Samsung Galaxy S6 Review
|Full model name:||Samsung Galaxy S6|
|Sensor size:||1/2.6 inch
(5.5mm x 4.1mm)
|Viewfinder:||No / OLED|
|Native ISO:||100 - 800|
|Extended ISO:||100 - 800|
2.8 x 5.6 x 0.3 in.
(71 x 143 x 7 mm)
|Full specs:||Samsung Galaxy S6 specifications|
Samsung Galaxy S6 Review -- Hands-on Preview
by William Brawley
Preview posted: 05/08/2015
While we here at Imaging Resource don't normally review smartphone cameras, it's hard to deny their popularity as photographic tools nowadays. One of the most popular smartphones -- Samsung's Galaxy S line -- recently announced its sixth iteration, the aptly named Galaxy S6 (and S6 Edge). The latest model Galaxy smartphone features some notable improvements and rather impressive specs regarding its camera hardware and software, as well as some nice refinements to the device's overall design and build.
Since we're camera people here, let's begin with the camera specs and performance. The heart of the digital camera is its sensor, and in the case of the Samsung Galaxy S6 -- at least in terms of its rear-facing camera -- it's a 1/2.6" CMOS sensor delivering 16-megapixel, 16:9 (5,312 x 2,988) images.
There's a bit of uniqueness regarding the actual sensor chip inside the camera, as it can either have a Sony Exmor RS sensor or Samsung's own ISOCELL sensor. There's no telling which brand of sensor you'll receive before purchasing your device, but they reportedly have the same specs and performance. (Ours turned out to have a Sony sensor. You can determine what your sensor is by dialing *#34971539# in the phone app; don't place a call, the info will pop up right away.)
The lens on the Samsung Galaxy S6 is a fixed focal length optic with a 28mm-equivalent focal length and a nice, bright f/1.9 aperture. This bright aperture is quite impressive among smartphone cameras, as most current competitors top out at around the f/2.0 mark. The Apple iPhone 6/6+ has an f/2.2 lens, for instance, however a few models, such as the new LG G4, manage an impressive f/1.8 lens. The brighter aperture on the Galaxy S6, just as on any other camera, will allow for more light gathering as well as slightly greater subject isolation and background blur, although with such a small sensor, improvements to the latter will be quite subtle.
Another nice feature of the Samsung Galaxy S6 camera is the built-in optical image stabilization. What has long been a feature of dedicated cameras and many interchangeable lenses, image stabilization has become a popular feature for smartphone cameras lately. The image stabilization feature will come in handy for both low-light and close-up photography as well as with video. Interestingly, the S6's OIS system cannot be turned off for photos should you want to do so, but you can disable video stabilization.
Being a modern smartphone, the Galaxy S6 is also equipped with a front-facing camera for all those selfie moments as well as video conferencing and such. The front-facing sensor is a lower-resolution 5-megapixel chip, but the lens maintains the bright f/1.9 aperture seen on the rear camera and offers an ultra-wide 120-degree field of view.
On the software side of things, the Samsung offers a redesigned user interface with both a simple "Auto" mode and a "Pro" mode. The Pro mode, as the same suggests, offers photographers more customization and adjustability to their exposure settings. While the S6 doesn't offer PASM exposure modes, you are able to adjust exposure compensation, ISO (Auto, or 100-800 in 1-stop increments), white balance, as well as select from a variety of live picture effects and filters. Manual focus is also available by way of an on-screen slider adjustment that lets you rack focus near or far. The Pro mode also enables the ability to save up to three custom shooting mode presets.
Other general shooting features include flash, self-timer, in-camera HDR and effects presets such as "Vintage," "Grayscale," and "Cartoon." Third-party camera filters and effects are just a tap away with the Download link within the Effects sub-menu.
The Galaxy S6 also features a handful of special effects shooting modes including slow-motion and fast-motion video, in-camera sweep panorama, and a Lytro-like "Selective Focus" mode that lets you adjust the focus point after exposure, which is accomplished by combining multiple shots taken at different focus distances. There's also a neat "Virtual Shot" mode, which shoots multiple shots in rapid succession as you rotate or move the camera around an object or subject. Afterward, the camera combines all the frames into an interactive view of the object where you can rotate the phone or swipe left or right to view the subject from different angles.
