“Dude, is that the new S6 edge?”
It was like a scene right out of a TV commercial. But there I was, in my neighbourhood mamak coffee shop with some friends when I took the Galaxy S6 edge out of my pocket when my non-tech savvy friend asked that very question. I’ve had my fair share of curious glances and questions with the devices I use, but this, frankly, was the first with a Samsung.
This on its own is already a big win for Samsung, but read on.
DESIGN & FIRST IMPRESSIONS
There was something different about the way Samsung went about its entire Galaxy S6 launch event in Barcelona last month. It was brisk, professional, on point and…humble. There were no extravagant orchestras serenading journalists who were honestly more eager to see the phone. The presenters on stage appeared to really know what they were talking about, and passed the excitement naturally to those listening.
It was one of those moments when you just know the penny had dropped for Samsung, and in the face of some of its most difficult moments the company has learnt to focus again.
With the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, these products are the pinnacle of learning what went wrong, and shifting its entire focus not into making what it feels is the best product, but what consumers think define an excellent product.
Gone are the cheap plastics and in came premium metal and glass. I’m not a fan of the glass back cover, since they’re really high maintenance, but gosh, that gold hue on the S6 edge is beautiful. Over the course of the day you will inevitably grease up the entire back, but the S6 edge is just one of those devices which you simply wouldn’t mind to give a little more TLC.
The Galaxy S6, on the other hand, while handsome by its own accord unfortunately looks ordinary – and not on its own accord. Side by side, the S6 edge’s curved display just begs to be picked up.
And that’s what I did. I used the S6 edge for the first half of my review, and switched to the S6 for the second half.
The Galaxy S6 edge, while amazing to look at, does come with a few ergonomical shortcomings. The curved screen means there is less surface area to grip, and while I had absolutely no problems with this during day-to-day usage, there were moments when I wished the S6 edge was just that bit thicker.
On the other hand, the Galaxy S6 manages to find that sweet spot in terms of ergonomics. It’s thick enough to be grippy with one or two hands, and the chassis and weight feel just right. Even the physical buttons around the device feel satisfyingly clicky.
In terms of design, Project Zero was a huge success. The Galaxy S6 is a major departure of everything that Samsung had done previously, and the S6 edge just takes it to a whole new level of industrial design.
Let’s not forget the colours. Samsung made a big deal about the fact that each of the five hues reflect light in such a way that they look like another colour – or in Samsung’s words, “have a life of their own”. The Gold Platinum, especially, is exceptionally desirable, its soft gold hue looking almost silver in some angles.
Being Samsung, you know it simply cannot go wrong when it comes to hardware. The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, simply put, are the most technologically-advanced smartphones you can find in the market today. Samsung’s fitted it with so many world’s firsts that you can be safe in the knowledge that these smartphones aren’t going to be obsolete anytime soon.
One major gripe with the S6 and S6 edge stems from the fact that Samsung does not offer expandable storage. This is largely due to performance issues taking precedence over convenience. Samsung’s new UFS 2.0 storage is said to be so fast, the company was worried that putting a slow microSD card into it will dramatically degrade performance – and leave a poor impression on the device. With a minimum 32GB storage option, it is also giving at least 25GB of free space for users – not to mention another 100GB in free OneDrive cloud storage.
Project Zero wasn’t just about the exterior. Samsung claimed that it took a long hard look at TouchWiz and were finally committed to improving its overall experience. Now, before you get your hopes up too high, let’s be clear that this is still TouchWiz, so that green/blue colour scheme on the drop-down menu is still there.
But, it is impressive what Samsung has done with TouchWiz. I’ve linked every single account I have on the Internet onto the S6 and S6 edge, and over my review period there were very few moments when there were any noticeable lag (like I said, this is still TouchWiz). The Recent Apps page is snappier than it was on the Note 4, but is still the area that has the most noticeable lag – when you’ve got over 15 apps open, the carousel-style menu takes about a second to load the first time.
Another major breakthrough for consumers was the fact that Samsung finally relented on its bloatware. Don’t get me wrong, things like S Voice and S Planner and that horrible, horrible Flipboard home screen are still present, but they can be disabled now. There are noticeably fewer “S”-branded apps now, and those that are still around can easily be disabled with a long-press and drag. Lovely.
