With the S6 Series, Samsung has addressed key points that concern nearly every users out there: premium design and materials, ergonomics, user interface speed, fast and high-performance camera, fast charging and integrated wireless charging. This is pretty much the A-list of any smartphone users, and the S6 hits hard.
Industrial Design (Excellent & Premium)
Glass & Metal: that’s what a lot of users had been asking for, or even demanding, for years. Samsung is now delivering on this: the new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge phones use premium material pretty much everywhere you can touch them. Interestingly, it looks a LOT better in the real world than it does in the photos. The feel is completely different. As you would expect, there is his cold and firm sensation that so many people love to much. Samsung told Ubergizmo that they have worked on this design “for several years” under the “Project ZERO” codename, which means that this started “from the ground up”. "DESIGN BUILT FROM THE GROUND UP"
Interestingly enough, the weight is still very much light because the glass is extremely thin. And it is hardened glass all around, which is extremely resistant to scratches, so barring a drop, the surface should stay much more pristine than its plastic equivalent. Looking at the internal structure, there are still places where plastic is used, especially where the radio antennas are — in order to let the radio-waves go through (metal would block them).
The back of the phone has a glass surface, which is just on top of a metallic-looking reflective structure which gives it a very classy look. The white version is plain but clean, while the different colors are very interesting to look at. I could honestly not pick one favorite color, but the dark emerald green looked pretty awesome. The Black version is classy too.
During its usage, and beyond the feel of the materials on the skin, current Galaxy S5 users should find their marks right away. It just feels like a better, newer version of something very familiar. All the habits previously acquired will fall into place right away.
The fingerprint sensor has been upgraded from a “swipe” model to a “press” one. This means that it will be much more accurate. We have had time to test it at length, but we expect it to go from “good” to “excellent”, just by the virtue that removing the swiping motion will get rid of most of the distortion effects introduced by different swimming speeds. Both Apple and Huawei have proven that a touch fingerprint sensor is the way to go, and I’m glad to see that Samsung has joined them. This will probably become my main locking mechanism (I’m still using a pin on the Galaxy Note 4).
Wireless charging is integrated into this very thin design, which is quite impressive since most phones who previously had that feature were quite thicker. Also, the idea that we should buy a wireless charging cover seems to have come and gone. It’s just not as practical as having it integrated right into the phone. Obviously, Samsung is not the first company to integrate this, but wireless charging built-into the Galaxy S line of product is a big deal, and may kickstart something larger.
No longer waterproof. This is the only design point that could not make it in this 6th generation of Galaxy S. I really hope that it comes back at some point because water-resistance is a great feature. It’s fair to assume that data showed that users cared more about premium materials and design than they did about water-resistance, since that was always a “nice to have” feature rather than a must-have.
Galaxy S6 Edge design
The S6 Edge uses the same design foundation, but has a very slightly curved screen on either (left+right) side. In terms of design, I think that it looks quite extraordinary – just like the Note Edge – but Samsung has learned many things since the first Edge phone.
First, the screen shouldn’t become too wide. In practical terms, the Galaxy Note Edge was truly a two-hand phone, and this is probably not what Galaxy S users are looking for. The S6 Edge is truly a one-handed phone, and the use of the screen’ edge is much more subtle now, but nonetheless real.
It is possible to swipe from the edge at specific locations to make things like favorite contacts appear. If setup properly, and depending on your usage, this could truly induce some small time savings that compound over time. One could arguably write software to do something similar on a flat screen. It would not feel as good, but it would work. We’ll see how users will respond to this. I think that we’re still in a discovery phase with this.
What I do know however, is that the S6 Edge’s design will be very much appreciated by a lot of users. Unlike the Galaxy Note Edge, it takes the Galaxy S design to the next level and if I had to pick one, I would surely choose the Edge over the “regular” S6 design. The thinner edge provides a stronger grip, and the slightly curved screen is just so beautiful — let me know what YOU think of it in the comment, I’m interested to sample your feedback.
Product dimensions: 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8mm, 138g (S6) and 142.1 x 70.1 x 7.0mm, 132g (S6 Edge)
Display (excellent!)With both the S6 and S6 Edge, we’re dealing with hiDPI displays with an impressive 5.1-inches 577 PPI Quad HD screen (2560×1440). Like the S5 and the Note 4, Samsung has used the best Super-AMOLED displays at its disposal and the screen quality is impeccable. This is Samsung’s turf and it shows. Note that the glass protecting layer is the Gorilla Glass 4 (a strengthened glass) which was announced in late 2014 (official page).
