cooking, get it all floured up, and wash it off without any repercussions. Awesome.
Samsung Australia even took advantage of the dust and water resistance with its advertising slogan “made for Australia”, a play on the idea that our rugged landscape and water-loving people could have a phone that survived where they went.
But this year, that resistance is gone, and you’ll want to be as careful as possible not to drown the Galaxy S6, not to drop it in the dust or mud or cake mix, and make sure never to drop a beer on the phone, because it’s just not rated for liquids anymore.
It is apparently tested to make sure it doesn’t bend against your backside, because in the wake of Apple’s bendgate where several iPhone 6 Plus models did just that, warping the frame, that is apparently now important, though we’re not sure why both can’t have been thrown in, especially since Sony is still using water- and dust-resistance in its similarly built glass and aluminium smartphones.
The other thing missing is a bigger deal for Android users, and a big one for Samsung, and that’s the omission of a microSD card slot.
There is no way to expand memory in the Samsung Galaxy S6 smartphone, a change in the past five or six years of thinking since Samsung started making an iPhone competitor with Android.
Yes, one of the features that Samsung has championed since practically the beginning is gone, without so much of a reason or explanation.
Granted, Samsung isn’t the first Android manufacturer to kill off the microSD slot, and HTC has certainly dabbled with it in the 2013 HTC One before quickly returning to microSD slots the following year, while Google’s own Nexus smartphones and tablets have also skipped out on the memory format for its own OS-flagship devices.
But things are different for Samsung, and you have to imagine that the public expects Apple’s biggest competitor to keep its insistence that upgradeable memory matters, so does it?
We’re not sure.
For some, it’ll definitely be a big deal, and we’ve certainly gone beyond the 16GB limit on some of our smartphones, such as the Xperia Z3, which currently has a 32GB card inside, or the Galaxy Note 4 with a 64GB card inside. Others, however, may find that opting for a larger amount of storage from the beginning makes more sense in the long run, going with the same philosophy Apple has been relying on itself for yonks.
It’s even possible this decision is guarding Samsung against hacking issues, something the Galaxy S6’s built-in security platform Knox may seek to prevent, while also making it even easier for Gear VR apps and movies to install without knowing your way around the Android folder and file structure.
With all of that said, it would have been nice to see the microSD on this handset.
Previously, Galaxy owners have been afforded the opportunity to easily upgrade their phone in a pinch if they have wanted to, with 16GB phone owners being able to add 128GB of storage via the microSD slot for less than $150. It could happen the day they bought the phone, or it could happen six months or a year later; the point was it was in their control, and by removing the microSD, that’s no longer a choice, and Samsung is essentially forcing people to guess their storage requirement needs.
On a 32GB phone, you’ll probably see closer to 24GB available to you out of the box, which isn’t a lot, more or less forcing your hand to the 64 and 128GB options.
Frankly, it would have been nice to keep the microSD around for all of them, because with bigger apps and games appearing, and 4K video support on the phone, and 16 megapixel JPEGs on the Galaxy S6 being stored at around 7MB per file, well, let’s just say you’re going to want plenty of storage capacity.
Without a doubt, the Galaxy S6 is Samsung’s best smartphone yet, and it could even be a contender for phone of the year. We have no doubt that people will love it and the it will be one of the better phones this year, but it’s still not perfect, and even removes a few things fans of the series will remember with fondness.
Things like the semi-ruggedisation are gone, and things like the microSD slot have been forgotten, replaced with the expectation that you know how much you’re going to consume when you first buy the phone, a suggestion that more or less encourages everyone to spend big and get the largest size out of the box.
Some manufacturers practice this on a regular basis, with Apple doing this since it first conceived the iPhone, and Google joining in with its Nexus products.
Samsung resisted, though, at least until now, where it’s asking people to do the exact same thing.
If you’re not bothered by that, and you’re after what is essentially among the best performance in everything else except the battery, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 ticks all the boxes, and possibly then some, with a phone that feels great in the hands, offers exceptional viewing, fantastic mobile performance, wireless charging, decent security, and a camera that really does perform beautifully.
But if you have to have a microSD slot, then you might want to wait, because the 2015 smartphone wars are only just heating up, and we’re sure LG and Sony will have something new along any moment now.
UPDATE (April 17): We’re checking on something at the moment, because the Australian version of the S6 Edge does not have auto-rotation on the gallery, despite this review model supporting that feature. The review model of the S6 was an international variant, so we’ve put a question into Samsung to find out why this feature is still here (since it’s hardly a feature) and if there will be a patch to fix this, because it’s one of those annoying issues Aussies shouldn’t have to see, given other people around the world don’t have to.