One interesting folder that is quite prominent and seems a little out of place is one that’s called “Microsoft Apps”. Here, three apps are pre-installed on the S6 and S6 edge: Skype, OneNote and OneDrive. On top of that, Samsung is also offering all S6 and S6 edge owners 100GB free OneDrive just by enabling auto-upload of images stored in the device.
In addition, there’s a new piece of software that is introduced with the Galaxy S6: Smart Manager. The Smart Manager app is similar to plenty of Chinese ROMs’ task manager apps, giving users a one-stop solution to take a look at the overall health of the device. It allows you to see how much free storage and RAM is available on the device, battery percentage, and security; yup, the GS6 is not only pre-installed with KNOX (which is disabled by default), every Galaxy S6 smartphone has McAfee’s mobile anti-virus software that runs in real-time.
As for the Galaxy S6 edge, there is of course the Edge Screen. Unlike the Galaxy Note Edge, the Edge Screen on the S6 edge offers more in terms of aesthetics instead of function. Where the Note Edge offers quick shortcuts and controls, the Edge Screen on the S6 edge is merely a supercharged “quick contacts” solution, giving users quick access to five favourite contacts. These contacts are colour-coded, and in the unique scenario where you leave your phone lying face down and one of these contacts call you, the Edge Screen will light up in the colour the contacts are assigned to.
That’s where the Edge Screen really disappoints for me. Samsung has tailored the Edge Screen to be useful for particularly specific events. Besides the above scenario, Samsung also adds quick shortcuts to each assigned quick contact, allowing you to either call them, send an SMS or an email; there’s no option to edit these two shortcuts to any app. So let’s ask ourselves this question: when was the last time we sent an SMS to a favourite contact?
That being said, if Samsung chooses to open up the Edge Screen for developers, or even offer the option of choosing which apps to assign on each shortcut app, there may be greater adoption of the Edge Screen. At this point, I see more time saved in tapping on the phone app and then on one of the frequently-called contacts, instead of swiping to reveal the Edge Screen, tapping on a favourite contact to reveal the two shortcut options, and then tapping on either the Call or SMS buttons.
Finally, Samsung also improved the fingerprint sensor for the GS6 and GS6 edge. Instead of a swipe-style sensor, Samsung switched to a more natural touch-based sensor, and hence finally making it a useful security solution. The way it works is a lot more similar to Apple’s TouchID, where you the sensor requires you to input your fingerprint by requesting you to touch the home button in various angles and even on your fingertips. Hence, you can now unlock your phone by placing your finger in literally any angle, and the recognition is seamlessly quick.
As someone who uses a PIN code on my devices, this is one addition that I really, really appreciate on the Galaxy S6.
Samsung fitted a smaller, non-removable battery on the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge compared to the Galaxy S5, at only 2,550mAh and 2,600mAh respectively instead of 2,800mAh on the GS5. The difference may not be that significant, but to be perfectly honest, that is likely not the reason why the battery life on both the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge are so poor.
Yup, both the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge have disappointingly poor battery life. I’ve gotten used to 1.5 days of battery life on the Galaxy Note 4, the OnePlus One and the Sony Xperia Z3, so you can imagine how crushing the experience of having to look for a power bank or charger less than 12 hours after unplugging.
According to the built-in battery usage monitor, the screen takes up a big portion of the battery life, with the Android system a rather distant second. It appears that the culprit here isn’t Samsung’s bloatware (since there aren’t that many now, and I’ve disabled almost every one) but instead it’s the 5.1-inch Super AMOLED QHD display. The power draw in running a 2K display is proving a little too much for the small battery – and the sad thing is most users would probably be just as happy with a Full HD display, which one can assume would improve battery life significantly.
On the other hand, Samsung packs an adaptive fast charger with the S6, which is said to charge from zero to 50% in just 30 minutes. Samsung also claims you get four hours of usage with just a 10-minute charge; while it does not give this figure in percentages, our rough tests show this to be about 15-20% which is pretty impressive. The total time it takes to charge from a flat battery to full is also less than two hours, which is equally impressive.
