So close to perfect, but a high price and iffy battery really let it down.
- Great for media
- Super sharp screen
- Amazing camera
- Battery not good enough
- Price too high
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 initially being wincingly high.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 one of the sharpest displays on the market. Though it’s now been beaten by the ludicrous 806ppi Sony Xperia Z5 Premium.
The QHD level of screen was started by LG in 2014 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.
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.
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.
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 image specialists over at DXO Mark were similarly impressed with the camera, giving it a score of 86, which was enough for it to top the charts. But it’s since been pushed into second place by the Sony Xperia Z5, which edged it out with a score of 87.
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.
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 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.
Please read the full review by By Gareth Beavis