A few days back, FoS featured the review for the HTC’s latest flagship smartphone, the HTC One M9. While it remains an impressive unit, and one of the top Android acquisitions you will make over the next few months, it isn’t as much a revolution over the previously released, M8, but rather in the line of macro-evolution. At this year’s MWC back in March, Samsung announced, what quickly turned out to be a turning point for its Galaxy S series, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge.
We recently received the Samsung Galaxy S6 review unit, and we’re finally ready to shed some light on the highs and lows. But even before we begin our journey picking out the good and bad, it is worth pointing out that Samsung has garnered quite a fair amount of publicity for their two latest handsets, the likes which have not been seen even by its own standards. While many focused on the obvious omissions, there’s no doubting that Samsung has shaken up the way it builds premium handsets, moving away from the synonymous plastics to a more metallic design. We take a closer look at Samsung’s ushering out of the old, and in with the new.
Build and Design
As stated in the build up to the review, Samsung has done away with most of its plastics and faux-leather, and swapped this out for metal and glass. The matte aluminium alloy frame surrounds the Gorilla Glass 4 on the front and rear. This already sets a good precedent for what’s to come, and fits the bill of a flagship device based solely on its looks. Already, most of the DNA from previous models in the series has been left behind. While this may ring true for the most part, there’s still very little mistaking the S6 for anything other than a Samsung, or anything other than a Galaxy S smartphone. While the company still recorded admiral results in sales for the SGS5, many have suspected that it didn’t quite match up to the predictions and upward trend for the SGS3 and SGS4 units. The task of redesigning the brand, then, was not to be taken lightly.
While this may come across as a big jump for Samsung between the SGS5 and SGS6, we’ve seen the progression with its Note 4 and Galaxy Alpha with its metal-framed finished, before moving onto the Galaxy A-series, which featured a more full-body metal chassis. This is a good indicator that the company is starting to pay close attention as to what users want, and what users often complain about. And at the end of the day, user perception is a lot more important to a success of a release than something that is deemed more flawless, but with little to no public image to create the necessary traction. Thankfully, Samsung comes close to fulfilling both these requirements. A lot more than any of its previous S-series flagships.
For the more pedantic of readers out there, myself included, I’ll touch on the specifics in terms of the unit’s build and design. On the front, users are still met with the metal-ringed, centred home button, which doubles as a fingerprint reader, along with the traditional capacitive buttons on either side (recent apps and back buttons). The home button also triggers the camera app with a double tap, as opposed to opening S-Voice as it did in the more recent handsets. I still take issue with the fingerprint reader, which has been upgraded and said to provide better reading of my registered digits at any point. Well…it does and it doesn’t. While the reader now requests your finger be presented on the home button, you no longer have to swipe your finger across the sensor to register. This provides more accurate readings in general, but I often found myself having to press and lift at least once before unlocking the device. Moving on in terms of build, the SGS6 also continues its positioning of the power button and nanoSIM slot on the top right side, with the volume rocker on the left side. The rear has a much cleaner build this time around, with only the 16MP camera and sensor (which includes the LED flash and heart monitor), although there are many that would quickly jump to complain about the protrusion of the camera. That said, if you look back at the Note 4 (and other Galaxy units), the camera protrudes almost to the same degree, the only difference being that the rear cover was designed to typically soften appearance. The top of the unit features the IR blaster, while the bottom, the loudspeaker and 3.5mm audio jack. The latter again inciting rage from die-hards, many pointing to the similarities to the iPhone’s design. The unit measures 143.4×70.5×6.8mm and weighs 138g.
There’s no escaping the negatives, as already observed by many users. Additional annoyances are derived from the predominantly glass body, which becomes a centrepiece for showcasing your fingerprints and smudges. There’s also the missing waterproofing we’ve received on the SGS5, although, based on my own usage, I never had any intention getting my device anywhere close to water.
Screen and Display
Comparing the display of the SGS6 to that of the SGS5 is a futile process. A better comparison would be between the SGS6 and Note 4, but this already sounds like unfair battle. It isn’t quite. While the Note 4 may be fitted with a 5.7” screen, and the SGS6 a 5.1” screen, both have Super AMOLED displays with 1440x2560px resolution. The former having a 74.2% screen-to-body ratio, the latter a more meagre, 70.7%. The reverse is observed in terms of pixel density, with a difference of 515ppi and 577ppi, respectively, due to the size difference. And with that, Samsung has created the highest pixel density on a smartphone display.
Image quality, then, is amazing. So much so that when viewing HD content, users will not be able to observe any gaps in pixels, resulting in a smooth image at all times. As always observed on Samsung displays, the colours are quite vibrant, with deep blacks and precise greys. AMOLED displays often lack behind LCDs when it comes to displaying bright whites often showing up with a slight blue tinge, but this isn’t noticeable at all on the SGS6. Although you don’t quite get the same level of colour customisation as on the recent Huawei smartphones. Pushing the boundaries with new tech almost always comes with pre-package debate on whether it’s actually necessary over less advanced versions. The QHD display, as is fitted to the SGS6, comes with the same set of debates, on whether such a high res display actually makes any difference over a more modest 720p display. And while the debate continues, the rest of us will just enjoy the brilliant HD displays. And yes, there is a big difference between the SGS6 and SGS5 with their 1920x1080px and 1440x2560px, respectively. Although, truth be told, this technology will be more appreciated on a device such as the Tab S, than on the SGS6.
