Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone the Galaxy S6 Edge has a curved screen, metal body and is powerful. But is it enough to beat strong competition from HTC, Sony and Apple?
The S6 Edge combines the premium design and feel of Samsung’s Alpha range with the curved screen technology seen in the Note Edge phablet to create a new smartphone that is a cut above previous efforts.
Glass, metal and smooth curves
For Samsung, the Galaxy S6 Edge is a statement that design should lead technology rather than the other way around.
It is Samsung’s first all metal and glass smartphone. Out with the plastic and in with a hard chamfered aluminium band running around the side of the device and a glass back. It is solid with absolutely no give or flex anywhere in the body, but loses the waterproofing of last year’s Galaxy S5.
The S6 Edge is both thin at 7mm thick and light at 132g, comparing favourably to competition from Apple’s 6.9mm thin and 132g iPhone 6 as well as HTC’s thicker and heavier One M9 and most other smartphones.
The standout feature, however, has to be the curved edges of the screen, which roll over the left and right sides down to the metal bezel running around the side. In the hand the metal edges make the S6 Edge feel thinner than it is, but have a reassuring solidity to them.
The metal band also has a hard edge to it, which makes it easy to hang on to, while the curved edges of the screen feel silky smooth when running a thumb over them.
The 5.1in quad HD screen itself is pin sharp with one of the highest pixel densities to date, vibrant and has rich blacks and wide viewing angles, making it one of the best screens ever fitted to a smartphone and a marked step up from already good screen on the Galaxy S5.
Overall, Galaxy S6 Edge is the best-looking smartphone Samsung has ever produced and finally matches HTC and Apple on craftsmanship.
- Screen: 5.1in quad HD AMOLED (577ppi)
- Processor: octa-core Samsung Exynos 7420
- RAM: 3GB of RAM
- Storage: 64/128GB; no SD card
- Operating system: Android 5.0.2 “Lollipop” with TouchWiz
- Camera: 16MP rear camera with OIS, 5MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, wireless charging, Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS
- Dimensions: 142.1 x 70.1 x 7mm
- Weight: 132g
Snappy, but short on juice
The Galaxy S6 line is the first to use Samsung’s own Exynos processor in US, EU and UK versions of its smartphones. Typically the Exynos chips have only been used in countries without 4G coverage, favouring Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips in the US, EU and UK.
The octo-core Exynos 7420 processor has two quad-core processors combined. A lower power 1.5GHz chip performs most undemanding tasks and a more powerful, but also more power hungry 2.1GHz chip takes over when needed.
As a consequence the Edge is one of the fastest Android smartphones I’ve used to date, with no visible lag. Even the recently used apps launcher, which is notoriously slow on almost every Android smartphone, is fast to pop up.
That speed comes at the price of battery life. Samsung ditched both a microSD card slot and a removable battery with the S6 line, which power users will cry over.
The S6 Edge is more susceptible to usage battery drain than most other smartphones. In standby it consumes almost nothing and when performing less demanding tasks, such as emailing, battery life is solid. But when the faster processor is fired up, it consumes battery very fast indeed. It means battery life can be very variable.
Most days I was able to make it though a solid work day and go to bed without it dying. Others it could be dead by 6pm – and forget about doing any gaming for any extended periods of time.
It charges fast and has wireless charging, but one day’s battery life is no longer good enough. Some flagship smartphones such as Sony’s Xperia Z3 can last over two days on a charge, most last at least a day and a half.
Samsung’s excellent power saving modes work well and extend battery life by days, but only by sacrificing usability.
TouchWiz toned down
Samsung’s notoriously bloated version of Android called “TouchWiz” has also been dramatically improved. Most of the apps Samsung pre-installed on past handsets are no longer loaded from the start, but are available to download and install for those that want to.
The Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger apps come pre-installed, as do Microsoft’s OneDrive, OneNote and Skype. Apps that a user doesn’t want can be disabled from the launcher, stopping them from running and removing them from all but the phone’s storage.
As a consequence the whole software experience, which now runs Android 5.0.2 Lollipop feels less cluttered, smoother and more modern. The launcher itself has more customisable options and the “Briefing” home screen pane that’s powered by Flipboard can be removed.
While TouchWiz is still not as clean and attractive as the standard Android interface, it is a vast improvement all round compared to the company’s previous software.
The S6 Edge’s curved edges are its selling point. While they feel nice, are attractive and don’t detract from the experience, they add very little usability.
Only one edge can be defined as active at any one time and they have three different functions. People Edge displays a list of five favourite contacts, but only on the lock screen or home screen, for quick access to messaging and phone calls.
The edge can also light up if face down when a call comes in, and rubbing the edge when the screen is off triggers the information stream that can show stock tickers, Twitter trends and a selection of other feed-style apps similar to those available on the Note Edge.
None of the edge features are particularly useful as they stand.
The Edge’s 16-megapixel camera is excellent and capable of producing rich, detailed photos with very little skill required from the photographer. The optical image stabilisation smooths out shakes, while the overzealous edge sharpening on post processing within the Samsung camera app on previous smartphones has been toned down, meaning the images still look good at full resolution on a computer.
A particularly handy feature is the ability to double press the home button to launch the camera, which works in any app and when the phone is off. It starts up quickly and makes capturing spontaneous moments much easier.
The front-facing 5-megapixel selfie camera is also very good, while the heart beat sensor on the back of the phone can be used to trigger a photo.
Smart lock with fingerprint sensor
Samsung’s fingerprint sensor under the home button is much improved. Instead of requiring users to swipe their fingers over the sensor they simply place their fingers on the sensor, which proves much more accurate.
Android Lollipop’s smart lock also means that users can unlock their smartphones using a connected Bluetooth device such as a pair of headphones or a smartwatch, locking the smartphone when the Bluetooth device moves out of range and requiring a fingerprint or passcode to access.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge costs £760 without a mobile phone contract, which is £160 more than the cheapest standard S6 with 32GB of storage and £100 more than the standard S6 with 64GB of storage. For comparison, Apple’s 64GB iPhone 6 costs £619 and HTC’s One M9 with 32GB of storage costs £580.
The Galaxy S6 Edge is the first Samsung smartphone that truly matches the craftsmanship of its top-end rivals. It is the best looking and feeling Samsung smartphone, is powerful, light and has much improved software.
The camera and fingerprint sensor are both excellent, while the curved edges look and feel good. They add very little to the functionality, however, which makes their choice over the standard S6 an aesthetic one.
The biggest let down for the S6 Edge is battery life, along with the lack of a removable battery or microSD card slot. A day’s battery is just about acceptable, but rivals have shown two days-plus is easily possible.
Pros: fast, great screen, attractive design, good fingerprint reader, excellent camera
Cons: short battery life, no removable battery or storage, Facebook and Microsoft apps bundled, curved edges provide little utility
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