As expected with the OLED technology, the black levels are incredible, and the saturation can be set to be very strong. I haven’t had time to look at content that I’m familiar with, but I had the feeling that Samsung isn’t over-saturating its screen as much out of the box. Also, depending on your carrier, saturation is something that should be tweakable by the user. I’ve seen it in the settings of some Galaxy phones, but not all.
The end result is an incredibly sharp and colorful display that will make your high-resolution photos pop, and small text details will be super-sharp: these are the two main use cases for very hi-DPI screens (Gear VR glasses are a cool, but rare use case). As commercial 4K videos become more pervasive, you will be able to add 4K videos to the list, but for now, it’s not so obvious to find relevant content to consume on your phone. Things should pick up in the next couple of years however. 4K videos shot with the phone will look stunning on the QHD display. Watch a 4K video shot with the Galaxy S6:
Last, but not least, Samsung has made the S6 series display very bright (600 NIT) to accommodate outdoor usage. The Galaxy S4 was a bit weak in that respect, but the S5 had some serious brightness upgrade. The S6 now goes even further.
The Galaxy S6 Edge display is slightly different obviously because part of its screen surface is curved. Because that curvature doesn’t use much surface, it’s not an issue and doesn’t affect how things look on the screen. It also provides an optical illusion that the screen is slightly bigger than it really is.
S6 and S6 Edge Gear VR accessory
Along with the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge phones, Samsung is launching an updated Gear VR virtual reality (VR) headset adapter to use the Galaxy S6 as a VR headset, powered by Oculus technology. This accessory was initially launched with the Galaxy Note 4 and it delivered a very high level of quality (we tried the Gear VR during a Samsung Developer conference) thanks to the high resolution of the display.
With the S6, the pixel density is very high, but the compact size of the handset allows a 15% reduction of the Gear VR size as well. We haven’t had time to try this model yet, but we expect the experience to be very close to the previous one. Larger VR headsets from Sony or Oculus provide a slightly larger field of view, but their final cost remain to be determined.
The Galaxy S5 is powered by Android 5.x of course, but as usual Samsung has its own WizTouch user interface on top of it. Some users would prefer having the stock android UI, while others really like the extra features such as app and settings search, which I am fond of myself.
From a user perspective, and if you haven’t decided on which user interface (UI) you absolutely want, my take is that it’s not that big of a deal because if you keep your phone for 1 to 2 years, you’ll get used to virtually anything. At the office, we are using Android phones extensively, and besides a couple of phones with very foreign interfaces and design (usually from China), none have been marked as “must avoid”.
What I found more interesting with the Galaxy S6 is how fast the UI responsiveness is. Of course all new phones tend to be relatively fast after a clean install, but the S6 and S6 Edge were particularly snappy that it was noticeable right away. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that it will stay like that once fully loaded with apps and data, but out of the gate this looks extremely promising.
In the past, I have talked to Samsung about the fact that TouchWiz could be more responsive and mentioned it in some phone reviews as well. I know that some users are very sensitive to this and complain from time to time — I’m one of them. Although we are in a minority, it’s good to see decisive progress on this front!
Many people don’t use KNOX, the security layer that Samsung integrates for those who bring their device to work, but it’s worth noting that there is a new ultra power-savings mode that lets people track their (lost/stolen) phones for a longer period of time, thanks to an updated “Find my phone” feature.
For mobile payments, Samsung already supported NFC in the past, but the addition of MST, which is a form of magnetic swipe emulation compatible with current credit cards, will allow the Galaxy S6 to reach nearly 90% of the existing park of point of sales. Samsung says that it can do this securely, including by using one-time use encrypted codes. We will have to test this in the field to see if it is as convenient as it sounds.
Camera (very fast, great low-light performance)
Mobile photography is firmly the second-most important thing after basic communications, and camera performance is therefore critical. However, camera convenience is just as important and this is why past performance-only camera-phones have been mostly flops. "THE GALAXY S6 LEAVES THE IPHONE 6+ BEHIND IN LOW-LIGHT PHOTO"
The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are using an upgraded hardware foundation: The 16 Megapixel sensor is paired with an f1.9 lens (versus f2.2 previously). A lower f-number means that the aperture is larger and that more light reaches the sensor. The camera module also supports optical image stabilization.
