As recently as the Galaxy S5, Samsung had a fundamentally different strategy from companies like HTC and Apple. While design wasn’t ignored completely, Samsung Mobile had a different set of priorities. In general, it felt like Samsung wanted the phone to have every feature possible to please every possible potential customer. Features like a removable battery and microSD card slot seemed to be a crucial point of differentiation. TouchWiz focused on delivering a full suite of applications even if they were pretty much redundant when compared to Google’s applications. Samsung also seemed to cost-optimize their external shells, favoring polymer builds over glass or aluminum. Since the Galaxy S, this strategy paid off handsomely. With the help of strong marketing, Samsung proceeded to dominate the Android market from the days of the Galaxy S2, to the point that almost no other Android OEM was relevant in terms of market share.

However, Samsung’s tried and true strategy failed with the Galaxy S5. Fundamentally, Samsung had always been competing with Apple and their iPhone line-up at the high end, but Samsung consistently held a price advantage. The real problem was the rise of low-cost flagship phones, which squeezed Samsung significantly. Other OEMs were able to justify their high-end pricing by delivering a polished software experience and premium hardware design. In comparison to these relatively cheap phones which delivered largely the same experience and hardware, Samsung’s sales crumbled and the Galaxy S5 didn’t meet sales expectations.

This brings us to the Galaxy S6, which is supposed to be Samsung’s attempt at refocusing their product design and lineup. Design has become a major priority, and the Galaxy S6 is a radical departure from previous design in terms of almost every design choice. The Galaxy S6 represents the best that Samsung can make to some extent, as a great deal of the phone is composed of Samsung-made parts to achieve maximum vertical integration as seen in the specs below.

  Samsung Galaxy S5 Samsung Galaxy S6 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge
SoC MSM8974ACv3 2.45 GHz Snapdragon 801 Exynos 7420 2.1/1.5GHz A57/A53 Exynos 7420 2.1/1.5GHz A57/A53
RAM 2GB LPDDR3 3GB LPDDR4-1552 3GB LPDDR4-1552
NAND 16/32GB NAND + microSD 32/64/128GB NAND 32/64/128GB NAND
Display 5.1” 1080p
SAMOLED HD
5.1” 1440p
SAMOLED
5.1” 1440p
SAMOLED, Dual Edge
Network 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Qualcomm MDM9x25 UE Category 4 LTE) 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 6 LTE) 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 6 LTE)
Dimensions 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm, 145 grams 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8mm max, 138 grams 142.1 x 70.1 x 7.0mm max, 132 grams
Camera 16MP (5132 x 2988) Rear Facing with 1.12 µm pixels, 1/2.6" CMOS size, 31 mm (35mm effective), f/2.2 16MP (5132 x 2988) Rear Facing w/ OIS, f/1.9, object tracking AF 16MP (5132 x 2988) Rear Facing w/ OIS, f/1.9, object tracking AF
2MP Front Facing 5MP Front Facing, f/1.9 5MP Front Facing, f/1.9
Battery 2800 mAh (10.78 Whr) 2550 mAh (9.81 Whr) 2600 mAh (10.01 Whr)
OS Android 4.4
w/TouchWiz
Android 5 (64-bit) w/TouchWiz Android 5 (64-bit) w/TouchWiz
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2x2 +
BT 4.0 (BCM4354),
USB3.0, GPS/GNSS, MHL, DLNA, NFC
2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac +
BT 4.1 (BCM4358),
USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, NFC
2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac +
BT 4.1 (BCM4358),
USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, NFC
Wireless Charging N/A WPC 1.1 (4.6W) &
PMA 1.0 (4.2W)
WPC 1.1 (4.6W) &
PMA 1.0 (4.2W)
Fingerprint Sensor Swipe Touch Touch
SIM Size MicroSIM NanoSIM

NanoSIM

Design

There’s a lot of ground to cover in the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, but probably the most immediate change is to the design. The Galaxy S6 is a unibody design, with no apparent screws. This does mean that there’s no removable battery or microSD slot, which shouldn’t be a problem for most people although this may be enough for some to write off this phone completely.

The back cover is now glass instead of plastic, and is attached to the phone with glue instead of plastic latches. Regardless of color or model, Samsung has placed an extremely fine pattern beneath the glass that manages to be subtle but also surprisingly brilliant under direct light. It’s tasteful in a way that the Galaxy S5 and Note 4 weren’t. The back of the phone also has a single LED flash, a heart rate monitor, and the camera which bulges out significantly. I personally don’t have a problem with camera humps, but the Galaxy S6’s camera hump is probably the biggest I’ve seen in recent memory.

The glass back cover meets the metal frame of the phone, which provides most of the structural rigidity and strength. On the normal Galaxy S6, this frame has a very slight curve and is almost cylindrical along the top and bottom of the phone, but flattens out along the sides for better grip. The bottom of this frame has the speaker, microUSB port, and 3.5mm headphone jack, which does make for some resemblance with Apple products launched within the last year. At any rate, the placement of the speaker, USB port, and 3.5mm jack are all appropriate for a phone.

