What do we want to see from Samsung's next big thing?
The launch of a new Samsung flagship is one of the big events in the Android calendar, accompanied by an unprecedented quantity of speculation, rumors and even the occasional leak. Though Samsung's position in the smartphone market isn't quite as dominant as it was 12 months ago, the Korean giant remains a force to be reckoned with. And its products are still the lens through which a huge number of consumers experience Android.
Last year saw Samsung release the plastic, waterproof Galaxy S5, before changing course and going metal in later months with the Galaxy Alpha and Galaxy Note 4. So with that in mind, it's time to consider what we want from the next Galaxy phone, the Galaxy S6, expected to launch ahead of Mobile World Congress on March 1.
1. Premium materials
For the past couple of Galaxy S launches there've been rumors that Samsung would finally ditch the plastic in favor of more premium materials. And in light of recent devices like the Galaxy A series, it seems likely 2015 will finally bring the arrival of a metal-framed Galaxy S.
Many of us here at AC would probably be happy with a smaller version of the Note 4's design — a device to fit somewhere between that phone and the Galaxy Alpha in terms of size and heft. However a new year — not to mention a new product cycle — gives Samsung the opportunity to show what it can do when it's really trying. So expect the GS6 to represent the next step in the design evolution that began with the Alpha, and continued through the Note and Galaxy A series.
We'd also like to see a metal Samsung design that holds up a little better under the pressures of everyday use than the metal-framed Note. Numerous Note 4 owners have reported that the phone's shiny, chamfered edges scratch extremely easily, and we've seen this on our own handsets too.
We're also fine with the idea of a removable plastic back. Samsung's probably not going to stop shipping removable batteries anytime soon, and the Note 4 proves it's possible to incorporate a plastic back panel into a good-looking metal design in a relatively seamless way.
2. Revamped software and performance
It's time to talk about TouchWiz. This is another area subject to fervent speculation in the run up to a new Galaxy S launch. Since 2012 we've heard that this would be the year Samsung would cut back on the mountains of useless features, the crummy visual design and the bloated performance that've characterized earlier offerings.
And to be fair, the company made some important strides in 2014, to the point where TouchWiz on the Note 4 or GS5, with Lollipop actually looks OK. But there's more work to be done on all fronts. Using a Note 4 and Nexus 6 side by side, it's striking just how much more responsive Motorola and Google's software is compared to Samsung's on basically the same hardware platform. The same was true of the GS5 and HTC One M8 in the early days.
There's no magic solution to Android performance issues, but if other OEMs can figure this out then so can Samsung. It's 2015, and we've reached the point where there's just no excuse for sluggish performance, scrolling lag, multiple-second waits to load apps or OS features. Responsiveness and speed is a critical piece of the user experience puzzle, and we hope Samsung can get it right in the Galaxy S6.
We're also crossing our fingers in hope that the company can come up with a revamped UI that incorporates Google's Material Design guidelines from the get-go, rather than layering that stuff atop its existing stuff, as on the GS5 and Note 4.
3. It's time for a feature audit
Every Galaxy S release seems to bring a raft of new features, and although the Galaxy S5 and Note 4 weren't quite as egregious in this area as their predecessors, we hope Samsung will take a long, hard look at some of the more useless (and, let's face it, confusing) parts of its smartphone software.
That means paring back on built-in apps like Scrapbook, the slow and unwieldy Flipboard Briefing (or My Magazine, as it's called elsewhere), cutting back on the billion or so confusing TouchWiz gesture controls, and making the really useful stuff, like Multi Window, easier for the average user to wrap their brain around.
The ability to easily transition between windowed apps, split-screen apps and full-screen apps is one of the Galaxy Note 4's best features, but it has a real discoverability problem, despite being baked directly into the recent apps menu. If Samsung can bring this feature to the Galaxy S6 in a way that's less confusing to the average user, it'll be onto a winner.
4. Keep the best of the Note 4
The Galaxy Note 4 nailed a couple of really important areas for a high-end smartphone. Firstly, the display was — and remains, at the time of writing — the best-looking smartphone screen we've ever seen. And secondly, the 16-megapixel camera with OIS is unparalleled, even besting the iPhone 6 Plus in tests by our sister site iMore.
Frankly, Samsung could get away with recreating both components in a smaller handset and still have a fantastic product on its hands. But it's been almost six months since we first saw the Note 4, and we're eager to see how Samsung can move things forward.
In imaging in particular, we'd like to see improved dynamic range outside of HDR mode, and sharper edges in HDR shots without some the artifacting we've seen on previous models. We've reached the point where most smartphones can take fantastic photos in daylight, but how-light photography can always be improved. The Note 4 is a capable night-time shooter in general, however upgraded stabilization might make the Galaxy S6 less prone to hand shake than the Note, allowing users to get fantastic shots every time.
5. Avoid the worst of the Galaxy Alpha
Like the Galaxy Alpha, the rumor mill suggests the Galaxy S6 will be extremely slim — Samsung's thinnest flagship yet,in fact. That means space inside that metal-framed chassis will be at a premium, which in turn puts pressure on the device's single largest component — the battery. The Galaxy Alpha had to be super-slim, and because of that the battery life sucked. In real-world terms, the Alpha lasted maybe half as long as the Note 4 with similar usage, which is pretty dismal.
Whatever the capacity of the GS6's battery — and let's remember, milliamp-hours and actual battery performance are two different things — we hope the purportedly super-slim chassis doesn't cause Samsung to compromise in this most important area.
What do you want out of the Galaxy S6?
This is our wish list, but we want to know your opinion, too. What do you want to see from Samsung's next flagship smartphone? Join the discussion in our Galaxy S6 forums and share your thoughts down in the comments!