You just had to select a screen size and some camera resolution for the next device you wanted to purchase, if you were looking at Samsung in the past. It was almost always the same design Samsung had used for the Android devices, be that a flagship or even a budget-range phone. The South Korean electronics giant received the highest criticism from fans around the world for safely adopting the same design strategy and not trying out something new, unlike other brands who have smartphones with metal, glass and what not!
There was no better time to prove a point than to come up with something new in the flagship itself. The Galaxy S6, is what Samsung is betting on, to get some accolades and spike in the market share graph where there was some downfall seen in the last quarter. Galaxy redefined, renovated, and doesn’t look like any other Galaxy smartphone now.
This could again, either help Samsung in a way, or could again backfire. It could not just be the design but the pricing that led to Samsung’s recent downfall. May be, those who are deciding to pay a huge sum to get a flagship, might have not expected a lot of changes in the design but much in the interface and user experience. Whatever the case, Samsung has taken a big step, and deserves all the applause. The Samsung Galaxy S6 could turn the fortunes either way, but Samsung has managed to bring out something real good.
First things first – what has really changed? two major changes – first, the design and the material used to make the exterior, and second, the power given to the device. It isn’t boasting a Snapdragon chipset anymore, and this could be a welcome move for many, as there are several talks about the latest best SoC from Snapdragon (S810) heating up to an uncomfortable extent. Samsung is using its homegrown Exynos 7420 Octa-core chipset, under a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display that gets a Quad HD resolution. Samsung has actually packed in a lesser capacity battery when compared to its predecessor, but claims to have optimised the interface and gives credit to the SoC for consuming lesser power.
Samsung has also changed few things in the camera aspect. The same 16-megapixel camera on the back of the S6 comes with a wide f/1.9 aperture, and there’s physical optical image stabilization. The same f/1.9 aperture is seen even for the 5-megapixel front-facing camera for selfies.
Glass reminds us of one brand that has extensively taken advantage of its omnibalance design strategy using the same – Sony. The entire Xperia Z series uses glass on both the sides, and it had all its obvious pros and cons. In fact, although I had called the Xperia Z3 as one of the best designed smartphones of 2014, the body of the Z3 heated up a lot as there was no proper dissipation of heat generated by the processor and battery. That is what might be a point of concern for potential buyers.
Design, Form Factor
The Galaxy S6 is made of two tempered Gorilla Glass 4 sheets joined by a metallic frame running around on the sides, and it is shaped beautifully. It is curvy on the sides, but Samsung hasn’t changed the way the device should look like – and that is something I’d really appreciate, as Samsung devices are the ones that feel the most comfortable in the hand. The cheap plastic is gone, thankfully for those who always felt they are paying too high for something not really innovative. But the glass doesn’t come as the best change though, as it easily retains your fingerprints and smudges. Another compromise, is that the water resistance is gone.
There were may claiming about Samsung copying Apple on the design aspect, especially with the bottom frame. Hey, we got some bad news for Apple fans, as Samsung’s own Ativ phone in the past had something similar, even before the Apple’s iPhone with such frame was launched. The speaker grill is placed really well, at the bottom, but these aren’t stereo speakers.
The Galaxy S6 is considerably slimmer than its predecessor, and that happens at the cost of battery life. 6.8mm is how thick the device is, and the frame that holds the two glass panels together, has a brushed metal finish. It certainly feels good and gives a premium feel, and I’d again repeat, that the curvy corners and edges make it feel the best. What was traditional and was always liked by the users, was the removable back, which gave access to the replaceable battery and the card slots. That’s gone here, thus the user has no access to the battery, and there is no option to expand the storage as well.
If at one point we criticise Samsung for the major compromises while trying to keep the device slim, it is the overall build and size that is keeping us positive about the Galaxy S6. Not every flagship device gives access to the battery, not each of it has a storage expansion. Sony Xperia Z3, HTC One M9, Apple iPhone 6 and even the LG G3 are all unibody devices, though a couple of them have a MicroSD card slot on the side.
One of the finest displays I’ve ever seen for this 5.1-inch size, as the 1440p resolutions keep the pixel density high at 577 PPI. That’s like something not seen in most of the other devices, and although we might not talk much about the sharpness of the display (given how this barely shows a huge difference from a 1080p resolution), the fact remains the same that this is one of the best displays for any flagship this year.
If you are a Samsung flagship user in the past, you might know how AMOLED displays tend to carry a little more of Blue, than normal. Every such issue is cleared, and this is a perfect display with amazing color reproduction, great brightness and good sunlight legibility. Only Samsung can give a tough challenge to the S6’s display, with its upcoming Note device, and LG’s quantum display on the G4 isn’t bad at the same time.
