Introduction, design and screen
It’s no secret that Samsung needed to do something big with its new phone, to unleash something to stop the rot that the Galaxy S4 began two years ago.
I just didn’t expect the Samsung Galaxy S6 to be this good.
Yes, there are still some elements that prevent it from being the perfect phone (this is Samsung after all, a brand that likes to cram as much into the phone as it can get away with) but to leap to this point from the plastic-clad nonsense of the Galaxy S5 is a really, really impressive feat.
Samsung didn’t take this task lightly, beginning almost completely from scratch and replacing key members of its design team to make sure it created a standout phone.
Perhaps the S6 is a little too similar to the rest of the competition (it looks stunningly like an iPhone at the bottom) but at least there’s the Galaxy S6 Edge for those that want a really unique-looking device.
The big issues are price and battery life: the former being wincingly high. We’re talking £575 / $750 / around AU$980 SIM free for the 32GB version – and at 64GB, it’s more than an iPhone 6 in the UK, costing £660 (although in other countries it’s a little cheaper).
Hunt around though and you can find the 32GB Galaxy S6 for around £500, $650 (Amazon) – making it slightly more palatable if you want to pick it up SIM-free.
And there’s a smaller battery on board than last year, which instantly makes me worry when the screen resolution has been bumped up to give us the sharpest display on the market.
But Samsung’s been at this smartphone game for a while now, so can it justify that high price tag by cramming in loads of amazing technology… and make the battery last more than a day?
Samsung’s gone bold on the design of the Galaxy S6, taking away the usual plastic covering that festooned previous models and finally stepping into the world of metal for its flagships.
It’s dallied with a more premium design ever since the Galaxy Alpha was brought out in the middle of last year. But with a higher price and lower spec, that model didn’t really catch on, despite feeling really premium in the hand.
So this time Samsung’s gone one step further, adding an all-metal band to a strong glass case and, really, making a phone that couldn’t be much further from the Galaxy S5.
That’s not to say the brand hasn’t kept some of the design heritage in there – after all, Samsung is a company that’s big on tradition. The front of the phone harks back to the Galaxy S4 days, with a rounded and bland fascia combined with the lozenge home button.
The biggest shame is that I didn’t get to fully review one of the colored variants rather than ‘White Pearl’ that you can see above.
The other colors have a jewel-like sheen, reflecting the light in a luxury way. The white is just rather boring, and looks like older devices again.
The reason for sending reviewers the white version first is pretty clear though: this thing is a fingerprint magnet. I know I’ve said that before about other devices, but it’s never been truer than on the Galaxy S6.
The rear of the phone will just become marked and smudged within seconds of handling it, so like a silver car the white chassis on the S6 serves to hide those ugly blemishes.
In the hand the Galaxy S6 is a very nice device to hold, with the 5.1-inch screen taking up most of the front. It’s compact yet elegant, with a clear feel of premium quality when you’re holding it.
That said, it doesn’t feel like the most expensive on the market – whatever reason Samsung is giving for charging this high premium, it’s not coming through in the design – but it does feel like a device that can be mentioned in the same breath as the HTC One M9 and iPhone 6 in terms of build quality.
The metal band around the side is split by strips of plastic to allow the antenna and other radios to make their connections – and if it looks familiar, well, it’s a very similar design to that used on the iPhone 6.
These strips are needed as metal is very inefficient at letting phone signal pass through, and Samsung isn’t alone in including them. However, with the glass front and rear I was surprised to see them make an appearance.
Combined with the fact the bottom of the phone, where the speaker and headphone jack live, looks almost identical to what Apple is doing, this seems to be a risky line Samsung is treading.
The general layout of the phone is well designed though. The volume buttons on the left-hand side and the power button on the right are perfectly positioned, and the home button has been massively upgraded to deliver a very solid click.
That might not sound important, but it’s not been the case with previous Galaxy phones so I’m pleased to see Samsung finally step up.
The back of the phone yields one of the less aesthetically pleasing elements though, with the camera protruding quite significantly from the rear of the Galaxy S6.
The reason is obvious: to allow for a higher power optical system and you’ll see in the camera section that this was very, very much worth it.
But again, I’m left wondering what Samsung is doing here. In the desperation for a flat phone, the battery capacity is reduced and the camera left sticking out, exposing it to possible scratching.
Why not slightly round the rear, make it sit more nicely in the hand and improve the space for a battery? HTC does it to terrific effect on the One series, but it seems other brands are obsessed with a flat phone. As a result the S6 doesn’t even rest comfortably on the desk, with a little wobble when tapping it at work.