Take a look at the low-light performance with this close-up photo comparison. I’ve zoomed in to show you the finer details. As you can see the 16 Megapixel and the larger aperture is helping the S6 quite a bit.
The 8 Megapixel of the iPhone 6+ makes it more difficult to capture smaller details (which are more noticeable with a hiDPI display…). The Note 4 has slightly higher saturation, but is also a little blurrier. Finally, and I can’t show you that — the Note 4 is much slower to snap low-light photos (so is the S5), and the S5 feels faster than the iPhone 6+, although in practical terms I’d say that the speed is about the same, except that the S6 easily beats the iPhone 6 in low-light photography – check the full-size photos from Flickr and look at all the pixels.
The photo app is now set by default to real-time HDR by default. HDR or High Dynamic Range is important to photo quality because it prevents the loss of color detail that can happen for scenes with very large contrast (sun behind a subject, windows in an apartment etc…). Unlike some other mobiles, the Galaxy S6 captures HDR photos in a single-shot, which prevents ghosting effects on HDR photos. Now users don’t even have to worry about turning it on or not.
Like its predecessor, the S6 series comes with a phase-detection autofocus (AF), which greatly accelerates the focus time, especially in low-light where the typical contrast-based AF will tend to “hunt” for the subject, making you potentially lose the shot. Samsung hasn’t communicated about an increased AF speed, but it’s at least as fast as the Galaxy S5, and felt very fast in the low-light conditions we tested it in.A recent addition to the Camera app is the AF subject tracking. This is not really new in the mobile photography world, but this is a new addition to this particular product line. The typical use case is subjects who move a lot : kids, pets or sports events. After you select a subject, the phone will do its best to keep the focus on it, without further intervention from the user.
Once the focus has been established, the Camera has to estimate what kind of color balance would be appropriate to render the photo as your eyes are seeing it. Most of the time, this is done by running some real-time image processing algorithm. However, Samsung has introduced a new color temperature Infra-Red sensor next to the LED Flash to measure the color temperature. This is really smart because temperature is exactly what we’re looking for in this case, and extracting it from “colors” seen by a sensor isn’t the most obvious way to do it.
"AN AWESOME AND PRACTICAL MOBILE PHOTOGRAPHY PACKAGE"One of the most important camera feature is actually not related to image quality, but Camera App loading performance. Samsung has made it uber-easy and fast to launch the camera app. At any time, you can double-press the Home button, and that will launch the camera. There are two distinct scenarios: 1/ if the phone is OFF, that action will wake it up and launch the camera app. 2/ from any screen, the action will switch directly to the Camera app. In the fastest case, it takes only 0.7 seconds before snapping a photo — impressive.
Out of the box, and in conditions that represent 96% of my usage, I would say that I was very impressed by the camera’s performance and effective speed. Shooting photos was a real pleasure and was very consistent and predictable. Watching the live view and photos on the hiDPI screen was a real treat. The combination of better lens, sensor, IR color temperature, quick AF and quick start-up time makes the Galaxy S6 camera an awesome and practical mobile photography package.
Note: these numbers were measured from a lunch unit, and may under-represent the final performance of retail units. However, they do provide a good indicator of what the performance will look like.
From a theoretical perspective, Samsung’s Exynos 7420 8-core system on chip (SoC) is built using a better manufacturing process (14nm) than Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (20nm). It has two sets of 4 processors (8 total), running at 2.1GHz and 1.5GHz respectively. Since they share a similar CPU architecture (ARM big.LITTLE A57a+A53), and run at a higher frequency, Samsung has a performance advantage in CPU-centric tests.
The graphics/gaming performance were initially thought to be a different affair. The Exynos 7420 uses a Mali T760 MP8 GPU (graphics processor), which is a much more powerful variant of the Mali T760 Mp4 the Galaxy Note 4 with Exynos 5433 version had. The Mp8 version basically has more horsepower (by scaling the number of internal math processors), but uses a similar architecture.
The Galaxy S6 wins most of the graphics/gaming tests, and sometime by a very good margin. As we suspected, the S6 can also lose some benchmarks, but wins many more than initially speculated.
