The Samsung Galaxy S6 is absolutely the hot new phone out right now. And while plenty of people are considering upgrading from whatever phone they have, the folks with a Galaxy S5 in their pocket are particularly intrigued. The GS6 isn't just an incremental update from the GS5, boasting better hardware, screen resolution and internal components along with new features. Most importantly for many, the GS6 has dramatically improved the camera experience as well.
But no matter the improvements in experience, it's not always a guarantee that the new version is worth the direct upgrade when most people have had the Galaxy S5 for less than a full year — let us help you make that decision.
Plastic versus metal and glass
It doesn't take long to tell which of these phones looks and feels better all around — it's the glass and solid metal construction of the Galaxy S6. The new build materials are executed perfectly and make one heck of a nice looking device, and while it has the same basic shape as its predecessor you just can't put them in the same class. You feel like you're getting your money's worth out of the Galaxy S6, that's for sure, but the design does have the downside of being a bit angular and tougher to hold onto.
These two phones aren't even in the same class. Giving up a few small features is worth the boost in quality.
Conversely the Galaxy S5 still feels a little flimsy and cheap, particularly by today's standards, though the dimpled soft touch back guarantees you won't be dropping it easily. In terms of hardware it does have the distinct advantage of having a removable battery and storage under that back plate, as well as complete waterproofing — though you'll have to deal with the finicky charging port cover on the bottom to get it.
Rounding out the experience, in terms of displays you're comparing one of the front-runners last year to the inarguably best display of 2015. The delta between the two isn't as big as you would think at first, but you just can't go wrong with the 2560x1440 AMOLED display on the Galaxy S6. It's brighter, crisper and has just a tad better color reproduction and viewing angles than the 2014 flagship does. You won't make this upgrade just for the screen, but know that if you do you're getting the best available.
It's also worth quickly mentioning the new fingerprint scanner, which works for all of the same things as the GS5 — phone unlocking, web sign-in and app authentication — but does it with a single touch rather than an annoying swipe. It registers fingers much faster and with a lower error rate — you may actually use it this time around.
Performance and battery life
For as big of a leap Samsung took in terms of the external hardware experience, the differences in internals aren't as vast. The new Exynos octa-core processor and 3GB of RAM in the GS6 are up to the task of handling intense apps and multitasking well, but there's no blistering speed increase to be seen from the new hardware alone.
Even a year after its release the Galaxy S5 is still a very capable phone, with a Snapdragon 801 and 2GB of RAM being more than enough to handle the most demanding apps out there today. Particularly when you take into account the performance boost from the GS5's Lollipop update, don't look to this phone upgrade as a way to dramatically increase your smartphone power.
Performance is better, but not dramatically so — and battery life takes a hit to get it.
Battery life is one place where Samsung actually took a step back with the Galaxy S6, with the phone sporting a 2550 mAh battery — down from the 2800 mAh cell the year prior. Of course it's not all about the size of the battery, but those numbers in conjunction with the internals do translate to the GS6 getting shorter battery life on average than the GS5. Expect to charge the Galaxy S6 during the day if you want to use it more than about 14 hours (with average light use). That may be a bit disappointing to those with a GS5 right now who know they can usually make it to the end of the day without charging.
Of course Samsung attempts to offset the smaller battery size with the ability to quickly charge the phone through Adaptive Fast Charging (compatible with Quick Charge 2.0 chargers) and wireless charging support, but those features just can't replace straight up battery longevity. If you choose to make the upgrade to the Galaxy S6, know that you'll be taking a drop in battery life to get the other upgrades on the phone.
Software and feature sets
This is one of those cases where less is more — the Galaxy S6 actually has fewer features and options in the software, and that mean it's an improvement over the Galaxy S5. The software on offer this time around is a big improvement over the KitKat software on the GS5 at launch, and even over what the phone got in its own Lollipop update. The superfluous bloops and whistles have disappeared and many unnecessary options are gone entirely, cleaning up the settings menu.
Lollipop on the Galaxy S6 is cleaner and more together, but don't expect it to change your feelings on TouchWiz.
Things look very similar design-wise to what you're already used to, but you will notice a bunch of built-in apps have received facelifts that better tie them into the operating system. It's a more cohesive and simple experience than what you find on the GS5, and while it's not perfect it is moving in the right direction. Chances are folks with the GS5 won't be getting an update to bring all of these new looks and feature refinements either, so you'll have to upgrade if you want to experience them.
That being said, if you're altogether unhappy with the current software experience on your phone, you won't get something on the GS6 that'll change your feelings about TouchWiz. You may have to look elsewhere if you need a complete change of pace.
If you were to base your entire upgrade purchase decision on the camera, we can guarantee that you should make the move to the Galaxy S6. While Samsung actually got a lot right in the camera on the Galaxy S5, it had to make huge compromises in terms of low light performance in order to do so. With poor software and poor low light photos (due in part to a lack of OIS), the Galaxy S5 really wasn't to be used for pictures any time after about 4 p.m., and that's a shame.
If you were to base your entire purchase decision on the camera, you should make the move to the Galaxy S6.
The Galaxy S6 is a monumental improvement in camera quality in terms of experience and end product. A brand new camera interface is easier to manage and understand, with fewer unnecessary features cluttering up the interface when you don't want them. Leaving the camera in complete automatic mode will produce great pictures that have just a little extra punch in colors while choosing when to use HDR intelligently. And in low light you can't even compare the performance between these two phones — the Galaxy S6 is one of the best in the category, and the GS5 wasn't ever a contender even when it was launched a year ago.
Add to that the fact that the camera on the Galaxy S6 is incredibly fast to launch — with a double press of the home button — and take pictures right away, and you really are getting a fantastic camera experience if you upgrade to this phone.
Bottom line: The Galaxy S6 is worth the upgrade
Samsung made some seriously big steps — leaps, even — in the span of just one year from the Galaxy S5 to the S6. When compared to the Galaxy S5 the new hardware and camera experiences on the GS6 are in a different league, putting to shame most phones around it. The Galaxy S6 doesn't even feel like it was made by the same company that produced the GS5 a year ago, and the camera quality goes beyond expectations.
Even with a couple of shortcomings, the Galaxy S6 is far and away a better device and worthy of ditching your trusty Galaxy S5 for.
But in terms of performance, software and battery life, the jump from the Galaxy S5 isn't nearly as big. The software does feel like an improvement, but not dramatically so, and the shorter battery life — even with new charging options — is still a bit concerning. You're getting a new processor and more memory to handle the new software, of course, but in terms of real-world use there's nothing the Galaxy S5 can't handle even with its last-generation specs. The extra power in the phone is really there for demanding software features and apps coming in the future more than anything.
Of course a large deciding factor in upgrading is how much it'll actually cost you in the end, no matter how great the new phone itself may be. With the advent of phone upgrade plans like T-Mobile's JUMP! and AT&T's Next the up-front cost of getting a new phone for many people is greatly diminished, and if you're in one of those camps it's really hard not to pull the trigger and move up to the Galaxy S6. But even if you're planning to pay full freight for an off-contract Galaxy S6 and make up some of the difference by selling the GS5, you'll really want to consider this move as well. Despite a couple of small shortcomings, the Galaxy S6 is far and away a better device and worthy of ditching your trusty Galaxy S5 for.