But don’t let the above make you think this is anything other than a great phone design. It’s not up there with the very best – the HTC One M9‘s craftsmanship puts this head and shoulders ahead of the Galaxy S6 in terms of feel in the hand – but Samsung has finally offered what we’ve been hankering after for years, and it’s done it well.
Samsung has always had brilliant screen technology, and once again, that’s the case on the Samsung Galaxy S6. The Super AMOLED display offers clear, crisp whites against pure blacks, meaning even dark scenes are shown off perfectly.
The 5.1-inch display now packs more pixels than ever before – 1440 x 2560 in fact, which matches the Galaxy Note 4 but with a higher PPI of 577 – which means you’re looking at the sharpest display on the market.
The QHD level of screen was started by LG last year with the G3, but as that was based on LCD technology it left the screen a little dark and power hungry, as each pixel caused a heavier strain on the battery.
Then the Google Nexus 6 came along, and that really impressed with its larger screen. Despite the wider display it still looked great, and when the aforementioned Note 4 came along with the same resolution, the bar was set.
So combining the pixel count of the Note 4 with a smaller display should yield an exquisite display, right? Sadly, no. That’s not to say the screen on the Samsung Galaxy S6 doesn’t look brilliant – it really, really does – but I’m not sure the QHD resolution really adds that much to the mix, especially given the higher power drain it commands.
Watching some optimized video does look nicer, and held side by side the screen is clearly sharper than a normal Full HD display.
But we’ve gone way past the point of needing any more sharpness in our phones, and even 720p resolutions don’t look terrible (a point well made by Matthew Hanson in his piece on the myths of screen resolution) so I’m wondering why Samsung bothered here.
The Super AMOLED technology can make 1080p screens look phenomenal, and has been for years. And with bigger screens, the improved pixel count helps make them look next generation. But at 5.1-inch, this seems more gimmick than anything else as Samsung looks for anything it can throw into a new flagship to grab headlines.
(Admittedly the improved resolution is needed for the Gear VR headset, where the phone is the screen and so more pixels are better. But that’s not going to be a real world use for this phone for many).
The screen on the Galaxy S6 is superb. It does still have all the real benefits of Super AMOLED, as I’ve mentioned, with outdoor visibility particularly strong.
There’s nothing that doesn’t look amazing on it – but it does come at the cost of battery life and, well, actual cost, and I’m not sure it adds enough to warrant those sacrifices.
Super charging and an amazing fingerprint scanner
There’s something perverse in being happy that Samsung has fewer amazing things to talk about on its new phone, but for years I’ve been forced to talk about nonsensical ideas on the latest Galaxy flagship phone – we’ll not go into the Smart Scroll debacle.
This time around, it’s all about refinement, making it really easy to do the things you need without having to slap around a thousand menus. And the fancy stuff is kept to a minimum as Samsung finally takes note of what people like and focuses on the basics.
It might sound odd, given I was just saying the gimmickry was reduced, but I’m going to start with the heart rate monitor. It’s still as unnecessary as ever, but it’s now less prone to failing at least.
I’ve used it at the end of runs to see my heart rate, but that’s not really giving me much useful information unless I can use it at the exact same moment after each workout. When charting your resting pulse it works a lot better, allowing you to see how much fitter you’re getting by how hard your heart is working when you wake up.
To that end, it would be great if the S6 could prompt you to take a reading the second you wake up – without that data it all becomes a little moot.
If you do remember though, it’s a much more accurate system, and you get to see the heart rate displayed visually too, which is really cool.
Even the oxygen and stress tests work better now – on the Note 4 this was just a car crash of inaccuracy, so while I still have no idea why Samsung is sticking with the heart rate monitor, at least it works well.
The S Health app which eats up all this data is improved too. The interface is so much cleaner, with special place given to heart rate, stress, running etc.
The cleanliness of the interface extends to being able to see the graph of heart rate over time, for instance, with an easy slide across showing the important information.
There’s still not a lot of point to this app, of course – and now it’s shorn of the life coaching ability, which would give handy hints on how to improve your wellbeing through eating, life goals and more.
It’s now just a hub of slightly inaccurate information (a 100 minute run was logged as only 70 minutes according to the app, despite being in motion for the full period).
The fingerprint on the Samsung Galaxy S6 is one of the best on the market – and I didn’t think I’d be saying that after the sliding option we had on the Galaxy S5. I was under the impression that Apple had the monopoly on decent scanners, but this changes things.
