Review: Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge - The bar has been raised
Overview, Design & Features
It's no secret that Samsung needed to shake things up with the S6. While the S4 and S5 were both good phones, there was a definite sense that Samsung had become complacent, releasing a fairly similar phone year after year. Neither the S4, nor the S5 really captured the attention of the public and for the past two years at least, Samsung's Galaxy Note series has been its most exciting product line.
Well shake things up Samsung did. Gone is the utilitarian plastic build of past Galaxy smartphones. Gone is Samsung's partnership with Qualcomm. For better or worse, gone too is the removable battery and expandable storage. In their place, Samsung has put together an aluminum and glass stunner, with an in-house Exynos 7420 octa-core processor, with 32, 64, or 128GB internal storage options and a sealed 2,550mAh battery. And if that's not different enough for you, there's even a dual-curved screen variant, the Galaxy S6 Edge.
Both the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge will be available on 18th April 2015 at the following recommended retail prices:-
- Samsung Galaxy S6 (32GB) - PhP 35,990
- Samsung Galaxy S6 (64GB) - PhP 41,990
- Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge ( 32GB) - PhP 41,990
- Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge (64GB) - PhP 47,990
Well, it's about time. For years we’ve been complaining about Samsung’s plastic phones. The Galaxy S5 and its predecessors have all been entirely plastic, and while it used to be acceptable, when HTC and Sony started releasing metal phones, it was hard not to feel ripped off paying more for a plastic one. Fortunately, that's all changed. There's barely an ounce of plastic on the S6 and S6 Edge. The only place you'll find it are the four antenna lines at the top and bottom edge - a necessary evil. The front and back are Gorilla Glass 4 (which Samsung says is 50 percent stronger than Gorilla Glass 3), and the frame is aluminum with chamfered edges. It's classy, it's tasteful, and it looks and feels premium. It's about as far as you can get from last year's band-aid-inspired S5. It almost looks like something made by Apple (but, we jest).
Speaking of which, let's address that. There are definitely some similarities between the S6 and the iPhone 6 that can't be ignored. The button and port placement is exactly the same, and the speaker grille looks just like the iPhone 5. Even the color of the aluminum matches the matte silver color Apple uses on the white iPhone 6. As a result, the bottom edge looks shockingly similar to the iPhone 6. Still, they're just similarities and viewed as a whole, the S6, and especially the S6 Edge, is definitely its own phone.
In Samsung's defense, this isn't actually the first time it's experimented with a metal design. The Note 4 had a metal frame, as did the Galaxy Alpha, and the youth-orientated A series smartphones all sport metal chassis. All of this has been refined for the S6, and it shows, displaying a level of fit and polish that far surpasses Samsung's previous efforts. Now we're just hoping that Samsung carries this newfound attention to detail over to the Note series and finally ditches that awful faux leather it's been championing.
In terms of shape, the S6 isn't all that different from previous Galaxy devices, with Samsung's familiar rounded corners. On both phones, the power button sits on the right edge right under your thumb, and on the S6, the nano-SIM card slot can be found here too.
On the S6 Edge, the nano-SIM has been relocated to the top of the phone. Up here, you'll also find an IR blaster on both phones, in case you want to use your phone as a TV remote.
On both phones, the micro-USB port and headphone jack can be found on the bottom, while the left-side houses individual volume up and down buttons.
One thing that's worth pointing out here is that, unlike the S5, the S6 isn't waterproof - Samsung seems to have ditched the whole 'active lifestyle' thing it was pushing last year.
The S6 Edge ups the wow factor with a display that curves around the sides of the device resulting in a beautiful bezel-less infinity pool-like effect. We first saw this on the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, but this time, both sides of the screen curve off the edge at a steeper gradient for a more aesthetically pleasing symmetrical design. The dual curved display is an immediate attention grabber, and the way it makes images and icons pop off the screen is completely unique. It's hard to capture just how gorgeous this display is in pictures, and you really have to see it in person.
In hand, both phones feel great, with the S6 being the comfier of the two. The edges on the S6 are rounded, but unlike the iPhone 6, Samsung has wisely flattened out the sides, rather than rounding them all the way, resulting in a less slippery, more comfortable grip. The S6 Edge, due to the way the screen curves over the side, doesn't really have that benefit, and it feels a bit sharper as a result, but not entirely uncomfortable.
On the front of both phones, a metal-ringed home button joins two capacitive keys. As with the S5 and Note 4, the home button is a fingerprint scanner, but it's been hugely improved and is actually worth using now. Instead of swiping your finger across the sensor, you now just press it on the home button, similar to Apple's Touch ID scanner. It's fast and reliable, and one of the better fingerprint scanner implementations we've seen on an Android device.
On the back of both phones, you'll find a 16-megapixel camera with an f/1.9 aperture lens, and an LED array that includes the camera's flash and heart-rate monitor.
If there's one sore point regarding the design of the S6, it's how far out the camera bump protrudes.
Both phones will be available in White Pearl, Black Sapphire, and the ever popular Gold Platinum, which looks absolutely stunning now that Samsung is actually using a metal build.
