Previous generations of Samsung flagships are riddled with half-baked features that works ‘sometimes’ and has a penchant to annoy more than please users. Remember that awful swipe-action fingerprint scanner? Or that slow but high-res camera? Or the water proofing that goes away when that USB port cover gives way after a few months? You get the idea. The S6 is different though, as Samsung seems to have finally decided, “enough is enough”, and chose to deliver only on the core essentials, and boy did they deliver.
Design: Glass & metal
This is a flagship worthy of that title when it comes to design and material choice. Gone are the cheesy fake leather and horrible plastics of old. This is very much a metal and glass only device, a necessity nowadays, as even traditionally lower-end Chinese manufacturers are already producing uni-body metal alloy smartphones. This year’s Galaxy has glass on the front and rear, with chamfered edged metal rim running along the sides.
Despite the curves, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge is easy to hold when compared to something like the iPhone 6. This is because of the sharper edges that provides grip. It isn’t too sharp. This, combined with a relatively small form factor makes it a phone that is easy to pick up and use without worrying too much about dropping it. The glass back does make it easy to slide around on a smooth surface, but as far as holding it goes, it surprisingly doesn’t feel as slippery as the iPhone 6.
There are breaks in the metal for the antenna lines, which unfortunately is viewable from when looking at the device head on at the screen. However this is a very minor gripe and only worth mentioning because the overall design is of such a high standard.
The Galaxy S6 Edge variant comes with a screen that curves near its edges, unlike the Note 4 Edge albeit at a lesser curvature. This gives the phone a distinct and sophisticated look when compared to other smartphones. I will note though that Apple’s iPhones still holds its own as its 2.5D glass looks mighty sexy as well. But the fact that this author is comparing a Samsung smartphone and an iPhone shows how far Samsung has come in terms of design in a year. This year’s Samsung flagships will be a joy to look at and hold, with really no flaws when it comes to design.
Processor: Fastest Android smartphone yet
The S6 Edge is the first smartphone to adopt UFS as opposed of eMMC for storage. UFS is a new protocol for storage that brings higher reads and writes. It is able to achieve this increase in performance because UFS is able to perform full-duplex (read: simultaneous) read/write and has command queue – the ability for the NAND controller to address and reorder (for optimization) of multiple commands without the need to wait for a process to complete.
The S6 Edge also utilizes a brand new SoC – the Exynos 7420, an 8-core (2.1 GHz 4 x A57+ 1.5 GHz 4 x A53) CPU cluster coupled with a Mali-T760 MP8 GPU. This new SoC outperforms the Snapdragon 810 utilized by many 2015 flagship Android smartphones for numerous reasons. The first being an advanced 14nm manufacturing process, resulting in a smaller die size and better power efficiency. This means less heat and therefore higher sustained frequencies for both its CPU and GPU. The smaller manufacturing process also allowed Samsung to cram in eight GPU shader cores, thereby increasing the GPU performance even further (gaming benchmarks shows 25% faster performance to its nearest competitors – the Adreno 420/430 GPUs). To top it off, Samsung slapped on LPDDR4 super for extra low power, high bandwidth memory to ensure overall solid performance.
The numbers are reflected in day-to-day use. I’ve not seen a TouchWiz device perform so well. You’ll be hard pressed to look for stutters and scrolling issues, although badly coded 3rd party apps will no doubt still slow down the device. Launching apps, even on an encrypted partition is blazingly fast.
Display: That curved 1440p 5.1” Super AMOLED
So what do you do with the gain in performance and power efficiency? You use them to power push pixels, of course! The S6 Edge packs a S-AMOLED 1440p display that looks absolutely gorgeous with spot on white balance and color accuracy. Oh, and it’s brighter too, so bright that the S6 Edge is probably the first AMOLED screen that’s has decent view ability outdoors. And it does all this without drastically affecting battery life. If you’re worried about performance, don’t – because the Exynos 7420 is more than capable of driving this high-resolution display for day-to-day use and gaming. This is one of the best screens you can get right now.
In terms of software features to take advantage of the curved display – there are a few. The first is a swipe gesture that’ll allow quick access to contacts from the home screen. Another makes the edge glow different colors if you place the phone screen down whenever there is a call. And finally there one that shows you snippets of information without turning on your phone if you perform a weird gesture along the edges when the phone is off. If all of this sounds gimmicky, and weird, that’s because they are. My advice is to just think of the curved screen as a design element and ignore the extra functionality.
Battery: Strictly an 8-10 hour phone (with fast & wireless charging)
First, let’s talk about the big elephant in the room – non-removable battery. Yes, Samsung took away one of my favorite feature of their phones – the fact that I can purchase a spare battery with a desktop charger and be confident that I’ll get through a day trip without ever reaching for a charger or a battery pack. Gone are also the days when I can pick up external battery cases for my Samsung phones that are compact because they attach into the battery compartment as opposed to iPhone-style cases where they are thicker and longer because they need to plug into the lightning connector. So am I bummed? Yes. Is this a deal breaker? Well, no because. You can always use a battery pack or deal with the slightly larger battery case. So let’s move on.
