Editor’s Note: This product has been removed from our side-by-side comparison because it has been discontinued. You can still read our original review below, but Top Ten Reviews is no longer updating this product’s information.
For years, we've harped on Samsung to stop building its smartphones with creaky plastic and bloated software. The Galaxy series is Android's flagship brand, but Samsung has rarely offered the best Android experience. Now, in the Galaxy S6, change has finally come. Samsung has eased up on TouchWiz, creating a variant of Android 5 that's not as severe a break from Google's stock operating system. Gone are the cheap plastic covers and faux leather stitching of devices past. They've been replaced with Gorilla Glass, curved aluminum and a sturdy, chic hardiness.
The design echoes the iPhone 6, and that echo gives us pause. From a distance, the S6 is indistinguishable from the iPhone; up close, its biggest differentiators are the home button and camera bulge. Samsung has borrowed from Apple in the past, and in an industry already plagued by copycats, we'd like to have seen more innovation in design.
But we can't deny the results. With features like a 577 PPI display and a 64-bit octa-core processor, the Galaxy S6's hardware is definitively Samsung and undeniably impressive. However unoriginal its aesthetics, this is the muscle car of the mobile world.
The Galaxy line has been overdue for a design refresh, and the S6 brings with it a bevy of aesthetic changes. At just 0.27 inches, it's just as thin as the iPhone 6, with Gorilla Glass on the front and back and a rim of hardy aluminum sandwiched in between.
Comparing the Galaxy S6 to the iPhone 6 feels like playing spot-the-difference. From the metal-trimmed home buttons with integrated, omnidirectional fingerprint scanners, to the identical placements of headphones jacks and speaker grilles on the bottom of each phone, the similarities are numerous and unmistakable. There's a line that separates homages from copycatting, and Samsung's S6 walks it like a tightrope.
Aesthetically, it's not quite as impressive as the iPhone. The S6 tends to feel a little harsher in your hand, in part because of the bevels along its sides, and in part because the gap between glass and metal is just wide enough to irritate your fingers if you swipe the edge. Its curves aren't nearly as svelte, while the oversized camera on the back is a bit of an eyesore.
Honestly, though, these are nitpicks. Compare the Galaxy S6 to the S5 or the Note series and you'll wonder how you ever put up with plastic. Make no mistake: This is a gorgeous phone, and it has a gorgeous display to match. At 5.1 inches across, sporting a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels, the S6 packs an insane 577 PPI – the sharpest screen we've ever seen.
We've long since learned that more megapixels in a smartphone camera don't always guarantee better photos. With a 16MP sensor, the S6 has more than enough photographic real estate to capture beautiful pictures. Add to that Samsung's proven image processor and a new, exceptionally large ƒ/1.9 aperture for low-light photography, and the result is a camera that ranks with the world's top smartphones.
Photos we took with the Galaxy S6 were crisp, vibrant without being oversaturated, and focused effortlessly. Apple's iPhone is the benchmark to beat, and while the S6 doesn't surpass the Cupertino flagship, it's just about on par. The iPhone, with its 240-fps framerate, still offers better slow-motion capabilities and has steadier video stabilization, but the S6's OIS-driven photo stabilization is stunning and dependable. And if you're looking to take 4K video, the S6 is the only way to go.
Whatever competition there might be among rear-mounted smartphone cameras, the Galaxy's front-facing camera is easily the best in the business. It's capable of snapping 5MP selfies and recording 1440p video, four times the resolution of 720p HD. We did notice some odd image stretching if you move the phone around too much while recording, but it handily beats every other selfie camera on the market.
The arrival of Samsung's Galaxy S6 heralds a sea change in Android devices: You can now buy Android phones with 64-bit processors. What's more, the S6 sports two side-by-side processors with four cores each, essentially serving as an octa-core machine brain for the fastest smartphone in the world. It blew away our benchmark tests, scoring higher than every other smartphone we reviewed. Geekbench, Quadrant, AnTuTu, Vellamo, 3D Mark, Basemark – every synthetic test we through at the device was destroyed.
We stress the synthetic part, because despite all the power under the hood, the system still hiccupped during activities as simple as swiping from home screen to home screen. We're guessing the problem isn't with the hardware, but the software: Samsung's TouchWiz has always been bloated. It's gotten far more streamlined in this latest iteration, but it's still not as snappy as a pure Android experience, much less iOS 8.
Making a thin, beautiful phone can involve a lot of compromise, and in the S6's case, it involved ditching the removable battery. The ability to switch out your battery on the go has long been a staple of the Galaxy S series. Replacing its removable plastic backplate with slick glass has resulted in a thinner, sturdier and ultimately more beautiful phone. It also means you're stuck with the battery you get.
Our repeated battery tests show that the Galaxy S6 lasts through about 8.5 hours of web browsing. Most websites are primarily white, and displaying pure white on a big, pixel-dense display is the surest way to drain a battery, so browser tests are often the best stress tests. Browsing for 8.5 hours is impressive, but not fantastic. Phablets such as the iPhone 6 Plus can hit 10 hours; the Sony Xperia Z3 passed 12. But 8.5 hours is enough to last you through a day without worry, so long as you remember to charge up every night.
The S6 supports both major wireless charging standards, Qi and Powermat. If you'd rather charge with wires, you'll be able to take advantage of rapid charging technology that will boost the battery to about 50 percent capacity in less than half an hour. It doesn't replace the convenience of an extra battery in your bag, but it's a decent alternative.
Let's be honest: Samsung doesn't make flagship phones unless they're loaded with features. Sure enough, the S6 is full to bursting. Along with plenty of software bells and whistles, the S6 has a number of extra hardware features. Connectivity options such as NFC and Bluetooth 4.1 allow for compatibility with virtually any wireless device, while the phone's aptX support will delight audiophiles.
Samsung elected not to bring back its quirky, oversized USB 3.0 connector, so you're limited to USB 2.0 transfer speeds when sending photos or video to your computer. It's unfortunate, but these days most of us use Wi-Fi to upload our videos to the cloud anyway. Samsung also elected not to make the S6 water resistant. This, too, is a disappointment after having gotten used to it in the Galaxy S5. No more can you bring your phone into the shower or shrug off an accidental drop into the pool.
On a positive note, the company finally came around on its fingerprint scanner and included one that's worth using. While Apple's Touch ID has won many accolades for its ease of use and thought-free dependability, Samsung's old fingerprint scanners were iffy at best and useless at worst. Like Touch ID, the new scanner on the Galaxy S6 is omnidirectional and built into the home button. You can use it from any angle, and it just works. Plugging a new fingerprint into the system takes a little longer than it does with Touch ID, but the result is the same.
It's about time. After years waiting for Samsung to up its game, the company has finally built a phone that doesn't seem assembled with cheap, lowest-bidder parts. In fact, it's all but sprinted in the other direction, offering up a premium glass-and-metal chassis that's compact and feels great in your hand. And with a 64-bit octa-core processor beneath that glass, this is easily the fastest handheld computer you've ever been able to buy.
Should you? If you're a fan of Android, absolutely. The Galaxy S6 is one of the best Android smartphones in the world. It's not perfect. But for now, it's close enough.