Mobile Technology

Galaxy S6 review: Samsung raises the smartphone bar

Gizmag reviews the best smartphone we've used (for now), the Samsung Galaxy S6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Gizmag reviews the best smartphone we've used (for now), the Samsung Galaxy S6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
View 21 Images
Retail packaging for the Samsung Galaxy S6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
1/21
Retail packaging for the Samsung Galaxy S6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Snapping pictures with the Galaxy S6's ultra-fast camera (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
2/21
Snapping pictures with the Galaxy S6's ultra-fast camera (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Double-tapping the home button now launches the camera app, even if the phone was sleeping (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
3/21
Double-tapping the home button now launches the camera app, even if the phone was sleeping (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Galaxy S6 (left) with the Apple iPhone 6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
4/21
Galaxy S6 (left) with the Apple iPhone 6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
We wish the bottom edge of the Galaxy S6 didn't look so eerily similar to the same edge on the iPhone 6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
5/21
We wish the bottom edge of the Galaxy S6 didn't look so eerily similar to the same edge on the iPhone 6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6 has a glass back with rounded aluminum edges (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
6/21
The GS6 has a glass back with rounded aluminum edges (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The Galaxy S6 sitting on a wireless charging pad (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
7/21
The Galaxy S6 sitting on a wireless charging pad (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Like several other big-name flagships, the GS6's camera protrudes a bit from its back (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
8/21
Like several other big-name flagships, the GS6's camera protrudes a bit from its back (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6's 5.1-in display falls short of phablet size, but still gives you a healthy amount of real estate (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
9/21
The GS6's 5.1-in display falls short of phablet size, but still gives you a healthy amount of real estate (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6 officially launches on April 10 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
10/21
The GS6 officially launches on April 10 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Bottom edge of the GS6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
11/21
Bottom edge of the GS6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6 is very thin, at 6.8 mm (0.27 inch) (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
12/21
The GS6 is very thin, at 6.8 mm (0.27 inch) (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6's Quad HD display is dazzling (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
13/21
The GS6's Quad HD display is dazzling (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6 slides into a pocket much easier than phablets do (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
14/21
The GS6 slides into a pocket much easier than phablets do (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6's display has an insane pixel density of 577 pixels per inch (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
15/21
The GS6's display has an insane pixel density of 577 pixels per inch (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Gizmag reviews the best smartphone we've used (for now), the Samsung Galaxy S6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
16/21
Gizmag reviews the best smartphone we've used (for now), the Samsung Galaxy S6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6's fingerprint sensor is every bit as good as Apple's Touch ID (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
17/21
The GS6's fingerprint sensor is every bit as good as Apple's Touch ID (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6 feels great in hand (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
18/21
The GS6 feels great in hand (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Like past phones like the iPhones 4 and 4s, Nexus 4, LG Optimus G and Amazon Fire Phone, the GS6 has a glass back (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
19/21
Like past phones like the iPhones 4 and 4s, Nexus 4, LG Optimus G and Amazon Fire Phone, the GS6 has a glass back (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
That's a heart rate sensor sitting to the right of its rear camera (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
20/21
That's a heart rate sensor sitting to the right of its rear camera (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6 retails for around $650 full retail, $200 on-contract and $0 down with 24-month financing (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
21/21
The GS6 retails for around $650 full retail, $200 on-contract and $0 down with 24-month financing (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

For the last few years, Samsung has been steadily improving the Galaxy S series. But one thing always stayed the same: plastic. So what happens when Samsung switches to premium materials and takes big steps forward in other areas? Well, you get what's probably the best smartphone to date, the outstanding Samsung Galaxy S6.

The Galaxy S6 doesn't just leap far ahead of older Samsung flagships; it raises the bar for all smartphones. This is what happens when the company stops experimenting with niche features like water resistance (while adding more and more wacky software features), and simply puts all its chips into the "quality" pot.

