Display: 5.1-inch 2560 x 1440 Quad HD Super AMOLED with 587 pixels per inch
OS: Android 5.0.1 Lollipop
Processor: 2.7GHz + 1.5GHz Exynos 7420 64-bit octa-core processor
Memory: 3GB RAM, 32GB (no microSD card slot)
Camera: 20-megapixel rear camera with optical image stabilization, 5-megapixel front-facing
Video: Up to 4K Ultra HD video recording
Battery: 2550mAh (non-removable) 2600mAh (for GS6 Edge)
Connections: LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS, NFC, IR blaster
Dimensions: 5.64 x 2.79 x 0.27 inches
Weight: 174 grams
Comes in black and white
For the first time, Samsung has split its flagship Galaxy S line into two distinct models. There is the regular flat version following in the footsteps of its predecessors, and the Edge, which curves on both sides for unique functionality. Under the hood, there is little that sets these two apart, so your choice is going to be mostly about which look you prefer.
Both of these devices take elements of recent models, like the Galaxy S5, Galaxy Alpha and Galaxy Note Edge, and apply them into what is easily the most elegant smartphone Samsung has ever made. Refined and with a premium design, it’s exactly what Samsung had to do to reinvigorate this line. By adding the curved edges on the S6 Edge, consumers have a choice, though the true impact of those edges will take some time to show themselves.
New design, new look
Maligned by some for using plastic and making the Galaxy S5 too similar to its predecessors, the Galaxy S6 has been given a classier makeover by sporting a metal and glass design. The front and back are made of tough Gorilla Glass 4, fused together by metal along the edges — not plastic with a chrome finish. This breaks the mold in the Galaxy S line for the first time in that there’s no removable back plate to switch out the battery and no expandable memory card slot, either.
The new look does come with some design tweaks. The speaker is now at the bottom instead of the back, next to the microUSB port. The headphone jack, which used to be at the top on the GS5, is now at the bottom. A microphone and IR blaster are at the top. Volume buttons are now separated with a gap instead of being together on one slab. The SIM card slot lies just below the power button on the right. The exposed ports also mean both versions of the Galaxy S6 are not waterproof, unlike the Galaxy S5.
The 5.1-inch display is the same size, except the resolution has been bumped up to a Quad HD Super AMOLED that puts it right on par with the Galaxy Note 4. The extra pixels won’t be obvious to your eyes, so don’t expect a huge difference from the Galaxy S5, but that’s not to say that the screen isn’t something to behold. It is gorgeous and vibrant, with colours that are better than the overly saturated blues that used to be common in Samsung’s phones.
Under the hood, Samsung used its own Exynos octa-core processor, rather than the Qualcomm chips the Galaxy S line has always run on. It’s hard to say whether this change makes a big difference in actual performance, since there aren’t other smartphones running on the Snapdragon 810 to compare. Either way, both S6 models run on the same Exynos chip, and they run very fast.
The best thing about both of these phones is that Samsung dialed back its previous software excesses. Many of the conceptual and gimmicky features from previous models have been removed — some completely, others relegated to downloads via the Galaxy App Store. The result is a smoother and more relaxed software layout where Samsung’s TouchWiz interface takes more of a backseat instead of dictating how Android looks and feels.
The S6 Edge offers an extra layer of software that the flat model doesn’t. Swiping in a panel from the top right (or top left) of the home screen reveals a separate menu designated for five contacts that are colour-coded. When the phone is placed face down, the edge will light up with the corresponding colour when that person calls or messages. It’s a neat feature, but only practical if you regularly keep your phone face down. Outside of that, the edge doesn’t do much at the moment. Some notifications, like the time, weather and missed calls, will appear if you slide your finger along the display, except it’s a little hit or miss. The edge display’s true value will only be realized by third-party developers who support the added functionality with their apps. It will be months before we see how extensive that turns out to be.
There is no question both phones offer speedy performance. Launching apps, swiping through menus and playing games, I noticed no real lag or slowdown. The phones did have a tendency to get hot when the processor had to work hard, such as running a GPS navigation app or immersive game, but it rarely got to the point where I couldn’t hold it comfortably. Playing music, web browsing, installing apps and streaming media all ran smoothly, never giving me any issues to worry about.
One significant improvement that positively affects usability is the home button’s new fingerprint sensor. Rather than swiping down on it, like on the Galaxy S5, you only need to touch it to unlock the screen. Setting it up was as easy as applying my thumb multiple times to register a fuller print onscreen. For me, the functional difference was massive, simply because both Galaxy S6 models were able to read my thumb much faster than I ever experienced with the GS5.
Other than the improved fingerprint sensor, I became a big fan of the camera’s quick draw as a usability tweak that makes real sense. Even with the screen off, double tapping the home button automatically launches the camera for those moments where a quick photo snap is required.
The 16-megapixel rear camera is uses a wider f/1.9 aperture and includes optical image stabilization. To add another helpful hand, Samsung made HDR mode automatic, letting it kick in on its own when the sensor needs a boost. This combination yields solid results, particularly in low-light settings, where previous phones in this line have struggled.
The front-facing camera is great for typical selfies and video chatting, and holding down the heart rate monitor under the LED light in the back acts as a shutter to make it easier.
There is no difference in camera usage and performance between the two S6 models, though I would say that the regular flat model is easier to hold, especially for selfies.
Personally, I appreciated that Samsung kept things simple with the various photography modes, too. Gone are many of the odd or superfluous ones from past models, with only those that really make the most of the camera remaining present.
Samsung sacrificed a removable battery to achieve the premium design for both phones. It’s perhaps the most divisive decision the company could have made, but some contingencies have been built-in to help keep them running along. The fast charger that comes included in the box is able to recharge the phone from empty to full in 80 minutes. A 10-minute charge can provide up to four hours of usage.
In addition, these are currently the only phones that support both wireless charging standards (Qi and PMA), so if you have one lying around, that is another way to keep the juice flowing.
These prove necessary because battery life, while decent, isn’t exceptional. In some respects, the GS5 lasts longer, though both S6’s are more efficient, overall. Of course, battery life is largely subjective, since usage patterns vary by user, but in my experience testing them, there is room for improvement. The fast charger was great to have for a quick charge at home though.
It isn’t just a choice to go with the Galaxy S6, it’s also one of which model to choose from. For the time being, the S6 Edge is more an aesthetic difference than a practical one, so there is little to set it apart from its flatter counterpart. What’s good to note is that actual performance is consistent between them. One isn’t faster or slower than the other, and the build quality is excellent either way. Take the edges away from the S6 Edge, and you literally have the regular S6 in just about every way.
Check out more on Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, now available at Best Buy.