I borrowed a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge from Howard Chui. I've been a longtime fan of Samsung high-end smartphones, but of late I've become rather disappointed in the slow pace of real improvement in the subsequent models. This isn't strictly a Samsung issue however, as this has been the case with every manufacturer out there. The smartphone, like the PC before it, has begun to reach maturity and the level of improvement from one generation to the next has slowed down considerably. The new models are indeed more powerful and have more features, but only INCREMENTALLY SO. It's becoming increasingly difficult to justify the purchase of a new device every year.
As I am still the owner of a Galaxy S4, I thought that I'd at least be impressed with 2 GENERATIONS of incremental improvement. However, I was quite surprised at how little had apparently changed in the 2 years since the release of the S4. Don't get me wrong though, but the S6 is clearly faster, as the benchmarks attest, but overall the S6 doesn't FEEL as though it is as much of an improvement over the S4 as I'd expected.
For example, when I tested the iPhone 6, I was really impressed with the incredible smoothness when I played videos (from many different sources) with steady-rate full-screen panning. I assumed that the reason the iPhone 6 was better at this than my S4 was simply because it had a more powerful GPU and a faster 64-bit CPU. I therefore expected to see the same smooth motion on videos played on the S6, but surprisingly, all that CPU and GPU power in the S6 doesn't seem to make much difference at all in this regard. Perhaps it's an underlying issue with Android, but certainly not one that has been addressed since 4.2.2 Jellybean (which I STILL run in my S4).
Comparing the performance of the web browser (specifically using Chrome) was another odd case. Most web pages I tried opened just as fast on my S4 as they did on the S6, despite doing exceptionally well on benchmarks associated with web page access. It didn't seem to matter how complex or large the pages were, the speed of opening them to their full glory was not something the S6 managed to do any better than the S4.
The speed of launching apps, and performing various operations inside of those apps, was a mixed bag. In some cases the S6 was faster (and sometimes by a wide margin), but in other cases, such as opening an email in Gmail, the differences were often hard to tell. The S6 would usually be faster when the thing being loaded hadn't yet been cached, but after both phones had the material cached, they seemed to access it at around the same speed.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, f/1.9 1/100 ISO 50 (cropped)
That doesn't mean there aren't a few stand-out features on the S6, beginning with the camera. Yes, it has a few more megapixels than the one in the S4, but the real change in the camera is the ease at which one can take an excellent photograph. The S4, like other smartphones from 2013, doesn't have optical image stabilization, and taking blur-free photographs in anything less than sunlit conditions is difficult. With the S6 on the other hand, I can take blur-free shots under almost any conditions without giving it much thought at all. When the shots are good however, the overall quality is hard to distinguish between the S4 and S6.
Video, however, was a bit of a disappointment. I'd once again expected performance on par with the iPhone 6, but even when recording at mere 30 FPS in 1080p (which the S4 can do, and should be a walk in the park for the powerful GPU and CPU in the S6) the overall smoothness of the results is not that different. There are still tiny hiccups in the video during full-screen pans, and it is still evident that the video is made up of a series of short-exposure pictures strung together. The iPhone 6 is still king when it comes to smartphone video performance.
Note this is Howard's fat hand
Another great (though not excellent) feature is the non-swipe fingerprint reader on the home button. Last year I was very impressed with the overall ease-of-use of the fingerprint reader was on the iPhone 6, and how much of a pain it was to use the reader found the S5. Samsung has addressed this problem by putting in a touch fingerprint reader than only requires the user to hold their finger on the button as they press it to wake the phone up. However, to Apple's credit, their reader seems to be much faster than the one on the S6. Whenever I'd wanted to unlock the iPhone 6, I'd just put my finger on the button, press it, and the phone unlocked. With the S6, I often find that it takes a NOTICEABLE amount of time between pressing the button, and when the fingerprint is approved and the phone is unlocked.
The casing, which is made of metal and glass, does seem to exude quality (and indeed the fit and finish is excellent), but I could never seem to shake the feeling that I was holding a very fragile device.
Of course, I wasn't about to test the durability of the casing by dropping it (as I have accidentally done with my S4), but I'm not so sure that the S6 would hold up as well to drops as the plastic S4 or S5 would.
I would have preferred to have tested a plain S6, rather than the S6 Edge, because I found the curved screen on the Edge model to be annoying at the best of times.
While I'm sure that someone must have come up with a use-case for curved screen sides, I certainly can't imagine one. It seems more like a gimmick to me, but the sales figures seem to suggest that it's a real winner with buyers.
