Samsung needed something new; something different. The world's biggest smartphone manufacturer has seen its market share plummet over the last 12 months and many critics have pointed to the rather dour Galaxy S5 as representative of its current malaise.
Samsung Galaxy S6 specs
- 5.1in AMOLED display (2560 x 1440)
- Exynos 7420 chip w 2GB RAM
- Wireless charging
- 16MP rear/5MP front camera
- Android 5.0 (Lollipop)
- Price as reviewed: £600
So could it turn things around in 2015? We have already seen its unique Galaxy S6 Edge, but here we look at its mainstream flagship smartphone – the Galaxy S6 – designed to take on the iPhone 6, HTC's One (M9) and the LG G4.
Galaxy S6: Design
The Galaxy S6 looks like a phone designed and made by a company other than Samsung. It is all metal and glass and feels solid, weighty and worth the £600+ you will be spending on it. Despite the more premium materials, the phone is slim (6.8mm) and lightweight (138g) and it is compact, beating the G4 and HTC One (M9) in terms of pocketability. The slimness does come at a cost however, with no microSD card slot available for expanding memory.
This is a world away from the plasticky Galaxy S5 and its predecessors and while it does look like the iPhone six from certain angles, that is no bad thing. Unlike the remarkable Galaxy S6 Edge's curved screen, there are no design flourishes to speak of here, but that's OK. Samsung has gone back to basics and done the simple things right.
The one design gripe I do have is the camera lens protrudes significantly, meaning laying it flat on your desk or bedside table is problematic and made me feel like I was going to damage it – that said I am happy to put up with this considering the excellence of the camera.
Galaxy S6: Screen
Samsung has retained the 5.1in screen from the Galaxy S5 but boosted the resolution from Full HD to 2560 x 1440 (QHD), driving the pixel density up from 432 pixels per inch (ppi) to an incredible 557ppi.
That's all just numbers at the end of the day, but what you really need to know about the Galaxy S6 screen is that it is beautiful. As you might imagine with a resolution so high the screen is pin sharp and no matter how close you press your face to it, you cannot discern individual pixels.
One of the complaints about the AMOLED displays on previous Galaxy smartphones was that they tended to oversaturate colours – making them look unnatural. Samsung has clearly listened to this feedback and the Galaxy S6 screen has been calibrated expertly to offer a nice balance between colours "popping" and looking natural.
Galaxy S6: Camera
For a lot of people, the main reason to buy a smartphone is not for games, apps, a great screen or good design – it is so that they will have a camera with them at all times.
That is why smartphone manufacturers make such a big deal of their respective cameras when launching a new phone, and Samsung is no different. This time, the reality lives up to the hype.
The 16 megapixel sensor on the rear camera of the Galaxy S6 is the same one used in the Galaxy Note 4 (the Sony Exmor RS IMX240), but the South Korean company has chosen an f/1.9 lens, improving on the lacklustre f/2.2 found in the Galaxy S5, and thus letting in more light for sharper detail. Combined with an improved auto-focus and a range of new features, the Galaxy S6 offers faster and more detailed photography experience.
Capturing an image is ultra-fast thanks to the new auto-focus and the improved camera app loads up in an instant - for me this is one of the most import aspects of a smartphone camera which you typically want to use at short notice. To that end, the feature allowing you double click the home button to launch the camera (even when the phone is locked) is another fantastic addition.
The results are simply superb. In good lighting conditions the results were as good as any I have seen from a smartphone camera, while low-light conditions were almost as good.
The camera app interface has also had an overhaul, and while not as stripped-down and simple to use as the iPhone's, it is very easy to navigate and for those looking for more manual control, there is a Pro mode available.
Video can be captured up to 4K resolution (though note this drains your battery pretty quickly) and has slow-mo and time-lapse modes which offer some fun effects.
The front-facing camera has a 5MP sensor offering decent results, and Samsung's voice control feature is excellent, allowing you say 'smile' or 'cheese' to capture a picture.
Galaxy S6: Performance and Battery Life
Samsung's Galaxy S6 is powered by one of the company's own Exynos 7420 chips which is in place of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 chip. Samsung's latest chip is built on a 14nm process compared to the 20nm Snapdragon 810, which offers two benefits – better battery life and less overheating.
Performance too is superb, with the Galaxy S6 interface offering smooth transitions and handling multitasking with ease. Streaming live HD video and high-end 3D gaming was no problem either.
The Galaxy S6 comes fully loaded with an array of radios and sensors, including Wi-Fi (ac), Cat 6 LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, as well as a heart rate sensor built into the flash on the rear and a fingerprint sensor built into the home button, which unlike the version on the Galaxy S5, actually works.
The battery in the Galaxy S6 is relatively small 2550mAh unit (compared to the 3000mAh unit on the S6 Edge) but thanks to the efficient Exynos chip, you easily get more than a normal day of use out of it.
There is also wireless charging support for the battery (compatible with both main standards) and a fast charge feature which will give you four hours of use from a 10 minute charge. It should be noted however that you don't get a wireless charging pad as standard in the box, which is a shame. Wireless charging also means the battery is non-replaceable.
Galaxy S6: Software
Samsung has launched the Galaxy S6 with Android 5.0 (Lollipop) which isn't quite the latest version of Google software (Android 5.1 is now available) but it's pretty close. However, it has once again added its own TouchWiz software skin on top, though thankfully it's nowhere near as clunky as previous versions were.
A quick tip: Download the Google Now Launcher app from the Play Store and this will replace all of Samsung's TouchWizary with the vanilla Android interface, which is much cleaner and gives you easier access to Google Now.
Galaxy S6: Value and Verdict
The Galaxy S6 is a triumph for Samsung. It has finally realised that customers paying £500+ for a smartphone wanted something that felt as if it was vaguely worth that much money.
Add to the premium feel the superb camera, great screen, excellent performance and decent battery life, and Samsung has a winning phone on its hands. However, when you consider that the iPhone 6 costs £60 less than Samsung's new smartphone, you get an idea of the size of the challenge the company faces.
The Galaxy S6 has also lost a couple of features that for some were very appealing and offered something different to the iPhone (removable battery, waterproofing, and microSD).
All said though, this is an excellent smartphone and a true challenger for the iPhone 6.
Galaxy S6 Scores
- Screen: 10/10 – Simply brilliant.
- Camera: 10/10 – One of (if not the) best smartphone cameras.
- Software: 8/10 – TouchWiz is annoying but not nearly as annoying as it used to be.
- Design: 9/10 – Slim, lightweight and premium.
- Build Quality: 9/10 – No flex like the Galaxy S5, and has been beautifully manufactured.
- Overall: 9/10: It is not quite as appealing as the S6 Edge, but this is a step change for Samsung.
- Great design and build quality.
- Superb camera.
- Great screen.
- Excellent performance and decent battery life.
- No MicroSD card slot.