The Galaxy S6 is slimmer and sleeker than last year's Galaxy S5, but Samsung's software and security features are really what make it our favorite overall business phone. In addition to blazing-fast performance and a brilliant display, you get a vastly improved fingerprint scanner, support for Samsung's Knox security platform, and Galaxy standbys like split-screen multitasking.
Plus, the Galaxy S6 has an updated look, which includes a sturdy metal frame and a slick glass back. It's a massive improvement over the plastic construction of previous models.
The S6 faces some stiff competition from the likes of Apple's iPhone 6, HTC's One M9 and LG's G4 — three competing flagships with premium designs and plenty of muscle under the hood. But for business users, it's hard to outdo the Galaxy S6's combination of performance and productivity-boosting features.
Premium materials and an attractive design won't necessarily help you do your job, but they do help to justify the premium price of a phone like the S6. Samsung outdid itself this time, with a fresh new design that makes the S6 arguably more attractive than even the iPhone 6.
The phone sports a sturdy aluminum frame, which is much better-looking and more durable than the shiny plastic trim on last year's Galaxy S5. And, in contrast to the S5's soft-touch plastic back, the S6's back is made from the same Gorilla Glass as its front.
It looks and feels great, but the glass-and-metal design has one big drawback: It's slippery. I never dropped it, but I caught the phone sliding off my desk a few times when it was set on an uneven surface.
I tested the "black sapphire" model, but it also comes in white and gold. The black model isn't pure black, though; the body looks dark blue when light hits it at an angle, which is a very attractive effect.
Measuring 0.27 inches thick and weighing 4.9 ounces, the S6 is just as slim but a bit heavier than Apple's iPhone 6 (4.55 ounces). HTC's One M9 smartphone is quite a bit bulkier than both, measuring 0.38 inches thick and weighing 5.5 ounces.
A vibrant smartphone display is nice for viewing video clips, but business users should be more concerned with the amount of screen space they have to work on. I personally think that the Galaxy S6's 5.1-inch display provides enough real estate for screen-intensive tasks like editing a spreadsheet, without being so big that the phone becomes unwieldy. It's a good compromise between smaller screens like the iPhone 6's 4.7-inch panel and huge screens like the 5.7-inch display on Samsung's Galaxy Note 4.
The S6's display is also incredibly sharp, with a high resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels. Text looks really crisp, even when I zoomed out while viewing a document. The display is also really bright, topping out at 521 nits of brightness, which is well above the smartphone category average of 381.9. A brighter screen is a perk, since it's easier to view outdoors or in direct sunlight.
Everyday business tasks don't necessarily require a blazing-fast processor, but a fast smartphone helps make everything run more smoothly. Smartphones don't get faster than the Galaxy S6; the phone runs on Samsung's own Exynos octa-core processor with 3GB of RAM, so it's more than fast enough to handle your daily workload without a hitch. During my testing time, apps opened and closed quickly, and multitasking was very smooth.
On Geekbench 3, a test that measures overall performance, the device racked up an impressive score of 5,120, which is more than double the smartphone average (2,286) and way ahead of the HTC One M9 (3,818) and the iPhone 6 (2,931).
The S6 isn't the first Galaxy phone with a fingerprint reader, but it's the first one with a fingerprint reader worth using. The Galaxy S5 and the Note 4 require users to slowly swipe their finger down over the home button to unlock their device, and the technology is not at all reliable. In contrast, the fingerprint reader embedded in the S6's home button is just as easy to use as Touch ID on the iPhone 6. Instead of swiping your finger, you just place it over the home button and wait a second or two. I registered all five fingers on my right hand to test the reader and found that it recognized my prints just about every time.
A fingerprint scanner is a really nice bonus for business users, since it lets you keep your device locked down without making you fuss with password screens every time you turn on your phone. And the S6 can also use the scanner to provide access to the Knox workspace.
Knox is the name for Samsung's smartphone security software, which comes in two different versions on the S6. Large businesses can subscribe to the Knox Enterprise Mobility Management suite, which has lots of features to help your IT crew securely deploy and manage company-owned devices.
But small business users will be more interested in My Knox, which gives you good protection without the need for IT support. Just tap the My Knox app icon to switch between your standard home screen and the Knox workspace, which separates your work apps from personal stuff, ensuring that private business data stays private. You can run any app you want inside the Knox Workspace, but it comes with a variety of preloaded apps, including email, a Web browser and a notepad.
In addition to putting work apps inside a secure container, My Knox includes some tools that will help if your device is lost or stolen, including the ability to lock your device remotely and find it using GPS. As a last resort, you can also remotely wipe all data.
TouchWiz, the customized version of Google's Android operating system that powers all Samsung smartphones, is known for being packed with an overwhelming number of extra features. Thankfully, Samsung has trimmed the fat for the S6, eliminating a lot of useless extras that made previous Galaxy smartphones confusing to use. Samsung superfans might miss niche features — such as Air View, which blew up pictures and messages when you hovered your finger over them — but most people won't.
Thankfully, the best TouchWiz features haven't gone anywhere. These features include S Finder, a really useful search tool that lets you find files, apps and even menu items using keywords. When I wanted to set up the phone's fingerprint scanner, for example, I typed in "fingerprint" instead of digging through dozens of menus.
