Despite selling in the millions, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 handset was seen as a relative failure by the company, which had expected the exponential growth of its premier Android line to go unchecked. But then the HTC One M8 happened. And then the LG G3. And then upstarts like the One Plus One. And Apple finally got around to making a pair of bigger phones. Samsung still sits high on top of the Android pile, but its flagship line is more precariously placed than it’s been for years.
In other words, there’s a lot riding on this year’s successor the almost-inevitable Samsung Galaxy 6, which looks a dead-cert to be revealed at this year's Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. So, what can we expect from it then?
What Will the Samsung Galaxy S6 Look Like?
Let’s be honest: is Samsung really going to take any massive chances with its flagship phone? Very unlikely, so another black and silver slab of phone it probably is then. But times are changing -- LG’s G Flex 2 sees the company again experimenting with curved phones, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note Edge saw ol’ Sammy playing with a two-sided display. If you buy into the rumours then, the Galaxy S6 could be the first straight “Galaxy” phone to get a little adventurous, with various reports suggesting it may come equipped with a curved or double-edged display.
The recent release of the Galaxy Alpha, with its metallic frame and polycarbonate rear is certainly indicative of Samsung considering such a build. That’s not to say that a metal build is always best though -- they can make devices needlessly heavy, chip and dent easily and, as proven by the iPhone 6 Plus, are just as likely to warp out of shape as plastics are to crack if not engineered correctly.
And, of course, there’s always the suggestion that the handset will be slimmer than its predecessor. The S5 was just 8.1mm thick, but with the Galaxy Alpha 6.7mm and Galaxy A7 6.3mm, there may be a few notches down the belt the Galaxy S6 can go. It’s width too may shrink -- Dutch website Top Tien Mobiel got a glimpse at what it claims is a Galaxy S6 prototype, showing off a handset with incredibly thin edges and a front-facing camera now sitting dead centre:
An image released by Samsung itself showed off the actual phone – albeit from a slim sidewards view that gave very little away, as seen below:
That was joined a few days later by another sidewards view of the phone, twinned with the rather tame 'six appeal' pun, which got a few eyebrows raised at the time:
More substantial looks at the phone come in the form of what looks like lead shots of the device, which were posted on a forum called XDA:
While what seems to be the best look of the new Galaxy S6 comes in these press shots that were meant to be kept under wraps until Samsung Unpacked event at MWC, which were for US network carrier Sprint. As you'll see below, there are two different phones in the image, one taller with a wraparound-looking screen.
How About the Samsung Galaxy S6’s Screen?
A Super-AMOLED, almost without doubt. The Super-AMOLED displays Samsung makes are bright, colourful and pin sharp, so it’s more a question of resolution and size than anything else. With LG’s G3 rocking a 2,560 x 1,440 (534 ppi) display, you’d expect Samsung to at least match that -- and indeed, its Galaxy Note 4 handset has a 2,560 x 1,440 display.
But Samsung has previously stated that it aims to have a 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160) display in a phone onsale in 2015, so it could leapfrog that altogether. Phone Arena claims that Samsung is putting together a 6-inch (well, 5.9-inch, if you’re being picky) 4K AMOLED display. That’d make for a ridiculous 746ppi. Considering we’re not expecting the Galaxy S6 to be much bigger than 5-inches (and the inevitable drain that such a pixel-dense screen would be on the battery), perhaps this will end up being reserved for whatever the Galaxy Note 5 ends up being. Either way, we'd always take a reliable battery over an overly-pixel-dense display.
What OS Will the Samsung Galaxy S6 Use?
Almost certainly the excellent Android 5.0. That shouldn’t come as any surprise, given that the Galaxy S series has become the best-selling Android smartphone line out there. Even with Samsung gradually putting out more and more Tizen devices (built upon the company’s own home-grown OS), again it’s a matter of playing it safe -- why stray too far from a winning formula when it’s stuffing your coffers?
That’s not to say that Samsung won’t be making tweaks to its interface, and all signs are pointing towards there being some drastic changes to Samsung’s TouchWiz UI this time around. It’s been a long time since the bells, whistles and kitchen sink of TouchWiz has offered users much more than just bloat with which to clog their phones up with the moment they switch them on. Vanilla Android has advanced to such a stage that the benefits TouchWiz once offered are now slight compared to how streamlined and fully-featured the core OS has become.
Indeed, reports from Sammobile would lend credence to the idea that the compulsory TouchWiz bloatware would be a thing of the past, and that the upcoming Samsung flagship may actually come loaded with stock Android. A big win, in our eyes, if true.
It’s one of the few areas critics find criticism with the Galaxy line, so to hear of Samsung executives claiming that the Galaxy S6’s UI will be simplified to match the Google Nexus 6 is a dream come true. We praised Samsung in our Galaxy S5 review for making steps towards this end.
What Will the Samsung Galaxy S6's Specs and Camera be Like?