The left side of the frame contains the volume buttons, which are clicky and solid, although pressing the buttons off-center does produce a noticeable flex. The right side of the frame has the power button and the nanoSIM slot on the normal version.

On the edge variant, the sides of the frame are dramatically thinner and appear to be angled out when compared to the Galaxy S6. In the hand, this makes it feel much thinner than the S6, but it really feels almost too thin to hold comfortably. Combined with the flat back, it’s really a bit of a struggle to pick up the edge off of a table, which compromises usability when compared to the normal S6.

The top of the frame contains the IR LED for TV capabilities and a hole for a microphone. On the edge variant, the nanoSIM slot is relocated to the top of the phone.

The front of the phone is probably the only aspect of the design that feels relatively similar to the Galaxy S5. However, the texture of the bezel beneath the glass is similar to the subtle finish of the back cover, which makes for a unique visual effect that manages to be tasteful and quite unique. Other than this, we see the same layout as most Galaxy phones, with two capacitive buttons (multitasking on the left, back button on the right) and a physical home button. In the case of the Galaxy S6, this home button has been turned into a fingerprint scanner that is touch-based rather than a swipe sensor. Along the top of the front face, we also see the ambient light sensor, a proximity sensor, the earpiece, and the 5MP front-facing camera. Directly below these items is the display driver beneath the bezel, which is similar to the “logo bar” of the One M7, M8, and every other phone on the market today. On the S6 edge, the sides of the display are curved to reduce the width of the phone, which does make it easier to hold in the hand, but there’s really no bezel reduction here as the side bezels seem to be larger than what we see on the S6.

Overall, the design of the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge is really unlike anything else they’ve produced in recent memory. The phone itself is well-sized and feels much more ergonomic than the Galaxy S5 due to the thinner build and mildly reduced bezel size. It really feels like Samsung cared about the design of the phone this generation, and the attention to detail here immediately puts Samsung near the top in this area. The front of the phone still feels a bit derivative, but I suspect that there isn’t much Samsung can do to change this when faced with design constraints like a physical home button. The S6 edge does look better in some ways, but ergonomically the sharper and thinner edge is a compromise compared to the normal S6. Either phone is still easily one of the best-designed phones I’ve seen this year.

Exynos 7420: First 14nm Silicon In A Smartphone
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  • h3ck - Friday, May 8, 2015 - link

    Because even though media, books, music and other content is cloud based and easy to access, applications are getting increasingly larger and you still want to have space for local content in general. I went with the 64GB myself, but I also use a Dash Micro. If you don't know what that is, it's amazing > http://www.amazon.com/Dash-Micro-MicroSD-Android-U... Reply
  • elchepe - Saturday, May 23, 2015 - link

    I don't know what world you're living in, but most people take cheap loads of pictures and videos these days. Considering the megapixel count on the S6 and other flagship, expandable memory certainly becomes a necessity. There are plenty of people who know the woes of being unable to update their iPhones because there's not enough space available. Reply
  • deputc26 - Friday, April 17, 2015 - link

    I would like to see an APL vs. Brightness graph for maximum manual brightness. Using 100% APL unjustifiably biases the test against AMOLED screens. 60-80% APL would correspond much better to real world scenarios. Reply
  • Brett Howse - Saturday, April 18, 2015 - link

    Check the display page again. Reply
  • deputc26 - Saturday, April 18, 2015 - link

    "Manual" brightness, not automatic. I checked the display page again and was disappointed. Reply
  • melgross - Saturday, April 18, 2015 - link

    The problem amoled has, is if brightness remains too high for too long, the display will burn out after a time. The real max brightness is around 350nits, the same as before. In fact, Samsung is taking a big chance with the max brightness here. I predict that we'll be seeing display life significantly shortened for a number of people who spend a lot of time outdoors with their phones.

    The life of all LEDs is directly dependent on their temperature. Amoled needs low temps to work, unlike metal based LEDs, used for LCD screen back lights. Their innefficiency means that a lot of power is required for maximum brightness, which leads to overheating. That's why manual brightness on these is the same its been for the last three generations.
    Reply
  • Brett Howse - Saturday, April 18, 2015 - link

    @deptuc26: So you are concerned about 100% APL being biased against AMOLED but want to see the manual brightness where the scores are lower? I'm confused. You seem to contradict yourself there. Reply
  • melgross - Saturday, April 18, 2015 - link

    No, not at all. I'm pointing out that while Samsung has a new brightness setting for outside, you can't use it for regular use. That because using it more than occasionally will damage the display. This is like redlining a car engine. You can do it, but don't do it too often. Reply
  • deputc26 - Saturday, April 18, 2015 - link

    Values for both Manual brightness and automatic brightness are given at 100% APL in charts in the review. This is unrealistic, no one walks around with a pure white screen. The review partially makes up for this error by including a "APL vs brightness" graph for automatic brightness. It does not include such a graph for manual brightness leaving the attentive reader wondering what the brightness would be at a realistic APL and leaving the inattentive reader with a false impression. Reply
  • Uplink10 - Saturday, April 18, 2015 - link

    Because then people would not buy 64GB or 128GB phones which are very overpriced. They would just buy 32GB/16GB phone and additional MicroSD card. Why? Because of greed. Reply

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