Like Apple, Samsung employs the single touch way of verifying your print, but after the simple set up the scanner here is amazingly accurate. A light touch will be enough to open the phone, and it rarely fails.
The other benefit is for Samsung Pay as well as using PayPal. The payment system from Samsung, which is promises will fill in all the gaps left by Apple Pay, has yet to fully launch (and won’t be in the UK for a while, it seems) and the idea of paying for stuff through PayPal is rather hard to actually use unless you’ve managed to find anywhere that will actually let you pay using the app.
But it seems like the security side of things here, a situation created by Samsung’s retooling of its fingerprint tech, is massively improved, and is a great way to get into your phone.
Samsung’s refined a well-worn app well on the Galaxy S6, allowing you to see all the important stuff in one place. The Smart Manager lets you track security on the phone, the battery life, storage and RAM usage. A quick tap will ‘clean’ all of these, but it doesn’t do a huge amount.
For instance, you’re only going to need to clean up storage once in a while, with unused app info being deleted, and the RAM usage is still something that I’m not sure how it works.
If you clear the RAM, the phone doesn’t speed up or slow down much, and it seems that it could be affecting apps with opening and shutting. Battery usage is easy to work out, but I’ve not seen anything happening from asking the phone to ‘clean up’ this area.
It’s a nice app to have in one place, and when you do need to have a look through stuff it’s a very good option to have, but I was hoping for more for this idea from Samsung.
This could be a big one: Samsung’s packed both versions of wireless charging into the thin frame of the Galaxy S6. When you see how much heft that usually adds to a phone to have ONE standard on there, having both the PMA and QI on the phone is amazing.
It shouldn’t be this way, with a brand having to pack two competing technologies in one place. We need a single, unified, standard for wireless charging, but whatever the landscape Samsung is ready to service it.
I tested the S6 on the Tylt stand, which promises to let you chuck the phone down any which way and get it charging wirelessly, and for the most part it’s right. I also tried the Fonesalesman’s QiStone+ Wireless charger, which is a battery pack as well for wireless charging on the go – it’s good, but unless you’re in a very still area it’s very easy to make it slide off the pad.
Even the official wireless puck from Samsung, with a rubber ring to hold the phone in place, doesn’t quite grip it well enough thanks to the protruding camera on the back. Were this phone flat, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but it’s a slider.
The wireless charging on the Tylt stand was very quick, similar to what I’d expect on a normal charger. This was impressive given the input was only 0.75 amps, which is much less than the phone can handle. However, the phone does heat up rather significantly on all the wireless pads, so it’s worth keeping an eye on that if you’re keeping in your bag near some sandwiches.
Microsoft’s on board
A lot’s been made of the fact that Samsung has bundled the Microsoft suite of apps onto its phones this year, but in reality it’s not something to get that bothered about.
The only really cool addition is OneNote, which is a good alternative to Evernote (which was previously placed on Samsung phones). It allows you to create notes, lists and mini documents on the fly in an easy to use interface, and is a good addition.
The other Microsoft apps added in are Skype and OneDrive – not really the full suite I was expecting. The former is on many new phones now – including the One M9 – and is easily downloaded anyway.
What’s more annoying is that the app pops up every so often on the battery screen, sipping a little bit of power, even when not used. OneDrive is cool in that it gives you 100GB of storage space, but I’d rather Samsung had partnered with Google in the same way as HTC to give that space on Google Drive.
You can see that Samsung knows Google Drive is the bigger hitter, as you can link your phone’s file manager system to Drive with one tap, with the same option nowhere to be seen for Microsoft.
That said about Microsoft, you can get rid of most of it if you fancy anyway. While Samsung’s not chucked as much bloatware onto the Galaxy S6 as normal, there are still a fair few apps that come out of the box.
The good news is these can now be uninstalled with a simple tap – even the Google Play Store for some reason. Don’t get rid of that though, as it will make getting new apps on there really rather difficult.
It doesn’t seem that these apps are really uninstalled, merely disabled and hidden from view, but given the capacious storage on offer from 32GB to 128GB, it’s essentially the same thing for most users.
Interface and performance
The TouchWiz UI on top of Android 5.0.2 is impressive in that it’s been upgraded well from last year, which in itself was a big step forward.
The look is more refined than before, with larger and flatter icons festooning the home screen, and the amount of menus reduced too. Samsung made a big deal of the amount of clutter it removed, and while it is reduced, there are still myriad pop ups and options to play around with.