Like several other big-name flagships, the GS6's camera protrudes a bit from its back (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Like several other big-name flagships, the GS6's camera protrudes a bit from its back (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

It starts with its build. Gone is that plastic from years past, replaced now with this smooth glass back with aluminum edges. This is a level of design and craftsmanship that, in the mobile world, you'll only find on Apple and HTC devices (and HTC's status in that group is sketchy, after repeating the same fundamental design for three straight years).

The Gorilla Glass 4 back feels oh-so smooth in hand – but also not overly slippery. It's also in the little details like the home button's click emitting a more satisfying "chunk" this time (it's like the difference between closing the door of a Mercedes vs. that of a budget car). Haptic feedback (the vibrations you feel when you type or press something like the back key) even somehow feel higher-end, though that could just be because the vibrations are now traveling through a thin sandwich of metal and glass, rather than cheap plastic.

The Galaxy S6's (US$100 more expensive) sibling, the Galaxy S6 edge, is even better looking – with a display that curves off on either side. You can hit up our GS6 edge review for a quick look at the cosmetic (and minor functional) differences with the Edge.

We wish the bottom edge of the Galaxy S6 didn't look so eerily similar to the same edge on the iPhone 6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
We wish the bottom edge of the Galaxy S6 didn't look so eerily similar to the same edge on the iPhone 6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

The one part of the Galaxy S6's build that raises our eyebrows a bit (in not such a good way) is its top and bottom edges. They look a lot like the edges of the iPhone 6 – to the degree that it's hard to describe it as anything but a blatant copy. In the shot above, that's the Galaxy S6 on the left, with the iPhone on the right. Even when Samsung soars to the highest of heights, as it does here, it can't seem to completely shake that old reputation as an Apple copycat. These edges are beautiful, mind you, as is the entire phone – but we're disappointed that Samsung didn't go with something more original-looking on those edges.

In terms of lightness and thinness, those money-making gods that Apple has sworn its allegiance to, the Galaxy S6 doesn't hit any new extremes that we've never seen before, but it is on par with the best. Relative to its size, the GS6 feels just as light in hand as the iPhone 6 does (it's 7 percent heavier, but it also has a 10 percent bigger face). It's also just a hair thinner than the iPhone.

Like past phones like the iPhones 4 and 4s, Nexus 4, LG Optimus G and Amazon Fire Phone, the GS6 has a glass back (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Like past phones like the iPhones 4 and 4s, Nexus 4, LG Optimus G and Amazon Fire Phone, the GS6 has a glass back (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

As far as size, we think the Galaxy S6 is sitting at a very sweet balance point. It isn't big enough to be a phablet, so those intimidated by hulking monster-phones have nothing to worry about here. It doesn't feel enormous in your hand or like it's bursting the seams of your pocket the way something like the Nexus 6 does. But it still gives you a pretty generous display size, with 18 percent more screen than the iPhone 6.

Double-tapping the home button now launches the camera app, even if the phone was sleeping (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Double-tapping the home button now launches the camera app, even if the phone was sleeping (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

We usually jump into our camera impressions closer to the end of our reviews, but we want to make this as clear as possible: the Galaxy S6's rear camera is awesome. It takes great shots (for a phone, that is), but that's only half of the equation. Its most unique feature is that it fires up faster than any smartphone camera we've used – jumping from sleeping phone to snapped picture in as little as two seconds.

Part of that is because the phone itself is crazy fast (more on that in a second), but it also helps that you can jump to the camera app anytime by just double-tapping the phone's home button. This is a great shortcut, making much better use of that double-tap gesture than the S Voice app (Samsung's Siri rival) that used to occupy it.

Snapping pictures with the Galaxy S6's ultra-fast camera (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Snapping pictures with the Galaxy S6's ultra-fast camera (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

The previous best we'd seen in this camera launch time test were the iPhones 5s and 6, which were around 3.5 seconds (about 75 percent slower than the GS6). With the Galaxy S6, the buffer between seeing a moment happen and capturing it forever is shorter than ever before. You're going to miss fewer of those moments – and that alone is a great reason to buy this phone.

