Samsung Galaxy S6 edge review: the best Android phone on the planet right now
With thanks to Three for the handset.
The air sizzled with excitement at the Samsung Galaxy S6 launch in Barcelona last month, as we prepared to see what #TheNextGalaxy had up its sleeve. And Samsung certainly didn’t disappoint. The somewhat backslapping announcement made continual digs at Apple and some truly terrible jokes (“Sorry about my English, my first language is Engineering” *wiggles eyebrows*), but ultimately unleashed two phones that seemed certain to top the Android charts.
While we were pretty baffled about the decision to release both at the same time (“Here is an amazing phone and a slightly more rubbish version of it!”), we were also dying to get our hands on the Edge version – and now we have. Here’s our full Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review, complete with the highest score we’ve given any phone to date.
Note: Samsung write ‘S6 Edge’ with a lower-case E, but we tried and found it immensely vexing. So we won’t be.
Like most Samsung phones, the S6 Edge is very light at 132g. It’s considerably lighter than the HTC One M9 (157g) – which feels more premium as a result – but still has a few grams on the 129g iPhone 6. Previous Samsungs have been rendered in polycarbonate, much to the annoyance of potential fans who prefer a metal finish. This time, they’ve found a happy medium: a pearlescent plastic chassis with a Gorilla Glass 4 coating over the back to make it as light as plastic but as appealing as metal. The S6 Edge is finished off with a metal band around the sides, helping to add grip to what is otherwise a very smooth handset.
The Edge is also surprisingly thin, especially given that it has wireless charging built in. This is partly because it doesn’t have quite the battery capacity you’d expect from a phone at this price point, but we’ll come to that later. It’s 7mm thick, so just a hair thicker than the iPhone 6 (6.9mm) and considerably more svelte than the M9 (9.6mm). It manages to feel thinner than it is because of the tapered edges at the sides of the curved screen, which is less pronounced on this handset than on its single-curved sibling, the Galaxy Note Edge. The standard S6 is actually the thinnest smartphone Samsung has ever produced.
Our review unit is the White Pearl edition, which stands out from your average white phone by virtue of its iridescent finish. That said, the Black Sapphire, White Pearl and even Gold Platinum editions of this phone don’t hold a candle to the Green Emerald one, which hasn’t yet been announced for the UK. Fingers crossed.
There’s not a huge difference in design language between this and the rest of the range: it very much looks like a Samsung. This might explain why no one tried to mug me as I used the as-yet-unreleased handset on the tube, or maybe no one else cares about phones. The trademark physical home key is still there (to woo iPhone users?), flanked by soft Back and Apps keys. This gives it an Edge (sorry) on the One M9, which only has software buttons. Similarly, Samsung have sensibly put the volume keys on the left side and Power on the right, so you don’t get them mixed up as you do on the M9.
The one thing they do have in common, annoyingly, is a bottom-mounted headphone jack. Sigh.
Overall, though, the S6 Edge manages to be slim and light, yet robust and premium, while also looking on-brand and appealing. Quite the feat.
If you haven’t had a Samsung phone for a while, you’re probably a bit wary of the S6. Rest assured, things have improved considerably. There is far less bloatware than we’re used to, and TouchWiz has transformed from a badly-named, badly-designed UI to something that mostly gets out of the way of the Android experience. It’s barely noticeable on the S6, except for a slew of cutesy themes. There’s also a new screen-off animation that works nicely with the Edge design:
The S6 comes prepopulated with most of the apps you’ll want to install first, including WhatsApp, which is unusual. There’s still some nonsense on there (like S Planner but no Google Calendar), and we had a fair chunk of Three bloatware too. Some can be removed, but some can’t.
In any case, you won’t be hurting for storage space on the S6 Edge, because it only comes in 64GB and 128GB versions. The non-Edge S6 (why does it not have its own name? S6 Classic? S6 Flat? S6 Lame?) has a 32GB option too, but you wouldn’t want to go any lower than that without a microSD slot. That’s one of the big things the HTC One M9 has over the S6: the latter has no expandable storage. That’s a significant change from the S5 (the battery has become non-removable, too, but that’s expected), and puts Samsung more in line with Apple – which isn’t a good thing when Android’s sold on its flexibility.
