Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge review

The quick take

The Galaxy S6 finally offers the hardware that we've long desired, and it's included a wonderful camera. But not everything is perfect — the software experience and battery life just aren't up to speed.

The Good

  • Beautiful new hardware design
  • Industry-leading camera quality
  • A great screen in any situation

The Bad

  • Battery won't hold up to intense use
  • Software still doesn't live up to expectations
  • Inexplicable performance hiccups
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CategorySpec
Display5.1-inch QHD Super AMOLED 2560x1440 resolution (577ppi)
ProcessorOcta-core Samsung Exynos processor
4x2.1GHz cores + 4x1.5GHz cores
RAM3GB RAM
Internal Storage32/64/128GB
Rear Camera16MP, ƒ/1.9 lens
Auto real-time HDR, IR detect white balance, high clear zoom
Front Camera5MP ƒ/1.9 front-facing camera
Battery2550mAh battery
ChargingSamsung Adaptive fast charging, Qi wireless charging, Powermat wireless charging
DimensionsGalaxy S6: 5.65 x 2.76 x 0.27 inches
Galaxy S6 Edge: 5.59 x 2.76 x 0.28 inches

The best that Samsung's ever done.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Full Review

When a company is the leader in a given market, it's easy to become complacent, or at least appear so. When sales numbers are several times the second-place player in the market and revenues are off the charts, it's easy to maintain the status quo.

Watching the progression of Samsung's mobile device lineup the past couple of years, you got the feeling that the Korean manufacturer of everything from toaster ovens (opens in new tab) to Howitzers was content to maintain its course. Last year Samsung's complacency caught up with it, and while the Galaxy S5 was far from a flop — any company would be happy to sell half as many phones as Samsung did — it didn't exactly live up to the company's lofty expectations (or ours, frankly), all while competition in the high-end space continued to grow.

It became clear with the launch of the Galaxy Note 4 that Samsung was attempting to turn around its smartphone strategy — and that's a big ship to turn. The Galaxy S6 gets it one step closer to a complete rethinking of its device strategy, with a new hardware approach, top-notch camera experience and steps in the right direction on the software front. But as we all know, the competition hasn't been sitting still — do the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge have what it takes to keep Samsung in the lead?

We'll answer that question in our complete review. Read on.

About this review

We're writing this review after about a week using the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, both 32GB models and running on T-Mobile in areas with good network coverage. Three days into our evaluation the phones received an software update to version UVU1AOCG. For the majority of our review period we had a Moto 360 connected to the phones over Bluetooth.

Throughout this review you'll notice we refer to the Galaxy S6 as a single device. Everything we say here can be attributed to both the S6 and S6 edge, aside from particular points where differences between the two models are pointed out.

For a good primer on these two phones, we also encourage you to read our in-depth hands-on preview where we cover many aspects of the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge in detail.

Say goodbye to plastic — and a couple creature comforts

Samsung Galaxy S6 Hardware

Say goodbye to cheap, flimsy plastic Samsung phones — the Galaxy S6 is here. It's no secret that the Galaxy S5 — and many earlier models — felt like a child's toy, despite costing north of $600 unlocked. Samsung has finally addressed these build quality criticisms in its 2015 flagship, and the result is something special — metal, glass, appealing colors and tight tolerances add up to a very impressive piece of technology.

Metal, glass, appealing colors and tight tolerances add up to a very impressive piece of technology.

Of course the S6 still has the general shape of most other Samsung phones — rounded corners, home button below the screen, Samsung logo below a speaker grille up top. But the shape was never the problem, it was all about the build quality and materials — and both have dramatically improved here.

While we've all seen plenty of glass-backed phones before, that doesn't make this kind of design any less impressive when it's properly executed. Samsung has used a familiar "2.5D" technique for both the front and back glass so it flows elegantly into the metal frame. Importantly, the same super-tough Gorilla Glass 4 is used on both sides, while some other manufacturers may cheap out on the back panel.

The metal frame is also masterfully done, as it flows straight through the middle of the phone in one piece, providing extra strength. Rather than opting for perfectly round and slippery edge — like another well-known metal smartphone — flattened portions along the sides give a little extra grip. That's important, because this phone is a tad slick — the "glass and metal sandwich" design certainly looks nice, but it comes at a cost in terms of both ergonomics and durability.

Human hands are not flat. They're flexible and made up of rounded fingers of varying sizes. That's not some huge revelation, but it's something to consider when you look at a phone that is perfectly flat on the back. A flat phone with barely-rounded edges just isn't the best shape to nestle into your hand comfortably, as anyone who's used a Nexus 4 or Xperia Z3 will quickly tell you. The Galaxy S6 hasn't cracked this particular problem — it's fairly large, flat and slick. And that means the phone just isn't as grippy or easy to hold onto as the mostly-flat but plastic Galaxy S5, or a curved metal phone like the HTC One M9 (to say nothing of the latter's anti-slip coating), or the Moto X with its curved, leather (or wood or plastic)-covered back.