Like other smartphone cameras, the GS6 isn't great at catching fast-moving subjects like over-excited pets or running children (there will be blurs). There is a "sports mode" that Samsung lets you download, which does a little better in those situations, but even with that, the phone's shutter speed – not to be confused with overall camera speed – can only be so fast. You still need a DSLR to really get down to business in those situations.

In low-light settings, the Galaxy S6's camera is good – roughly in the same ballpark as the iPhone 6 (stay tuned for a more in-depth comparison between these two, including side-by-side camera samples).

The GS6's display has an insane pixel density of 577 pixels per inch (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6's display has an insane pixel density of 577 pixels per inch (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

Display quality is another area where the Galaxy S6 shines – and is probably the best right now. Its screen is as sharp as it gets at the moment (577 pixels per inch) and has outstanding white balance and brightness, along with dense – but not overly saturated – colors. It's the most delicious eye candy a mobile display can give you here in early 2015.

The Galaxy S6's fingerprint sensor is another huge step forward. We thought it was a nice bonus to have a sensor period in last year's Samsung devices, but those swipe-based sensors (which had you swiping your finger from one angle) lagged far behind Apple's touch-based sensors. Well, this is the year that Samsung catches up, as the GS6's sensor works at least as quickly and accurately as Touch ID does. Just rest your finger on it for a brief moment and it registers.

The GS6's fingerprint sensor is every bit as good as Apple's Touch ID (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6's fingerprint sensor is every bit as good as Apple's Touch ID (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

One area where the Galaxy's sensor still trails behind Apple's is in app integration. With iOS 8, the iPhone's Touch ID can be used for a variety of third-party apps – places like 1Password, Dropbox and Evernote – and, maybe more importantly, with browser extensions. But right now the Galaxy S6's sensor, as good as it is, is mostly there for unlocking your phone (you can use it to sign into web pages, but only through a built-in feature in Samsung's browser).

Later this year, though, you'll be able to use that sensor with Samsung Pay, which will let you pay with your phone at not just NFC terminals, but also swipe-based credit card machines – making it nearly universally accepted from Day One. Unfortunately the service isn't launching until mid-2015 (likely this Northern summer), so we can't test it just yet.

The GS6's Quad HD display is dazzling (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6's Quad HD display is dazzling (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

Overall performance is awesome, with ultra-quick and responsive UI navigation. Similar to firing up the camera, things like opening apps and multitasking are as snappy as we've seen. In benchmark app Geekbench 3, the GS6 scored 1,456 in single core and 4,521 in multi-core: the highest scores we've seen from any smartphone (by a healthy margin). Its multi-core score, incidentally, is almost identical to those of the iPad Air 2 and 2014 11-in MacBook Air. That's a good thing.

You'll always want to take benchmarks with a few grains of salt, but those scores line up perfectly with our experience. In a world of suitably fast smartphones, the Galaxy S6 stands out as being unusually fast.

We also haven't felt any significant amounts of heat coming from the phone, like we did with the HTC One M9. Perhaps Samsung was wise to switch from Qualcomm's Snapdragons to its own Exynos processors.

The GS6 retails for around $650 full retail, $200 on-contract and $0 down with 24-month financing (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6 retails for around $650 full retail, $200 on-contract and $0 down with 24-month financing (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

Battery life doesn't push the envelope forward, but it is still hovering around the marks of the best we've seen from recent flagships. In our stress test (streaming video over Wi-Fi with brightness at 75 percent), it only dropped 11 percent per hour. For reference's sake, the iPhone 6 dropped 14 percent per hour and the HTC One M9 lost 18 percent per hour.

That holds up well with our experience too. Unless you're a heavy mobile gamer, watch multiple movies per day or set your brightness to 100 percent all the time, you shouldn't have any trouble at all getting through the day (and then some) with the Galaxy S6.