The rest of the specs on the Edge are as good as you’d expect from a phone this pricey: 3GB of RAM and a 64-bit octa-core Exynos processor (notably not the Snapdragon 810 that was rumoured to cause overheating issues in the first round of M9s). Performance is excellent: even after hours of relentless use with the Spanish sun beating down on it, the S6 barely faltered. I’ve only seen a couple of small lags in the time I’ve been using it, and no bigger issues than that. Multitasking, gaming and intensive use are all handled with ease.
But what about those curved edges? Do they actually do anything useful? Well, other than looking stunning (which they really do), no, they don’t do a whole lot. There’s the People Edge feature, which lets you assign up to 5 important contacts and give each one a colour – the Edge then lights up that colour if they call you when the phone is face-down (but who still does that?):
And there’s the notifications/news feature, which shows calls, messages and news feeds you choose on the edge when you activate it. The activation bit is tricky: you have to swipe up the side of the phone, then back down really quickly, then flick sideways to move between feeds. Here’s a demo:
Only one side of the phone can be used in this way at a time, though you can choose which one.
The fact that the edge functions aren’t overly useful doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend the extra for the Edge version over the normal S6, though: it’s as a screen that the curves come into their own. As you’ll see in the next section.
The S6 Edge’s killer feature manages to be more beautiful in person than even the most high-res images led us to believe. The quad-HD 5.1-inch super AMOLED display is just breathtaking, and using it is an absolute joy. The glass is excessively smooth, so that even typing is enjoyable (and bonus points to Samsung for including a native keyboard that’s actually good) and the curve makes app icons appear to float above the phone in a way the Amazon Fire Phone team would envy.
In short, everything looks better on this screen. The curve gives HD and photos a cushioned, prominent look worthy of any photo frame, and colours are bright, crisp and true. There’s a slight darkening at the curved edges when you look at the screen straight-on, but it actually emulates a vignette effect, which makes pictures look better, not worse. Tick tick tick.
The only concern we’ve heard expressed about this phone is that it might be more breakable than a non-curved screen (LG’s G Flex screens are plastic), and Samsung assures us that it’s not the case. The display is topped with Gorilla Glass 4, which is the toughest on the market at the moment, and certainly I’ve dropped the handset a couple of times (by mistake!) and had not so much as a scratch. Braver people than me have even tried repeatedly hurling it at the ground, to no effect:
That does look like carpet, mind you.
The only issue I’ve had with the screen is that some apps place their navigation buttons right where the apex of the curve is, which makes it a bit annoying to try and tap them. This is obviously not Samsung’s fault, as Android apps have to work across phones of all shapes and sizes, but it can be mildly annoying.
The Galaxy S6 Edge camera got something of a baptism of fire when I took it on Three’s Selfie Tour bus and used it to film, snap and self-document for an entire day in the Barcelona sunshine. And it did not falter once. I don’t have a single photo from the day that didn’t focus properly, that had inaccurate colours or weird artifacts or even slightly duff contrast. I’m sure I sound like I’m evangelising by this point in the review, but you can see for yourself: there’s not one photo here that isn’t beautiful, shareable, even printable.
Sample photos from the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge (click to enlarge):
Even stills from videos are impressively clear:
The fact that this camera is 16MP just goes to show how little megapixel counts matter when comparing phone cameras. The HTC One M9’s camera is 20MP and while it performs well, it can’t match these photos:
Samsung have also included two features that catapult the camera from ‘brilliant’ into ‘stratospheric’ territory. First, there’s the double-tap to launch feature, which we demoed at the launch event:
This works whether the screen is off, you’re doing something in another app, or you’re just on the home screen. And it’s absolutely instantaneous. Once you’re used to this feature, you’ll never want a phone without it.
Secondly, you can tap the heart rate sensor on the back of the phone to take a selfie with the 5MP front-facing camera. This is similar to the LG G Flex 2‘s rear-mounted selfie button, and it’s a genuinely useful feature. Your finger naturally sits exactly where the heart sensor is, and tapping it is so much easier than trying to press the screen without changing pose. It’s features like these that really set a phone apart from the standard Android experience.
