Samsung's new Galaxy S6 smartphone is sleeker and more powerful than its predecessor, but the new iteration loses a couple of key features that helped make last year's model a great business phone. Still, with a fresh metal-and-glass design, beefed-up specs and an improved fingerprint scanner, Samsung's flagship smartphone looks set to become one of the best business phones around – even if you can no longer expand its storage or swap out its battery. While we wait, read on to see how the Galaxy S6 – which will launch April 10 -- stacks up to the Galaxy S5 as a business phone.
Who knew Samsung could produce a smartphone that looks this good? The Galaxy S6 is a stunner, sporting a glass back and aluminum frame. In terms of design, the S6 is a big leap forward over the all-plastic Galaxy S5. In fact, the S6 looks a lot like the iPhone 6, and that's not a bad thing. A more premium design won't necessarily help you do your job, but it's nice to see Samsung producing smartphones that look like they can justify their steep price tags.
On the other hand, the S6's glass back could become a liability if you're prone to dropping your smartphone. While the S5's plastic body could easily withstand minor drops and dings, the S6 feels more fragile. Former owners of the iPhone 4 or 4s might remember how easily that phone's glass back shattered on contact with the ground, so it's surprising to see Samsung adopt a similar design for its new flagship.
On the other hand, the S6 uses the tougher Gorilla Glass 4 for its front and back sides, which could mitigate the issue. For now, it's yet to be seen if the Galaxy S6's design will make it quite as dependable as its predecessor.
Samsung is actually launching two versions of its new flagship phone: the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge. The Edge version features a special display that wraps around the phone's two sides. You can also view alerts and other information on the edge display, such as news and stock updates. It works a lot like the side display on last year's Galaxy Note 4 Edge, though the S6 Edge doesn't let you launch apps from the side screen.
Otherwise, both Galaxy S6 models are identical in terms of specs and features, though the S6 Edge is sure to be sold at a premium over the standard model.
Samsung managed to reduce the size of the Galaxy S6 a bit. Measuring 5.64 x 2.79 x 0.27 inches, it's a bit thinner, narrower and lighter than the S5, while retaining the 5.1-inch display of the previous version. The size difference is small, but should make the phone easier to use with one hand.
Samsung packed a better display into the Galaxy S6, but it's unclear if the upgrade will make any practical difference. While the Galaxy S5's 5.1-inch display offered a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, the S6 goes beyond that with an even sharper resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels. In theory, a higher resolution display is a perk for business users, since a sharper screen can show more information on the screen at once. But only the most eagle-eyed users will be able to spot the difference between this screen and last year's model.
Camera quality might not seem like it has much to do with a smartphone's business credentials. But if you plan to use your phone for videoconferencing, a good front-facing shooter is a big plus.
That's where the Galaxy S6 shines over last year's model. While the S5's 2-MP camera produced decent images, the S6 sports a 5-MP front camera and better dynamic range functionality. That means it can produce sharper, clearer video, particularly in low light environments like an office.
For security-minded business users, the Galaxy S5's fingerprint scanner was one its best features – at least in theory. In practice, the scanner was so unreliable that it almost wasn't worth using. While testing the device, I found myself swiping and re-swiping to get the reader to recognize my print and unlock my device.
That's why the upgraded fingerprint scanner in the S5 is so exciting. Instead of swiping your finger slowly over the home button, you can now simply tap it, with more consistent results than before. That's a big plus for anyone who wants to keep their work phone locked down, without fussing with cumbersome password screens.
Think hard about how much storage space you'll need before plopping down cash for the S6. Samsung scrapped the micro SD card slot found on previous versions, so you can't expand the storage after the fact. It's not a huge deal for casual users, but anyone who wants to store large files and documents on their smartphone might want to stick with the S5.
On the bright side, the S6 comes with 32GB of storage in the baseline model, double the storage of the entry-level S5. Still, if you like to load your phone with lots of movies for entertainment during long business flights, you might be disappointed by this restriction.
Until we have a chance to test it, we won't know if the Galaxy S6 has the staying power to last through the end of the workday. But we do know one thing: the phone packs a smaller battery than its predecessor. While the S5 came with a 2,800-mAh battery on board, the S6 has a 2,550-mAh battery.
It's not clear if the phone will suffer from shorter battery life, though, since Samsung promises that the S6's updated chipset is 35 percent more efficient than previous generations. If that's true, the newer phone could actually outlast its predecessor, despite its smaller charging capacity.
That brings us to the second controversial change for the Galaxy S6: its back side is sealed, so you can't swap out the battery. While that allowed Samsung to craft a thinner, sleeker smartphone, it's a big disappointment for some Galaxy diehards. You can forget about swapping out a fading battery with a fresh one midway through your phone's life cycle, or keeping a fully charged backup on hand to double your phone's battery life during business trips.
But a couple of new features might help mitigate those issues. First is a new quick-charge feature that Samsung says will get you about 4 hours of extra juice with a 10-minute charge. Second, the S6 is now compatible with wireless chargers based on both the Qi and PMW standards.
One of the S5's more interesting features was its water-resistant design, which was achieved by placing some flimsy flaps over the phone's external ports. That way, it could be splashed without damage. It makes the phone more durable, but prying open the flaps with your fingernail every time you go to charge the device can get annoying. Regardless, the feature is gone completely from the Galaxy S6, which has no extra resistance to water.
While the Galaxy S5 is a fast phone, expect even better performance from the S6. The new device is powered by Samsung's own Exynos 7420 processor, which should give it a speed boost over the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset in last year's model. The S6 also has 3GB of RAM, compared with 2GB for the S5, which will make multitasking even smoother and more responsive. Either device is more than fast enough for everyday business tasks, though.
The Galaxy S6 also received some software improvements that business users will appreciate. It runs on an updated version of TouchWiz, Samsung's customized version of Android. For starters, the new software comes with fewer useless, preloaded apps that do nothing but hog storage space. In addition to trimming the fat, Samsung says the software update resolves some lag issues from previous versions, so users should have a smoother experience overall.
All of TouchWiz's productivity-boosting features are still here, including Multi Window Mode, which lets you run two apps side-by-side for better multitasking. Plus, the S6 comes bundled with a handful of good business apps, including Microsoft's Skype, OneNote and OneDrive. As an added bonus, buyers get an extra 100GB of free cloud storage space on OneDrive for two years.
Enterprise customers will be pleased that the S6 is fully compatible with Samsung's Knox platform, which includes a suite of business security features. For starters, Knox lets you access your work applications under a secure, separate profile, ensuring that work data can't be accessed by other apps. Other features include two-factor authentication for device access. By using the fingerprint scanner in conjunction with a standard PIN, you can get an extra layer of security in case your device is lost or stolen.
The Galaxy S5 is still one of the most powerful, reliable business phones around, and the S6 looks even better. It has a revamped design, more powerful hardware, better videoconferencing capabilities and a vastly improved fingerprint scanner.
But it’s a step back in a few key areas. If you can't live without expandable storage or a swappable battery, then don't bother upgrading. Everyone else can look forward to what looks like one of the year's best business phones.