Samsung Galaxy S6 review: rightful leader of the Android army?

In many ways, Apple is the Floyd Mayweather Jr. of the tech world. It’s obnoxious, super rich and delivers on its promises time and time again. It’s about as consistent as an atomic clock, and well, up until now, it hasn’t really been defeated in the smartphone space.

So when Samsung finally unveiled the Galaxy S6 at a massive MWC 2015 event and claimed that it would dismantle the world’s most prolific smartphone company, many were skeptical. I was one of them, even if I was secretly rooting for the underdog.

I’m not about to suggest that Samsung is the Manny Pacquiao that the space needs, because my contemporary boxing analogy stops right there, but it should be kept in mind when looking at the Samsung Galaxy S6. It’s not so much an upgrade over the Samsung Galaxy S5 as it is an Apple iPhone 6 beater, and this is where Samsung and its S6 blueprint comes into question.

Samsung Galaxy S6 5

But, before I get into the meat and potatoes of the company’s latest flagship, let’s get through the basics.


I was genuinely giddy about uncovering the Samsung Galaxy S6 from its rather ordinary off-white box. After all, it’s Samsung’s most important smartphone for quite some time. Samsung hides the boring crap beneath the phone which lies face-up and seems rather proud with itself in the box. As for what lies beneath, among the warranty cards and what not, the headphones provided are rather great. There’s also a two amp charger included, which allows for pretty fast charges and a reasonably long micro USB data/charging cable to sure that you won’t dislodge the charger from its host by simply touching the phone. Take note, Sony.

There’s not much else to say about the box, really. It protects the phone reasonably well, but it’s not as glamourous as a BlackBerry or Huawei package. It’s a lot like the iPhone 6 though, which as you’ll come to realise is a bit of a theme running through this device.

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Design and aesthetic

It’s a good thing that Samsung didn’t waste time designing a beautiful box though, and I give it kudos for designing what is a staggeringly sexy smartphone.

In a strange way, the 5.1-inch screened device is what the world would get if the iPhone 6 and the Sony Xperia Z3 had a baby. It’s smooth, slathered in Corning Gorilla Glass 4 from head to toe but is subtly underpinned by masses of metal, and one can clearly feel it. On a cold winter’s day, this thing is akin to stepping on cold tiles. When handled normally, the phone definitely feels like it’s part of the hand. It’s a lovely thing to hold.

The metal chassis formula is lifted directly from the horridly unsuccessful Samsung Galaxy Alpha, and the current A-Series floating about. Instead of going with plastics and polycarbonates like its Galaxy S5 predecessor, the S6 is a bold new design leap, and as for the design of this phone, I’m a massive fan. If you look closely (and I mean really concentrate on eyeing this device) the engineering prowess and attention to detail can be spotted everywhere, from the small indentations on the metal sides to the way the glass face and backplate subtly falls away towards these metallic edges. Dare I say it – it’s certainly more fashionable than the iPhone 6.

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Up front, there’s a number of sensors too, but it doesn’t make the user feel as if the device is keeping one eye open while you sleep. There are two sensor divots alongside the the front camera which measures up at 5MP. Between these, the loudspeaker for calls nestles itself brimmed by a rather attractive metal grate.

The sides of the phones also house the buttons, which are incredibly sturdy to the touch. They show no signs of flex, and are extremely tactile — simply gorgeous. About the other side, there’s the usual slide-out port for the nano SIM card. It’s pretty important to note that there is no sign of microSD card support. Samsung has decided to give the S6 more internal flash storage, but remove any expandability options — something that Apple has remained true to since the first iPhone.

Read more: Apple iPhone 6 Plus review: enter the iPhablet

Around the bottom, the phone is practically indistinguishable from the iPhone 6. Featured is a micro USB port for charging (in the same place you’ll find the iPhone’s Lightning port), the same drill hole-styled speaker and one of the mics. Up top, we have a part of the glorious 3.5mm headphone jack — something that I wish will feature on devices for many years to come.

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If you’re particularly pedantic about styling, this is probably when the rear camera will annoy rather than excite. It’s Quasimodo bump is ominous and detracts from the sleek and subtle design language. But it’s understandable. There’s a 16MP snapper housed in there, with realtime HDR, OIS (optical image stability) , and a dual tone LED flash. Alongside the flash you’ll find the heart rate sensor too, which is possibly the most horrid thing I’ve used for this purpose.

Of course, we can’t forget about Samsung’s answer to TouchID around the bottom of the phone’s front. It’s Samsung Pay enabled, and flanked by touch-sensitive hardware buttons on either side.

Overall, it’s possibly one of the prettiest phones ever made, and even more so when in its Pearl White guise. There’s also a Gold version if you’re feeling particularly gaudy or gangster.

Specifications and features

The spec sheet of this thing is extensive but engrossing.

