We’ve been using the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge for a few months now, on and off. These devices represent a big turning point for Samsung, which has struggled to maintain its lead as the top Android phone maker in the last two years. Since we never did a proper review of the S6 Edge, it’s time to dive in. Though both phones are identical on the inside, the curved screen of the Edge makes a surprising difference in the experience. While we believe the Galaxy S6 is one of the best Android phones of 2015, the Edge has a few issues you should know about.
The below review shares some text with our full Galaxy S6 review, but we’ve added context for those of you considering the curvier version of Samsung’s flagship phone.
Look ma, no plastic!
The Galaxy S6 Edge (and standard S6) represent a sea change in Samsung’s design philosophy from previous years. Gone is the plastic that was signature to the Galaxy line, never truly looking refined with its faux leather and Band-Aid dimples, among other cues. This time, it’s Gorilla Glass 4 on both the front and back — an aesthetic choice with a number of consequences.
Metal fuses the two together along the edges, making room for the antennas at the top and bottom. The speaker is now at the bottom instead of the back, along with the Micro USB port. They’re joined by the headphone jack, which used to be at the top on the GS5. A microphone and IR blaster are at the top. Volume buttons (now separated instead of being together) are on the left, with the power button on the right. The SIM card slot lies just below.
Samsung had to sacrifice certain physical attributes to make this setup work. Unlike its predecessor, neither of the two Galaxy S6 phones are waterproof, and you can’t remove or replace the battery. There’s also no MicroSD card slot to expand on the internal storage. It’s hardly a surprise that the company would scrap 16GB versions and go with 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB models to offset that, since it can charge us extra (as Apple does) for upgraded models.
The curved screen looks nice, but ruins the fun
The standard Galaxy S6 looks a lot like the iPhone 6, and we talk about that in our full review of it. The S6 Edge would share this problem, if it weren’t for the large curved edges on both sides. This makes the phone stand out, in a good way. Since getting our first S6 Edge months back, we’re still impressed when we watch the screen bend down over the edge.
The Edge may look better, but it isn’t as comfortable to hold.
But looking is what you do at a store and when you’re bragging to your friends. Sadly, actually using this curved screen isn’t as fun. The screen doesn’t bleed over enough to do anything functional. Samsung added a silly feature where if one of your friends calls, you can see the screen light up a particular color, but this isn’t a game changing feature by any stretch. Aside from showing it off, we’ve never really used the contact coloring feature much.
The big problem with the Edge is that the proprietary curved glass comes with sacrifices. This phone is more delicate than the standard Galaxy S6, and fixing the screen if it cracks won’t be as easy (or cheap) as a standard flat-screened phone. Battery life is also slightly worse than the standard S6 in our experience.
Most annoying is that the phone just isn’t as comfortable to hold as the regular S6, a device we highly recommend. The bend of the screen makes the actual holdable edges of the phone somewhat sharp and pointy, and the power/volume buttons feel as if they protrude more. Held side by side, there is no comparison: The Edge may look better, but it isn’t as comfortable.
Finally, we have had some issues where the side of our thumb or hand will accidentally touch the edge of the curved screen. This leads to some annoying moments and just doesn’t happen on a normal phone.
Under the hood
The Galaxy S6 Edge’s specs are an impressive mix, and the most noticeable among them is the processor. Samsung has opted to go it alone with its own Exynos 7420 64-bit octa-core chip (two quad-core chips running at 2.1GHz and 1.5GHz), rather than the Qualcomm chip seen in many competitors. This may have to do with assertions that the Snapdragon 810 chip is prone to overheating. While the average user may not notice a difference in performance, the move may not be without some ramifications.
Having 3GB of RAM is great, considering the extra horsepower it’s supposed to complement. The same heart rate monitor introduced last year is back again in the same spot under the LED flash, though its placement can sometimes lead to smudging the rear lens as you feel for it.
The 5.1-inch Super AMOLED is the same size as its predecessor, except it gets a resolution bump to Quad HD (2,560 × 1,440 pixels), which gives it a density of 577 pixels per inch. Your eyes won’t be able to distinguish the millions of pixels packed into such a small frame, but suffice it to say, this is a gorgeous display and HD video looks fabulous on it.
It’s clear with the Galaxy S6 that Samsung is starting to better understand how to utilize its own software in relation to the fruits of Android. In an effort to reduce bloat (somewhat, at least), certain features are now treated as add-ons you can download separately from the Galaxy App Store if you want them. Indeed, one peek at the Motions and Gestures section under Settings exemplifies just how far Samsung has dialed things back in only two years. The result is a much cleaner interface that’s easier to navigate.
This phone won’t be mistaken for running stock (default) Android, but Samsung’s custom TouchWiz interface doesn’t cast as long a shadow this time around. It’s a classic case of addition by subtraction. There’s less “Samsung” on the home screen, but pulling down the notification pane will look immediately familiar to any Galaxy S owner. Swipe to the right and you get Flipboard, which you can now replace with a different newsfeed app per your preference. The Settings will also look familiar, with the same menu layout as last year.
The Home button has a rejigged fingerprint sensor that is a dramatic improvement from the horrid one used in the GS5. Instead of swiping down on the button, you now only need to touch it and you’re through. The training process is also well thought out. We had to apply our thumb 10 times in different angles to capture a fuller print, thereby increasing the accuracy anytime we unlocked the phone using it. The frustrating failure rate on the Galaxy S5 is gone. It’s now as natural as fingerprint unlocking with an iPhone 6 — a big accomplishment for Samsung.