I can't really say the Galaxy S6 is "comfortable" to use; instead it feels a cold piece of technology in the hand. There's nothing comforting or natural about trying to hold onto something flat and angular and just a little bit slippery — that's something you may or may not get used to with time. If you opt for the "edge" model you'll have thinner sides to hold onto. That actually helps a bit, but it doesn't change the fact that the entirety of the back of the phone is flat.

Of course if your brand new Galaxy S6 happens to jettison itself onto a hard surface, it now has twice the available glass to be broken as well. And no matter how tough Gorilla Glass 4 is, it's sure to crack given enough force — or sufficient bad luck.

Thankfully, the protruding camera bump on the back (which isn't a big deal, or a deal of any size, really) keeps the phone from sliding off of flat surfaces like a hockey puck on a freshly Zamboni'd ice rink — something other glass-backed phones have to deal with. But there's still plenty of glass to help it slide off of many popular Qi chargers — even Samsung's own charger doesn't hold the GS6 securely for long periods of time unless you place it just right.

Ergonomic quibbles aside, it's really hard to complain about any area of the Galaxy S6's hardware or design.

One of the most subtle changes to the design compared to previous Samsung devices is the slightly taller home button, which now houses a one-touch fingerprint sensor. No longer do you have to shift the phone awkwardly in your hand to swipe a digit across the home key. Like Apple's TouchID, just press the button to turn the screen on and leave it there a second more to unlock the device. While the software experience is still limited to phone unlocking and logging into a handful of apps and websites, it's a feature I left turned on — something I can't say about the previous swipe model.

Even with the ergonomic downside of a flat and angular phone, I find it hard to complain about any area of the Galaxy S6's hardware. It's refreshingly easy (though not entirely comfortable) to hold in the hand thanks to Samsung keeping the same 5.1-inch screen size and shaving down the bezels, uses premium materials all-round and is very well manufactured. While the Note 4 was a big step forward in hardware for Samsung, it feels like the Galaxy S6 is the final realization of that design.

A huge list of boxes to be checked

Samsung Galaxy S6 Specs

The Galaxy S6 ticks just about every box when it comes to high-end internal hardware in a 2015 smartphone. While much has be made of Samsung using its own processor rather than a Qualcomm chip, that's not something most users will (or should) care about. That high-end Exynos CPU is backed up with 3GB of very fast RAM and 32 to 128GB of storage. A brilliant 5.1-inch QHD AMOLED display is on the front as well, offering all of the features that made the Note 4's screen great — as I'll discuss in more detail later, it's every bit as bright and vivid.

The lone shortcoming here is the 2550mAh battery (or 2600 on the S6 edge), which definitely is on the small side for a flagship phone. It's about 10 percent larger than the cell on a similarly-sized Moto X (a phone not known for great battery life) and 13 percent smaller than an HTC One M9. Of course Samsung is doing its best to make up for that size by including its Adaptive Fast Charging, which works with Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0-compatible chargers, as well as both leading wireless charging standards — Qi and Powermat.

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CategorySpecification
Operating SystemAndroid 5.0.2 Lollipop with TouchWiz
DisplayS6: 5.1-inch QHD (2560x1440) 577ppi Super AMOLED
S6 edge: 5.1-inch QHD (2560x1440) 577ppi Super AMOLED with dual curved edges
ProcessorOcta-core 4x2.1GHz + 4x1.5GHz 64-bit 14nm Samsung Exynos processor
Storage32GB, 64GB, 128GB (non-expandable)
RAM3GB LPDDR4
Rear Camera16MP, OIS, ƒ/1.9, auto real-time HDR, low-light video, high clear zoom, IR detect white balance, virtual shot, slow motion, fast motion, pro mode, selective focus
Front Camera5MP, ƒ/1.9, auto real-time HDR, low-light video
NetworkLTE Category 6 (300/50Mbps)
Connectivity802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), HT80 MIMO(2x2), 620Mbps, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, Mobile hotspot
Bluetooth 4.1 LE, A2DP, atp-X, ANT+
GPS, GLONASS, NFC, IR remote, USB 2.0
SensorsAccelerometer, ambient light, barometer, compass, fingerprint, gyroscope, hall, heart rate monitor, HRM, proximity
ChargingUSB 2.0, Powermat wireless (PMA 1.0, 4.2W output), Qi wireless (WPC 1.1, 4.6W output)
BatteryS6: 2550mAh (non-removable)
S6 edge: 2600mAh (non-removable)
DimensionsS6: 143.4mm x 70.5mm x 6.8mm / 5.65-inches x 2.78-inches x 0.27-inches
S6 Edge: 142.1mm x 70.1mm x 7.0mm / 5.59-inches x 2.76-inches x 0.28-inches
WeightS6:: 138g / 4.87oz
S6 edge: 132g / 4.66oz
VideoFormats: MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, WEBM, VP9
AudioCodecs: MP3, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, Vorbis, FLAC, OPUS
Formats: MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA
Samsung software featuresDownload Booster, OneDrive (115GB free storage for 2 years), OneNote, Private Mode, Quick Connect, S Health 4.0, S Finder, S Voice, Samsung Pay, Smart Manager, Sound Alive+, Themes
Samsung securityOne-touch fingerprint scanner, KNOX management software
Google Mobile ServicesChrome, Drive, Gmail, Google Settings, Google+, Hangouts, Maps, Photos, Play Books, Play Games, Play Movies and TV, Play Newsstand, Play Store, Voice Search, YouTube
ColorsS6: white, black, gold, blue
S6 edge: white, black, gold, dark green

