Long-term review of the Galaxy S6: One year after Samsung launched the Galaxy S6, our personal pick for Best Phone of 2015, we re-review this five-star mobile to see if that magic has faded. Or, is the S6 still one of the best Androids in 2016, even after the S7’s release?
Now that the Galaxy S7 is out in the UK, you can pick up last year’s Galaxy S6 on a much more affordable tariff. And if you’re looking for a premium handset but can’t afford the hefty price tag of the S7 or other recent flagships like the LG G5, then we highly recommend doing so.
After all, there’s a reason we named the S6 the Best Phone of 2015. And even in 2016, it’s still one of the best blowers you’ll find.
Still a looker
One year on, the Galaxy S6 is still bloody gorgeous. That combination of metal and glass may not be original in the realm of flagship phones (Sony’s Xperia Z3 already went there in 2014), but Samsung really nailed the S6’s aesthetics, thanks to a handy bit of warm-up provided by the Galaxy A-range phones and the mighty Note 4.
Sure, the back panel still gets scuffed up in no time at all, looking quite horrendously greasy when the light catches it just so. But chances are you’ll want to wrap the S6 in a protective bumper anyway, to keep your expensive gadget safe in the case of a tumble. And while little design issues like the jutting camera are occasionally annoying, they’re far from serious issues.
There was a mini uproar from some sectors when Samsung revealed that the S6 wasn’t water resistant, something it then corrected for the S7. However, it’s a feature that we haven’t missed in the past twelve months, mostly just restricting our use when we destress in a hot bath. Talk about first-world problems.
We love how the S6 is still one of the only flagship phones that can comfortably be used one-handed too. It’s not quite as wonderfully contoured as the S7, but we never have to adjust our grip or resort to Samsung’s One Handed Mode.
It’s no surprise that Samsung didn’t really tweak the Galaxy S6’s excellent screen for the new S7. The 5.1-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED panel is gloriously sharp, pleasingly vibrant and easily one of the best displays you’ll find on a mobile device.
Even now in 2016, a year after the Galaxy S6’s launch, we’d struggle to name a better screen. Check out what happened when we put the Galaxy S6 up against the best of Sony, Apple and LG (the Xperia Z5, iPhone 6s and G4 respectively) in our mighty Screen Test feature.
We’re still very happy with the Galaxy S6’s media performance, but we do miss the lack of expandable storage, something Samsung mercifully corrected for the S7. We have the 32GB model, which has about 25GB free for your apps and media. And since a lot of the games we play are a gig or more in size, and we like to carry around plenty of Sky Go content and music from the likes of Napster and Spotify, that space gets filled distressingly fast.
That means fiddling around and deleting anything we can live without, which is simply inconvenient. It’s an especially big shock come update time; we recently upgraded our S6 to Marshmallow, which required almost a gig and a half of free space to download and install.
Thankfully there are ways to add extra storage to the Galaxy S6 via third-party accessories, although carrying these is often an extra inconvenience and only worth it when embarking on long trips. Check out our guide to expanding the Galaxy S6’s storage.
You want features? We got features.
The Galaxy S7 adds a few extra features that weren’t found on the Galaxy S6, but to be honest we haven’t missed them after switching back to the S6. Stuff like Always On Display were poorly implemented anyway, while the Upday news widget is just another bastardisation of Flipboard, which came with the S6 (and is thankfully just as easily dismissed).
You don’t get quite as many security features on the S6, but there’s still full support for Knox and Android’s built-in tools like Smart Lock. And a year on, the Galaxy S6’s fingerprint sensor is still among the best. Just mush your thumb or finger against the home button at almost any angle and the phone will happily unlock almost every time. Only the Xperia Z5’s scanner has pleased us more, its ideal side-mounted placement proving super convenient.
The S6 has been recently updated to full Android Marshmallow, which brings Google’s latest features such as full control over your app permissions (good) and the Google Now On Tap search function (iffy). However, most people probably won’t notice any difference at all, since the general look and feel of Samsung’s Touchwiz overlay hasn’t changed beyond some icon designs.
Young at heart
The S6 may be a year old now, but it’s still blazingly fast during everyday use. In fact, only a handful of other phones have overtaken it in benchmarking tests, including the Huawei Mate 8 and Samsung’s own Galaxy S7 and Note 5. Games still play with a perfect frame rate, as you’d expect, and side-by-side apps multitasking isn’t an issue. Best of all, the S6 doesn’t get toasty during extended gaming sessions, unlike some rivals.
Battery life is decent too, with no degradation after twelve months. You’ll just about make it through a full day with regular use, even if you’re occasionally taking shots or having a blast on your favourite time-waster. And if you want to stream video non-stop, the S6 is one of the best performers out there still with around eight hours of playback per charge.
One of the most impressive highlights of the Galaxy S6 is its very dependable 16-megapixel camera, still one of the best mobile snappers around. The lens is quick at locking onto your subject, so you can snap away almost instantly, while that excellent auto mode means you’ll almost never have to switch to pro mode to get a sharp, well-lit shot.
Check out our camera supertest, where we put the Galaxy S6 up against this year’s Galaxy S7 as well as the biggest Android rivals, the Sony Xperia Z5 and LG G4. You’ll see from the galleries that the S6 still holds its own in almost any circumstances, even when it comes to shooting video.
If you’re thinking of upgrading to one of the latest smartphones such as the Galaxy S7, stop for a moment and consider last year’s Galaxy S6 instead. A year on, it’s still a fantastic phone that can hold its own when it comes to speed and camera performance. The only real drawback is the lack of expandable storage, but you can now pick up a refurbed 64GB model from O2 for £32.50 a month, including a gig of data. Compared with the rather hefty S7 tariffs, that’s a solid deal.