The Samsung Galaxy S6 and curved-screen Galaxy S6 Edge, finally ditch the utilitarian plastic build and removable battery of previous Samsung flagship phones.
They arrive at the smartphone party dressed in sharp metal lines and plenty of glass.
The two new phones are nearly identical — both run Android 5.0 Lollipop with 5.1-inch high-resolution displays. But the Galaxy S6 Edge competes for the spotlight with two curved-glass edges, each wrapping the long side of the phone with a smooth, readable display.
Fully metal Samsung Galaxy S6 looks sharp
Samsung unveiled the fraternal twins during its press conference at Mobile World Congress, the annual trade show here in Spain that has become arguably the most important global smartphone showcase. And while the phones won’t be available worldwide until April 10, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge must succeed, and quickly.
The phones were forged in the crucible of Samsung’s financial struggles as the company fights over phone profits with Apple’s
latest megasuccessful iPhone models and an army of “good enough,” low-cost rivals from
China-based manufacturers such as Lenovo, Xiaomi and Huawei.
Some of the new S6 features — upscale metal design, updated fingerprint scanner — play
catch-up with the iPhone 6, which, last year, pursued Samsung’s pioneering large-screen phones. Samsung even used today’s press
conference to announce an Apple Pay competitor that will debut on the S6 phones called — wait for it — Samsung Pay.
Other upgrades force uncomfortable tradeoffs.
The S6 and S6 Edge lack a removable battery and a microSD card slot, not to mention the Galaxy S5’s waterproofing. Meanwhile, the curved strips of screen that make up the Edge’s
borders do so little compared to the Note Edge’s screen that it’s hard to justify their existence other than giving you something to do with those curved edges. And Samsung’s own untested Exynos processor (versus the Qualcomm
Snapdragon 810 that will be found in most of its high-end Android rivals) is a performance wild
That said, the new Galaxy S6 models set some of their own Android trends. Both deliver built-in wireless charging support and compatibility with a new version of the Gear VR virtual reality accessory — two features you won’t find on the iPhone. And with the S6 phones’ new designs, Samsung has addressed the predominant critiques of 2014’s Galaxy S5, viewed by many as an uninspired doppelganger of the 2013 Galaxy S4 .
The new phone pair has the looks and the specs of a flagship phone worth its salt, but it’s too early to know if that’s enough to reverse Samsung’s sagging smartphone sales — or dent the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus’ staggering revenue.
Double-edged sword: Samsung’s curved Galaxy
Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge: Two devices, one family First things first. Samsung has built two marquee phones: the straight-sided, predictably rectangular Galaxy S6, and the Galaxy S6 Edge, which has slightly rounded right and left edges.
The pairing is modeled after the Galaxy Note 4 and Note Edge duo.
For the most part, the two share the exact same specs, with only a few minor differences in dimension and battery life. I’ll point out any differences;otherwise, these impressions apply to both models.
Metal and glass; plastic be damned
With a matte aluminum alloy frame and Gorilla Glass 4 on the front and back, the S6 and S6 Edge live worlds apart from the plastic construction of five generations of Galaxy flagship. It’s obvious that this is a different beast, and one that fans have been crying out
for, for years.
It still looks like a Samsung Galaxy S
phone; you won’t confuse it for an
Samsung didn’t get here overnight. The Note 4 and more midrange Galaxy Alpha featured metal frames and the youth-focused Galaxy A5 and A3 have all-metal chassis.
Let’s talk about the shape. Both S6 phones have Samsung’s pill shape, with rounded tops and bottoms and straighter sides. The power button sits on the right spine; on the S6, that side also comes with a nano-SIM card slot that shows up on the top for the S6 Edge. Both phones house a micro-USB charging port and headset jack down below, and separated volume buttons on the left spine. A central, metal-ringed home button joins two capacitive buttons for calling up recents and going back. Up top, the IR blaster beams out light for folks who want to use their phones as a TV remote. On the backs, you’ll find the 16-megapixel camera (same as the Note 4), and an LED flash that doubles as a sensor to monitor your heart rate. Now for the hand test. The Edge feels slimmer than the S6 at its thinnest point, even though the specs stipulate that it’s a hair thicker at its chubbiest.
The phones feel thin and fluid in the hand. The S6 Edge tapers on its right and left edges, where the curved portion of the screens arc to meet the back. As with the Note Edge, the S6 Edge manages balance despite its sharper shape.
Although the colors are fairly staid — both models comes in platinum gold in addition to sapphire black and white pearl — Samsung injects shots of color into the lineup. The straight-sided S6 also gets topaz blue, while the S6 Edge harnesses emerald green. The incredibly reflective rear surface flashes color and lights.
