When Samsung announces a new high-end phone, it makes a splash. That was particularly true with the Galaxy S6, as the launch brought with it an entirely new hardware design, and a change in a few different philosophies that have historically drawn users to its phones. We lost the ability to remove the battery and SD card, but gained a magnificent camera and some nice new materials to hold onto.
There are first impressions and reviews to give an early take on what a phone is like, but only after a few months of using it can you really build a feeling for what it's all about. We've done just that, spending plenty of time with a Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, and comparing it to other leading devices along the way for some extra perspective.
Three Android Central editors — Phil Nickinson, Andrew Martonik and Russell Holly — are here to chime in, joined by Managing Editor of Mobile Nations Derek Kessler and Editor in Chief of Windows Central Daniel Rubino. Read on for our impressions of the Galaxy S6, after three months with the phone.
Sharp looks, less-than-perfect usability
The metal, glass and sharp lines of the Galaxy S6 sure look nice. Do the materials actually work for you every day, though? Or is it form over function?
Andrew Martonik: The Galaxy S6 is easier to hold than it may look at first glance, but that doesn't mean it's completely friendly in the hand. The rounded corners and relatively small size — 5.1-inches seems like an anomaly nowadays — make it easy to wrap your hand around, but the perfectly flat and slippery back isn't helping. Unfortunately I think most people will end up getting a case for their GS6 for fear of breaking it, when they'd probably be okay without one.
Phil Nickinson: The materials, sure. I was a fan of metal, glass and sharp lines back when LG did it for the original Optimus G and then the Nexus 4 a couple years ago. And Samsung's done a nice job with them in the GS6. I still go back and forth over whether I prefer the edge (which I have) or the regular GS6, as far as design goes. I think both might be a little too thin for their own good, however. (But maybe that's moot if you take into consideration how many people use cases these days.)
I love looking at the Galaxy S6, but I am terrified of using it without a case.
Russell Holly: I love looking at the Galaxy S6, but I am terrified of using it without a case. The dark blue glass looks amazing on my version of the phone, and the polished sides of the phone feel incredible when I am feeling brave enough to remove it from its case. When you toss in the lackluster battery with the fragile feel to the phone, it's not hard to call this form over function. The phone is absolutely stunning, but I'd like it a whole lot more if it was also a great phone to use. It's still a pretty good phone to use, but Samsung has all the tools at their disposal to make it great and they chose to make it a piece of jewelry instead.
Derek Kessler: It's a bit of both. I have the GS6 edge and the design really does work for me, but at the same time the sheer amount of glass (especially the curves on the front) make me frequently worry about dropping the darn thing. My biggest gripe is simply how thin Samsung made this phone — it makes it that much harder to get a solid day out of the battery and makes the camera hump stick out that much more. I'm still coming to grips with this though, in the metaphorical sense. I've spent years panning Samsung's industrial and software design, and from the moment I picked up the Galaxy S6 I knew I wanted one. It's been months and I'm still processing all these feels.
Daniel Rubino: I am using the edge version, and I think the design is at once amazing and terrible. It is thin and feels very high quality. On the other hand, I worry so much about dropping it that I put a modest case on it that added some grip and stability. I would say the design is very form over function as the edge is 100 percent gimmick. Having said that, form over function is not always a bad thing as I think photos look amazing on this device with that curved edge. Phones can be art, that's not wrong.
Living with TouchWiz
Software (particularly the design) is arguably still the main weak point in Samsung devices, but has it grown on you in the last three months with the GS6?
Everything works the way I want, and with a new launcher and keyboard the design isn't bothersome.
Andrew: Samsung's design is far less offensive nowadays, and knowing that I don't intend to root and ROM this phone I just deal with it. Adding the Google Now Launcher and Google Keyboard did a lot to help me use the GS6 like I want to, and most importantly everything on the GS6 works the way I expect.
Some may think that the addition of full-device themes in the GS6 have alleviated the design issues, but considering their limitations to just Samsung's own apps and launcher, I haven't been able to stick with a theme very long before just going back to default.
Phil: Nope. It is what it is. And I don't think there's one single phone that does things perfectly — Motorola probably comes closest. But Samsung's software is better than it's ever been. There's still a lot going on there — Samsung's gonna Samsung — but it definitely doesn't feel as overwhelming as it used to. Samsung definitely has one of the best camera apps, though — and that's one of the most important apps on a phone for me.
