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Samsung Galaxy S6 & Galaxy S6 Edge Review: The Next Big Thing is Back

April 18, 2015 - Written By Alexander Maxham

Without a doubt, Samsung has been the market leader for Android for a few years. For a while it seemed like Samsung was just going to sit in their own ways. But we learned in Barcelona that’s not true. Samsung is great when it comes to marketing their device. And that’s a big reason for their success. In fact, many people only know “iPhone or Galaxy” not Android, or Sony, or Motorola, or LG. For the most part, you only see Samsung and Apple on TV and in ads around town. So it makes sense. Samsung had pretty much kept the same design from 2012 to 2014. Releasing tons of new devices each and every year. For a while we had been asking for more premium materials, and to get rid of that glossy plastic – not only was it a fingerprint magnet, but it made the device slippery.

After the Galaxy S5 last year, which Samsung considers a flop, Samsung went back to the drawing board. Samsung even lost a good number of their management team and shuffled some folks around. They didn’t want to see their market share continue to drop. In Barcelona last month, at their Unpacked event, they introduced an entirely new design, as well as new materials – glass and aluminum this time around – as well as pairing back Touchwiz. Samsung said that they cut down the number of features in Touchwiz by about 50%. Pretty crazy. How does the Galaxy S6 stack up? Is it worth the money? Let’s find out.

Hardware

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Both the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge have glass fronts and backs. With an aluminum frame. Sure it looks close to the iPhone 6, especially if you look at the bottom, but it still looks great. Samsung showcased a slew of colors back at Mobile World Congress – most of which we won’t see here. We have the white color of both models. While I’m not really a fan of white smartphones, they do look really great. The gold, black and white will be coming to the US and carriers. As well as most other parts of the world.

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Looking at the front of the Galaxy S6, you would think that it was a Galaxy S5 or any other Samsung smartphone. As it has that iconic look. But pick it up, hold it, or even just turn it around, and you’ll know right away it’s the Galaxy S6. No more plastic, no more faux metal or faux leather. The shape of the Galaxy S6 isn’t really an issue – especially since it is very nice to hold, and fits in the hand nicely. The aluminum frame that Samsung has gone with is pretty sturdy as well. One of the touches, that’s pretty small, that I liked was the fact there’s a flat surface on the left and right sides. Making it easier to hold onto the device. Which is a very important aspect of design. The power and volume rocker are basically in the same place they’ve always been.

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On the back, we do have glass, similar to the Xperia line from Sony. There’s also the 16MP camera with flash and heart rate monitor back there. The camera does stick out a bit. But Samsung says that there is sapphire glass on the camera, so it won’t get scratched up or damaged. So far, our review units have no scratches on the back or the camera at all. Which is a good sign.

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Why the protruding camera? Well there’s one reason that most people probably wouldn’t even think about. And that’s the fact that it keeps the device from sliding off of a table. If you owned a Nexus 4, you’ll know exactly what I mean. The Nexus 4 would slide off of my desk constantly, due to the glass back. In fact, Google even added little “nipples” to the back to keep that from happening, a few months later.

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The iconic Samsung home button even got a facelift. Although most of you probably won’t notice it. It’s a little shorter, and taller. The reason for that is the fact that there’s a one-touch fingerprint reader inside now. So you can simply touch the home button and unlock your device. Last year’s models from Samsung, you had to swipe down from the screen. Which didn’t really work too well. The touch fingerprint reader is much better. In fact, now you can place your finger on the home button at any angle and it just works.

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On the Galaxy S6 Edge, you have the dual curved sides of the display. Which we first saw on the Galaxy Note 4 Edge last fall. Unlike the Galaxy Note 4 Edge, the Galaxy S6 Edge is not wider than the Galaxy S6. In fact, it’s actually slightly slimmer. The curved display does make it fit in the hand a bit nicer. Along with the added software features – which we’ll go over a bit later – it’s a really cool concept.

