Samsung and Apple are the undisputed kings of the smartphone world, and both own right about 20 percent of the global market, according to recent research from IDC. Apple and the iPhone beat out Samsung and its seemingly endless array of handhelds in total sales to end users for the first time during the final quarter of last year, thanks in no small part to the white-hot market reception of both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
However, Samsung's latest darlings, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge are about to go on sale next week in the United States, and the Korean electronics leader has every intention of stealing back some of that share. During the coming months, millions of consumers will fire up their Web browsers or strut into local wireless carrier shops to compare the latest and greatest smartphones. On the top of their lists of options will be the GS6 and iPhone 6.
I got both my GS6 review phones last Tuesday, so I've had more than a week to spend with the new Galaxys. And I've been using the iPhone 6 since the day it was released last September. One of the first things I do after a company sends a new smartphone that piques my interest (and not all of the review devices I receive do, mind you) is stack it up to the iPhone, to see how (or if) it compares.
That's exactly what I did with the GS6 and GS6 edge. While it's too early to make a decision between the iPhone 6 and the GS6, I will say this: I like the new Galaxys. A lot. And the new phones do quite a few things that Apple's golden child cannot. This article is not intended to point out each one of them. Instead, it's meant to spotlight the things that jumped out at me because I can't do them with my iPhone 6.
As is always the case with these matters, there are two tales to be told, so make sure to check out my companion story, "4 things iPhone 6 does that Galaxy S6 can't." To be clear, I am not saying the GS6 is better than the iPhone 6, or suggesting the GS6 would win in an arm-wrestling bout.
Now that that's out of the way, on to the things the GS6 does that iPhone 6 cannot. (Note: With the exception of a curved display and slightly different battery capacity, the new Galaxy phones are identical, so all of the points made in this post apply to both new handhelds.)
1) Galaxy S6, Samsung Pay and MST tech
In March, Samsung announced its upcoming mobile payment service, Samsung Pay, which will be available on both GS6 devices "later this summer." Much like Apple Pay, it will use NFC and fingerprint authentication to enable secure mobile payments.
The main competitive differentiator, and competitive advantage, for Samsung Pay compared to the popular Apple Pay is its support of magnetic secure transmission (MST) technology, which in theory lets you pay at any PoS terminal that accepts magnetic stripe credit cards. That includes about 90 percent of U.S. retailers, compared to the roughly 5 percent that support NFC and Apple Pay, according to Samsung.
Of course, Samsung Pay is not yet available. When it is released, however, it has the potential to see much wider adoption than Apple Pay because it's expected to work at so many more retail locations. Samsung also told me that GS6 users wouldn't need any sort of accessory or add-on to enable MST payments via Samsung Pay, so you'll be able to use the service at many different retail locations as soon as it's available.
2) Samsung Galaxy S6 and wireless charging
Both new GS6 smartphones support wireless charging without any sort of add-on accessory. The devices support both the Wireless Power Consortium (PWC) Qi (pronounced "chee") and Power Matters Alliance (PMA) wireless charging standards, so they work with charge mats that use either technology. In other words, hungry GS6 users can charge their famished phones at select McDonald's, some of which have PMA charging stations, and GS6 owners in need of caffeine fixes can also wirelessly charge their sleepy smartphones at some Starbucks locations, where Qi stations are available.
It takes longer to charge the GS6 wirelessly than if you use a traditional power cable. For example, using the special charger that came with the GS6 edge, which enables "Adaptive Fast Charging," I was able to fully charge that dead device in just under two hours, while it took me almost three hours to fully charge the dead GS6 edge using Samsung's new Wireless Charging Pad, which costs $50 and uses Qi. In many cases, wireless charging is more convenient, though.
iPhone 6 users can purchase cases to enable wireless charging, but most of these accessories support only one standard, and many are bulky and relatively expensive. (On a separate but related note, the GS6 phones both use standard micro USB ports, compared to Apple's proprietary Lightning ports, so you can use micro USB cords and accessories from a variety of other manufacturers with Samsung phones but not Apple devices.)
3) Samsung Galaxy S6 security and Smart Lock
The GS6 and GS6 edge both support Android Smart Lock features that let you keep your device unlocked when it's in range of a trusted Bluetooth device, NFC tag or when it's in range of a designated trusted location, such as your home or office.
