Even if its overheating issues have been a tad overblown, the Snapdragon 810 doesn’t quite live up to the ideal that’s expected from a high-end chipset. It’s no surprise, then, that Samsung has decided to drop its usual arrangement with Qualcomm and opt for its own Exynos 7420 hardware, usually reserved for European markets, in all versions of the Galaxy S6.
More specifically, it features a 14-nanometer processor that includes four Cortex-A57 cores running at 2.1 GHz, four Cortex-A53 cores running at 1.5 GHz, a Mali-T760 GPU, and 3 GB of RAM. It also offers Cat 6 LTE connection capability, which theoretically allows for download speeds of 300 Mbps and makes the phone a little more future proof in the here and now.
When put to the test, the Exynos came off as a more consistent chip than the latest Snapdragon. The S6 scored remarkably high in our benchmark tests, and it’s easy to see why once you have the phone in hand. Even with dozens of apps and the majority of TouchWiz’s background processes up and running, the handset still runs smooth. Again, this is what we’ve come to expect from flagships today, but given the relative struggles of recent Snapdragon devices, it’s good to see a phone that breezes through all but the most stressful tasks with ease.
What’s not as good to see is the Galaxy S6’s lack of a microSD card slot—it too was lost in the name of aesthetics. The entry-level version comes with 32 GB of storage, however, which is sufficient for just about everyone besides power users. Again, it’s a sacrifice we can accept, but the added flexibility would always be appreciated.
The Galaxy S6 features a 2550 mAh battery, which is smaller than its Galaxy S5 equivalent. This would appear to equal a downgrade, especially considering the S6’s higher-resolution display, and indeed that’s largely the case if you use the phone normally. That doesn’t make the phone a slouch, though: We were still able to get about a day and a half with regular use. Beyond that, the phone lasts noticeably longer than the S5 when put on standby, and Samsung still offers a battery-saving mode that conserves the last bits of juice for emergency situations. Furthermore, Samsung has focused on getting the Galaxy S6 to charge faster, and as a result it’s capable of getting around four hours of life from just 10 minutes of charging.
The Galaxy S6 comes with Android OS 5.0.2 (Lollipop) underneath the latest version of Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface, which has been genuinely simplified following many (justified) complaints over previous iterations. Many of TouchWiz’s frankly unnecessary options are either turned off by default or hidden in the settings upon launching the device, while several new, less intrusive options—such as split-screen functionality, a new theme store, and a responsive fingerprint reader—are activated out of the box. There’s still too much here, and visually it’s still too inconsistent—with Google’s Material Design ideals only half-followed—but it’s at least a little bit less of a headache, which is a good start.
Also included are three pre-installed Microsoft applications: Skype, OneNote, and OneDrive, with the latter offering 100 GB of cloud storage. There are several more built-in applications like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger, but all these can be uninstalled, just like most of the other bloatware.
What may ultimately become the most practical addition here is Samsung Pay, the company’s new mobile payment system that uses NFC and new MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) technology. Samsung says that’ll allow its service to work at many more pay terminals than current equivalents, but we’ll have to wait for its official launch later this year to see how well it works. Depending on the speed Samsung implements its solution with banks and cardholders throughout the world, it could become a tidy solution for more than a few Galaxy S6 users, or just another thing for them to ignore.
Even with its improved build, lively screen, and blazing performance, the best aspect of the Galaxy S6 is probably its main camera. It has a 16-megapixel sensor with optical image stabilization and an f/1.9 aperture. In practice, this is far and away the best camera Samsung has ever put on a phone, and immediately stands as one of the best smartphone shooters on the market today.
Nobody will have any objections to the levels of sharpness, exposure, detail, and dynamic range when taking photos with this thing in well-lit conditions, but plenty of other smartphones provide high-quality results in such settings. What helps set this unit apart is its exceptionally fast lens and OIS, which help make images fantastic for shooting indoors and at night. The noise level is almost always kept low, while colors in particular remain highly accurate.
The one notable weakness here is the camera’s performance with moving targets: While still shots are consistently sharp and detailed, trying to capture something on the go still brings about a tad too much noise. Outside of that, video recording up to 4K is excellent, and front-facing camera is solid as well. The latter doesn’t quite surpass its peers the way the main shooter does, but it’s adequate enough for most selfie-taking situations.