During my time with the S6 Edge, I used it as I would any regular Android smartphone. Push notifications are on, light news reading via Google Newsstand, chatting via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, replying to some short emails, photo taking (about 50+) and sharing, and social network browsing. There were some brief calls, but no gaming. All while connected to a 3G network, with Bluetooth turned on and paired to my Android Wear smart watch. After 6 hours and 35 minutes off the charger, battery dropped to 38%. I’d say this is an 8-10 hour phone for my usage pattern. So battery life isn’t spectacular, and is about the same as my Galaxy S4 and Nexus 5. I’m glad to see Samsung didn’t sacrifice battery life for that 1440p display, but part of me wished they installed a bigger battery.
Samsung decided to include wireless charging for its S6 Edge (both Qi and Powermat), and I’m very happy they did. My Nexus 7 and Nexus 5 has it, and my Galaxy S4 was retrofitted with a Qi receiver so it too can charge wirelessly. Once you get used to not having to fumble with a charging code, reversible or otherwise, it’s hard going back.
If you’re in a pinch for power, use the included power adapter and you’ll find that a 20 minute charge can give you as much as 30% power. It only takes 1.5 hours to go from 0% to 100% battery. This is all thanks to the fast charging tech included in the S6 Edge. So while we’re still seeing the same battery life as previous generation smartphones, the inclusion of wireless charging for convenience, and fast charging when you need that quick charge, sort of makes up for it. I still hope next year we’ll get a bigger battery though, especially for smartphones with non-removable batteries like the S6 Edge.
Camera: Brilliant front and rear facing cameras
You get a 16 MP shooter with optical image stabilization for still images on the main camera, and a 5 MP for the front facing camera. How do they perform? Brilliant. The camera launches in sub-1 second, and when combined with the quick action to launch the camera (double press of the home button), I can get the camera ready for a shot between lifting the phone from waist height to my face. This is even faster than my iPhone 6 plus, which requires a swipe up gesture after I’m staring at the screen. Way to go Samsung! The camera UI has also been updated to look less… insane.
You still get the various modes, it’s just not so in-your-face anymore compared to the previous iterations of Samsung’s camera UI. There’s a new ‘pro’ mode, which allows tweaking of white balance, manual focusing, ISO selection and exposure modes. Manual focusing came in handy when this reviewer attempted to shoot macro but for some reason the camera wouldn’t focus right. One minor gripe I have is that the camera doesn’t seem to retain its mode selection. Annoying as I very much prefer the pro mode.
Just for kicks, I did a test shot with the iPhone 6 Plus. There are a few observations one can make. The most obvious one would be the aspect ratio: the iPhone shoots at 4:3, while the S6 shoots at an odd 16:9 (good luck printing and framing your photos). The S6 Edge can be made to shoot at a 4:3 ratio but your effect megapixel drops to 12 MP. Another observation is the tendency of the S6 Edge to expose for a brighter image, while the iPhone 6 plus prefers to freeze motion by shooting at a higher shutter speed. Finally, both phones can be seen to have different white balance and saturation processing.
For video you get slow motion 720p120, 1080p30, 1080p60, and 4k30 modes (among others), with only 1080p30 offering video stabilization. After testing out the various modes, it became evident that video stabilization is very desirable when shooting handheld. You also get HDR in video mode that definitely helps, as the dynamic range of the videos seems to increase quite a bit. A pleasant surprise is the support of up to QHD resolution and HDR for video using the front facing camera.
When comparing the rear or primary camera, the general opinion is that the S6 camera is neck to neck compared to the iPhone and I agree. The iPhone may still perform better when it comes to freezing motion, but the S6’s photos are brighter and packs a higher resolution. The f1.9 lens on the S6 is also able to shoot a shallower depth of field. For video, it’s again a toss, as the iPhone takes higher frame rate slow motion videos, but the S6 brings UHD (4K) video to the table. The S6 front facing camera however, totally obliterates the iPhone’s. Not only does it take higher resolution photos and videos, it’s also sports a wider angle lens for better selfies with friends (groupies?).
Frustration-free fingerprint scanner
The fingerprint scanner is as good as what you get on the iPhones, and by that I mean it’s awesome. The device is able to use your fingerprint to not just unlock your phone, but to also enter password on your behalf in websites, and also to perform purchases in Samsung’s app store. Google Play Store does not yet support using a user’s fingerprint as means to authorize purchases, but I foresee support coming soon. 3rd party apps such as LastPass that requires password access is also able to take advantage of the finger print scanner, but this depends on specific app support.
But is the finger print scanner reliable in daily use? Yes it is! When comparing to the iPhone 6 Plus, both seems to have about the same level of reliability, with very low failure rates. Grease and moisture will throw both devices off. Training the fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S6 Edge takes a bit longer than the iPhone, but again I’m just nit picking here, since you only need to train your phone once for each finger.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge is a gorgeous device worthy of its flagship status. It has the best SoC of any Android smartphone of 2015 at the time of writing, an awesome camera and a very much improved finger print scanner. It’s a flagship that seems to tick all the right checkboxes, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in using an Android smartphone. If you’re a person that must have the latest and greatest, then this is for you. If you want a cheaper option, look at the S6. It’s the same thing, without the curved display.