The Galaxy S6 sitting on a wireless charging pad (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The Galaxy S6 sitting on a wireless charging pad (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

When you do need to charge it, you can use a wireless charging pad. The GS6 worked perfectly with the Qi chargers we had lying around, and it also supports the PMA standard. Pick up one of these charging pads, drop your phone on it and watch it juice up.

Wireless charging is a funny technology. It's based on the logic that something as simple as plugging a cable into your device is an inconvenience (talk about first-world problems). But we do find that we charge our devices more often when it's as easy as resting them on a pad. There's something about fiddling with cords that's just annoying enough to make you only bother when you really have to.

The GS6 feels great in hand (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6 feels great in hand (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

Last September, when Apple launched the iPhones 6 and 6 Plus, they more or less took away one of Samsung's most obvious advantages – screen size. But with the GS6, Samsung is returning the favor by taking away many of the advantages that the iPhone historically had.

Premium build? For the first time, Samsung is right up there with Apple. Silky-smooth UI navigation? The GS6 is as good as it gets right now. A top-notch camera? Check. Its TouchWiz UI is even more scaled back, with a lot less bloat and feature creep. The software hits a nice balance point: keeping the Samsung visual look, a big part of the brand, without adding too much to the the rock-solid Android Lollipop that sits at its core.

When you add bonuses like wireless charging, the upcoming Samsung Pay and the best display you're going to find on any smartphone right now, you have an all-around beast of a device that – at this moment – can't be beat. No matter which other phone you were thinking about buying, we'd recommend at least trying out the Galaxy S6 in a store before you make your decision. I can say that, after using the GS6 as my daily driver, I find other phones that I used to consider to be the best in the business – the iPhone 6, Nexus 6, Note 4 – to now feel just a little bit lacking.

It pushes the barrier of smartphone quality forward just enough that yesterday's best now seem like second-best.

The GS6's 5.1-in display falls short of phablet size, but still gives you a healthy amount of real estate (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The GS6's 5.1-in display falls short of phablet size, but still gives you a healthy amount of real estate (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

The Samsung Galaxy S6 officially launches on April 10, retailing for around $650 full retail (though that varies from carrier to carrier) and $200 on-contract. Many carriers also offer 24-month installment plans starting at $0 down.