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We can’t forget about the fingerprint reader. Last year, Samsung introduced the fingerprint reader. Many of us weren’t too interested in it, especially since it was a swipe sensor. It also didn’t work as well as we had hoped. This year, Samsung followed some Chinese manufacturers – namely Huawei and Meizu – and went with a touch sensor for the fingerprint sensor. So now you can just touch the home button and unlock your device. It works mostly perfect. Every once in a while I’ll have some issues with getting it to unlock, but for the most part it’s fine. However, you can only use the fingerprint sensor to lock your device, login to your Samsung account, and for web sign-in. I’d love to see it implemented into banking apps. As those need the most security, I feel. But overall, Samsung did a great job with the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge fingerprint sensor.

Performance

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You may remember that before Samsung took the wraps off of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge last month in Barcelona. Qualcomm had announced that a “major partner” had pulled out from using the Snapdragon 810. While Qualcomm didn’t say it was Samsung, we are pretty sure it was. Samsung decided to stick with their own processor this year. Exynos. This is the first time since the Galaxy S2, that we’ve had basically the same internals for the Galaxy S line throughout the world. We have the Exynos 7420 inside, which is an octa-core processor and is also 64-bit. In day to day use, it’s really good. We haven’t had any issues with it whatsoever. Playing games, it performed quite well too. No heat issues either.

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One of the big features of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors is the Quick Charge. However, Samsung has built that into their Exynos processors, so you do still get Quick Charge. And in fact you’ll also get Qi and PMA wireless charging. Which are both added benefits. The display on the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge are amazing. Both are 5.1-inch Quad HD 2560×1440 Super AMOLED displays. Before the Galaxy S6, the Motorola Droid Turbo had the best display and highest PPI. But now the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge have beaten them, since it’s the same panel, just a bit smaller at 5.1-inches instead of 5.2-inches.

Software

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Samsung told us during their keynote at the Galaxy S6 unveil on March 1st, that they realized their software wasn’t up to par and wasn’t as good as it should and could be. So similar to with their hardware, they went back to the drawing board. Samsung was on stage in Barcelona and showed us lots of comparisons of Touchwiz on the Galaxy S6 compared to the Galaxy S5, and it did look different, Samsung also stated they got rid of a lot of features that users weren’t really using. Which made a lot of people pretty happy. With doing all of that, they still kept the software looking and feeling pretty familiar. Which is important to the majority of their users. As the majority of them are not tech geeks like most of us.

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Samsung really embraced the Lollipop and Material Design aspect in the Galaxy S6. Apps look amazing, especially S Health, S Voice and a few of the others they include on their devices. They even changed up the default clock/weather widget. A lot of people say it reminds them of HTC’s Sense widget, which it kind of does. But I think it fits in well. Sort of minimal, but still gives you all the information you could want.

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The Settings app is a bit easier to use as well. You might remember on the Galaxy S5 we had a lot of icons everywhere. Samsung slightly changed that on the Galaxy Note 4, but it’s much easier to use on the Galaxy S6. You still have a few icons, but they are only in the favorites section at the top. Which they actually call “Quick Settings”, and those can be edited. By default they include data usage, sound and notifications, display, themes, lock screen and security and Help. Below that is the section for Connections, followed by Device, then Personal and System. Each section is color coded too, which is a nice touch.

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Samsung did get rid of a lot of features, a lot of ones you probably never used. Under Motions & Gestures in settings, there used to be tons of options here. Now we have just 4. Which include Direct Call, Smart Alert, Mute and Palm Swipe to Capture. All of which are ones you probably use, or would use on a regular basis.

You might remember us complaining last year about the performance of Touchwiz on some of Samsung’s devices. It would really bog down the processor, and you’d see some lag. Not a lot, but it was noticeable. Especially if you open the gallery app. Opening the Gallery app, for instance, is much quicker this time around, and in fact, I’d even say it’s instant. The Gallery on the Galaxy Note 4 is faster than the Galaxy S5 – perhaps due to the Lollipop update – but the Galaxy S6 is still faster. The entire OS is definitely speedy, which is something we haven’t been able to say about Samsung in quite a while.

