Its twin, slim replacements, 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. And while the phones won’t be available worldwide until the second quarter (Samsung hasn’t announced prices for either), the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge must succeed, and quickly. 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. 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 card. (We’ll test it when we write our future full review.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S6, S6 EDGE DIMENSIONS
Galaxy S6 Edge
5.6 x 2.8 x 0.27
5.6 x 2.8 x 0.28
143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8
142.1 x 70.1 x 7.0
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.
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.
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. I wasn’t able to test this yet.
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.”
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.
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.
Samsung Galaxy S6 uses it’s own processor instead of snapdragon. Octa-core 4×2.1GHz + 4×1.5GHz 64-bit 14nm Samsung Exynos processor
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.
Mobile payments up ahead
Samsung’s improved fingerprint reader sets it up for making mobile payments using its newly acquired LoopPay technology. Samsung won’t roll out Samsung Pay, as it will be known, until this summer and it isn’t clear which markets it’ll tackle beyond the US.
Few more hardware details, the S6 phones will have 3GB RAM, but there’s no word on the GPU spec. There’s NFC connectivity and Bluetooth 4.1 with support for low energy, which means the new Galaxy phones will work with all manner of contactless payments, streaming audio, touch-to-pair, and all of the other standard features you expect in a mainstream Android phone. (As a reminder, the iPhone 6/6 Plus NFC feature is still limited to Apple Pay compatibility, and nothing else.) The double curves on this S6 Edge mean that southpaws can call up the Edge display on the left, too.
Android 5.0.2 Lollipop with TouchWiz
S6: 5.1-inch QHD (2560×1440), 577ppi, Super AMOLED S6 edge: 5.1-inch QHD (2560×1440) 577ppi Super AMOLED with dual curved edges