The 2015 flagship battles are heating up, and one of the newest contenders in the game is the heavily refreshed Samsung Galaxy S6. While I’m admittedly not the biggest fan of Samsung, I decided to give their latest effort a go. I demoed the device for two weeks and despite my expectations, the Samsung Galaxy S6 is truly bringing sexy, and Samsung, back.
My quips with Samsung have always been around two major things: the build quality of their devices and the TouchWiz UI that they layer on top of stock Android. I’m happy to say that with the Galaxy S6, Samsung has truly listened to their fans and fixed these issues. The build quality of this device is truly best in class. The front and back feature beautiful glass displays, while the entire casing around the edges is made of strong, but light aluminum. This is a big jump from the pasticky Galaxy S5 that made creaking noises in your hand. I’m happy to say the Galaxy S6 passes my creak test, not making a single sound when you apply pressure to it.
The second big improvement with the Samsung Galaxy S6 is TouchWiz. I have complete understanding why Android manufacturers choose to overlay custom software and themes on top of stock Android (Hint: they need to differentiate), but oftentimes it slows down the OS and is interpreted as ‘bloatware’ by many users. In the Galaxy S6, Samsung has started making progress. While TouchWiz is still a core part of the device, the visual design of it has been flattened to come closer to the look of Lollipop, the awful water droplet sound effects from the Galaxy’s past have been boiled away, and there’s a significant reduction in the amount of pre-installed software found on the device. It was noticeably improved, but there’s still room to improve.
The camera on the Galaxy S6 is by far my favourite feature of the new device. Not only does this 16-megapixel shooter have stunning colour processing and low-light capability, but the front-facing camera (or selfie camera as Samsung calls it) is incredibly wide. This means users can fit multiple people into their shots, without having the need for a selfie stick, or someone else to take the photo. It was noticeable from the get go, and was hands-down better when compared it to the iPhone 6 Plus and Moto X (2nd Gen) front-facing cameras. Combined, the front and rear cameras on the Galaxy S6 are the best cameras I’ve ever seen on a phone.
Nuggets of Greatness
Aside from these three big improvements, here are some other things I liked about the device:
- Android Lollipop features ‘Tap and Go’, which allows Android users to transfer files, settings, and apps from their old phone to their new phone using the power of NFC and the cloud. It was seamless and required no apps to be downloaded. If you do want more control over what gets transferred, Samsung offers their Samsung Smart Switch app, but it was not compatible with either my Nexus 6 or Moto X, which is disappointing.
- The boot times of the Galaxy S6 are wickedly fast compared to any phone I can recall in recent memory
- Holding the home button on the Galaxy S6 finally opens Google Now instead of S Voice! A huge win!
- You can activate the camera on the device by double-tapping the home button from any screen, even if the display is off. I found myself using this quite frequently over the two week period.
- You can easily take selfies by tapping your finger on the heart-rate monitor located beside the camera flash. Since I’m not one to use the heart-rate monitor, I’m happy there’s a use for this hardware that I can enjoy.
- Due to the size of the device (5.1 inch display), one-handed use is possible, and that’s something I really value and miss when using both the Nexus 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
- TouchWiz supports notification badges on certain apps like email and Facebook, which is a must-have and somehow still not baked into stock Android.
- The fingerprint reader has received an upgrade from the Galaxy S5, and now lets you tap your finger versus swiping for a much faster and comfortable experience.
- Samsung continues to place LED notification lights in their devices, which I love and have a special connection to from my BlackBerry days.
- The Galaxy S6 features Qualcomm Quick Charge technology, which is seriously one of my favourite things in mobile. Since batteries cannot keep up with my usage, being able to charge my phone in 40 minutes is huge.
Unlike my S5 review, I don’t have too much constructive feedback for Samsung on the Galaxy S6. My main quip with the device, device its improvements, would still be TouchWiz. Samsung takes the fun out of Lollipop, which is a bright, breathing, and intuitive OS, and that upsets me. While users could install a custom launcher and try to get the native Lollipop experience,
dialog boxes and notifications will still be styled in TouchWiz, and it’s a constant reminder that you’re on a Samsung device. Little things, like the fact that users are unable to alphabetize apps in the TouchWiz app drawer can be frustrating. A quick Google search showed that some international users did have this option, though my Canadian device did not.
While Samsung significantly cut pre-installed apps and options on the device by 40%, Google and Samsung are still competing for users’ time with duplicate apps for many core tasks. The Galaxy S6 came with two apps for SMS, email, web browsing, memos, and calendar. This is not only frustrating for users, but takes up unnecessary space on the device. The Samsung apps can be deleted or disabled, but it does take some time that wouldn’t be necessary on another device. I do want to note that Samsung removed their S Note app in favour of Microsoft Office One Note, which is nice to see.
Nuggets of Frustration
- The back and multitasking buttons on the Galaxy S6 remain under the screen and work as capacitive buttons. I often hit them accidentally, and new users who try out the phone often ask me how to go back. The aren’t the most intuitive things.
- When I initially set up the device, every single app I tried to open crashed immediately. This included Google Keep, Newsstand, Samsung Fingerprint Service, and Samsung Discover. I was extremely frustrated, but a factory reset fixed this issue.
- The speakers on the Galaxy S6 sound tinny to me, and their location on the bottom of the device meant that I was constantly changing my grip to stop accidentally blocking the speaker. I’ve come to much prefer the front facing speakers on devices like the Moto X (2nd Gen) or Nexus 6, and hope more manufacturer go this route.
Galaxy S6: Conclusion
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S6 is one of my favourite Android devices today. Last year at this time I could have never imagined myself saying that, but I gotta hand it to Samsung, because they did a great job on this device. The incredible build quality, vibrant display, and amazing cameras won me over. The watered down TouchWiz is a nice cherry on top, but cherries still have pits, so I’m not 100% satisfied. If you’re looking for the best smartphone camera in a sleek design without paying the premium of an iOS device, the Samsung Galaxy S6 is the device for you.