I don’t mind that too much though, as it’s a clear and clean interface to wander through. A tap on the settings icon will take you to all the options in one place, with your favorite settings on the top of the screen – it would have been great if this was auto-populated with most used, but being able to customize it is good enough.
Things like the camera, which prefers to take options off the screen rather than instantly give every single setting within one tap, show that Samsung is trying to clean things up, and for the most part it shows.
Everything is well laid out, and save for the cartoonish way it’s all been designed (there’s still a lot of scope for Samsung to make things look a lot more mature and cultured here, something I hope will happen soon to make all criticism of TouchWiz’s UI disappear) I’m generally a fan of TouchWiz.
A lot of people don’t like it, but I think it’s as good as many other interfaces out there. It lacks the sophistication of HTC’s Sense, or the simplicity of Apple’s iOS, but what it does have is really great power and obvious buttons.
If I need to do something, it’s not hard to work out where it is, and yet there are loads of useful settings to play with if I dig in.
It’s also been improved through some clever gesture-based tweaks, which are found often by accidentally sliding a finger right or left. The camera now jumps into photos with a swipe more easily than ever and a slide right in the gallery pops open folders.
Options to share items, send your screen to a larger display or just connect to another device pop up just when you need them, and combined with a reduction in annoying warning messages the UI is a lot smarter.
One thing Samsung isn’t great at is making a responsive UI, and that’s evident here on the Galaxy S6 again.
I’m not saying there’s judder or lag in the OS – far from it, this is one of the most fluid interfaces I’ve ever used, which you’d expect with Samsung’s own octa-core Exynos CPU running things – but things like the multi-tasking menu take a second to open when pressed.
Or waking the phone up from sleep can take a second or two, a problem that’s plagued Samsung phones throughout the ages. I’ve no idea why these little quirks exist, and can only assume that it’s to do with the way Samsung constructs its operating system as there’s plenty of power there with the 3GB of RAM backing up the four 1.5GHz and four 2.1GHz cores.
Generally though the S6 is brilliant in terms of interface. Double tapping the home button will open the camera wherever you are in the phone in under a second (0.7 seconds to be exact) and you can even do it when the phone is locked… although that’s not quite as fast to open.
GeekBench 3 shows us that this is the most powerful device on the market, topping even the impressive iPad Air 2’s A8X chip. Where that came in at 4500, the Galaxy S6 offered up 4850 as an average score.
It’s worth remembering that Samsung isn’t adverse to a little results manipulation in the benchmarks, but there’s no doubt this is a massively, massively powerful phone.
Messaging and calling
The other elements of the phone, the bits that make a phone a phone, are improved once again too. The messaging app benefits massively from the fact the keyboard is a lot better, learning my typing habits as I go, although I still would want to download a third party app like SwiftKey to make the process a little slicker.
The current keyboard has an annoying issue in that it will correct your words (accurately), but this includes the capitalization too, meaning it can override the auto capitalization of words when typing. Not what you’d hope for in a phone of this quality.
The call quality is amazing though, with the S6 able to pick up signal in nearly any scenario (although again slightly bettered by the One M9 in terms of signal strength).
The amazing part comes from the range of things the phone can do with calling: voice over LTE is important as it lets you call while downloading on 4G, and Wi-Fi calling is going to be a big new trick when it finally becomes widely available.
It’s only months away from being widespread on carriers like T-Mobile in the US and EE in the UK, and will let you seamlessly text and call using the Wi-Fi signal, which is brilliant for houses with low radio penetration or when underground.
Battery life on the Samsung Galaxy S6. Now we get to the real issue of this phone. It’s not good enough, and that’s hugely frustrating.
Let me put this into context: it’s as good as the HTC One M9 and iPhone 6 in terms of being able to last just about through the day. Given that last year we were seeing phones that could easily make it to bed time without running out of juice, it’s maddening that Samsung, like others, has gone backwards here.
The reason is simple: the battery pack in the new S6 is smaller than last year, 2550mAh compared to 2800mAh. The reduction is there solely so Samsung could make a slimmer phone, focusing on design over functionality. And unlike previous years, the battery can no longer be removed, taking away one of the big things fans loved about the phones.
I’m not convinced a removable battery is that important any more – I don’t know many people who bother to buy an extra power pack, especially when portable packs are so widespread now – so I think the need for it is more a hygiene factor, something that makes users feel safe.
But it comes at the expense of function and design, and I think dropping it is fine. HTC, Apple, Sony and more have all done the same thing and we’re not seeing widespread reports of failing units all over the world.