Two things I liked over the sensors of LG G4, is the auto brightness sensor that is very quick to check for the brightness around to automatically set the brightness of the screen. And second is the accelerometer that determines about portrait and landscape mode. That too is quicker in Galaxy S6.
Do remember that how much ever companies try to optimize everything, a higher resolution display is going to drain battery quicker. That is the case here, as you might have to run for a charger in a few hours while you enjoy a high HD movie.
The transformation for Samsung is not just with the design, but also with the user interface. For someone who has used Samsung devices in the recent past, they know things have changed a lot from then, if the Galaxy S6 interface has to be talked about. First things first, Samsung has reduced bloatware to just a very few important apps, and each of them serve a good purpose, thankfully. So, this being a limited storage device, you don’t at least have to complain about the OS taking up extra space because of some unnecessary apps that cannot be uninstalled.
After LG, it is Samsung that comes up with super cool lock screen animations, though those won’t show when you have the finger scanner activated. The scanner here is much better, as you don’t need to swipe the finger unlike previously, but just need to place the finger on the home button, and it works much better than on its predecessor.
I wish Samsung had done something about the quick settings bar in notification panel, as that doesn’t look good, and isn’t easy. A half-screen bar would’ve been better than a horizontal scrolling bar, and that’s how Android Lollipop’s stock UI shows it.
Samsung’s Multi Window feature works like a charm, and although I rarely found a need for it, the feature comes handy when you have to do some calculations and write it down on other app. Switching between is not easy, thus having both at the same time on the screen makes things quite easier. The multitasking screen is where one can start using this feature, and the vertical carousel view is like the one in stock UI.
Three things I quite liked in the interface of Galaxy S6, are – Easy mode, S Health, and Smart Manager.
Easy Mode: As the name suggests, it makes the interface easier to use. More to do with users who don’t want the hassles of handling a lot of stuff that the device offers. A simpler home screen layout, and larger icons for important applications, on which the user has the control for selecting which ones to show. A large clock and weather widget shows on the home screen, with top six apps below it. A screen is dedicated only for important contacts that need a one-time set up.
S Health: Largely improved, and has a lot to offer, but asks a lot of attention and time if the user has to regularly keep a track of steps, heart rate, and the activities. We have a guide to make you understand what’s packed in, and how one can take advantage of the app.
Smart Manager App: This aggregates a few functions that help in bettering the performance of the device. Having a battery manager, app manager, storage manager, and the security feature make it easy for the user to manage the unnecessary files, or scan and check if there’s any malware to be removed.
The themes can be changed, and this time, Samsung has even allowed to change the grid size on the home screens, to allocate more app shortcuts if you want. Thankfully, the themes aren’t very few as the store gives access to at least 10-12 options to choose from. You know Samsung as a brand that didn’t let users do much with the look of interface, unless you installed a launcher, or went deeper to root and install a ROM. But that is changing, and you can have some very cool themes and that gives a refreshing change to how the UI looks.
I’ve been a big critic when it comes to performance of Samsung smartphones, as these didn’t take much time to show the true colors in the past. Within a month of heavy usage, the Galaxy S5 used to drop frames, lag everywhere in the interface, and the blame ultimately was on the heavy TouchWiz UI.
The expectation was much higher this time, after the reports said that Samsung is ditching Qualcomm and is going with its homegrown Exynos chipset. A flagship without a Snapdragon chipset these days is not unheard of, but Samsung following it raised many questions. But, LG sticking with Snapdragon 810 in the G Flex 2, and then Sony doing the same with Xperia Z4, were a mistake in the end. The devices heated up a lot, and even the chipset manufacturer had to accept the fact. Samsung had to go against Snapdragon 810, not because the throttling to chill the process might hit the performance, but also because the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are made of glass, which instead would make the device seem more heated up.
How’s the actual performance? Buttery smooth. These words “buttery smooth” rarely made sense for Samsung’s devices in the past, but they do hold strong in this case. A primary device for me, for a month where I use the phone for everything I could, there was zero instance when I see it giving up with anything. Throw high-end games, 2K resolution movies, play around with the camera and record 4K movies for over 10 minutes, it handled all with ease.
The Galaxy S5 on the other side, couldn’t take more than a 5-minute 4K video before shutting the camera app down by itself due to over heating. Talking of heating, the Galaxy S6 and the Edge, both were more than just warm on continuous usage and screen on, but they never shut down activities due to that. The experience is different, as I’d never want to hold the phone so hot (at over 48-degree) near to the face to talk on the phone, but I am still okay because I am able to capture a full video I wanted to.
