Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. That's been the theme for the perpetually plastic Samsung Galaxy S line ever since it launched in 2010. But now, Samsung has finally caught up to Apple with the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge, which has a curved display on both sides. Actually, make that surpass Apple, because these two glass-and-metal phones seriously bring the sexy.
That's not the only reason to potentially drop your iPhone -- or upgrade your aging Android. Available globally starting April 10, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge both sport faster, brighter and smarter cameras (16 MP on the back, 5 MP up front); a speedy octa-core Exynos processor (at least for the international version); and a 5.1-inch quad HD display. Plus, there's wireless charging built in.
Samsung let us go hands-on with the S6 and S6 Edge, which are coming to all of the major U.S. carriers. Despite some trade-offs made in the name of pretty, there's no question that these flagship phones demand your attention.
Design: Eat Your Heart Out, iPhone 6
What colors are this dress? You can forgive me for referencing that Internet meme, because the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge actually look different based on how they reflect light. Samsung added a reflective structure to the Gorilla Glass 4.0 back to bring out more color. For example, the Black Saphhire model can look blue, depending on how you hold it.
Other hues for the Galaxy S6 in include a bold Topaz Blue, White Pearl and Gold Platinum. The curved S6 Edge has a sleek Emerald Green option in addition to black, white and gold.
Between the metal frame and Gorilla Glass front and back, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge feel solid but not slippery. The bottom edge looks a little too much like the iPhone 6 for my taste, as the headphone jack, charging port and speaker grilles are all in the same position, but it still looks good.
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The S6 weighs 4.9 ounces and measures 0.28 inches and the S6 Edge is a thinner 0.26 inches and 4.7 ounces. Between the two designs, I prefer the Edge because it simply looks more futuristic-chic, but there's not that much utility to the curved sides.
Key Specs: CPU, RAM, Display
The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge share similar specs. Both international variants are powered by Samsung's 64-bit, octa-core Exynos processor (Quad 2.1-GHz + Quad 1.5-Ghz), which is the world’s first 14 nanometer processor for mobile. The handsets will also sport 3GB of RAM and ultra-fast USF 2.0 flash memory.
It's possible that the U.S. version of these phones will feature a different CPU, but Samsung isn't spilling the details yet.
You get a 5.1-inch quad HD Super AMOLED display (2560 x 1440 pixels) for the S6 and S6 Edge. That comes out to 577 ppi, which blows away the iPhone 6's 326 ppi.
The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge will start with 32GB of storage, but 64GB and 128GB options will also be available.
As for battery capacity, you're looking at 2,600 mAH for the S6 and a slightly less 2,500 mAh for the S6 Edge. That's less capacity than the 2,800 mAh Galaxy S5, but Samsung says the battery life should be fairly comparable. I can't wait to test that claim.
S6 Edge: Sexy But Limited
With its two curved edges, the S6 Edge will obviously command a premium versus the regular S6, but don't expect Galaxy Note Edge-like versatility. You won't find any Edge screen apps or an app store, but you can still access news and other tickers when the display is off. You just rub the display like rubbing the genie out of a lamp.
When the screen is on, you can access your favorite contacts with a quick swipe in from the right, and even assign colors to them. When the phone is face-down, you'll see the display glow in that color so you can see who's trying to reach you at a glance. However, you can't use the Edge to quickly access your favorite apps, as you can with the Note Edge.
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The only benefit to having the curved display on both sides of the phone is that lefties can switch the above features from the right side to the left.
Cameras: Brighter, Simpler, Faster
My favorite feature of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge is how fast the camera launches. Samsung claims that it takes just 0.7 seconds from the time you double-tap the home button. I didn't time it, but it felt very swift.
Samsung kept the 16-MP resolution for the back camera but upped the resolution for the front shooter from 2MP on the Galaxy S5 to 5MP. More important, both cameras now take brighter pics, thanks to the smaller f stop number of f/1.9. This results in a bigger aperture, which lets in more light. The S5 had an f stop of f/2.2 on the back and f/2.4 on the front.
I saw the results when a Samsung rep took a group selfie of a bunch of journalists during a briefing. The S6 image was brighter and benefitted from a wider-angle lens.
Other camera enhancements include Auto Real-Time HDR (so you don't have to press anything to get more balanced-looking shots), optical image stabilization and a unique IR detect white balance feature. The Galaxy S6 leverages the back heart rate monitor to detect infrared levels. Basically, the camera is smart enough to detect if a photo is being taken outdoors or indoors, and can adjust the white balance accordingly.
Great for parents, the S6 can automatically track a moving subject with fast-tracking auto focus. We tested this feature by shooting a moving car, and the yellow square followed the car as it moved across the frame.
Last but not least is the Virtual Shot mode, which allows you to create quick 360-tours of objects or fun 360-selfies. After you take the shot, you can rewind or fast forward the footage, or share the short video clips.
Wireless Charging: No Case Required
The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge aren't the first phones to have inductive wireless-charging capability built in, but it's still nice to have. Supporting the WPC and PMA standards, Samsung is hoping to make your life a little bit easier as more retailers start to embrace the tech (like McDonald's and Starbucks).
Samsung will also sell wireless-charging pads.
To help you juice up faster when going the wired route, the S6 and S6 Edge support fast charging. Using the included charger, you can get to 50 percent capacity in 30 minutes, or supposedly 2 hours of video playback out of just a 10-minute charge.
Software: Less TouchWiz Clutter
Running Android 5.0, the TouchWiz software overlay on the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge looks and feels less cluttered than what we've seen before. In fact, Samsung says that it reduced the number of built-in features and steps for performing various functions by 40 percent.
One example I don't necessarily love is the quick settings menu; you'll see five options by default, and you can't expand to the typical 20 or so. However, you can use the settings menu to swap options in and out. The camera menus have also been streamlined.
Mobile Payments: Here Comes Samsung Pay
The Galaxy S6 will support Samsung Pay during the second half of the year, which will be compatible with both magnetic secure transmission (MST) and NFC for mobile payments. This means you should be able to use the S6 and S6 Edge at a wide range of retailers -- certainly more than Apple Pay with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Samsung says payments will be secured via Samsung Knox, fingerprint scanning and advanced tokenization.
Trade-offs: No Back Panel or Expandable Memory
It's important to note that the S6 and S6 Edge lack both a microSD Card slot for expansion and removable back panel and battery. These have been hallmark features of the Galaxy line, and it will be interesting to see if shoppers are turned off by their omission. The good news is that the S6 starts with 32GB of memory.
In addition, the Galaxy S6 will not be water resistant, which is a bummer. At least you won't have to worry about the S5's annoying microUSB power flap. A lot of owners wound up tearing it off.
According to Samsung, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge will go on sale in the U.S. starting in April. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless will carry the Galaxy S 6 and Galaxy 6 edge. However, Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS will only get the regular S6. Pricing will be made available close to launch.
Those who pick up the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge will be able to say with confidence that they don't have Apple envy. The designs are better looking than the iPhone 6 (despite the copycat bottom). Just as important, Samsung has made key improvements to the back and front cameras to help you take pictures faster, with brighter and less blurry images.
I consider the S6's wireless charging more of a bonus at this point, at least until it's available in more places. I'm also curious to see how Samsung's mobile payment solution stacks up against Apple Pay when it goes live.
I’m nervous about the lower-capacity battery versus the Galaxy S5, but, hopefully, the S6 and S6 Edge will be more efficient than their predecessor (whether via the 14 nm processor or less software bloat). Some may lament the lack of microSD and a removable battery, but I'm willing to make those trade-offs for a design that doesn't feel like an also-ran.
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