Sample selfies from the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge:
In short, there’s nothing that isn’t excellent about the S6 Edge camera. It’s unbelievably fast, ridiculously clear and very, very easy to use. If only all phone cameras were this good.
If you did a double-take when you saw the battery capacity at the launch of the Galaxy S6, you’re not alone. All those top-end, flagship features, and then a 2600 mAh battery? The same as last year’s HTC One M8? What?
We had hoped, as we did with the One M9 (2840 mAh), that the improved power management 64-bit octa-core processors offer would mean this wasn’t as bad as it sounded, and indeed it’s not terrible – but not great either. In short, you will not get more than a day’s use out of the Galaxy S6 Edge. This is a shame when phones like the LG G3 and Sony Xperia Z3 have been offering multi-day use for a while now, but the S6 had to give somewhere, and like the M9, it’s in the battery. You can use the S6 Edge moderately and squeeze a day out of it, or heavily and need a charge by evening. Intensive activity drains the battery considerably: after our standard test of streaming a film over WiFi for 2 hours with brightness on max and GPS on, the S6 had 54% of its fully-charged battery remaining. The M9 had 50%, despite its larger battery. Frankly, we got better figures out of last year’s flagships: 66% on the HTC One M8, 73% on the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, and an embarrassing 77% on the Galaxy S5. Phones are supposed to get better, not worse.
However, unlike the M9, the S6 offers wireless charging to make up for it. You’ll need to buy a wireless charging mat separately (ours is the rather classy WoodPuck Bamboo Edition from Fonesalesman, £39.99), but it works ridiculously well.
The phone beeps loudly when you place it on the mat, which is something the Lumia 930 could have done with (since it often sat malevolently on the mat, resolutely not charging), and the LED comes on to tell you it’s all going fine. That LED is red while it’s charging, green when it’s full, and blue for notifications.
The bundled fast charger for the S6 Edge helps keep it topped up, too. It charges enough for 2 hours of HD video in just 10 minutes, rendering that battery shortfall much less of a problem. I’d still recommend taking a portable power pack out with you if you get this phone, though: maybe that’s why Samsung gave everyone at the S6 launch event a big one in their goody bags (though all the sad journalists who’d thought the heavy box contained an S6 were immensely amusing to watch).
This is the highest score we’ve ever given. That means the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge is the best Android phone we’ve ever seen, which is absolutely the case. There are a lot of excellent Android phones out there, but this has the best combination of killer features: most phones have one or two high-scoring areas, but almost everything on this phone is right up there. Its only weak point is the battery, and that’s considerably ameliorated by the wireless charging and bundled fast charger.
However. It’s also really, really, really expensive (£760 SIM-free for the 64GB version, no price yet on the 128), and if the rumours we’re hearing of preorder problems are true, also quite hard to get hold of. Samsung apparently weren’t expecting quite so many people to order the Edge over the normal S6 (um, really? We could have told them that…), and it’s looking like there might be a shortage, at least at first. Again, these are only industry whispers, but they make total sense.
As to whether you should get this phone – well, if you want the best of Android? Yes. If it’s between this and an HTC One M9, decide what’s more important to you: stunning looks, expandable storage up to 2TB (!) and a super-cool case you can play games on (M9), or inbuilt wireless charging, a superb camera and a quad-HD curved screen (S6). Ideally, give both of them a try in person, because there’ll be one that suits you better than the other.
If it’s between this and the non-curved S6, go for this one. Hands-down. You don’t want this conversation:
“What phone do you have?”
“Samsung Galaxy S6”
“Oh cool, the curved one?”
The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge is available for preorder now from Samsung, Carphone Warehouse and phone networks, and will be released in the UK on the 10th of April.
1. That screen
2. Built-in wireless charging
3. Exceptional camera with really useful features
1. Weakish battery
2. Headphone jack is on the bottom
3. Very expensive
– HTC One M9
– Apple iPhone 6
– LG G Flex 2