LG has taken a right step, at least in choosing the processor for its flagship G4, as that device rocks a Snapdragon 808 processor, and using both of these side-by-side, you’d rarely notice one of them getting low on performance. So, unlike TouchWiz in the Galaxy S5, unlike the performance issues on Snapdragon 810-based devices due to throttling, the Galaxy S6 is a super performer.
The single speakers are well placed, in the bottom frame instead of the back. The sound output is great, and the quality too is clear. Push this to the maximum output level on rock music, there is definite distortion noticed, but not something to the level where multimedia experience gets worse.
Camera, Capture Samples
In the camera review, we already discussed how well lit, colorful and sharp pictures were possible with the 16-megapixel camera having a f/1.9 aperture and optical image stabilization. The fact remains the same, Samsung has done a great job with the rear camera, though the beautification for the front camera is more than what I was comfortable with, and images seemed washed out when taken with the 5-megapixel selfie camera.
In the low light, this still cannot beat the performance of LG G4‘s camera, and there are a couple of issues at times – it gets more yellowish than normal sometimes, and the focusing sometimes need more time and patience. Though, the end captures aren’t bad but a better experience was expected in low light conditions, than what it is.
Another area where I was skeptical about Samsung’s camera app loading speed, but am stunned on how it still holds true and it takes less than a second to open the camera app when the home button is double pressed on turned off screen. The capture speed too is good, and live HDR works perfectly as well, though I wouldn’t want to use that feature always, as there is a whole lot of enhancement seen in some places when not needed.
One thing noticed about the captures, is that the bottom corners seemed stretched many a times. And in the beauty mode for selfies, there is a toggle to get the levels down, and only then the captures would look a little more natural. Overall, a great camera on the back of the Galaxy S6 / S6 Edge, as there is nothing differing them in terms of camera.
2550 mAh capacity in a flagship having a Quad HD display, really? And although battery capacity in the S6 Edge is the only difference between the two apart from the display, it is just a 50 mAh difference, barely noticeable. If we talk of competitive devices, this capacity wouldn’t have lasted for even a few good hours of usage, but Samsung’s Exynos chipset seems to be handling things all right, so as to give an average screen-on time of about 3 hours and 45 minutes.
That won’t hide the fact that, for a good design, Samsung compromised with the size and capacity of the battery. The battery isn’t removable, since the device is a single-piece unit that doesn’t let the user take out the back glass plate. Not that everyone might be worried about this, but there are many who still would want an access to easily pull out the battery. Support for quick charging is there, and the wireless charger is actually very useful at times.
An easy usage of about 12 hours is very much possible, but one would have wanted to see more than 4 hours screen-on time, from a flagship that they are spending on, for at least a couple years ahead. But that is it, nothing much can be done in this regard, except using Easy Mode and remove all the animations that drain the battery.
Plethora of options here, as the Samsung Galaxy S6 comes with extended options including Tap & Pay using NFC (though this isn’t Samsung Pay), and excellent 4G connectivity, alongside the Smart network switch that allows the phone to automatically connect to data network when Wi-Fi network is unstable. Except that it aggressively switched to data many a times even when the same Wi-Fi network was active and working well on other devices, the smart network switch works well.
Good to see that there are toggles to select between 4G, 3G and 2G networks, as this is absent in LG G4. The other connectivity options in Galaxy S6 include MirrorLink, Download booster, and Wi-Fi direct. The S6 also supports USB OTG connectivity, though after about five minutes of usage of three different OTG drives, it seemed to get heated a lot in the port area.
In the past couple of years, the level of expectation has gone much higher than what it was earlier. Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer having a huge market share, cannot take criticism in the aspects that matter. Someone who’s ready to spend a hefty sum to buy a flagship, expects a design that differentiates itself from other devices from the same company. The South Korean giant did amazingly well with the design and feel of the Galaxy S6, and much better with the looks of Galaxy S6 Edge, though it doesn’t get the same grade when it comes to comfort levels.
In the process of doing that, the company had to compromise with a few things, including a fixed battery with low capacity, and it removed the MicroSD card slot. Seriously, this now looks like a competition to Apple iPhone 6. Whatever the case, Samsung should’ve considered giving a storage expansion slot.
The camera is one of the best this year, no doubts on that. Samsung has very less competition for its beautiful and crisp display, and only the battery could be a downer if the other flagships this year manage to squeeze out more than this. The LG G4 has a poorer battery than this, in terms of screen-on time even on normal usage. As an overall package, the Galaxy S6 is a killer, not just with the design but with the much refreshing and snappy user interface. The S6 Edge though, won’t be as much recommended as the standard flagship, as the look and comfort are two opposite poles for it.