It’s been a week now since Jason and Chris both got their hands on with Samsung’s latest phones – the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. It’s come about in a funny way, with Jason initially buying his Galaxy S6 while holidaying in Singapore and Chris previewing a European model Galaxy S6 Edge but with official review units the tables were turned with the opposite phones winging their way to each. Through this twist of happenstance, both Jason and Chris have both an S6 and S6 Edge in hand, and have put together a bit of a look at how these phones feel after a week or so.
The first thing that stood out to us both was how slippery these phones can be, especially with a bit of oil from fingers and hands built up on them. All that glass is great to look at, and you can lose yourself in the deep, deep black on the back of our units but it doesn’t really make for a good gripping surface. The number of times that the handsets have almost gone flying because they can be a bit hard to get a solid grip on is really a little disturbing. So cases became important to us early.
Chris’ first Edge came without a case, and Jason’s came with a discount on an official Samsung case, but he didn’t like the results:
Not a fan of Samsung's S6 case. It digs into my hand. Time to look at some alternatives! pic.twitter.com/uXd9owFiBq
— Jason Murray (@JM77) April 13, 2015
We’ve found — and very quickly — that having even a minimal case on the phones does a lot to improve how they sit (and stay) in your grip. Jason’s preference for his S6 has been Flexi Gel Case, while Chris preferred the Flexi Slim Case for the S6 Edge (and for the S6 as well!). Both of which are available on the Ausdroid Shop.
The choice of case is important for a couple of reasons beyond utility. With the advent of sealed-back phones, Samsung’s lost the ability to have the case become part of the phone as they have in previous years, and now needs to resort to cases that clip on to the phones’ bodies at the corners. This type of case attachment adds bulk, and can be a real turn-off.
The Galaxy S6 with the Flexi Gel case on it looks and feels much better. It doesn’t add much bulk, but protects the phone from bumps and stops it falling out of your hands. Most importantly, you can still gaze upon the awesome design that Samsung’s brought us for 2015.
The Flexi Slim case is much the same; it’s ultra thin, allowing you to still have a great feel of the phone under the case, but it provides just that little bit more grip and protection without compromising the look and feel of the phone.
You can find a good range of affordable cases at the Ausdroid Shop.
Despite initially fearing the worst when it came to battery life, these phones have proven themselves reasonable contenders in that respect. No, the battery life isn’t as great as the class-leader on battery life (which I dub the Xperia Z3). However, that might not be an appropriate comparison point; these phones do kind of work quite differently.
However, what they lack in a bit of battery stamina they make up for in charging options. Sony, who eschewed Qi charging for their proprietary magnetic dock, still had a good handle on how to keep their phones charged, but it wasn’t perfect.
Samsung has nailed this, with the inclusion of Qi, but also a turbo charging option that can fill the S6 or S6 Edge to full in just over an hour. If your phone is sitting at your desk for half an hour, you can plug it in and walk off with another five or six hours battery life (at least) quite quickly.
While it has taken a bit of getting used to, the reality is (like any tech journalist) a lot of my time is spent either behind a desk, or on the road to meetings, and in both of those places I have charging options available. I’ve long had a Qi pad on my desk, and I’ve always had a USB charging cable in the car for various gadgets. All I’ve needed to do is remind myself to make use of those items which are already there and accessible, and the battery life has ceased to be an issue at all.
The camera has really wowed me. I appreciate fine photography, and having a couple of fairly decent DSLRs in the family has always shown up mobile cameras for what they are — not great in comparison. However, Samsung have really hit something out of the park with the camera modules and software they’ve blessed the S6 series with; this camera is just stellar.
I wouldn’t say it’s a DSLR equivalent, because it clearly is not, but it probably is the best of the bunch at the moment. LG’s camera in the G3 was a pretty fantastic example last year of how mobile photography could be got right, and Samsung has advanced that cause further with the S6; it remains to be seen whether LG’s upcoming G4 will be that much better again in this arms race of cameras.