In terms of the actual battery life of the Samsung Galaxy S6, in moderate usage you’ll get a full working day of around 17 hours out of it. This means you might have to decide whether or not you want to watch a movie on the commute home, and that’s simply not good enough.
In 2015 we expect phones to be able to last more than a day easily, especially for the prices Samsung is charging for the S6. To lower the capacity beggars belief, although I do understand that the design was the most important thing this time around, given how vociferous the criticism was from smartphone buyers was.
But the two aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have an efficient phone with a decent-size battery and not make it ugly… Sony did it well on the Xperia Z3, for instance.
What’s more confusing is that I can’t really tell what it is that’s sucking the battery so quickly. The screen is the obvious culprit, and it doesn’t burn a little quickly when turned on, but I’m not seeing the same drops when tested that I’d expect.
For instance, playing a 90 minute Full HD video at full brightness showed a drop of 16%, half that of the HTC One M9 which doesn’t have as many pixels to power. That’s a very good result.
Similarly playing a high power game for 30 minutes only saw the battery drop 10%. Yes, the phone warmed up a bit, but 5 hours’ hardcore gaming on any phone is a very good result again.
Let’s put it in real world context: leaving the phone overnight with a full charge saw it only drop 5%.
A 75 minute commute on train and bike, with wireless Bluetooth headphones connected to offline Spotify and a fair slug of streaming Netflix, saw me only go down to 80% by the time I reached the office. That sounds like a big drop, but apart from gaming there’s not much more I could have done to push the phone hard in that time – it’s a pretty good score.
So there’s something in the background that’s chewing the battery. Google Play services is the big issue, with the phone constantly chattering with servers and downloading updates throughout our week-long test.
This might calm down over time, and would dramatically improve the phone’s battery performance, but to still be doing a week in is a bit worrying.
If only wireless charging was widespread. Then you could throw the S6 down on nearly any surface and have it sip power in the background, and if you shell out for a wireless pad or stand at home and work, you’ll never have any battery problems even if you forget to plug in.
But this isn’t good enough for a phone of this caliber. Samsung usually makes long lasting phones, and battery life is crucial to the needs of a consumer. Must do better.
Let’s move onto one of the very, very big highlights of the Samsung Galaxy S6: the camera is simply brilliant. From the instant start to the range of modes to the extraordinary photos, this has the capability to be the phone of choice for even the hobbyist photographer.
The options are simple yet powerful, the choices great and the ease with which you can get a great picture amazing. There’s a range of ways brands approach the camera technology in their phones, from the Nokia Lumia 1020 with a 41MP sensor and three camera apps at launch to the iPhone 6, with an 8MP sensor and limited options.
Both of those listed above yield great snaps, but Samsung has combined the simplicity of Apple and the power of Nokia (well, Microsoft now) to make a really powerful snapper.
The main thing to note about this phone’s camera (other than it protrudes from the back of the handset quite markedly) is that it’s instantly able to take a good snap.
The colors are rich (although only on the phone screen – they can look a little washed out on the monitor as Samsung looks to make them look better on the handset), the shutter speed instant, and most importantly the auto focus is very quick and accurate.
That was one of the big things that got in the way with the HTC One M9, and I’m glad that Samsung has improved the speed from the Galaxy S5.
The really powerful thing here is the ability of the S6 in low light. It’s very good indeed, better than the iPhone 6. And yet it’s got a 16MP sensor. This is impressive because the more pixels you pack in, the harder it is to get a decent shot in the dark.
And yet Samsung’s got something that’s better than the rest. The pro mode is genuinely useful, allowing manual focus and control of the sensor’s sensitivity, and Bokeh effect (letting you take three shots of the same thing so you can set the focus after the snap) is really strong too.
The HDR mode on the iPhone 6 is often used as a shining example of the power of its camera (and if you’re not using it, you should be, as it takes a range of photos of different exposures and intelligently mixes them together to get bright and clear photos of whatever you’re shooting) and yet Samsung has done it better.
In auto mode, the HDR option activates more readily, which improves the clarity of snaps without having to do anything. The macro mode is so good too, allowing you to get so close to whatever you’re thinking of shooting.
Of course there are some extra elements that aren’t needed: virtual object asks you to walk around something while keeping your camera pointed at it. This then lets you swipe the picture and see all the angles… but it’s like just taking a video of it and fast forwarding or rewinding. Not sure what that’s for.
It’s doubly odd as the cool thing Samsung has done this year is strip out some of the camera modes and made them downloadable, with things like Sports Shot not on there from the start. I’d like to be able to tailor the experience better, which means getting rid of the superfluous options.
