TECH | In designing the latest edition of the world’s best-selling Android smartphone Samsung went back to the drawing board, plonked down a clean sheet of paper and created the Galaxy S6.
How fresh a start is the S6? Enough that its internal codename was ‘Zero’ (cue the inevitable but quite accurate ‘from zero to hero’ jokes). Enough that it’s the biggest leap in years for Samsung’s flagship smartphone.
This isn’t a Galaxy S5.x or even an S4.something. It’s a 2015 rethink of the Galaxy S geared to win over iPhone switchers – and yes, such creatures do exist – and woo the legion of S4 and S5 users into upgrade mode.
Gone is the much-criticised plastic chassis of previous models – Samsung’s sixth-gen smartphone is wrapped in aluminium alloy, with tough impact-resistant Gorilla Glass 4 panels on both front and back.
Those materials, paired with elegant lines and a slim 7mm profile, give the Galaxy S6 a premium feel which was conspicuously absent in previous models.
Samsung has arguably not only caught up but overtaken Apple in both material engineering and design elegance.
The 5.1 inch ‘Quad HD’ screen is bright and sharp, packing more pixels than the S5 and with colours that positively pop.
It’s also super-responsive, thanks in part to a Samsung powerplant with eight processing cores parked under the hood. Think of this as a high-performance V8 stacked against the more modest four-cylinder engine of most other Android smartphones.
However, to keep battery drain in check, the S6 sensibly throttles back to four cores in standby mode.
Speaking of battery life, Samsung claims that fast-charge technology in the Galaxy S6 can top up the tank sufficient for four hours of use after just 10 minutes of USB charging.
The S6 also contains the same battery-extending tricks as the S5, including low-battery modes to disable WiFi and Bluetooth, reduce screen brightness and even put the display into black-and-white mode in order to eke out extra hours on the go.
New to the Galaxy S6 is wireless charging: just park the phone onto a drink coaster-sized puck (plugged into a 240V socket) and it’ll juice up.
Pricing for Samsung’s own charging pucks hasn’t been revealed at the time of writing, but we’re tipping around the $200 mark.
However, as the S6 supports two wireless charging standards you’ll also have the choice of several non-Samsung solutions which will include new wireless-charging lamps, bedside tables and desks from Ikea.
But there’s one downside on the battery front: unlike its predecessors the S6’s case is fully sealed and the battery can’t be removed.
This will be a concern if the S6 shows the same tendencies as previous models to lose battery stamina as the phone ages not-so-gracefully.
Also missing from the S6 mix is a microSD memory card slot, with users now locked in to either 32GB, 64GB or 128GB of storage depending on which Galaxy S6 model they buy.
Both these design decisions help the S6 achieve its Twiggy-esque profile but will likely be cause for grumbles among owners of previous Galaxy S phones.
The preloaded software and associated menu maze has also been streamlined and slimmed-down, with an assist from the Android 5.0 Lollipop operating system – although it’s far from being the clean slate which many enthusiast would wish.
While the rear camera remains at a meaty 16 megapixels the front-facing lens has been upgraded from 2MP to 5MP (did somebody say #selfie?).
Samsung reckons the S6’s improved lens and enhanced software makes a meal of low-light snaps – something we’ll test in our forthcoming review of the phone.
All of this applies to the Galaxy S6, so what does the more expensive S6 Edge variant bring to the table?
As the name hints, and as we’ve seen in the S6’s Galaxy Note 4 sibling, you get a screen which curves around both sides of the phone like a digital version of those rooftop infinity pools.
One of the edge taps into your contacts list so you can see who’s calling even when the phone is sitting on its side; the other edge is dedicated to ticker-style notifications and other snippets.
Just how practical these are on a day-to-day basis is something we’ll also check out after we’ve spent a solid week living with the Galaxy S6.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 is on sale now at $999 for the 32GB model; $1149 for 64GB; and $1299 for 128GB.
The Galaxy S6 Edge starts at $1149 for 32GB, with $1299 for 64GB and $1449 for 128GB.
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