Samsung’s interpretation of Lollipop has caused a few instances of concern, but none are overwhelmingly negative. For example, there are far too many permanent notifications scattered throughout the OS which can quickly clutter up the notification shade — do not disturb mode, airplane mode, etc. These do not need to be permanent notifications, and they aren’t on most other Lollipop platforms. Inconsistent handling of do-not-disturb and priority-only notification modes is a bit of a disappointment, considering how well those functions work on other Lollipops.
A few things have been lost in the translation to the S6 from prior years, like a few more configuration options around lock screens, but overall the product that Samsung has delivered is far from flawed. Some of the more obscure (and potentially superfluous) Android features that exist on the Nexus platform (for example) are not found on the S6, but I’ve struggled to find a feature that’s missing that I positively can’t live without.
The omission of multi-user mode, for example, is one that I might like to have on a tablet (so I can set up profiles for the kids to use), but it lacking on the S6 (as a mobile phone) really isn’t something that’s a dealbreaker for me (nor would it be for 99% of users I suspect).
It just feels, overall, like Samsung have really taken some of the overwhelming (there’s that word again) Samsung-ness out of the S6, and have pared it back to a much more streamlined, performance piece of kit.
Anyone that has read my reviews over past years has known that I’ve not had much love for Samsung in the mobile phone space, but I think in 2015, that opinion is rapidly turning.
Much has been made about how Samsung went back to the drawing board with the Galaxy S6 from a design perspective but I don’t really buy it. The phone is still distinctly “Samsung” in its look and feel with familiar curves on the corners and the usual thin side and thick top/bottom bezels we’ve come to expect from the company. If you put the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy S6 side by side, you might be hard-pressed to tell the difference. The look hasn’t changed, but the way in which that look has been achieved has.
Gone is the Galaxy S5’s bizarre 50’s-diner-style chromed surround, replaced with a cool, rounded and contoured metallic edge that meets the front and back glass perfectly – there are no gaps in this construction, and nothing moves when you press down on it. It’s a testament to Samsung’s design and manufacturing prowess that they’ve managed to not only rework the construction of their flagship smartphone but that they’ve managed to do it to two phones, in equal measure. Both the S6 and the S6 Edge are amazing to hold in your hand with the cool touch of both metal and glass bringing a smile to your face as it touches your hand.
It’s not all perfect, though. Samsung still refuses to bring us a flagship phone with front-facing speakers (maybe the Galaxy S7?), and they don’t support things like double-tap-to-wake – but with a button on the front of the phone perhaps that’s less important.
Up until now I’ve owned Nexus phones exclusively, going all the way back to the Nexus One. It’s fair to say I’m used to stock Android, and I find myself grimacing when I see the customisations that a lot of Android OEMs have carried out over the years. Why change UI elements for the sake of changing UI elements? Why rewrite perfectly good apps that exist in AOSP? You’d have to think I was mad to buy a phone running Samsung’s TouchWiz UI, but here’s the dirty little secret that all the haters don’t want you to know – in 2015, TouchWiz is actually pretty okay.
That’s not to say I’ve left the phone unchanged. Despite the TouchWiz home being perfectly acceptable, I couldn’t go without Action Launcher 3. I also quickly replaced Samsung’s keyboard with the Google Keyboard, and Google’s Messenger app is handling SMS/MMS duties. You might ask at that point, what’s left of TouchWiz? The answer is still a fair bit.
Samsung’s eschewed Google’s updated Quick Settings in Lollipop and continues to use their own. I’m a-okay with this, as I managed to activate an accessibility option on my Nexus 5 and couldn’t get rid of the icon in the phone’s Quick Settings tray for love nor money (a Googler suggested setting my phone’s clock back a month then forward a month and even that didn’t work). Android OEMs have been killing Google’s implementation of Quick Settings for a while now, so it’s no surprise that Samsung threw it away and stuck with their own system. It works just fine, and it means there’s no weird double-swipe gesture needed to get at Quick Settings.