I also love Samsung's keyboard, which is by far the best mobile keyboard for business users. Keys are well spaced and easy to tap, and word prediction is very accurate. But the real game changer is the dedicated row of number keys at the top of the keyboard, which lets you punch in numerals without requiring you to switch between different layouts.
As on previous Galaxy smartphones, the S6 lets you run two apps in a split-screen view so you can tackle multiple tasks at once. Launching multiwindow mode is as easy as holding down the Recent Apps button — located just to the left of the home button — and selecting two apps. From there, it's easy to change how much screen space each app takes up by dragging a handle between them.
Sure, split-screen multitasking is more useful on larger phones like Samsung's 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 4, but it still works pretty well on the midsize S6. For example, it's handy for using the calculator app or running a Web search while composing an email, especially when you want to copy and paste text between apps.
A variety of useful productivity software comes preloaded on the S6. That includes Microsoft apps like OneNote, my favorite overall note-taking app, and OneDrive, which is good for saving files and documents to the cloud. There are also a handful of Google applications, including Gmail and Hangouts, which are great for messaging and basic videoconferencing. Also included is Hancom Office, a solid office suite for creating and editing documents and spreadsheets.
The S6 has excellent videoconferencing capabilities, thanks to the 5-MP front-facing camera located just above the display. A selfie I snapped with the camera was pretty crisp, with good color accuracy and not much visual noise. That's good news if you want to use the phone to meet remotely with colleagues or clients using an app like Skype or Hangouts. The phone also delivers relatively loud audio, so you'll be able to hear the person on the other end of your call.
Battery and storage changes
Samsung ditched two key features when making the jump from the S5 to the S6: The battery can no longer be removed, and there's no SD card slot, either. I'm not convinced that most business users will care, but it's a notable change, especially since very few flagship phones still offer those features.
There are two main drawbacks to ditching the removable battery. First, you can't buy a secondary battery to swap in when your phone is getting low on juice. Second, you won't be able to buy a bulkier extended battery to extend your phone's longevity.
On the other hand, by sealing the S6's back, Samsung was able to create a smartphone that's thinner and sleeker than its predecessor. At this point, LG's recently announced G4 smartphone is the only S6 competitor that lets you remove the battery.
Samsung also removed the SD card slot in order to keep the S6 slim. That means you can't expand the phone's storage after you buy it. The LG G4 and the HTC One M9 have the feature, but the iPhone 6 doesn't.
Despite its sealed design, the Galaxy S6 is still the battery-life champ among flagship smartphones, which is a huge perk if you rely on your smartphone for work. The T-Mobile version ran for 8 hours and 32 minutes in our battery life test, which simulates continuous Web browsing via Wi-Fi with the screen set to 100 nits of brightness. That beats the smartphone average of 8:26, as well as the iPhone 6 (7:27) and the HTC One M9 (7:14). The S6 fared worse when we tested the Verizon model, though, running for 7 hours and 37 minutes, but it still beat its main rivals.
Even though the S6 offers relatively good battery life, last year's S5 was even more impressive. It ran for a whopping 9 hours and 42 minutes on the same test, but Samsung had to cut down on battery capacity to make the new model slimmer.
On the bright side, you get a couple of new battery features that could be really handy for business users. Those include quick-charge capabilities, which can give you a 30 percent charge in 15 minutes and a 50 percent charge in a half-hour. That could be a real lifesaver if you need to top off your smartphone's battery during a business flight layover. The S6 also features wireless charging, which is a nice addition to your work desk if you're willing to shell out an extra $50 for a charging pad. It worked well during my testing time, but remember that you won't get quick charging with the wireless pad.
Make sure you know how much storage space you need before shelling out for the S6. Because it lacks an SD card slot, you can't upgrade the storage later on. The phone comes in 32GB, 64GB and 128GB versions for all three colors. The cheapest way to own the phone might be through T-Mobile, which lets you buy the 32GB model without a two-year contract for $680 (broken down into monthly installments of $28.33). The 64GB model costs $760 ($27.50 per month, plus $100 up front), and the 128GB model costs $860 ($27.50 per month, plus $200 up front). AT&T and Verizon offer the phone for $199 (32GB), $299 (64GB) and $399 (128GB) with a two-year contract.
Apple's iPhone 6 is a similar smartphone, but it lacks some of the S6's security features and doesn't allow split-screen multitasking.
HTC's One M9 packs comparable hardware and a slick, all-metal design, but it isn't as secure as the S6 and doesn't last as long on a charge.
LG's G4 has a bigger display than the S6 and includes a removable battery and an SD card slot, but it has short battery life.
Samsung makes it easy for business users to choose a new smartphone by continuously cranking out top-notch work devices with better features than its competitors. The Galaxy S6 provides the best security on any smartphone, plus good battery life, fast performance and an eye-popping display, as well as productivity boosters like split-screen multitasking. And for the first time, it has good looks to match competing flagships.
Power users who want an even bigger display, plus hardware features like the ability to swap out your battery and insert an SD card, should also give the Galaxy Note 4 a look. But for the average business user, the S6 is currently as good as it gets.