There are performance caveats. First, the sole speaker at the bottom, while an improvement from before, is not up to par with other devices of its caliber. The distortion became readily apparent if you ramp up the volume on anything from a YouTube video to a phone call on speaker. Second, the phone got really toasty during intensive tasks. It doesn’t get hot enough to make it difficult to hold, and we haven’t noticed any resulting stutter or lag, but it is noticeably warm.
The Galaxy S6 has a much cleaner interface that’s easier to navigate.
Despite all that, there’s no questioning how fluid the overall feel of the software is. Android Lollipop acclimated well, making it easy to act on a notification by tapping it once and then unlocking with a fingerprint to bring it up. Streaming video from Plex or my local network attached storage drive was easy, and casting to a Chromecast gave us no real problems.
Everyday tasks like opening apps, Web browsing, video streaming, and music playback went smoothly.
The hardware and software tweaks are partially highlighted by what Samsung chose to do with the camera in this phone. A 16-megapixel rear camera and 5-megapixel front-facing camera are fine on paper, but it’s the changes complementing them that help yield tangible results. The GS5’s camera was fine during the day, but suffered when shooting at night or in low light.
To remedy that, the rear f/1.9 aperture lens is wider and has optical image stabilization built-in. To help the cause, Samsung smartly made HDR automatic by default, allowing it to kick in when the sensor needs the boost to get a more composed shot. And to top it off, the camera can be launched quickly by double tapping the Home button, even when the phone is locked or asleep. It’s also ready to shoot in about a second — essential for quick snaps.
Kudos to Samsung for keeping shooting options practical and limited. The silly modes are gone, and the ones remaining make the most sense to keep. The Pro mode is sort of a mixed bag, though. It’s great that you can adjust ISO, white balance, metering and add effects, but the results don’t always jive with the choices you make. It would’ve been interesting if shutter speed was included, but even if it was, it’s not enough to put the mode over the top.
That being said, we’ve been generally pleased with the shots the phone takes. It’s definitely better in macro than the GS5, and low-light images were more detailed with better illumination and contrast. In many situations, it outperforms or matches the iPhone 6, as well. We can also say the same about shooting video, where 2K and 4K modes are available. You still have to exercise some caution when shooting in either of those because they incur huge file sizes, and without a memory card to save to, you would have to offload them quickly to a computer or cloud storage backup.
The battery is really the key to the Galaxy S6. If it whittles down quickly, the phone’s features and performance hold less credence. The Galaxy S6 Edge actually has a smaller battery (2,600mAh) than the GS5 (2,800mAh), and is 50mAh larger than its twin, the standard Galaxy S6. In our experience, the battery life has been ever so slightly worse than the standard S6, but the difference has not been particularly noticeable. Both phones make no strides in battery performance.
Samsung flatly noted that it only went with the non-removable design because it was confident the battery could stand up on its own. Well, that confidence has a backup plan, just in case. The Quick Charger that comes in the box with the phone can give you four hours of use (or two hours of HD streaming) from a fast 10-minute charge. Samsung says it can charge from empty to full in only 80 minutes.
The second part of that plan is wireless charging support for both the Qi and PMA (Power Matters Alliance) standards. This is the first smartphone to have dual compatibility, so it’s a big deal if you own a wireless charger. I tried to charge it on an old Powermat charger (which used PMA technology) but it didn’t work. It worked like a charm on a Qi pad, however. When trying the circular pad that Samsung sells, we had very limited success. Because of the slippery glass back, the S6 and S6 Edge can easily slide or be knocked off of the charger, ending charge sessions prematurely. Wires do have some value, it seems.
Charging options aside, the battery’s overall performance didn’t impress us, and was worse than the standard Galaxy S6. The battery continually drained faster than we anticipated and we have never ended a day with more than 30 percent battery life. Often, it hovers around 15 percent. Sadly, this isn’t uncommon for the iPhone 6 and many other phones, either. 2015 is not a good year for batteries.
The Galaxy S6 Edge does not have an awful battery, but it’s slightly worse than the standard S6, and we recommend you take that into consideration. Every mAh counts.
The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are both absolutely gorgeous phones. They borrow a lot of design traits from the iPhone line, and that’s fantastic, because the iPhone is the most beautiful phone out there. But of the two, we do not recommend the Galaxy S6 Edge.
The S6 Edge gets worse battery life than its sibling, and is far less comfortable to hold and use. The standard S6 is one of the most comfortable phones we’ve ever held, but its admittedly prettier sibling just doesn’t have the same depth of character.
There is no added benefit to a curved screen outside of looking at it, and Samsung’s half-baked specialty features won’t entertain you for long. The Galaxy S6 is an amazing device. Go ahead and play with the Galaxy S6 Edge and marvel at its beauty in the store, but when it’s time to buy, put it down and purchase the standard S6 (or a LG G4 if prices are right). You won’t be sorry.
- Elegant and premium build
- Gorgeous display
- Better camera features and performance
- Much-improved fingerprint reader
- Quick charging
- Supports both wireless charging standards
- Uncomfortable to hold
- Curved screen offers little benefit
- Worse battery life than standard S6
- No longer waterproof
- Non-removable battery and no MicroSD
- Gets noticeably hot when pushed
Editor’s Note: This review contains a good deal of modified text from our review of the standard Galaxy S6, written by Ted Kritsonis.