As for general video recording capabilities, the Samsung Galaxy S6 shoots up to Ultra HD 4K video (3840x2160), but can also shoot lower resolutions, including Quad HD (2560x1440) as well as 1080p at both 30p and 60p frame rates. Other resolutions, including 4K and QHD video, are shot at 30fps. The camera warns that HDR, video effects, image (video) stabilization, taking stills while recording video and Tracking AF are not available for 4K, QHD and 1080/60p video modes.
Now that we've shared with you an overview of the Samsung Galaxy S6's camera features, let's do a quick walkaround of the smartphone's design and controls.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Walkaround
Being a smartphone, the predominant feature of this device is the screen. The massive 5.1-inch display takes up practically the entire front face of the 5.65" x 2.78" phone, save for a little bit of space at the top and bottom. The Quad HD (2560x1440) Super AMOLED screen is capable of 16 million colors, which looks very good, with bright, vibrant colors and crisp, easy-to-read text.
The device is quite thin at only 0.27 inches, or about 6.8mm. The smooth, brushed aluminum band around all four edges is slightly curved and feels comfortable in the hand. The curved metal edge design on the S6 is very reminiscent of the iPhone 6/6+ design, though the curvature is not as rounded as on the Apple smartphone. Overall, the design is very nice and build quality feels very solid.
On the left hand side of the Galaxy S6, that you see above, are two up/down volume buttons. Either of which can also function as the shutter release button, which is nice if you like to shoot in landscape orientation.
On the right side, we have a single Sleep/Wake button toward the center side of the phone, which also serves as the On/Off button. Next to that is the slide-out SIM card tray, a la the iPhone. Like its iOS rival, the Samsung Galaxy S6 does not have a removable back plate or a user swappable battery. This area also held the SIM card slot in earlier versions of the Galaxy S smartphones.
Along the top edge we can see a small microphone hole, as well as an infrared port in the center. On the front of the S6 above the screen (below in this shot to the right), we can see the front-facing camera, the ear speaker grill, and a proximity/ambient light sensor.
For photographers, the lack of a removable back plate and no other covers or slots around the rim of the phone means one thing: no microSD card slot. The SD card in earlier Galaxy S models, like a dedicated camera, make it easy to swap out cards as they filled up, as well as pop them into a card reader on a computer.
Now, the S6 comes in a trio of internal storage capacities -- 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB. Should you want to get images off your S6, you'll most likely need to use some wireless syncing feature like Google Photos or Dropbox. Alternatively, you can use the included USB cable to transfer files between the S6 and a computer (Mac users will need to install Android File Transfer or some other third-party app).
The back surface itself, like the iPhone 6/6+, is nearly completely flat, except for the slightly protruding lens and flash assemblies. The camera is placed along the central vertical axis of the device, and the LED flash is placed just off-center. Below the flash LED itself, the S6 has an additional "gadget" -- a heart rate sensor. For selfie fans, this sensor has a rather handy function. When you turn on the front-facing camera, simply tap or place your finger over this sensor and it will trigger the shutter to capture a shot. Note that you can also tap the screen or use a gesture to trigger the shutter, but this method requires only one hand.
The back surface, much like the front screen, is constructed of tough, scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 4. The back and front are very smooth, as are the sides, so there might be some concern about not having a secure grip on such a thin device. But in our brief hands-on time with the device so far, we've not found that to be a problem.
At the bottom of the front, centered below the screen is the Galaxy S6's Home key which also contains a fingerprint recognition sensor. Double tapping the Home key quickly launches the camera app. Not visible are the two soft keys to the left and right of the Home key.
Finally, moving down the bottom edge, the S6 features a standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the left, a micro-USB port in the center, a small hole for a second microphone, and a grill for the second speaker.
Pricing and Availability
The Samsung Galaxy S6 is currently available for purchase in black, white and gold/platinum color variants, with the price varying depending on if you buy it with a contract or off-contract and unlocked. With a contract, the Galaxy S6 starts at around US$200 with a 2 year contract for the 32GB model. For the 64GB and 128GB models, add $100 and $200 on top of that price, respectively. For unlocked or no-contract versions, the prices can vary depending on retailers, but here in the US at AT&T for example, the no-contract 32GB version retails for US$649, with the 64GB and 128GB models following the same $100 and $200 respective price premiums.
Stay tuned for our full review of this exciting new smartphone from Samsung, including more details on camera operation, lab and gallery shots, as well as test results and our conclusions.