There has probably never been a faster mobile phone on this planet before, and that’s largely thanks to Samsung’s decision to drop Qualcomm as its flagship chip supplier. The home-brewed Exynos 7420 boasts a Qualcomm-like big.LITTLE design, the same octa-core layout and even the same Cortex A53 and A57 cores as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 — the chip that Samsung came very close to using itself.

Samsung Galaxy S6

Alongside its own brain, Samsung has injected 3GB of LPDDR4 RAM into the mix, 32GB of flash memory in our test unit (this can balloon to 128GB depending on how wealthy the buyer is) and a 2550mAh battery which is smaller than the Galaxy S5‘s. This is particularly important when judging this phone, so keep this number in mind.

Other numbers one should know is 16 and five, or the size of the camera sensors at the rear and front in megapixels, respectively. These are the stars of the show on this device, with the rear camera easily capable of recording 4K video at 30fps.

Key numbers:

Dimensions: 143.4mm x 70.5mm x 6.8mm
Weight: 138g
Display: 5.1-inch, 2560×1440, 577ppi
Chipset: Exynos 7420 octa-core; quad Cortex A53 1.5GHz & quad Cortex A57 2.1GHz; 3GB RAM
Storage: 32GB (24GB usable after OS install)
Imaging: Rear: 16MP; Front: 5MP
Battery: 2550mAh
Android: 5.0.2 Lollipop

Joining in the fun is the screen, which as mentioned before is a 5.1-inch 2560×1440 2K sAMOLED display, with a 577ppi pixel density. It’s one of the densest screens available at the moment, and thanks to the AMOLED technology used, it can scale to brightness incredibly well.

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As for the physical dimensions, the Samsung Galaxy S6 is one of the supermodels of its generation, featuring an extremely thin body at 6.8mm thick and a relatively light overall weight of 138g. It won’t be hurting any wrists anytime soon.

As I’ve noted before, it features the oblong fingerprint reader that featured on the Samsung Galaxy S5, but wasn’t very good. This particular button doubles up as a home key, and has a certain degree of crunch when depressing. It’s tactility is a welcome break from the rest of the phone’s glossy facade.

On the wireless comms front, there’s WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac dual band support, as well as WiFi Direct, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, GPS, GLONASS, Beidou and an infrared port for fooling around with your television.

The device also has the ability to read the user’s heart rate thanks to a little sensor alongside the phone’s rear camera, as well as a blood oxidation sensor (SpO2). It’s some serious stuff, but it did feature on the S5 as well.


Combine all these and boom, you have one ridiculously quick smartphone.

The Exynos 7420 really doesn’t give too many shits about heavy processing tasks; it just gets through them and keeps going. It’s an amazing SoC, and probably one of the most underrated mobile device achievements in recent memory. Samsung can make damn good SoCs — just ask Apple. And if you don’t quite believe me, have a run through the Antutu and GeekBench 3 benchmark numbers below. We’re seeing Antutu scores touching 70 000 compared to 45 000 for the Sony Xperia Z3. It’s fast as hell.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Antutu results

The RAM is never fully saturated either, and this is especially noticeable when running high-bandwidth apps in the background, like Meerkat, the native 4K video recording app and the likes of Instagram. It’s quite astonishing just how quick this device really is.

Gaming is an absolute treat too thanks to the dense, vivid screen and the bags of processing power. The Mali T760MP8 is quite the performer too, and has no problem driving high-resolution video and images through to the Samsung Galaxy S6’s 1440p screen.

While I’d love to go on and on about how epic this chipset is, the question that comes to mind is, simply, “why?” Why does one need all this power on a smartphone? It’s particularly strange when you look at a few of Samsung’s design decisions.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Geekbench 3 results

Firstly, the company utilises a smaller battery within the Galaxy S6 than the S5. It’s 350mAh less (or a smartwatch battery less) than the device it replaces, which, in turn, gifts it with truly rubbish battery life for such an expensive phone. If you’re one to enjoy taking extensive snaps, listen to music often, or dabble in the odd social media fraternization then the S6’s reservoir won’t last beyond the wee hours of the evening. Yes, around 20 hours is not bad, but you’ll be paying around R11 000 for this phone. That 350mAh Samsung has decided to shave off could’ve gone to good use.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S5 review: no five star rating

Secondly, and here’s something that storage lovers will question. The 32GB storage option — after Android Lollipop‘s fat ass is installed — leaves users with around 24GB of usable space. A four minute video snapped in 4K is around 500MB in total, so you can do the math.

Samsung Galaxy S6 4

It won’t last very long for the media hungry user, and it’s typically the media hungry user Samsung’s targeting with this phone.

Lastly, there’s the strangest feature removal of all: the IP67 rating’s complete disappearance. The Samsung Galaxy S5 was wholly waterproof like the Sony Xperia Z3, but (even though some YouTube videos suggest the opposite) the S6 is not. It’s a massively popular feature of the Z3 and makes sense for a phone that will likely follow the user everywhere.