The fast and slow motion video is OK as well – the latter especially works at 240FPS, but is nowhere near the smooth clarity Apple brings on the iPhone 6. It’s there as an easy to tag option though, and you’ll be able to take some fun videos with it.
4K video shooting it also included, but still lacks a real USP given there are few monitors that can show it off, and eats up valuable storage (a key consideration given there’s no microSD slot on board the Galaxy S6).
The selfie mode is there, and it’s pretty good as cameras go. There’s all the same features you’d expect and more, with HDR, beauty mode, effects, voice capture and full 1080p video recording, as well as ‘wide selfie’ to get more people in. The resulting picture is a wider ratio than the phone screen, so you’ll get more info from it too.
It’s got a decent field of view as well, in case you want to have more people in the shot… but don’t do that. Just focus on how powerful the rear cam is.
Check out the samples below to see what I mean – but I’ve not enjoyed using a camera this much since some of those before Microsoft took over Nokia, and the pictures are some that I’ve genuinely wanted to show off to friends.
Music, movies and gaming
The media capabilities of all Samsung phones have always been nigh-on unbeatable, and that’s largely remained the case here – it’s not even shouting about the fact it can manage hi-res audio as well.
The main issue some will have here is the lack of microSD expansion on the phone. That’s a real deal breaker for some, and I can see why.
However, the way Google is working with Android is starting to make the memory card a little redundant, as you’re not allowed to install a great deal to the extra storage any more, where previously you could dump most things in there and save space.
Samsung’s done this for a very simple reason: to improve performance. It’s a simple fact that the more you rely on the microSD card, the more the performance suffers, be it from opening the picture gallery or apps that have installed stuff to it.
By keeping things all in one place, you’re guaranteed the best possible experience in terms of stability and speed, and Samsung has prioritized that for the S6. HTC, Sony and some of the smaller brands are sticking with the slot, and that’s good in terms of choice.
I’m torn. I prefer my phone to work more effectively, and Samsung has notoriously struggled with performance in the past, so this makes sense as a move. The 32GB of space as a minimum is a brilliant move, and should give more than enough space to nearly every user.
But if you want to go up in storage sizes, things get tricky. Firstly, it’s a lot more money to jump in capacity (and we’ve not even seen the cost of the 128GB models yet) and it doesn’t cost the same to up that space through microSD.
Also, having a microSD just means I feel a little safer… although with the advent of streaming services, I find I’m using that space a little less. It’s now at the point where it’s personal preference – either option has some drawbacks, but dropping the microSD slot has really damaged the performance or luster of the S6.
The audio capabilities of the Galaxy S6 are strong. Very strong, as usual. You can control everything on there, with even support for high bitrate FLAC files offered up to 24-bit sound in case audiophiles want to get involved. The sound quality is higher, but you’ll need the files to get the most of it – and M4A lossless isn’t supported.
Most people won’t use it, but given the rivals are starting to make a big noise about it it’s weird Samsung hasn’t gone down the same route.
There are so many settings in here to change the audio quality of your listening experience – and my word, AdaptSound is good. It really does go through all the quality settings on your headphones to make sure the sound it optimized for them specifically and it’s really impressive to hear the new quality side by side.
The other options also help improve sound, but the main equalizers are only available for the sound in the music player, which is a shame.
I’m still a bit sad that phones haven’t got smarter in the ability to play the right music at the right time (when the Galaxy S3 had the ‘mood grid’ to let me make a playlist based on tempo, I assumed this was the future) but the S6 does the job more than ably, with clarity and richness.
Then again, there’s only so much quality needed when you’re dancing to Usher with two cats. What? Shut up. No, you’re weird.
The video prowess of the Galaxy S6 harks back to the issue I faced with the screen: it’s too high res. Well, not ‘too’, as that suggests the quality is diminished in some way by being QHD, but it doesn’t really add much.
The visuals are glorious, and if you fancy playing back any 4K YouTube then it’s definitely an improved experience. But general video watching didn’t inspire that ‘wow’ moment I expected, rather just a satisfied nod of the head that the Super AMOLED display was doing its job.
Samsung reckons the speaker at the bottom of the phone is the right place for it, allowing for the best sound quality. It’s really not.
The front facing speakers of the HTC One range, or even recent Sony phones, are better as the sound is directed in the correct way, rather than shooting out in a direction that can be easily covered by the hand.