In addition, both phones get their own unique color variant. The S6 sports a very nice Blue Topaz finish, while the S6 Edge gets Green Emerald. Do note however that neither of these colors will be available at launch. On each of the three main colors, the metal frame matches the main body color, with the aluminum on the Black Sapphire being a shade darker than on the White Pearl. The Platinum Gold, of course, is gold colored. Both the Blue Topaz S6 and Green Emerald S6 Edge appear to use the same light silver aluminum frame as the White Pearl.
Samsung has done an amazing job on every color, and the finishes look more like high-end car paint jobs than smartphones. Our favorite right now is probably Black Sapphire, which is actually a very dark navy blue. The color shifts depending on how the light catches it, appearing black sometimes and dark blue at others.
Display & Audio
Both the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge have made the leap up to QHD screen resolution and boast a whopping 2560 x 1440 pixels in a 16:9 aspect ratio. With both phones using 5.1-inch displays (the S6 Edge display is exactly the same size, it's just curved at the sides), that results in 577ppi, which is by far the highest ppi count available right now. For comparison, the LG G3, which also has a QHD display, but is larger at 5.5-inches, has 538ppi. The upcoming HTC One M9 has a 5-inch Full HD display, resulting in 441ppi, while the 4.7-inch Apple iPhone 6 has just 326ppi.
At this resolution, it's impossible to discern any pixels on the screen, and even through a magnifying glass, you'll be hard-pressed to see any jaggedness. Having said that, side-by-side with just your eye, it's hard to see much, if any, difference between the S6 and the - on paper at least - inferior iPhone 6.
As with most of Samsung's displays, both displays are Super AMOLED, with flawless contrast, vivid colors and deep blacks. The displays are also some of the brightest we've seen, even by Samsung's already high standards. Despite the highly reflective finish of the Gorilla Glass 4 covering the displays, reflections aren't too bad due to the high screen brightness, and even under bright sunlight, the screen remains fairly easy to view.
Audio on both phones comes from a single speaker located on the bottom edge. It's fairly loud and the audio quality is satisfactory but it really doesn't compare to front-facing stereo speakers such as the ones found on the HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z3. On the plus side, it's still far superior to the rear-facing speaker found on the S5.
Like the iPhone 6, the problem with bottom edge speakers is that when you hold the phone in landscape orientation, it's quite easy to cover the speaker with your hand. And even if you don't, there's an annoying one-sided quality to the audio. It's a pity because with a screen this good, we hoped the audio would be able to match it. Of course, you can always plug in some headphones.
UI & Features
For years now, we've lampooned the bloat heavy and often sluggish Samsung TouchWiz UI, but surprisingly that's all changed with the S6. Based on Android 5.0.2 Lollipop, Samsung has shown remarkable restraint, resulting in the closest to stock Android experience we've seen in a Samsung phone. Gone is the lag, replaced with a snappy and responsive user experience. Samsung has streamlined a lot of its services and features too, and some, such as mutli-window mode are now baked into the UI, and don't need to be toggled on individually. In the case of multi-window mode, you just tap open split screen windows from the recent apps menu.
As for pre-loaded apps, Samsung has cut it down to a few of its greatest hits comprising of S Planner, S Health and S Voice. If you want others like Kids Mode, Car Mode and SideSync, you can download them individually from Samsung's Galaxy apps store.
Like a few other Android phones, Samsung has also introduced a themes store, which let you change things like icons, wallpapers, widgets and the system font all in one go. Right now there's not that much here, but we did spot an Avengers: Age of Ultron theme, just in time for the upcoming movie!
S6 Edge Features
The S6 Edge also has a few (and we do mean a few) extra features that take advantage of its curved display. The Night clock mode, which will dimly display the clock for up to 12 hours a day (or night) and the Edge information panel, which displays the clock, date and any missed notifications when the main screen is off, have made it over from the Note Edge. Unfortunately, the rest of the Note Edge's functionality, like the always on information ticker running down the side of the screen, or the optimized apps with relocated controls on the edge part of the screen, or even silly apps like the ruler, are all missing from the S6 Edge.
One new feature not seen on the Note Edge is Edge People. Swipe inwards on the small grey tab in the upper right corner of the screen and you'll see a hub showing your five favorite people. Select one and assign them a color, and you can fast-track a call or message to them. If you miss a call from one of them, a slim tab in their designated color appears on the side of the display to alert you.
The Edge People feature goes hand in hand with the S6 Edge's other new feature, Edge lightning, which lights up the edge of the display when you're receiving an incoming call, but strangely it only works when the phone is placed face down. If you've assigned the caller to one of your Edge People tabs, their chosen color will display when they're calling. A handy but ridiculously specific feature also lets you send them a Quick Reply SMS informing them you're busy right now by covering the heart-rate monitor with your finger.
Samsung definitely made the S6 Edge primarily in pursuit of aesthetics and style and, to their credit, it does look ridiculously cool. We suspect that for many people, that will be more than enough reason to buy it. But we're still a little disappointed that the S6 Edge doesn't have more built-in functionality to justify its design, as we quite liked some of the things the Note Edge could do. It's also worth noting that, as of now, none of the apps created for the Note Edge work on the S6 Edge.