Read more: Sony Xperia Z3 Compact long-term review: sexy, submersible, sensational

While the source of this bitching is really due to the price and Samsung’s older phones, a real advancement can be seen in terms of the cameras because that bubble-backed, bulbous rear camera is easily the best that we’ve seen on any smartphone before.

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It houses a 16MP sensor, but there’s some confusion as to who manufactures it. Some devices boast the Sony’s Exmor RS IMX240 sensor while others have Samsung’s own ISOCELL sensor. We luckily had the Sony variant and it spat out some brilliant images.

There were one or two issues with the camera itself though. It often froze when faced with vistas containing a bit too much light, and would require a complete readjustment before any images could be recorded. This meant that some moments weren’t snapped when they really should’ve been.

Of course, one can wholly adjust this in the actual camera’s settings, I didn’t bother. Most people won’t, and to be fair, Samsung’s camera software leaves a lot to be desired when paired against the Sony Xperia Z3’s arsenal.

Samsung Galaxy S6 sample images
left right

Sony Xperia E3 Lead

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I didn't quite think I'd be able to snap this spider, but somehow the camera made it possible.

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This thing has some seriously good light balance, and this is without me doing much.

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Moving objects (or snapping things on the move) is possible, but just don't sway the S6 too much.

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Close ups is where the S6's camera really shines. It's magical.

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Table Mountain doesn't ever look bad in shots, but the S6 really captures the foreground of the V&A Waterfront well here.

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Colours indoors are anything but washed out.

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You can have tons of fun snapping images you thought you never could with other phones.

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This is how mega this phone's close up abilities are. Simply gorgeous.

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Panoramas are not as perfectly executed as Sony's on the Xperia Z3.

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Thanks to the 16MP sample size, there's plenty of room to zoom and crop.

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Snapping the world when load shedding is about? Easy.

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This snap worked strangely well, and the camera didn't suffer from overexposure. This is with the camera on automatic mode, mind.

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As I've said before, close ups are this thing's bread and butter.

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Colours are rich and vivid, but more true to life than most cameras.

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The depth of field effect can be had by simply tapping the screen to focus on the subject. It works extremely well on the Samsung Galaxy S6.

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Another representation of how naturally the colours are captured.

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Depth of field effect is child's play on this thing. Easily my second favourite picture snapped with the S6.

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Samsung Galaxy S6 Lead

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Samsung Galaxy S6 Antutu Results

Samsung Galaxy S6 Geekbench 3 Results

Video is just gobbled up and spat out. And while the Z3 suffered from heating issues when recording in 4K, the Samsung Galaxy S6 doesn’t get flustered at all. Video quality is adequate though. Colours are rich, blurring is non-existent (even in low light scenarios) and adjusting to light is taken care of fully. One can also zoom in while recording, which is a pleasant camcorder-like feature.

Value and Price

Now, starting off at R10 499 (the cheapest we’ve seen the device), it’s not a cheap phone. The price escalates well into the R13 000s depending on how much storage you fancy and whether or not the Edge version interests you.

Is it worth it? Well, if you need a phone that can restart a planet, takes amazing better-than-DSLR photographs and has a screen manufactured by angelic hosts themselves, then it probably is. For common folk though, the substandard battery life and the lack of cheaper storage options may make it less attractive than the Galaxy S5 or even the Sony Xperia Z3.

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Do I think it’s worth all the wallet unrest? No.

The real question: is it better than the iPhone 6?

This is Samsung’s personal benchmark for this phone. It looks like the iPhone 6, it feels a lot like the iPhone 6 in hand and during the launch the company couldn’t resist having a dig at the iPhone 6 whenever it could. So, is it better than Apple’s enormous success story?

That’s really for you to decide.

Personally, I fancy the S6’s utility, the brilliant camera and the gorgeous screen, but I feel that instead of looking over its shoulder towards Cupertino it could’ve built a more balanced, more pragmatic device that would’ve genuinely put the iPhone to shame. Right now, I’d fancy having the Galaxy S5 or Galaxy Note 4 rather than either of these.

Frankly, I’d take the Sony Xperia Z3 if you really demanded an answer.

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And this is the Samsung Galaxy S6’s ultimate problem — it’s a Bart Simpson in a family of Lisas. Some will love it, some will hate it but it just isn’t the smartest choice as a reliable life companion.

Verdict: It’s a tough one — summarising this rather monumental device in just one paragraph. The Samsung Galaxy S6 seriously impressed in the imaging department with what must be one of the best smartphone cameras ever made. It has one gorgeous screen and has the aesthetics to match glamorous patrons, but it’s about as unbalanced feature-wise as a blue whale on a tightrope. The battery should be larger, there should be a microSD card slot and it really should be waterproof like the model it replaces, but Samsung has been too busy watching Apple that it forgot to craft a world-beater at an affordable, and comprehensible price.

Score: 7.5/10

Andy Walker, former editor


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