A GS6 owner can, for example, set his Android Wear smartwatch to be a trusted device, so his phone stays unlocked when in hand or in a pocket but then locks if he takes the watch off and walks off. Or he can program NFC tags, such as Samsung's TecTiles, to be trusted tags, then set his phone on the tag to keep it unlocked at his desk or on a night stand.
Android's Lollipop Smart Lock features are not unique to the Galaxy S6 -- other newish Android devices also offer variations of Smart Lock, including a unique "face unlock" option that's absent from the GS6s -- but you won't find anything like them in the iPhone 6. (Certain IT policies may block the use of Smart Lock on corporate connected devices, so if you use Android for work, you may not be able to take advantage of Smart Lock.)
4) Samsung Galaxy S6 customization and personalization
One of the most significant differences between iOS and Android, and the iPhone and GS6, is the level of control owners have over customization and personalization. Apple lets you pick your wallpaper and lock screen images, add select widgets to a "Today screen," and you can organize your applications (in rigidly arranged rows) and related alerts the way you want them. But that's about it. Android, on the other hand, offers many more customization options.
I could fill 10 pages with minute customization options in Android, but these three stand out to me, and you won't find any of them in the iPhone -- at least not unless you "jailbreak" it.
It's a personal pet peeve how iOS lets you move applications and folders around your home screen, but if you place one of them somewhere random, instead of next to the last app or folder in a row, the OS moves your selection out of place and back into order. With Android, and the GS6, you can put apps and folders wherever you want them. For example, if you want only two apps on a home panel, and you prefer one in the top left corner and another in the bottom right, that's your prerogative -- Android is OK with that. Apple isn't having it, however, so don't even to try to sort apps out of order on an iPhone.
Another nice touch in the Android software for GS6 is the capability to change the color of app folders, so they match or complement your wallpaper or theme.
Speaking of themes, Samsung's Theme Store lets you download "skins" that change the look and feel of Android with custom graphics, icon sets and other navigation elements. The store doesn't offer many options right now, but it will likely bulk up during the coming months.
Again, these are just a few examples. Bottom line: The GS6 fosters personalization while the iPhone seems to stifle it.
5) Galaxy S6 Power Saving Mode, Ultra Power Saving Mode
The GS6 devices have two different power saving modes designed to extend the battery life of your device and give you more control over the apps and services that drain power when you're running low.
The first, and less severe, Power Saving Mode option limits maximum CPU performance; reduces display brightness and frame rate; turns off the backlit buttons next to the GS6 home key; disables vibration feedback; and minimizes the amount of time the screen is lit when you're not using it.
Ultra Power Saving Mode takes it a bit further. For example, it applies a grayscale theme to your device, so it uses no bright colors; it limits the number of available apps to preset "essentials" and any others that you deem necessary; turns off mobile data when the screen is dark; disables Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
You can check the GS6 Battery page for estimates on just much life is left on your device in normal mode, Power Saving Mode and Ultra Power Saving mode, to help plan when to switch between them. The iPhone 6 has a number of software-based battery optimization tweaks, and you can check battery usage states, but it has nothing like either of the two GS6 power saving modes.
6) Samsung Galaxy S6 'selfie cam'
From a selfie perspective, the GS6 owns the iPhone. Not only does it have a higher-resolution camera (5MP) than the iPhone (1.2MP), it takes noticeably better selfies in a variety of lighting conditions. (Why, yes, I did take selfies all over Boston during the past week to test the cameras.)
al sacco selfieSacco selfie taken with Galaxy S6.
My favorite thing about the GS6 selfie cam is the capability to the tap the flash panel on the rear side of the device to take a picture with the front-facing shooter, instead of having to awkwardly tap the display with your thumb and possibly shake the device at that crucial moment when your selfie is just perfect.
Honestly, I can't remember the last time I took a selfie before I got the GS6. I am, however, aware that society at large holds selfies in high regard these days, for better or for worse, so the GS6's selfie dominance over the iPhone seems relevant.
Again, this article tells only one side of the story, so be sure to check out my companion piece, "4 things iPhone 6 does that Galaxy S6 can't."