Samsung Galaxy S6 Vs Galaxy S5: Should You Upgrade?
Out with the old, in with the new. For Samsung the old was dreadful: lackluster Galaxy S5 sales and an even worse 2014, but the good news is the new has never been newer. The newly launched Galaxy S6 is Samsung’s most radical reinvention of its Galaxy S range to date. So is it enough?
My initial impressions are… maybe. The Galaxy S6 is a handset so determined to break from the past that it takes risks which may alienate the millions of owners still loyal to the range. On the flip side there are also so many positive changes that the S6 may do enough to attract a whole new audience.
Let’s break it down…
Design – Practicality Vs Style
If there was one thing Samsung knew it had to change about the Galaxy S5 it was the design and stylistically the (admittedly much leaked) Galaxy S6 is a breath of fresh air. This is immediately apparent on the page:
Galaxy S6 – 143.3 x 70.8 x 6.9 mm (5.64 x 2.79 x 0.27 in) and 132 g (4.65 oz)
Galaxy S5 – 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm (5.59 x 2.85 x 0.32 in) and 145 g (5.11 oz)
While fractionally taller, the Galaxy S6 is noticeably narrower, thinner and lighter than the Galaxy S5 despite packing the same size 5.1-inch display (more later). That said the dimensions and weight are not really where the major interest lies.
The big talking point is the shift from the Galaxy S line’s much derided plastic finishes to premium materials of aluminium and glass. As such the Galaxy S6 has been brought into line with the likes of HTC’s One range and the iPhone 6.
Yet it is not all plain sailing. The step up in build materials and to a unibody chassis bring two major compromises: the loss of expandable storage and removable batteries.
For many Galaxy users these were crucial differentiators and now LG’s G3 (and presumably the upcoming G4) will be their only premium options to provide both going forward. I find that a little sad.
I also have long term durability questions about the Galaxy S6’s move to a glass back. Apple never solved the problem of cracking which haunted both the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S and I’m not overly convinced it is a smart move of Samsung to revisit it, despite using the latest Corning Gorilla Glass 4.
This isn’t the end of the practical compromises either as another victim of Samsung’s focus on style is the loss of the Galaxy S5’s water resistance. The S5 was never fully waterproof, but it could be splashed, sprayed or even briefly submerged in water without a problem. It was a nice differentiator so I’m sad to see it go with the S6.
Consequently while I find the Galaxy S6 to be a significantly better looking phone than its predecessor, it also feels like a much less practical device.
Displays – Extreme But Improved
I get a similar feeling from the Galaxy S6’s upgraded display:
Galaxy S6 – 5.1-inch, 2560 x 1440 pixels (577 ppi), Super AMOLED display
Galaxy S5 – 5.1-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels (432 ppi), Super AMOLED panel
Objectively the jump to 2k from 1080p will deliver an even sharper screen and the improved contrast ratio and colour accuracy is welcome. That said I still fail to see the practicality of 2k on such small screens considering the hit they deliver to performance and battery life.
I appreciate the counter argument that these displays can match or even be slightly more efficient than older 1080p panels, but I’d rather see even greater savings passed onto new 1080p panels. Apple claims the human eye can’t distinguish pixels beyond 326ppi and while I disagree, I think jumps beyond the Galaxy S5’s 432 ppi verge on pointless.
Consequently of far more interest to me are Samsung’s claims of enhanced colour accuracy and contrast ratios. The Galaxy S5 and Note 4 have arguably the best AMOLED displays on the market and it looks like that title will now pass to the Galaxy S6.
Performance – Massive Hardware and Software Improvements
Given all premium smartphones arguably have more power than is necessary, it would seem the major upgrades Samsung has made to the Galaxy S6 are pointless – yet for me they are actually the most exciting aspects to the new phone:
Galaxy S6 – Exynos 7420, Quad-core 21.GHz and 1.5GHz CPUs and Mali-T760 GPU, 3GB RAM
What the hardware changes to the Galaxy S6 represent are a change in Samsung’s mindset. For the first time since the Galaxy S2, Samsung has ditched Qualcomm as its primary chipset supplier and gone all in with its own Exynos 7420 chipset.
The 7420 is a potentially fascinating addition to the smartphone world which breaks from the monotony of all premium handsets choosing whatever is the latest Snapdragon option. Furthermore if Samsung’s performance and efficiency claims (35% versus rivals) bear out, it will crack the Android smartphone landscape open in a manner which is long overdue.
Yes the shift also comes with risks (all Android apps are primarily coded for compliance with Qualcomm chips), but Samsung’s influence on the sector should mitigate any major app compatibility problems.
Furthermore the Galaxy S6’s hardware innovation goes hand-in-hand with a hugely welcome overhaul of TouchWiz. Samsung made minor attempts to trim the fat on the Galaxy S5, but the real revolution comes with the Galaxy S6.
Gone is the much of the Samsung bloatware and the company has stressed its new priority is speed and efficiency. Given every TouchWiz smartphone up to now has suffered from lag (no matter the hardware) and wasted a lot storage space (crucial now micro SD expansion has gone) this is a very welcome and long overdue change of approach.
Galaxy S5 owners will inevitably see some benefit from this when the updated TouchWiz software is made available for their phones. This is unlikely to fully remove all the bloat, but it could make your existing S5 (and even S4 or S3) feel like a brand new device.
Where the S5 won’t be able to catch up, however, is the fingerprint sensor. The S5’s swipe-based sensor was fairly clunky and the S6 has a new (and slightly enlarged) fingerprint sensor which works with just a touch. This now matches a certain fruit-named company and the introduction of Samsung Pay also sees the S6 dive into the fight for smartphone-based transactions.