The sound is decent enough considering it’s popping out of a mono speaker, with a lot more bass than I expected, but it’s still just a good phone speaker, which means it’s something to be embarrassed about showing off in public.
It does the job for showing off YouTube clips, but lacks the impressive audio quality of HTC’s BoomSound.
What is good / confusing is something I alluded to earlier: the video playback doesn’t hurt the battery too much. Given it’s powering a lot of pixels for a long time, it shows that Super AMOLED technology is rather efficient in this regard.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 is a good phone for a number of things, but gaming is one of its strong points. The octa-core Exynos processor seems to be able to handle anything I can throw at it, often exposing the graphical limits of games themselves.
For instance Real Racing 3, a game I’ll often play to compare the capabilities of phones as it’s rather intensive, looked a bit TOO clear, taking away from the graphical prowess and highlighting the graphical elements as they streamed by a little too slickly.
But for screen response, load times and general game play, I’ll easily turn to the Galaxy S6 time and again. The only downside is the screen size, which is a little smaller than I’d like for a good session, but it’s still more than good enough for day to day.
Samsung’s got a little bit confused with the infra-red blaster on top of the phone, as it’s packed two TV apps into the Galaxy S6. The normal Smart Remote app is there, allowing you to watch TV and set the phone up as a remote control easily. It’s a fine app that does just what you’d expect it to, albeit it with a rather shoddy UI at times.
And then there’s Peel TV, the app that Smart Remote is based on. Also installed on the phone, and offering an arguably slicker experience with easier management of controls.
Both can be pinned to the lock screen or notification area, so I’m not sure why both are on there. Maybe it’s a bit like Chrome and Internet both being offered as browsers on the phone… I don’t need too.
What else should I consider?
The Samsung Galaxy S6 is the second big phone launch at the moment and as such doesn’t have the full compliment of rivals to face off against – but there are still some good choices in the market.
The most obvious crossover for those considering the Galaxy S6 is the iPhone 6 and not least because the numbers finally match (although the 6S is going to make things confusing).
Both are similarly priced now, which is bad news for consumers. Both have largely the same battery life and both offer no expandable memory with three storage options (although the base model of the S6 is 32GB to the iPhone’s 16GB).
Samsung has Apple beaten on specs: the QHD screen laughs at the pitiful 720p display Apple’s gone for, the chassis size is similar, the camera better and the range of options so much more extensive.
The iPhone still has the simpler user interface and better apps to fall back on, plus a more robust software upgrade plan. It’s pretty neck and neck, so it’s really down to which camp you like to sit in.
- Read our iPhone 6 review
HTC One M9
I feel, in many ways, the Galaxy S6 is the Will.i.Am to HTC’s David Bowie. One’s more cultured, the other newer with more tricks. One is based on older ideas, but still has the air of refinement. The other, well… Actually, no, this analogy is getting too tortured. Basically I’d rather own an S6 than listen to a Will.i.Am track.
HTC has launched a very similar phone to the previous year with the One M9, although it’s still a very good handset. The design is still miles ahead of Samsung’s, the battery life the same, and the screen not too far off – although it lacks the sharpness.
It’s in the base power that HTC suffers – Samsung’s got a lot of the basics right, more so than its Taiwanese rival, with an improved camera the real highlight.
HTC’s offering is cheaper though, despite being made out of more premium materials, so if you can see past the fact it’s a very similar phone to last year, it’s a very good choice.
- Read our HTC One M9 review
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge
This should be an easy decision for most of those deciding between the S6 and the curved edge variant: can you afford it? It’s a lot more money both on contract and SIM free, and apart from having a battery that’s fractionally larger and a bent screen at each side, there’s not a lot of benefit.
It certainly looks cooler, a spacephone in a sea of identikit black slabs, but the screen also makes it less comfortable to hold. It’s more status symbol than anything else, albeit it one with all the brilliant bits of the S6 underneath.
- Read our Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review
If you’re fed up with all the metal and glass on smartphones today then perhaps the LG G4 can tempt you away with its fancy leather back. Yes, I really did mean leather.
It certainly provides a different sensation in the hand, while maintaining a premium level. Sure it’s different, but it’s a nice option to have.
We’ve had extensive time with the LG G4, although it hasn’t been running final software – but it’s allowed us to get a pretty good feel for the handset.
What I can say is the G4 focuses on what everyone actually wants out of a smartphone, a great looking design, color rich display and the great camera for photos. It rivals Galaxy S6 on all fronts, and is shaping up to be an 11th hour contender.