Camera

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This seems to be the thing everyone is taking about when it comes to the Galaxy S6. Other than the design of the device. Samsung opted to use the same sensor as the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4. Okay, not a big deal. Sony’s been doing that for about 4 smartphone releases now. But they worked on the software for the camera, and other internals for the sensor. And now the camera is just amazing. In the gallery below you will see some images from the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge (even though the cameras are exactly the same), and you will probably be amazed that came from a smartphone. There’s a few pictures from extreme low-light. I’m talking outside without any street lights, just the lighting from windows. And I was pretty amazed.

By default, Samsung has bundled the Auto, Pro, Selective Focus, Panorama, Slow Motion, Fast Motion and Virtual shot with the device. Although you can download more from the Samsung app store, as usual. In the Pro mode, probably the most interesting one, you can edit the ISO, White Balance, and so much more. It’s pretty intuitive too. Which is always a big plus. The front-facing camera is amazing as well. No pixels can be seen, and no noise either. Which is a first for me with a front-facing camera.

Battery Life

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In short, it’s good, but not great. I was able to get through a full day of using the device. Although as you can probably see I was not using it as hardcore as some others would. This was also mostly on WiFi, as Sprint isn’t all that great in my area. If you’re a heavy user, you may want to think about picking up a battery pack. If not, then you’ll probably be fine. You can see more battery cycles in the gallery below.

Galaxy S6 vs Galaxy S6 Edge

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While we are reviewing both devices together, there are some differences between the two. The biggest difference is the curved display. I’ve been using both devices for the past week or so, and the Galaxy S6 Edge hasn’t really changed how I use the device compared to the Galaxy S6. But it does look nicer then the standard Galaxy S6. Having said that, you’ll need to be careful with it. And make sure you don’t drop it, or put a case on it.

The other difference is in software, Samsung has added “Edge Settings” under the Device section in settings. From there you can play around with some of the features for the Edge display. Which includes Edge Lighting. With Edge Lighting you can have the edge light up when calls or notifications are received. There’s also People Edge, here you can assign people to different colors. For instance, on my Galaxy S6 Edge, I have my Google Voice number set to blue. So if I call this device it will glow blue to show me who’s calling. It is a really cool feature, in my opinion. There’s also the information stream. Which feeds your Briefing Feed, Yahoo News, and weather to the edge of the display. So you can leave it on a table and see the information. You can also use it as a night clock. The last two features you can choose which edge to use for them.

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The last difference, and probably most insignificant is the battery. The Galaxy S6 Edge has a 2600mAh battery inside while the Galaxy S6 has a smaller 2550mAh. While using them both, I haven’t noticed any difference in battery life between the two. So you don’t need to worry about that.

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The Galaxy S6 Edge does have less metal on the sides, mainly due to the device having the screen wrapped around the sides. To some it may be a bit more difficult to hold onto. But I didn’t really have any issues with holding onto it. Samsung did get to keep the Power and Volume buttons in the same place on the Galaxy S6 Edge as they’ve been on every other Samsung smartphone. So that’s a big plus, especially for Samsung users.

Final Thoughts

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The Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge are arguably the best smartphones that Samsung has ever made. Ditching the glossy plastic and going for metal and glass instead. But they didn’t stop there, as they heavily optimized their software, which is a pretty big deal. I haven’t been tempted to buy a Samsung smartphone in quite a while, but that’s about to change with the Galaxy S6. Might just have to go and pick one up!

As a side note, if you’re worried about the lack of a removable battery and removable storage. Don’t be. There’s plenty of space on the Galaxy S6. And it’s better than having a SD card slot to me, because you can’t save everything on a microSD card. And you don’t have to worry about losing it. Trust me I’ve lost a lot of them. As far as the removable battery goes. How often do you really take out that battery and put in a new one? I can’t say I’ve ever done that. Not since the original Motorola Droid all those years ago. So the non-removable battery and storage is not a dealbreaker.

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