Russell: There's no point in complaining about Samsung's software anymore. It has improved to the point where it doesn't break anything core to Android, and that's all that really matters. There's no denying in some ways Samsung has improved Android, and that's not nothing. Samsung's software is undeniably Samsung, it's a brand language they have chosen and it's not going anywhere anytime soon. It's not my favorite, but it works and most of the time works well.
Derek: I've come to terms with the Samsung software, mostly because I rarely have to interact with it much. The only Samsung interface items I use on a regular basis are the notification drawer and Settings apps. I've replaced the launcher with Google Now and I use none of Samsung's built-in apps. What Samsung's done with the notification drawer isn't offensive either. It might be the weak point, but it's not that weak.
Daniel: No, in fact, the more I use the S6 edge, the more I loathe Android and TouchWiz. Sure, I have experimented with alternative launchers and setups, but in the end, it is just too much time to invest to get it to run smooth. Despite having 3GB of RAM, it is always 90 percent full. Android is still my least favorite OS and the S6 edge has done nothing to change my opinion.
Three months of great photos
We were all impressed with the Galaxy S6's camera around its launch — has it held up as a leading smartphone camera today?
Andrew: The Galaxy S6's camera is still leading the phone industry, and though LG has made it a close race with the G4 I still say the GS6 is on top. It's just that little bit faster in launching and taking photos, in addition to offering amazing image quality. The camera app is simple to use as well, but offers those "pro" tweaks if you switch modes. I really have no complaints when it comes to the GS6's camera.
There's no better camera on an Android phone, and it's got the app to go with it.
Phil: Absolutely it's held up. There's no better camera on an Android phone, in my opinion. And, again, it's got the app to go with it. I think they maybe stripped out a few too many options and put them as separate downloads, but on the other hand I was one who felt bludgeoned by so many features. Ask me which phone you should carry if you want the best Android camera, and I'll tell you the GS6.
Russell: Without a doubt, this is one of the best smartphone cameras out there. It's a flawless point and shoot, especially with the double-tap on the home button. It's not quite as capable as the G4 when stopping to take a quality shot, and some of the extra modes don't even work as good as they did on previous versions of the Samsung camera — looking at you, Gif mode — but it is still an amazing camera right when you need one.
Derek: I'd say so. It's better than the iPhone 6's camera but not markedly so, and it stands toe-to-toe with the LG G4's camera and its fancy laser autofocus and color spectrum sensor. The double-click home button shortcut is incredibly useful, though I'd like for that to look at the proximity sensor and not activate the camera when it's in my pocket.
Daniel: I think the GS6 camera is one of the best I have used. It is fast, the contrast and punch look great, and the quality of the images always impresses me. I used it to live blog the Microsoft E3 press conference, and it took some outstanding photos, so much so that I do not see much need to use a full DSLR for such events. That says a lot. In fact, I still grab it sometimes just to take photos (I took the SIM out a few weeks ago).
A small battery problem
You can't really talk about the Galaxy S6 without mentioning battery life. How have you managed with the battery in the last three months?
Andrew: I was willing to give the Galaxy S6 a good run to see how I managed with the paltry battery, but after using the Galaxy S6 active with its 3500 mAh battery I just wish the original had something a bit bigger. In an average day the GS6 does me just fine to get through to bedtime with about 15 percent battery left — or more if I'm at home near a wireless charger — but if I ever need to hit the phone hard it'll be dead by dinner, and that's just not acceptable.
Phil: This is the reason I don't use the Galaxy S6 as my daily driver. Battery capacity (and thus battery life) just doesn't cut it for me. While, yes, it's easy to leave the phone on a charger when I'm at my desk working, I still have to worry about the charge. And I don't want to worry. So I use a phone with a bigger battery. Period.
Russell: I have yet to make it through a full day, which for me is 5am to 10pm, without needing to put it on the charger. While battery capacity is certainly a contributing factor here, I blame Samsung's firmware for the rapid power drain. This phone never really settles down, never really enters deep sleep, and even in power save modes never seems to do much to actually save battery life. It's also worth pointing out that having wireless charging and a variant of Quick Charge 2.0 onboard by default does not excuse such terrible power performance. It's as though Samsung had to choose between a smooth UI and better battery life, and all votes went to the former.
Derek: To put it bluntly, it's not great. I came to the GS6 from having an HTC One M8, which had quite good battery life. Even being a person that juggles two phones on a daily basis, I can't get the GS6 through a full day of heavy use without reaching for a charger.
I have had it seemingly last all day and then some, and also die within six hours.