Product page: Samsung

8 comments
BleedingEdge
Good review. Except for the tiresome drone about the copying Apple issue. Look, there is design and there is engineering necessity. There's only so much room in a smartphone and there's the issue of putting standardized features where customers expect to see them. If you factor that in you get: Speaker - to make it worth having you have to have holes for the sound to come out and the speaker has to fit in the phone. Because of the glass front and back you more or less have to place speakers in the edge. Apple has one row of larger holes. Samsung has two rows of smaller holes. Pretty much a decision to avoid copying Apple. They could have placed the speaker facing out front except for the front glass panel...and then again, certain people would probably say they were copying HTC. 3.5 mm audio - possible copy here placement-wise, but more likely dictated by engineering requirements and internal packaging. Microphone - again it has to be edge mounted because of the glass panels and it's on the bottom edge because ... it sorta makes sense putting it there... Connector - total non-copy. Thank God. Last, let's not forget how long each respective company has been making cell phones. Apple...since 2007. Samsung...who knows - probably in the 1990's or earlier. So is Apple copying Samsung by getting into the business of designing and selling cell phones? See how ridiculous this 'copying thing' gets....
MonteCristo
I love Samsung Galaxy phones, but when my phone contract comes up for renewal, here's why I won't be buying the S6: They've completely lost me with those three little words: "built in battery". Now why, after decisively beating their major competitor in the marketplace would Samsung go and replicate Apple's most tragic mistake and insure that your phone's performance and reliability is guaranteed to decline with your aging battery?! Sure, longer battery times and faster charging is great, but nothing beats a quick battery swap to get your phone back to 100% when you're battery is dying and there's no charge outlet in sight (extra important when traveling). So no, I won't be buying an S6 anytime soon. And just to confirm how important that little point is... my S4s battery completely died this week... and kind of swelled up like a rotting hippo carcass as it did. Yes, that's kind of weird. But if that was a built in battery then it would have split my phone apart. But being a replaceable battery, a quick battery swap got me back in business straight away. Very sorry Samsung... built in battery... that's a big step backwards and a deal breaker for me
Daishi
If I took a picture of my dog running around a dimly lit room between iPhone 6 and S6 which would offer the least blurry photos? If I say to myself "that would be a great picture, let me race to get my phone out for the photo before the opportunity is lost" which one is most likely to allow me to get the photo in time? Which one is the easiest to use as a WiFi hotspot without Verizon trying to force their crappy hotspot service on me? Which comes with the least amount of bundled crap people hate but can't remove? If I pull out of a parking garage how long do either of them take before I have a usable GPS signal? These are some of the things that still annoy me about my Verizon S4. I'm pretty indifferent about phones being 577 PPI, screens being any bigger, or being able to take nice looking photos of flower pots in brightly lit outdoor areas at this point. Also, Phone Arena gave the camera on the Galaxy 6 edge solid marks here: http://www.phonearena.com/news/Samsung-Galaxy-S6-edge-tops-our-blind-camera-comparison-HTC-One-M9-lags-behind_id67882 There is a sample of the photos here: http://i.imgur.com/DDX6OZS.jpg The last Samsung phones did worse in his night test than the HTC One M9 there but thankfully it looks like the S6 is a noticeable improvement. I like this test because there is a huge delta from one phone to the next where brightly lit photos of still objects have been easy for phones/cameras to capture for ever. Another camera that does well in that test is the Nokia Lumina. Capturing moving subjects and/or dimly lit subjects should be a standard part of phone camera testing because that is what they are the worst at so there is a large delta to work with. That or maybe I should move to an area that is't covered by clouds most of the days in a year so I have more light to work with :)
Terence Kuch
Water resistance is a must-have for me, one reason I switched from iPhone to Galaxy S5. Needing an Otter Box or similar to hold a phone when rain is "possible" is a nuisance - I just want to carry my phone around in my pocket and not worry about getting it wet. So I'm keeping my S5.
Chachee
Lots of comments on the common attributes of the new flagship phones. Comments on how nice the phones with aluminum backs are. I know several people who have Apple phones that have been dropped & now have dented & creased edges. Not so pretty now. There is a lot of good to be said about plastic that will bounce back after a drop without even a scratch. I have also seen many cracked glass fronts, although the phones still worked looking thru the cracked glass. Now there are new phones out with glass fronts & backs and aluminum sides. How well do these fare after several drops in the real world? Have there been any tests simulating real world every day accidents on the new flagship phones?
Deltauro555
Samsung can introduce a model called the S6 classic with the old plastic design, waterproof, sd card and battery swappable, lower price and cover all markets and consumer requirements.
RESISTANCE
The S6 and the S6 Edge are both beautiful phones. That being said, I think Samsung shot themselves in the foot big time by reducing the number of feature on the phone such as having an SD card, water resistance, a removable battery. I and many Samsung fans feel these are definite deal breakers. If i'm paying for a premium phone then I want all the options. It's kind of like paying 50K for an Audi or a BMW and not getting leather seats, 18in wheels or a nice radio. It just doesn't make any sense at all to pay more money for less options ! I love Deltauro's idea of an S6 Classic phone with all of the old features.I love almost everything about my S5 except for the camera (way too slow) and the phone still comes loaded with crapware/bloatware that cannot be removed except for rooting the phone and voiding the warranty.
JailbreakWizz
Unlocking your AT&T samsung galaxy s6 by remote unlock code is 100% safe. These phones were built to accept unlock codes. It is the same method service providers will use to unlock their devices. Cellphone unlocking is also 100% legal and will not void warranty on your device.