This is it. This is the Samsung Galaxy S6. It’s the smartphone that can save the industry’s largest player from fading into obscurity, a fate made all too real after Nokia and BlackBerry’s falls from grace in recent times.
Since ascending to the top of the smartphone manufacturer’s pyramid, Samsung has failed to captivate the market like it did upon the release of the Galaxy S3. In fact its last two Galaxy phones, the S4 and S5 have been met with a combination of lukewarm reviews and – worse for Samsung – lukewarm sales.
The Galaxy S6 is rumoured to have been called “Project Zero” by Samsung’s development team as they strove to get back to basics.
The result is one of the most hyped phone releases since smartphones, for better or worse, became an integral part of our daily lives.
Opening up a new Samsung Galaxy S6 is much the same as opening up any of the company’s previous smartphones. The front of the Galaxy S6 looks like all of its predecessors, with Samsung’s trademark oval ’home’ button at the bottom and a bevy of sensors flanking the speaker grill and the Samsung logo up top.
It’s around the rest of the phone where Samsung’s new design direction has been applied. First is the aluminium frame. While the sides are eerily reminiscent of Sony’s Xperia Z2, with squared-off chamfered edges, it’s the bottom that will set off the first alarm bells.
With the headphone jack, charging port and drilled speaker grill all in the same place as the iPhone 6, the bottom of the Galaxy S6 is a copy that a Chinese knockoff firm would be sincerely proud of.
While it’s nowhere near as unsightly as the first time we laid eyes on it, the camera bump still protrudes awkwardly from the back of the Galaxy S6. A cover will almost certainly conceal the bump and leave it flush with the rest of the back.
All in all this is as pretty a phone as we’ve seen of late, including those from Cupertino.
Samsung has wrested control of its hardware destiny back into its own hands. While LTE-enabled Samsungs of years gone by have been powered by silicon from Qualcomm, the Galaxy S6 is not. Samsung has finally managed to get its integrated LTE modems up to the standard required to use its own processors across the board.
The new 64-bit, eight-core, Exynos 7420 processor is a powerhouse that matches or bests the top-end chips from all of the major manufacturers. It’s not just benchmarking numbers that impress from the Exynos 7420 and its accompanying 3GB of RAM either: the real world performance of everyday tasks is perfectly fluid, from browsing menus to websites in Chrome.
While no Galaxy S6 offers a microSD card slot to expand storage, the minimum level of storage available is 32GB with the maximum being 128GB, more than enough for even those with a hoarding habit of monumental proportions.
Since the introduction of Apple’s TouchID sensor in the iPhone 5s, the expectations we’ve had for biometric recognition on a smartphone has changed. A modern fingerprint reader should no longer be something that takes its time verifying your identity, nor should it require you to swipe furiously over and over again.
Samsung’s Galaxy S5 had a fingerprint reader, but as it was an old-school swipe reader it was inherently broken. Roll on the Galaxy S6 and, like Apple, its fingerprint sensor requires you to just rest your digit on the ‘Home’ button while it takes a picture and verifies your identity.
It’s not yet as smooth as Apple’s TouchID, but it is on par with where that system started in terms of speed and accuracy, and can only get better over time with software updates.
The latest version of Google’s Android operating system is still covered in Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay, but this time it feels far more gentle and unobtrusive. The Samsung tray of features has been buried in menus instead of being out in your face, allowing you to turn on those that you want leaving the rest out of sight and mind.
Annoyingly, Samsung has disabled the ability to quickly arrange the icons in the app drawer. That means you will need to drag each and every icon into the position you want it, one at a time, if you want to have them arranged in any order other than how they were configured at the factory.
A folder of Microsoft apps comes preinstalled on the Galaxy S6 with 100GB of additional OneDrive storage included for free for two years. It’s a nice addition, but certainly not a reason to rush out and buy.
A collection of Samsung’s ‘”Galaxy Gifts” includes free audio books from Audible, free Kindle books from Amazon, free subscriptions to Evernote premium and Endomondo as well as a few choice games and apps.
For the most part it’s a pleasant interface to have to deal with over the next two years, which is a big step forward from Samsung.
What is there not to love about the display in the Galaxy S6? The insane 577 pixels per inch, 5.1 inch display with its 1 440×2 560 resolution is a wonder to behold. As always the Super AMOLED display is bright with colours that are saturated and vivid and blacks that are inky in their lack of light.
It’s a pleasure to do anything on the Galaxy S6 because of the display. In the dark or in bright light outdoors the adaptive brightness worked every time to make sure that text, photos and videos were always legible on the display.
Truly Samsung has upped the display game in the Galaxy S6.
Samsung has always put good cameras in its smartphones with the requisite high pixel counts and aperture openings to make sure that it never lost a battle on the spec sheet. But Apple’s cameras have always knocked the pants off of them.
Slow and sluggish, feature-laden software has hampered the cameras of any Android phones but with Samsung it has been particularly bad.
We’re happy to say the Galaxy S6 is the polar opposite of awful Samsung cameras past.
Quick and light with a user interface simplified to just the bare essentials, it produces great pictures time and again in bright light or in low. The speed at which it can capture an image is truly startling, besting almost every other Android phone and coming close to the iPhones as well.
Apple’s camera engineers will most definitely be hard at work knowing that Samsung has caught up to them in a department they have long held dominance in.
To say that battery life is a fundamental criteria for the success of a smartphone is to make a massive understatement. Having the best smartphone on the market doesn’t help if it turns into a lump of metal and glass by 5PM. In this regard Samsung has stepped backwards a little.
In keeping with the new Apple-esque design the Galaxy S6 has eschewed its user-replaceable battery for a fully sealed 2 550mAh battery unit with wireless charging from both PMA and Qi. It also includes a fast charging solution similar to that of Qualcomm’s QuickCharge that charged the phone from 3% battery life to 100% in less than 90 minutes with the bulk coming in the first 45 minutes.
It means that you’ll have to be cognisant of your battery life with the Galaxy S6, far more so than with its predecessors, if you’re planning on taking it out after office hours.
Heavier users should consider a mid-afternoon charge to be a necessity, much as most iPhone users do.
After years of disliking Samsung phones on the whole and having to find things I liked about them, the Galaxy S6 has reversed my opinions. I like the Galaxy S6, so much so that I would buy one with my own money if the need arose. I would complain about the battery life and some of the software but I love so much of the phone that I just don’t care.
In short; if you like Samsung phones then buy the Galaxy S6, it really is the best one they’ve ever made. If you like Apple phones then this still won’t make you switch because nothing really will. But if you’re on the fence then this is the phone for you.
As I said before: “Well done Samsung.”
Price: R12 399
Display: 5.1 inch 1 440×2 560 resolution Super AMOLED display (577ppi)
Operating System: Android 5.0.2
Processor: Samsung Exynos 7420 quad core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & quad core 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57
Memory: 3GB RAM
Storage: 32GB/64GB/128GB non expandable storage
Battery: 2 550mAh non removable battery
Camera: 16 megapixel rear camera with optical image stabilisation, 5 megapixel front facing camera
Networking: dual band 802.11 ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, LTE
Dimensions: 143.4mm x 70.5mm x 6.8 mm