Where the SGS6 outshines the Note 4 is its extra power under the hood. The Exynos 7420 chipset on the SGS6 is an Octo-Core processor with Quad-Core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53 and Quad-Core 2.1GHz Cortex-A57 CPUs, compared to the Note 4’s Quad-core 1.3GHz Cortex-A53 and Quad-core 1.9GHz Cortex-A57. But these are just the numbers, and, at times, don’t really result in a great deal of improvement due to software limitations. While the software will be discussed in more detail in the upcoming section, it is worth noting that it’s a lot more stripped out than previous TouchWiz UI builds, which effectively means less background processing. This allows for features such as the home button’s double tap to open the camera app in less than a second. Traversing through other menu items and the likes, smoothness is very apparent. It’s difficult to put your finger on explaining the difference between the response on the SGS6 and Note 4, while both are quick and lag-free, you’ll notice an overall smoother, if I may, experience on the former. Samsung has separated itself from Qualcomm and don’t offer the SGS6 with LTE variants with the chip manufacturer’s chipset, instead choosing to run its own processors with no non-LTE variants available. This was mainly due to Samsung and LG’s claim of overheating when using the Qualcomm chips.
For some reason, we’re still referencing how much times more powerful and efficient modern processors are in comparison to what NASA used to put a man on the moon (although many would contend that this was actually done). And the same applies to smartphones. Just as with McDonald’s still counting how many of its Big Macs it has sold over the years, comparing CPU power is just as futile. But, when you consider than most premium smartphones have more powerful processes than most users have on their laptops and PCs, this does beg the question as to why it matters. I’m still holding out for the day when I can connect my smartphone to my HD monitor when I get home, and use it as I would my PC, for gaming and work, a result of full integration.
Battery life on the SGS6 plays an important role, mostly because of the decision to take away the option to remove the rear cover, and, as a result, the battery itself. While a non-removal battery allows more freedom in design and in keeping the thickness of the unit down to a minimum, it has not yielded the expected results Samsung would have hoped for. During the testing period, the first three days revealed extremely poor battery life, which, thankfully, became better over time. Still, it didn’t match my previously owned SGS5, and nowhere near close to my Note 4. The wireless charging capabilities does make is a little easier charging on the run.
The 16MP camera is the same that’s fitted to the Note 4, although the SGS6 has a wider aperture, f/1.9 compared to f/2.2. The wider aperture results in more light being allowed in, which produces images with better light and colour detail. Low-light imagery is where the SGS6 comes to life, with great improvement over both the SGS5 and Note 4. While it isn’t quite in the line of the Nokia Lumia 1020 reviewed some time back, it does produce quite clear images. With the inclusion of auto-HDR, users can always expect the best results under any lighting conditions. And viewing the images snapped on the QHD display just adds to the effect. Interestingly, while Samsung developed their own sensor for the SGS5, on both the Note and SGS6 they’ve switched to Sony’s IMX240 sensor. The 5MP front-facing camera, on the other hand, is Samsung’s own SLS_S5K4E6 sensor, which also includes HDR for your important selfies. Both cameras aren’t perfect, though, with a few hindrances in the way of focus levels (the degree to which the foreground and background are depicted isn’t always as great as you’d want, but some post-image editing can easily fix this), and some over-exposure concerns.
Over the years, Samsung has taken a lot of flak over its firmware with the amount of bloatware added to its TouchWiz UI. That said, the company has promised to simplify this experience by stripping out many of the bloatware, and beyond. This is good for the most part, but there are often some omissions that make for an all too minimalist experience…but that could just be me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for removal of the bloatware, but if you’re going to strip down it such a bare minimum, you may as well be running vanilla Android 5.0. The app drawer is a prime example of these changes, with only the ability to uninstall available in the options menu. This means no editing the layout or alphabetising, which I often found useful when approaching 100 apps to traverse. If, at the end of the day, you do want the bloatware back to where it belongs, Samsung has started the process of moving these apps to the Play Store.
Swiping to the left from the homescreen once again reveals the Flipboard Briefing that’s integrated quite well, although isn’t as flexible in terms of content as you’ll find on HTC’s Blinkfeed. There’s also the addition of themes, which allows users to customise their experience with the UI. As it stands, however, there isn’t much in the way of themes available, most of them tending toward the colourful and cute option. The SGS6 also offers the multi-window feature we’ve seen on the Note, but is a tad trickier due to the smaller screen and no S-Pen. One app in particular I’m looking forward to in the near future is Samsung Pay (or S-Pay). While not available in all regions, the tech available on both devices will allow users to store their card data on their handset, and use the rear of the unit to swipe and use with any magnetic strip reader. This is expected to be released later this year, hopefully including South Africa, as we often tend to lag behind certain tech trends.
Many of the headlines would have read along the lines of “Samsung Reborn”, it you’ll be hard pressed to argue. The Samsung Galaxy S6 far outperforms its predecessor and sheer performance alone, not to mention the build and design quality, along with the brilliant high-res display. While battery life isn’t as great as it should be, and a few niggles in between, the SGS6 currently the most wanted smartphone around the world, with Samsung struggling to keep up with demand for both versions. While I do plan to have a head-to-head comparison of the HTC One M9 and SGS6, you’ll have judged by the extended review that all evidence seems to be leaning toward the latter. And why shouldn’t it? The SGS6 as a complete a smartphone the world has seen to date. With definite improvements still on the cards. Here’s hoping the Note 5 picks up where the SGS6 left off.
While we would love to fully review the S6 Edge in the upcoming weeks, potential buyers should be aware that there’s no big difference in the two smartphones, apart from a very limited Edge-friendly tricks.