Review: Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge lead the Android pack

The new flagship Samsung Android smartphones are surprisingly elegant and thoughtfully designed, with better security capabilities

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Almost any business will have such a password requirement, so a fingerprint-reader feature that was incompatible with password requirements was a big barrier to Samsung's corporate acceptance. With this bug now gone, the S6s are much more viable as business smartphones.

A big step up in security

The usable fingerprint reader is not the only security advantage in the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Several enhancements, some from Samsung and some from Google, are making Android a much more plausible standard in enterprises.

Courtesy of Google you get Android for Work, a container technology that creates a separate, secured workspace for business apps and data that a mobile management server handles. It also enabled per-app VPN management. Android for Work requires the use of a compatible mobile management server.

Samsung also includes its own container technology, Knox 2.4, which has undergone a big upgrade in tandem with the Galaxy S6s' launch. Knox 2.4's advantages over Android for Work include the ability to use Active Directory credentials to access the container and a tool to enroll new devices into your management server.

To use Knox's managed security capabilities, you need a compatible mobile management server, and you'll typically pay an additional fee to use Knox. Plus, right now, the new Knox is available only for the Galaxy S6s, so at this point it makes sense only for companies that issue their own devices and are willing to standardize on these two models.

Even without a Knox-compatible mobile management server, Samsung ups the game for Android security, including support for S/MIME email and hardware-based integrity checks of the core file system and kernel at startup. 

Where Samsung has dropped the ball is in encryption. The Galaxy S6s are not encrypted out of the box, so users will have to enable encryption manually. That's a 20-minute operation, but it requires the battery be at least 80 percent charged and the device plugged into a wall outlet. Be sure your email policies require encryption to be enabled, so users can't access your corporate resources unless their Galaxy S6s are encrypted.

Google promised that all new Android Lollipop devices would have encryption enabled out of the box, but in reality very few Android vendors have done so. Google has done nothing to enforce that promise.

I suspect the reason is that encryption on Android slows device startup to a crawl -- even on the Galaxy S6s' fast hardware it takes a good 10 seconds to get past the decryption phase and into the Android boot phase. That's nuts; by comparison, there's maybe a second of overhead on an iPhone when it starts up and decrypts the device's storage. Users of Google's Nexus 6 report painfully slow operating times when encryption is on, partly because that cheaper device has no dedicated encryption chip as the Galaxy S6 has. Android encryption comes at a demonstrable performance cost.

Android remains susceptible to malware from the official Google Play Store, though Google has upped its screening efforts recently. That affects all Android devices, not only the Samsung Galaxy S6s. The use of a secured container can at least create a barrier between your business-provided apps and personal apps that are more likely to contain malware.

Simplified and smarter software

The new Galaxy S6 devices don't have much new in the way of software upgrades. The Settings app is simplified, with no more tabs to navigate through. Thus, a ton of options appear in the main Settings app window, but it's a better approach in this case -- you have to hunt in fewer places to find the setting you want. Plus, the added Search feature in Settings lets you find any that you seek.

The Camera app is also smarter and easier to use, with clearer presentation of options and cool tracking features to keep the focus on people and other moving objects, such as pets.

The Email app has a welcome new Priority Sender feature, a copy of iOS's VIP feature, that highlights emails from the people you specify. Even more welcome is the new ability to filter for spam email, which I wish iOS would do. The updated Email app has also a better-designed user interface for folder management.

More bloatware, better presented

Samsung has significantly increased the bloatware on the Galaxy S6s. On the main App screen, you'll see Amazon, Chrome, Facebook, Galaxy Apps, Lookout, Music, S Health, S Voice, Smart Manager, Video, and YouTube, in addition to the core Google apps (Calculator, Calendar, Camera, Clock, Contacts, Email, Gallery, Internet, Maps, Messages, Phone, Play Store, and Settings.)

Yet there are more preinstalled apps overall. Samsung obscures that fact by putting all the Google apps (Drive, Gmail, Google, Google Settings, Google+, Hangouts, Play Books, Play Games, Play Movies & TV, Play Music, Play Newsstand, Photos, and Voice Search) and all the Samsung apps (Hanscom Office 2014, Memo, Milk, Milk Video, My Files, Smart Remote, and Voice Recorder) in folders, so they don't clutter your main screen. There are also new folders for apps from Microsoft (OneDrive, OneNote, and Skype), for additional social media apps (Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp), and for your carrier's apps.

Even with all the bloatware, Samsung has jettisoned much of its previous TouchWiz UI to better use and embrace the Android Lollipop UI.

Bluetooth may have a problem

My tests of both the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge revealed a possible bug in the devices' Bluetooth. Neither device could maintain a connection to the Bluetooth-tethered Samsung Gear Live smartwatch, which had no trouble working with a Samsung Note 4. 

The Bluetooth issue also appears to explain why Samsung's free Smart Switcher app doesn't work on the Galaxy S6s. The utility lets you transfer your date and settings from an Android or iOS device to your new Galaxy. Unfortunately, it did not work for me, either in manual nor automatic mode, because devices could not maintain a connection once transfer began. Smart Switcher uses Bluetooth to transfer data between your devices. 

When asked to verify my findings, Samsung suspects one of its testers encountered the same issue as I did. However, it did not have a chance to verify across more users, nor discover a cause or fix before this review went to press.

InfoWorld is assuming a software update will fix this, so we're not dinging the Galaxy S6s' scores at this point. After all, our testing also revealed that Bluetooth worked fine for audio streaming to Bluetooth speakers and for making phone calls via a Bluetooth earpiece.

The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge lead the Android pack

Overall, even with some of the issues in the new devices, it's clear that Samsung paid a lot more attention to the details -- and the customer -- in designing the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. 

The result is a set of two very nice smartphones that offer the same sophistication and much of the business-level security as the iPhone 6 while being true Android devices.

The Galaxy S6 should be a big hit among business users and quality-oriented individuals. The Galaxy S6 Edge feels more gimmicky than useful, so it may remain a niche product for those who want something that looks and feels a little different from the rest. The Galaxy S6 is a winner.

This story, "Review: Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge lead the Android pack" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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