The S6 also wins system-wide benchmarks, such as Basemark OS 2, which could be seen as more representative of the day to day performance, and responsiveness:
Note that the Galaxy S6 series uses an updated storage sub-system called UFS 2.0 (Universal Flash Storage) which brings opportunities to improve performance while reducing the power consumption at the same time. This could affect app load time, and general read/write operations.
In sequential read operations, the Galaxy S6 is about 50% faster than the S5. Sequential is used to copy or read large files like movies (assuming no fragmentation). More importantly, the Random Read performance jumps by nearly 100% with UFS 2.0. This is a big deal because the large majority of the storage operations are random reads, and they can impact app-loading performance just to cite the obvious. This is where Samsung’s experience in Flash storage is paying big time.
Maybe the whole story of the victory of the Samsung Exynos 7 processor over the competition shows how important manufacturing process is. Samsung has “shocked” the mobile semiconductor world by using a 14nm process, which is much more advanced than what’s available to others – not even Intel (mobile chips). The rest of the industry is now scrambling to catch up, but it would be surprising if actual products would be impacted before 2016…
"THIS KIND OF UI RESPONSIVENESS IS A HUGE DEAL"Synthetic numbers are nice, but ultimately, it is the perceived performance which counts to most and Samsung really delivers here. Playing with the S6 and S6 Edge available at the time of MWC, I was extremely impressed by the responsiveness of it all. I mentioned it earlier, but this should not be understate and underestimated. If this holds up to the retail product, and I don’t see why it would not, this kind of UI responsiveness is a huge deal.
User interface, Camera, app launching — everything was surprisingly fast.
Battery Life and charging (more convenient)
With an ever-thinning form factor, the battery capacity isn’t really growing (2550 mAh for the S6 and 2600 mAh for the S6 Edge). Instead, Samsung is using software optimizations to maintain the battery life at the level of the Galaxy S5, which is deemed acceptable for the 5.1 form-factor. The Galaxy Note family has really become the battery lovers alternative in the Samsung line-up. There are other competitors worth noting however:
The biggest battery-related change for Galaxy users is that the battery is NOT removable. Since South Koreans are known for *demanding* removable batteries, I discussed this with the Samsung Mobile team and asked why a decision that was once unthinkable is OK today (note that the G Flex 2 also has a non-removable battery).
"FAST-CHARGING CAN MAKE UP FOR THE LACK OF REMOVABLE BATTERY"The answer is that Samsung believes that fast-charging can make up for the lack of removable battery, except in the most extreme cases. The Galaxy S6 series can charge from 0% to 50% in 30mn (wired), so it’s a fair assessment.
Another way to look at it is that if you charge it for 10mn, you get 2 hours of video playback (or 16% of battery). This is assuming that you have a high-amperage charger, like the one included with the phone, or other ones on the market (USB chargers range from 0.5A to 2A or more!).
Since wireless charging is integrated, it’s much easier to drop the phone on the charger without any usability friction. Additionally, Samsung was pointing out that its support for two wireless charging standards (WPC1.1 and PMA 1.0) makes it compatible with most places, like Starbucks, which is rolling out wireless chargers at hundreds of locations, just for California. Wireless charging is also 20% faster than on the S5, says Samsung.
Samsung is going to launch a rather large selection of accessories to accompany the Galaxy S6 series. That includes all kinds (and colors) of Window Cases, but also some simple clear cases that won’t hide the design of the phones. That would be a pity.
Great design, premium materials, hiDPI display, ultra-responsiveness, camera performance… Samsung has delivered on the most important points that make a smartphone great. I wasn’t too sure how the Galaxy S series would evolve, but what a successful and meaningful step forward."THE GALAXY S6 IS A TRUE UBER-PHONE"
If this is how the 2015 smartphone arms race starts, I can’t wait to see what’s coming up, because the bar has been set very high. The Galaxy S6 is The “uber-phone” of MWC 2015, and it will be interesting to see how the competition reacts in the coming months (before the arrival of the Note 5…).
In the meantime, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are the stars of MWC 2015, and I highly recommend checking it out when you have an opportunity to do so. It’s worth touching and seeing with your own eyes. If you want all the small details, you can look at the Galaxy S6 User manual (PDF).