However, it doesn’t take away the fact that you’ll be charging the S6 more often than other flagships. This is one of the few dents on an otherwise great smartphone, but it is one that cannot be ignored – even if the S6 supports fast charging and has wireless charging support. For a device that’s priced this high, consumers demand excellent battery life on a premium-priced smartphone, on top of the ability to charge a device quickly.
Regardless of which model you choose, the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge both feature 5.1-inch Quad HD (2560 x 1440) Super AMOLED displays, with the slight difference being that the S6 edge has that breathtaking dual-curved screen.
Both displays are exceptionally good. Samsung’s prowess in display technology is well-known, and the Super AMOLED displays are satisfyingly good. The 2K resolution means it is virtually impossible for users to see visible pixels on screen, and having the added benefit of better supporting virtual reality (VR) content.
I just don’t think the tradeoff for having a beautiful display is worth the poor battery life, though.
Oh, one other interesting thing to note about the display. When you’re using the S6 or S6 edge and using the default wallpaper, do try and move the device around in different angles. You’ll notice that the wallpaper moves together with the device’s movement, giving a sense of depth on an otherwise flat display. It is also reminiscent of iOS 7’s Parallax feature.
Compared to the Galaxy S5, the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge’s audio capabilities are audibly better. The speaker placement is now at the bottom, and Samsung also claims the actual speaker unit is larger than last year’s.
As a result, audio output on the Galaxy S6 is surprisingly loud – though of course it will start breaking at high amplitudes. While some would prefer front-mounted stereo speakers, the mono speaker on the GS6 is surprisingly pleasant for games and videos for personal consumption.
And now, to my favourite part of the Galaxy S6. To be honest, even before I had my hands on the review units, I knew the moment it was revealed that Samsung is using the same Sony Exmor IMX 240 16MP sensor as the Galaxy Note 4 that the S6’s camera would be great.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Like the Note 4, the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge’s cameras are exceptionally fast. This time, Samsung’s also ensured the camera remains fast by leaving it in standby at all times – a double-press of the home button instantly launches the camera app.
As a result, the S6 and S6 edge are seriously capable shooters. The 16MP sensor offers quick autofocus lock, good depth of field, and that 14nm Exynos chipset ensures everything is blazingly fast. Switching between modes is seamless (though I found myself just leaving it to Auto almost all the time), and the delay between shots is barely there.
There’s also an extensive Manual mode, Selective Focus and other downloadable modes from the Samsung Apps Store. And, there’s also a cool tracking focus feature that maintains focus on a subject for as long as it is in the frame.
But all of those do not matter. This is, by far, the best camera experience on any Android smartphone. It is also the closest competitor as an all-rounded smartphone camera as the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus – or possibly even matches it.
That’s possibly the highest compliment one can give to the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge’s camera.
Forget the HTC One M9. Forget the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro. Forget the upcoming Sony Xperia Z4 (or Z3 Neo). Samsung designed the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge with just one competitor in mind: the iPhone 6. The design similarities do give a hint, but Samsung has admirably crafted a smartphone that’s finally a worthy competitor to the iPhone.
Of course, that’s not to say it is the best Android smartphone available out there. The Mi Note Pro, for example, is still a serious threat given its expected low price point. On that note it should be said too that OnePlus is also due to release its OnePlus Two smartphone in the coming months.
With the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, Samsung has proven that it is not quite done being the number one smartphone company. It has finally gotten its act together, and finally crafted a smartphone that simply cannot be considered cheap or ugly. In fact, they’re desirable – now that’s another word you don’t normally associate with Samsung smartphones.
However, there are some worrying shortcomings on the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge. The Edge Screen, with its limited functions, remains more of a technological breakthrough with few real-life applications. However, the poor battery life is something that is of a greater concern.
On the other hand, both these phones pack exceptional hardware, refreshing modern design and the adaptive fast charger really does charge effortlessly fast. But the best thing about the GS6 is undeniably the excellent camera – it performs fantastically well in almost any lighting condition with great images you can count on.
The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge are naturally the best smartphones Samsung has ever created, but the true weight of that statement lies in how far that gap was between these two and the ones preceding it. Hence, one question remains:
Are consumers ready for a premium-priced Samsung Galaxy?
We’re about to find out.