The screen itself didn't exactly blow me away (curvature notwithstanding). I put the S6 into manual brightness mode, I cranked it up to full, and then I turned up my S4 to full brightness as well. I took them out to look at them in direct sunlight to find out if either of them was easier to see. I'd expected the S6 to leave my S4 in the dust, especially since I'd been so impressed with the brightness of the S5's screen. Surprisingly however, the S6 wasn't all that much brighter than the S4, which (without doing a side-by-side comparison with an S5) suggests that when it comes to screen brightness, the S6 has taken a slight step backward.
I was hyped to see what sort of GPS performance the S6 was capable of. Samsung has a history of putting some really outstanding GPS chips in their phones, which get better in each successive generation, but the one in the S6 was a huge disappointment. Not only did it NOT seem to include support for Chinese satellites (as does the S5 and many other current phones), but it couldn't produce locks as accurate as my S4 under ANY circumstances. Even outdoors, with a commanding view of a cloudless sky, the GPS rarely reported 3 meter accuracy (which my S4 can 80 to 90 percent of the time). At first I thought this was the result of a different algorithm for generating the reported accuracy, and so I ran side-by-side tracks. Much to my surprise, the S6 produced far less accurate tracks. Perhaps the S6 I tested was just a lemon, and maybe most of them perform better than this, but as I've noted in other past reviews, I have only the device I tested to go on.
When it comes to audio, the S6 hasn't evolved much. Like the S5 before it, the S6 isn't much better than the S4. They moved the speaker to the bottom of the phone, which is an improvement, but the overall volume and tonal quality of the speaker suggests that it is the same sounder they been using for years. I've heard MARKEDLY BETTER speaker performance on other phones (in particular those built by HTC). When it comes to the earpiece however, the S6 is like most of the Galaxy models before it, where quality and volume is among the best out there, so there really wasn't much room for improvement anyway.
Battery life seemed okay for a phone with a high-power chipset in it, but when I was actually using the phone, the battery discharge rate was a bit higher than my S4. Also, there was a bug in the S6 that sometimes FORGOT to turn off the GPS after an app was finished with it. Once this happened, only rebooting the phone would turn it off. If the GPS was left on, the discharge rate (even with the screen off) was quite high, at around 5 to 10 percent per hour.
The CPU and GPU are so powerful that they routinely generate a fair amount of heat, even when you aren't doing any heavy-duty work. The back of the phone gets uncomfortably warm under prolonged use, and if you play games, the heat can be quiet annoying.
One of the things that helps keep me on Samsung phones is the ability to force a particular LTE band. I don't much like Band 7 (2600 MHz), as it often has exceptionally poor uplink speeds unless the signal is strong. With Rogers PREFERRING 2600 MHz where available, my only hope is to force band 4. What I really would have liked is a way to tell the phone to NOT USE a specified band. Lo-and-behold, the S6 has this very capability, meaning I can tell it to ignore Band 7 and use any other bands that are available. This alone ALMOST tempted me to run out and buy one, but once reality set in, I realized that it wasn't a good enough excuse.
Until the S6, many Samsung fans used to tout the replaceable battery and MicroSD card as reasons why they stuck with the brand. It was a big shock to many fans when Samsung decided to scrap both of these things. I used to believe that they were important to me, but when I look back over my years of smartphone use, I can't honestly say that I've relied on EITHER. I use an external battery to keep up the charge on my phone when I really put a high demand on the battery (such as when I track long 4-hour-plus bike rides, while simultaneous broadcasting my location using Glympse), and I never pull the 32 GB card out of my S4. I backup my data to external USB Flash drives using an OTG cable, or directly connecting the device to a laptop.
In summary therefore, the S6 is only a slight improvement over the S5 it replaces and not much of an improvement over the 2-year-old S4. Unless you're made of money, or have a burning desire to own the most recent technology, keep your high-end 1- or 2-year-old smartphones for another year and save the money. If you're in the market to replace a much older phone, or a lower-end model, the S6 a well-built phone that has few killer downsides, but at the same time, there are things about it that are outclassed by others (the iPhone 6 for example). As for the curved edges, unless you can image an actual use to put it to, do yourself a favor and opt for the LESS EXPENISVE S6 instead of the S6 Edge. If GPS performance is really important to you, and the issue I saw on this S6 is typical, then this could be a deal-breaker.
- Touch fingerprint reader on the home button
- Excellent earpiece volume and clarity
- Great still photography performance
- Build quality and materials
- LTE band blocker (okay, it's really important to me)
- Smooth overall performance
Could be Better:
- Video performance
- Screen brightness
- Speaker volume and quality
- Gimmicky curved screen edges (get an S6)
- Sub-standard GPS accuracy
- Runs hot
- No removable battery
- No MicroSD card