Samsung says this is to add depth and warmth, but the skeptic in me thinks this relentless reflecting could become visually annoying.
A few negatives: the camera protrudes a bit from the back, which some may not like and the glass surfaces also become a smudge gallery for your finest fingerprints.
Screen size stasis
The S6 and S6 Edge hold steady with last year’s size, 5.1 inches. This is a good call, since a larger phone would encroach on phablet territory — and Samsung already offers that option in the excellent Galaxy Note 4, with its 5.7-inch screen.
Even though Samsung hasn’t bumped up the size, it has spiked the resolution of its AMOLED display to 2,560×1,440 pixels, a density of 577 ppi, currently the best on the market. Now comes the inevitable questions: can the human eye really appreciate detail that fine, and is the higher resolution worth the likely impact on battery life? We’ll test both out when we have more time with the phone.
Hardware triumphs and upsets
Samsung rocked the boat with these dramatically different additions and omissions.
Exynos over Qualcomm: Why did Samsung chose its own chipset (Samsung won’t share which one) over the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, especially after years of partnership between the two companies? Samsung won’t say, but it’s a fair guess that keeping things in-house also translates into a more reliable manufacturing pipeline and better margins on its own 64-bit octa-core chip. Seeing how the Exynos model performs compared to Snapdragon — the latter is basically the new standard for non-Apple superphones — is something we’re anxious to test.
Embedded battery : The S6 devices are totally sealed, so you won’t be able to swap out the battery. The trade-off is a potentially larger (and longer-lived) battery for the phones’ size.
No microSD card : Samsung omitted this staple feature to maximize slimness. However it’s also increased default internal storage to 32GB, with 64GB and 128GB models also available.
Samsung will also throw in 115GB free Microsoft OneDrive storage for two years, stating that people increasingly use cloud storage these days.
Camera quick launch : This is a great one. Double click the home button to launch the camera app in just under a second, and from any screen. This worked flawlessly during my demo period.
Smarter fingerprint scanning: The same home button is now equipped to read your fingerprint when you rest it on the button. Before, you had to slide it, which often didn’t produce an accurate reading.
Wireless charging: The S6 and S6 Edge have wireless charging built in, using WPC and PMA standards (that includes Qi). Samsung will sell its own charging pads, but the S6 phones will be compatible with some other chargers as well. You should be able to top up 20 percent of your battery in about a half hour.
Quick-charging : Support for this fast-charging feature comes with the Exynos chip, which Samsung says should give you a 30 percent charge in about 30 minutes. In addition, the phones will work with a Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 charger (like the Note 4’s charger).
No waterproofing : Unlike the Galaxy S5, neither S6 is rated IP67 for water resistance. Samsung’s response: waterproofing isn’t part of the S6 “story.” It’s a good guess that we’ll get a waterproof “Galaxy S6 Active” or some other tough variant later this year, like the Galaxy S5 Active and S5 Sport.
A 16-megapixel camera juts out slightly from the phones’ back, sporting the same resolution we see on the Note 4. Since these phones do use a different chip, it’ll be interesting to see if the internals make a mark on image quality. The lens itself gets an upgrade over the S5, to f/1.9, from the S5’s f/2.2 rear camera.
The S6 and S6 Edge become the second phones to include optical image stabilization (after the Note 4 and Note Edge). A new auto-HDR feature means you won’t have to stop to improve certain scenes, like landscapes. Similarly, it’ll automatically adjust white balance, too.
On the front, Samsung installs a 5-megapixel shooter for wide-angle selfies, promising improved low-light photos. As with the Note 4, you can shoot a selfie by tapping the sensor on the back of the phone, and you can turn on a shooting mode that’ll take a self-portrait from the phone’s rear camera.
We’ll test out image quality when we get more time with the devices, but the self-shots we took indoors during our briefing seemed promising.
Android 5.0 Lollipop, the latest Google phone operating system, ships with the S6 and S6 Edge, with a refreshed version of Samsung’s TouchWiz interface on top and far fewer preloaded apps. Samsung is trying to embrace a simpler role without shedding everything it’s built over the years.
Pricing and availability
Look for the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge to hit some territories starting April 10. Pricing is still up in the air, but carriers and retailers like to set those individually. Expect the S6 to cost about the same as the S5, and for the S6 Edge to cost more.
Samsung’s US PR team shared that it’ll sell with major US carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon) as well as Cricket and US Cellular. UK networks are yet to be announced and the only Australian network to confirm availability is Virgin Mobile.