Daniel: Battery life on the GS6 edge is kind of hilarious. It depends evidently on magic, which is the frustrating part. I have had it seemingly last all day and then some and also die within six hours. Even just on Wi-Fi with no SIM, it just drains and is dead in 24-hours without even turning on the display. One of the worst phones I have used in this regard, although I am sure you can turn even more things off to get it to last longer. At least it has the fast charge, which sort of ameliorates the issue.
How we would change it
We've reflected on what we think of the GS6 — now let us know what you'd want Samsung to change the next time around.
Andrew: The phone needs to have battery life that gets most people through a day — the battery itself doesn't need to be removable, it just needs to be large enough. I also want Samsung to tone back its software a bit more, and maybe align it with Google's vision of Lollipop (and Android M by that time) for a more streamlined and muted experience. The hardware and camera are great, it's now just the final few pieces that need improvement.
Phil: A bigger battery. I'm fine with it being built in. I don't need removable storage. (That's a matter of file management for me more than anything else.) I just need a phone that will last from the time I leave for work until the time I get home in the evening. That's about 12 hours, with time to spare. But the GS6 gets me to maybe 8 hours, and that's no bueno. The software will continue to evolve, as will the hardware. That's fine. But I need the phone to last.
Russell: Samsung needs to do more to refine the capabilities of the Exynos chipset included in this phone. Better firmware, more restrictive power-save modes, and maybe even something that gave the user granular control over those modes. Battery life is one thing, albeit one of the most important, but putting the user in control is a much bigger deal. If Samsung can get a hold of this aspect, their next phone will be even more incredible.
I'm liking a lot of what Samsung's done with the Galaxy S6, but it just needs better battery life.
Derek: Battery life battery life battery life. I'm liking a lot of what Samsung's done with the Galaxy S6, from toning back their software to putting in a fingerprint sensor that's not utter rubbage. This is a phone that despite having an obscene Quad HD display has never even hiccuped despite some of the heavy lifting I've asked it to do. I'm fully behind opting for a sealed-in battery, but the benefit of that is supposed to be improved battery life, which this phone simply doesn't offer.
Daniel: Honestly, I think the GS6 edge would be more fun with Windows 10 Mobile on board. I know that is not a popular thing to say, but it would make the most of the hardware. Stopping short of that, they need to find a way to get the OS to meld better with the hardware. Not sure if that is so much on Samsung or Google, but it is a glaring shortcoming. Obviously things like better battery life and more RAM would be great if it were possible. I'm not sure it is, however, and I think Samsung is just doing what they can with what they have in front of them.
Is the Galaxy S6 the best you can buy?
Taking in the good and the bad of the Galaxy S6, would you consider it the best Android phone you can buy right now?
Andrew: There's no single best phone choice that can apply to everyone, but I think if you're looking for a new high-end device you'd be crazy not to have the Galaxy S6 on your short list. The battery life can be a major issue, but there's just so much good in this phone you're really doing a disservice to yourself by not at least looking at it.
Phil: If it weren't for the battery life, I'd say yes. But the LG G4 camera is close enough to the Galaxy S6 (it's really good) and I don't hate the software enough to make me want to put up with the GS6 battery life.
Russell: Personally I prefer the LG G4 right now, but I am more likely to recommend the GS6 to most folks who ask. The fragility and the battery make it hard for me to enjoy on a daily basis, but I am far from normal in that respect.
Derek: I'm a firm proponent of the mantra "there is no best phone", just like there is no best automobile. There are different phones for different use cases, and each has its strengths and weaknesses — it all boils down to what is best for you and your needs. I've spent time with the HTC One M9 and came away disappointed. I own an LG G4 and it's a phenomenal phone, though it's simply too big for me, and frankly I'm done with plastic phones.
For me the Galaxy S6 hits the most right spots: it's small (in comparison), it has an excellent fingerprint sensor, a clean design, an awesome camera, and an interface style that's not as staid as HTC's or gaudy as LG's (though I'd still prefer something even closer to Google's excellent Material Design guidelines). That's not to say that you shouldn't buy a Moto X or HTC One M9 or LG G4 or whatever other Android flagship you're considering — they're all excellent devices. But the Galaxy S6 is the one for me.
Daniel: I am not sure about the best, but one of the best. It does have some impressive hardware, and the design is unique. It feels very high quality, which is something you do not always hear about Samsung devices. It depends also how much you value a pure Android experience or adequate battery life.
Samsung Galaxy S6 owners, how have you been getting on with the phone? Shout out in the comments, and join the discussion on the AC forums!