Hands on review: Samsung Galaxy S6
One of the big events every year happens when Samsung launches their new Galaxy flagship smartphone. I still have my original Galaxy and we’ve come a long way since. This time around Sammy kicked things off with not one, but two Galaxy models.
In a market where innovation is scarce and competitors litigate, Samsung have had to tread a careful path launching both devices. The S6 is a well specc’d smartphone while the S6 Curve adds a new wrinkle to things with a screen that curves around the side of the phone.
Under the Hood
Perhaps the biggest news of all is that Samsung took aboard copious feedback from users and reviewers alike and undertook a re-design of both models.
Where the S5 was a well specc’d slab of Tupperware, the S6 uses glass and metal and it feels like a zillion bucks in the hand.
Its screen impresses. At 5.1” there is plenty of on screen real estate yet the S6 isn't so big that people are saying “hey is that a phone in your pocket, or are you pleased to see me?”.
At 577 PPI, the S6’s screen makes it is all but impossible to see individual pixels (unless you happen to have a spare electron microscope floating around).
A 2560x1440 resolution also means the screen is pin-sharp to look at.
Powering up the S6 for the first time it is pretty hard not to utter an involuntary “oh wow” as you catch your first glimpse of its ultra-vivid AMOLED screen.
I hope Samsung bring out a VR adaptor for the S6, as its high PPI rating should make it ideal for the job.
Beyond the screen, Samsung have also added in other spec steroids into the S6 mix. Powered by an in-house developed Exynos 7420 octa-core processor, a 16MP rear camera delivers the goods - even in low light conditions.
Although the S6 supports wireless charging, its capacious 2550mAh battery is not removable. Sammy have also omitted a microSD slot, which could limit its appeal to users with big media libraries. This said, the S6 comes with whopping 32, 64 or 128Gb of storage.
Look and Feel
Looks wise, the S6 feels iPhone 6 like. Like many, I’m hoping that lawsuits don’t start flying. They’re a distraction from the innovation that the market needs from both manufacturers.
The curved alloy edges of the S6 plus its gorilla glass back and front and single front button might be familiar to iPhone users. I’d argue that there’s only so many ways to build a smartphone. Just ask any other smartphone makers who’ve all delivered similar designs for their smartphones.
Less noticeable with the S6 is its proportions. Its 5.1-inch screen has small upper and lower bezels. This in turn means the S6 is about the same size as an iPhone 6. The net effect is that it is pocketable while also delivering a decent sized screen. Perhaps Samsung should have branded it the “S6 TARDIS Phone”?
My first impressions upon powering it on was that it felt like a well designed piece of custom jewellery rather than the usual tupperware from Samsung.
Its power switch felt solid and there was no flexing. As gorgeous as the S6 looks, I’d hate to submit it to a drop test on a hard surface. A case to protect it should be mandatory. In short, the S6’s design elements give it the making of a classic.
In use the S6 never missed a beat. Switching between apps and running demanding games with detail settings on full never resulted in any lag. This is probably as much about the work done to Samsung’s custom touchwiz UI as it is about the S6's muscular silicon.
The S6’s Exynos processor delivered fast and smooth performance. Downloading a bunch of games, I cranked their default detail settings to high. Asphalt looked great and gameplay was seamless. Dead Trigger 2 also worked fine (and looked fab) with all its settings maxed.
Gaming aside, much cruft and bloat is gone. Touchwiz is still there, but it looks a whole lot more like stock android and didn’t get in the way of using the S6. All the extraneous nonsense apps such as lavatory mode etc are also not there, it’s a much needed change.
Another feature that mightn’t sound like a big deal until you use it, is the home button two presses which activates the S6’s camera.
You can go from picking up the phone, and snapping a photo in mere seconds. Pet owners and parents will come to appreciate the sheer utility of this useful feature. Another handy feature is the ability to run apps in their own windows. This is useful but the caveat here is that the 5.4” screen did somewhat limit its utility.
Where the S5’s finger print scanner promised seamless security but delivered frustration, the S6’s fingerprint scanner was pretty reliable. Instead of a clumsy swipe across the home button, S6 users just plunk their pinky down (it even worked if my finger was on a slight angle).
Perhaps one of the biggest factors figuring in usability is battery life. With the S6’s non swappable battery, this becomes a critical consideration. With typical use, I was able to wring out a full day use and still have around 10-15% battery left over by the time I went to bed.
Samsung have taken battery life to heart and included a quick charge feature in the S6. Using its standard charger, I was able to add about 15% to the battery after only around 10 minutes of charging.
Even handier still, the S6 also supports wireless charging out of the box. This means that when it comes to charging, you can juts plunk your phone down on a charging mat. There’s a lot of good things to be said about not having to shag about with USB cables at bedtime. While no wireless charger is bundled, the S6 also doesn’t need a new backplate to work with wireless chargers.
Wondering why so few have embraced wireless charging? the answer is most likely due to yet another stupid Beta vs VHS war over charging standards. Two standards (Qi and PMA) exist and (of course) they’re incompatible. Uncertainty over which will win is holding back adoption from users, accessory and phone makers. Samsung anticpated this and have made sure the S6 supports both standards. This should mean that getting hold of a wireless charger should be dead easy and cheap too.
There’s a of lot to like with the S6. A high end design finally matches the S6’s premium flagship phone sticker p rice. A solid build that reeks of premium design is a welcome addition to the Galaxy range, here’s hoping Samsung keep it up.
I also found that the two tap home button and uncluttered camera interface made the S6 my go to device for snapping photos. In use this proved dead handy and was helped along by the S6’s cameras low light performance.
The home button fingerprint scanner was also a pleasant surprise. It mightn’t be perfect, but it is usable and provides a quick and easy way to secure the S6, make payments or login to web services. After the semi useless scanner on the S5, the S6’s fingerprint scanner is a welcome addition
If I have one concern about the S6, it is this. As much as I love its glass and alloy body, it is slippery. Sit the S6 on a sloping surface and it’ll slide, crashing to the floor. It also felt slick in my hand. Buying a case will see this issue solved.
In a nutshell, Samsung have set a new benchmark for the smartphone genre. The S6 is the Android phone to beat at the moment.
RRP$: approx. $1099 (32GB)
CPU: Samsung Exynos Octa-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 plus Quad-cores at 2.1 GHz
Storage: 32GB, 64GB, 128GB
Screen: 5.1-inch 2560×1440 (577ppi), AMOLED
Camera: (rear) 16-megapixel (front) 5-megapixel
Connectivity: 4G (700MHz-2800MHz), Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/ac), GSM / HSPA / LTE
Dimensions: 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8 mm
OS: Android OS, v5.0.2 (Lollipop)
Chipset: Exynos 7420, CPU Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57
Camera: (rear) 16 MP optical image stabilisation, autofocus, LED flash (front) 5 MP, 1440p@30fps, dual video call, Auto HDR
GPS: YES plus GLONASS, Beidou
Infrared port: Yes
Battery: Non-removable Li-Ion 2550 mAh battery