The main Settings page has also seen Samsung walk back from the insane mess of shapes and colours that was the Galaxy S5 and go for a more restrained, thoughtful approach. Items are grouped in a similar way to stock Android, and the colour coding has been toned down. They’ve also added a section at the top for you to place shortcuts to the most common settings pages – thoughtful, and demonstrating an understanding that not everyone uses their phones in exactly the same way. Well done, Samsung.
There’s a newfound maturity in Samsung’s software this year. TouchWiz is no longer the spotty kid that stuck out like a sore thumb but it’s now the slightly rebellious teenager. Samsung’s apps have generally had a fresh coat of paint and they fit in with Google’s bright, friendly Material Design aesthetic without falling completely in line – like a mischievous puppy you don’t want to completely break in training, it’s fine as it is.
While the Galaxy S5’s fingerprint scanner left a lot to be desired, the Galaxy S6’s ever-so-slightly-fatter-home-button houses a far better fingerprint scanner. Using it with products like LastPass is a pleasure, and it all just works. Need to log into a website? LastPass will prompt you for your fingerprint, then show you a list of sites. Simple, and effective.
Let’s talk about the camera. Actually, let’s not – let’s let the camera speak for itself.
Samsung can fiddle with Quick Settings, they can use their own launcher, they can install their own keyboard, they can eschew double-tap-to-wake, and they can keep holding back on front-facing speakers as long as they continue to deliver cameras that deliver like that. I took my camera to Samsung’s SUHDTV launch event last week, and I didn’t bother to take it out of my bag. All the photos I took on the night and used in the post on Multiroom 2.0 and the 360-degree speaker were taken on the Galaxy S6.
It seems like I should criticise the camera a little instead of heaping praise on it paragraph after paragraph, so I’ll say this: in the dark, you’ll find it does take a little longer to take a photo, and so if you’re photographing a subject with a lot of movement (eg, a crowd), you might be a little disappointed to find that some of your subjects are a bit blurry. If you can find a light source, the camera won’t disappoint you. I’ve also seen it hunt for focus a little longer than I’d like.
On battery life, I feel like the phones don’t live up to our expectations of a smartphone in 2015. Chris and I have both been using Sony’s Z3 series devices for a while, and have gotten used to the way those phones sip power. The S6 has a huge, bright high resolution display and its battery life seems consistent with that. I’ve long given up on getting through a whole day given the way I use my phone, and I’m used to carrying around a decent USB battery.
When connected to a decent USB charger (2A or more) then you’ll find the phone recharges quickly. Wireless charging is slower, but if you’re sitting at your desk all day you’d be silly not to get one for convenience. It can also serve you well on a bedside table.
On The Edge
I haven’t said much about the Edge specifically in here, and there’s a good reason for that. I don’t personally think it’s worth the $150 premium for the display with the curved edge. I don’t think Samsung’s made the case for why I need a curved edge on my phone, I don’t like the sharper edges on the sides where I’m used to a friendly curve snuggling into my hand.
I absolutely seem to be in the minority.
I’ve had both phones out on a table in public, explained to random people that the Edge costs $150 more but is otherwise exactly the same and even demonstrated that the Edge is a little less pleasant in the hand because of the abrupt cut off of the curved edges of the device. Every damn time, that random person goes for the Edge. Why? Because it’s new and it looks hot.
I might not really like the Edge because I see issues in its physical design, but where I see a few practical issues everyone else sees hot new phone design. Samsung’s managed to enchant the phone-buying public, and it seems to be paying off. More power to them.
For me, the S6 is the first Samsung phone I’ve purchased by choice. In putting down my own money for a Galaxy S6, I acknowledged the fact that I’ve really taken to posting pictures on Instagram and Twitter in the last couple of years, and decided to prioritise the camera quality over everything else. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, as I’ve been using Sony’s excellent Xperia Z3 Compact for the last few months.
I’ve been saying it for the last week and a half – Samsung can pretty much do anything they want this year, and I’ll take it as long as I get to use that camera.
We’ve had our phones a little over a week now, so we’re well into the review as you can see. If there’s something you’d like us to specifically address in the review, let us know in the comments!