Interestingly Samsung Pay will bring support for both NFC and magnetic swipe transactions (just hold the phone near a traditional card swipe reader) which gives it greater compliance than Apple Pay. As such it will be interesting to see if Samsung upgrades the S5 software to offer the same functionality or whether the company claims the superior fingerprint reader in the S6 is vital for its operation.
Whatever Samsung’s decision, this could be enough of a reason to upgrade (or not) on its own.
Camera – A Potential Game Changer
If up to now you’ve thought sticking with your more practical Galaxy S4 or S5 is a good idea then perhaps the most likely thing to change your mind is the new Galaxy S6 camera:
Galaxy S6 – 16 megapixel Sony IMX240 F1.9 sensor, OIS, LED flash, 4K video. Front facing 5MP camera, 1080p video
Galaxy S5 – 16 megapixel Samsung ISOCELL F2.2 sensor, DIS, LED flash, 4k video. Front facing 2 MP camera, 1080p video
When the Galaxy S5 launched last year its camera was one of the best around, but subsequently the Galaxy Note 4, iPhone 6 and Motorola Nexus 6 have all left it a long way behind. All this changes with the Galaxy S6. I will need to extensively test the camera in a full review to know for certain, but on paper Samsung is onto a winner.
My excitement comes from the combination of upgraded optics and smart software.
The megapixel rating stays the same, but it plays catch up with logical additions like Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) which tends to better minimise shake when taking photos better than Digital Image Stabilisation (DIS) and an upgraded front facing camera.
But what excites me most is the addition of an F1.9 lens which should make the camera incredibly fast, not only compared to the Galaxy S5 but any other smartphone. In fact the Galaxy S6 could well have the best smartphone camera on the market when the phone launches next month.
That said to achieve this Samsung will need to tone down the extensive oversharpening in its image processing which has hampered the S5 and Note 4.
Oversharpening can make photos look great on a phone screen, but at full size they appear jagged and overly harsh – image examples below. Samsung hasn’t specifically said this has been addressed with the S6, but it has talked up the improved ‘intelligence’ of its camera software.
Battery Life – A Step Backwards?
There is always one potential deal breaker on a smartphone and with the Galaxy S6 it could be battery life, especially when compared to the Galaxy S5:
Galaxy S6 – 2550 mAh capacity battery
Galaxy S5 – 2800 mAh capacity battery
Yes this isn’t a typo, the Galaxy S6 – despite its higher resolution screen and faster chipset – has a smaller capacity battery than the Galaxy S5.
Don’t panic. Samsung promises its Exynos chipset is up to 35% more efficient than previous generations and that TouchWiz on the Galaxy S6 also is far less of a system hog. As such the S6 could actually last longer on a single charge than the Galaxy S5.
What has my Spidey Sense tingling, however, is Samsung has so far declined to mention any real world battery performance figures for the new phone. Furthermore, even if it does beat the S5, the lack of a removable battery means the ability to go from 0 to 100% charge in seconds is no longer an option.
The good news is there is some compensation. Firstly quick charge technology within the S6 allegedly allows it to go from empty to enough power for up to 4 hours use from a 10 minute charge. Secondly Samsung has built in wireless charging which works with both Qi and PMW (the two major standards).
Are they enough to satisfy those who love the removable battery feature? Possibly not and if you love this aspect of your Galaxy S5 you won’t be upgrading to the S6 any time soon.
Price And Availability – More Cost Upfront
When it comes to comparing the price of the Galaxy S6 with the Galaxy S5 there’s good news and bad news. The good news is Samsung is now offering the phone in capacities up to 128GB. The bad news is that without micro SD expansion getting these larger capacities is a lot more expensive and has to be decided at the point of purchase.
I haven’t included dollar prices as they aren’t yet official, but don’t directly convert them as euro prices include 20% sales tax and handsets usually cost a little more in Europe in any case. As such I would expect the 32GB entry level Galaxy S6 to roughly fall in line with the 16GB Galaxy S5 launch price ($650).
That’s not a bad deal (especially with prices on contract yet to be announced) but the 128GB model remains expensive and whereas Galaxy S5 owners could buy a 16GB model and put in a cheap 128GB micro SD card that’s no longer an option.
The counterpoint is Android has made external storage less useful since Android 4.4 KitKat, but some of that functionality does return with the Android 5.0 Lollipop. Again this is likely to be a deal breaker for some and no big deal to others.
Early Verdict – As Many Reasons To Stick As Upgrade
While a long term review is needed to get the full picture, my initial opinion of the Galaxy S6 is it is both a fascinating and mildly frustrating upgrade to the Galaxy S5.
The Galaxy S6 is undeniably a more attractive device, it will be faster, the camera better and it may even have a longer battery life and more internal storage all for the same initial asking price of the Galaxy S5. So what’s not to like?
Unfortunately quite a lot. The S6 doesn’t really feel like the successor to the utilitarian S5, but rather the beginning of a new fashion range. Gone are numerous practical aspects of the S5 like the upgradeable storage, removable battery and covers and water resistance. The S6 also puts glass onto the rear which could backfire horribly.
So whether you should upgrade to the Galaxy S6 or not largely comes down to your individual needs. If you favour design, speed and camera capabilities then go for it – the S6 looks like a winner. On the other hand if you prefer more practical elements like durability, battery life and storage capacity then you will be left disappointed.
2014 was a year to forget for Samsung and 2015 has shown the company is prepared to make radical changes to get back on track. The Galaxy S6 addresses almost every problem with the S5, but it also does away with many features users loved.
Whether Samsung has got the balance right is likely be the single biggest factor in its success over the next 12 months.