Powerful! If there's one thing you can't knock Samsung over when it comes to its phones, it is the top-notch guts it squeezes inside. With Android 5.0 Lollipop now supporting 64-bit processors and more RAM, expect the Galaxy S6 to take advantage of both features.
In terms of processors, Qualcomm's Snapdragon line was looking the most likely option, having appeared in the majority of Samsung's Galaxy phones previously. Both the Snapdragon 808 and Snapdragon 810 launches are set for early 2015, and both are very powerful, supporting 2K and 4K displays respectively. However, it's the Snapdragon 810 that we'd most want to see in the phone, the octa-core model being among the most promising processors we've ever seen.
However, reports of the 810 overheating mean there's also always the chance that Samsung will equip the phone with one of its own Exynos chipsets, with SamMoile claiming the S6 will use a 64-bit octa-core Exynos 7420. This was seemingly confirmed in late January, when a Qualcomm representative, who was quoted as saying "Our Snapdragon 810 processor will not be in the upcoming design cycle of a large customer’s flagship device" – most likely a reference to the Galaxy S6.
As for RAM, 64-bit processors can finally truly take advantage of devices sporting more than 4GB of RAM. With the multi-tasking focussed Note 4 only sporting 3GB, it'd be unlikely that the S6 would house more than 4GB -- indeed, Samsung has stated it's begun mass producing 4G RAM modules.
Built-in storage isn't likely to go above 128GB -- that's the absolute maximum we'd expect to see go in especially if the handset supports microSD cards. And it's possible Samsung will skip 16GB sizes altogether, leaving just 32GB and 64GB options. That's not to say there may not be advances here -- South Korean sources suggest that Universal Flash Storage advancements that Samsung have made will benefit the S6, offering faster data speeds and reduced power draw.
Samsung's phone cameras have been steadily improving too. While a 20MP camera had been expected from the Note 4, Samsung instead went for a 16MP snapper, reportedly to keep the phone slim while still offering Optical Image Stabilisation. Samsung's thought to have made room for a 20MP camera and OIS in the Galaxy S6, though SamMobile states that the company is still on the fence as whether or not to go for it or stick with the still-impressive Note's 16MP option.
Other potential specs were lined out in reports from BGR, which suggested a that 20MP camera was on the money, and that the S6 would be "powered by a 64-bit eight-core 14nm CPU that ought to run 50 per cent quicker than the brain of last year's S5, allowing it to output to its 5.1-inch display at quad HD resolution -- and generating an immense pixel density of 577ppi".
Have You Seen Any Decent Samsung Galaxy S6 Concept Designs?
While concept designs are often closer to wishful thinking than a true reflection of purported specs, they can be useful in pulling together the previous design language that a company has used with future-gazing ideas and current trends. Here are a few of the better ones we've seen so far:
In a strange yet humorous move, Samsung got in on the act by pushing out its own rumour-mill material, with this picture doing the rounds, working off the three-sided screen Note Edge rumours for the S6, and the idea that there will be a lot of glass in the S6's design:
Any Other Special Features to Keep an Eye Out For?
Well, there's always the chance of waterproofing -- the Galaxy S5 was dust and water proofed. It's a great feature, and it'd be ridiculous for Samsung to drop it. And then there's the increasing possibility of some sort of virtual reality support, given the investment Samsung's making with its Gear VR headset. With the company's Milk service aspiring to be the "YouTube of Virtual Reality", it'll be looking at ways to make the experiences as accessible to as many people as possible.
What’s This I Hear About a Second Galaxy S6 Model?
Now this is an interesting rumour. Sources speaking to Business Insider claim that Samsung is preparing not one, but two Samsung Galaxy S6 handsets. One would feature the metal build that I've detailed above, and the other the Note Edge-like wraparound display. Both could arguably seen as "premium" models -- one for those that like their phones with bang-up-to-date screen tech, the other for those that just like their handsets to look chic.
However, Samsung stated at the end of 2014 that it would be looking to put out fewer phones in 2014, which contradicts this somewhat. Either that, or it’s doubling down on the strength of the flagship brand, hopefully simplifying its convoluted naming conventions in the process.
Further breadcrumbs dropped down this trail of thought were picked up by us when Finnish and Swedish Samsung support sites listed two different models pertaining to the S6, with the standard model being joined with a Note Edge-style wraparound screen.
How Much Will the Samsung Galaxy S6 Cost, and When is it Released?
Ah, the million pound question. Or at least you’d hope the £500-odd question, anyway. Obviously, there’s no official pricing for the Samsung Galaxy S6 yet, and without confirmed specs, it’s all guess work. But you’d expect the S6 to cost at least as much as its most recent predecessor, the S5, which had started at £579, SIM free.
As for when it’ll be released, that’s a little easier to predict. Samsung traditionally holds its own “Unpacked” showcase around the annual Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona. MWC is taking place between March 2nd and March 5th, so you’d expect Samsung to unveil its centrepiece in that week too. As for when it’ll actually be on sale at your local phone shop, the S4 and S5 landed in April. Expect no different of the Galaxy S6.
Lead Image Credit: Gadgetmaxim.com