Samsung still tops the market in displays; the same can't be said for the speaker

Samsung Galaxy S6 Display and Speakers

At this point I'm still waiting for any manufacturer to catch up with Samsung in smartphone display quality. I couldn't find a single flaw with the 5.7-inch QHD panel on the Note 4, and my feelings carry over point-for-point now that a very similar screen has landed on the GS6, albeit in a smaller physical size.

It goes without saying that pixel density isn't a problem here at 577 pixels packed in every square inch. But the fact that the display still excels in all other areas, even at that insane resolution, is seriously impressive. Viewing angles are great, while colors and extremely vibrant without blowing out whites. Being an AMOLED panel of course blacks are nice and inky, adding to the super-high contrast experience.

Brightness is also very impressive, and the automatic brightness control was perfectly suited for my use 99 percent of the time. And of course when outside, the GS6 can kick on a direct sunlight mode to hit 600 nits of brightness — at the expense of a little contrast — so you can clearly see the screen. The only downside to point out here is that the polarization on the screen isn't completely compatible with all sunglasses. That's not a huge ding — and it's not out of the ordinary for any smartphone, really. It's just something to know going in.

The Galaxy S6's speaker is as bad as its display is great.

Unfortunately for the audiophiles among us, the speaker is as bad as the display is great. Ten small holes drilled into the bottom of the phone provide the small speaker with little room to breathe. And while Samsung is correct in stating that it's much louder than the Galaxy S5, that doesn't mean the quality has made the same jump forward.

Playing music at about 70 percent volume invoked the response of "it sounds like it's under a blanket" from my girlfriend, and I have to agree. Turning up to anything above 50 percent volume the speaker starts to blow out and get considerably tinny, which isn't ideal if you're listening to music. Thankfully at least the speaker is on the bottom, which means it isn't easily muffled when the phone is on a table. You will, however, need to mind where your fingers are. If you cover the speaker even just a little, you'll immediately know it.

Of course I couldn't expect much out of such a small speaker, but seeing what Motorola and HTC have done with front-facing speakers in relatively small packages, I have to say this is an area where Samsung is lagging behind. Expect this speaker to be good for ringtones and podcasts, but never more than a short YouTube video or single song.

A lot of good, weighed down by a long history of bad

Samsung Galaxy S6 Software and Performance

At its global launch event for the Galaxy S6, Samsung executives stood on stage in Barcelona and told a story about how they realized that their software wasn't up to speed and how the Galaxy S6 was headed on a new path. Huge slides of side-by-side screenshots with new and old software showed a big visual change, and the claim of 40 percent fewer features was an appealing one.

Then you get the Galaxy S6 in your hand, and you realize that even with all of that being true, things are still very familiar if you've used a Samsung phone in the past couple of years. Particularly if you have a Galaxy S5 or Note 4 that's been updated to the latest Lollipop software, what you find on the Galaxy S6 won't seem like a radical departure.

For all the changes and improvements, a lot of the new TouchWiz still feels familiar.

In terms of aesthetics, Samsung has toned back the colors a bit, gotten rid of a few more drop shadows and further streamlined to remove useless animations. But you're still faced with lots of unnecessary ... stuff ... everywhere, including bright colors, weird shadows and both under- and over-designed interface elements.

Apps that have received the most attention, like Messages and S Health, look really good, but they don't fit in well with some of the other portions of the interface that haven't yet been updated — like many icons, widgets and older apps. Thankfully the "sounds of nature" are for the most part gone, but many old vestiges of yesteryear's TouchWiz still linger here.