- Read our hands on: LG G4 review
Sony Xperia Z3
The Sony Xperia Z3 is the oldest phone here (bar the S5) but still has some decent things to offer. Firstly, the battery life is far above any of the other phones mentioned here, and the screen a little brighter in direct light.
I’m not a fan of the interface Sony’s put together, as it’s a little heavy and bland, but in terms of raw power it’s perfectly capable. The camera could be better, especially given that it’s got the might of the Sony camera team behind it, but the ability to Remote Play your PS4 is a nice touch.
Plus it’s much cheaper to buy these days – and it’s only six months older.
- Read our Sony Xperia Z3 review
Samsung Galaxy S5
It’s not often that I’d advise against buying the previous model of any phone, as the price is usually down to a palatable level when the new one comes out. But the S5 just wasn’t a good enough phone.
The screen was decent, and it’s waterproof, which a lot of people liked. The battery lasted longer, and the price is nearly 2/3 of the current S6. But the design and the lag inherent in the OS just really put me off, and saw the phone tumble down our best ranking. Where HTC’s One M8 was number one for a year, the S5 disappeared, which highlighted the need for Samsung to make the reboot.
If you’re on a budget, then this is a phone worth looking at, but the One M8 is cheaper and a much better handset.
- Read our Samsung Galaxy S5 review
Samsung needed something big this year, a phone that could reboot its fortunes without completely changing what the company stands for. And it’s largely managed to do just that, building on its strengths while smoothing off some of the rough edges from before.
It’s not perfect, and there are some issues (like battery and price) that still need to be really thought about before purchase, but Samsung has mostly done what it needed to with the S6.
When I first saw the Galaxy S6 I was immediately impressed. It was like someone walked into the boardroom of Samsung HQ, picked up the S5 and tore it to pieces, before delivering a more grown up version based on the things consumers actually want.
The metal and glass combination is easily the best thing the brand has ever created in the smartphone space, and needs to trickle down to the lower-end and tablet ranges too.
The camera is also a particular highlight, coming up with some of the most glorious images I’ve ever seen on a smartphone. It’s not the best in terms of out and out quality, but for a mainstream phone it perfectly blends photographical prowess with operational simplicity.
The screen on the Galaxy S6 is still superb, and the QHD improvement does deliver a few benefits – it’s certainly not diminished anything visually. The ergonomics and weight of the phone mean it sits very well in the hand, making it perfect for watching a load of TV shows or just carrying around for music.
It’s also got a good gaming prowess, and the interface is refined to a point where it’s much less intrusive. In short, all the good bits are now gooder and the poor bits less poor.
OK, not ALL the good bits are gooder. Battery life on the Galaxy S6 isn’t good enough for a phone of this caliber or price. I don’t think anyone should be worrying about whether their new expensive smartphone will still be able to make emergency calls when it’s a bit later in the evening, and that’s what the S6 offers.
I’ve not talked about Ultra Power Saving Mode in this review, as I think that it shouldn’t be lauded as an option. If your phone could maybe squeak two days on battery then I think an option to extend it is a great thing, but given I was considering turning it on daily I was unimpressed.
The price has also risen again, which is annoying. I’ve lambasted Apple for prices that are too high in the past, and now Samsung has sailed right past that cost point. There’s a lot of technology on offer here, sure, but not enough to make it this much more than Apple.
The construction of this thing must cost a huge amount, otherwise Samsung is just charging more to make the device seem more premium and bolster the bottom line, and I really hope that’s not the case.
Oh, and if you go for a non-white version of this phone, beware of the millions of fingerprints you’ll get. They just appear all over the phone instantly. You’ll have to get a good case, carry around a cloth at all times or just not use your fingers ever. Your call.
When I first walked into the subterranean hotel room and caught sight of the Galaxy S6, I was entranced. This was the phone that I’d wanted Samsung to make for years, and it was finally here: a perfect blend of design and extreme power.
The only worries I had back then were the battery life and price, and sadly these are the big reasons why it can’t get a perfect score. You’ll be able to get around them if you really want the phone (kidneys can still be sold, right?) but for a flagship phone I expected better, especially in terms of battery life.
Nobody has convinced me that we need QHD screens yet, and it seems that could be one of the real problems with the S6 and it running out of power so easily.
But don’t let the above take away from the utterly brilliant bits of this phone: the camera is SUPERB, the build quality excellent and the speed under the finger second to none at times.
This is the best Android phone on the market right now, and well worth thinking about if you’re after a really cutting edge device (and can afford it).
First reviewed: March 2015