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Galaxy S6 deep-dive review: Samsung's shining star

JR Raphael | April 6, 2015
With its Galaxy S6, Samsung finally delivers a phone that's both powerful and premium. Could it be the device for you?

What's even more impressive is that Samsung manages to achieve that simplicity while still offering a slew of advanced photography options for users who want them. Change the camera's mode from Auto to Pro, and you'll gain controls for manually adjusting everything from ISO sensitivity to focal length and white balance. The phone also has tucked-away options for more ready-made effects, too, if you want to go beyond the basics with your images but aren't a full-fledged photography expert.

The Galaxy S6 follows the lead of other devices in offering a system-wide "quick launch" shortcut to open the Camera app on demand, anytime, whether your screen is on or off: You just double-tap the phone's Home key, and -- literally in about a second -- you're looking through the viewfinder and ready to snap away. As anyone who's watched a photogenic moment fly by knows, the value of that can't be overstated.

The S6's shutter speed is fast, meanwhile, if not instantaneous -- and if you really want to play paparazzi, you can hold the shutter button down to take several rapid-fire photos with almost no delay between them. Factor in video recording options going all the way from 1080p (the default) to Ultra HD, and there's little more you could want from a smartphone camera.

For the selfie-takers and video-chatters among us, the Galaxy S6 has a 5-megapixel front-facing camera that can capture 1080p or QHD video and features gesture-based commands for starting a shutter countdown.

The software
The Galaxy S6 runs Samsung's custom TouchWiz software atop Google's Android 5.0.2 Lollipop operating system. I've been tough on TouchWiz in the past, but with its latest incarnation, Samsung has really evolved its software to a very usable state. It's much, much better than it used to be -- but it still needs work to go from being "pretty decent" to "great."

Part of that is strictly a visual issue: From a design standpoint, TouchWiz is kind of like a less polished and attractive version of Lollipop. It retains much of Google's visual language, like the card-based Overview configuration for switching among recently used apps, but then arbitrarily changes things here and there that I found less pleasant to use.

For example, Samsung continues to dump buckets of teal paint across the entire OS and is now replacing standard Android icons with plain text alternatives ("More," "Add" and so on). The latter introduces new inconsistencies between the S6's native apps and practically everything else you'll use on the device, including Google's apps and the vast majority of third-party Android programs. Ecosystem-wide design standards exist for a reason, and changing them in one small corner of that ecosystem does little more than introduce confusion.


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