Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Review: The Design of Galaxy S6

PROS: Stunningly sexy design; Fast camera that excels in low light; Speedy overall performance; Best display on a smartphone; Improved audio

CONS: Edge display doesn't do enough; Shorter battery life than Galaxy S5

VERDICT : While pricey, the Galaxy S6 Edge sports a sexier design than the iPhone 6 along with awesome front and back cameras, a stunning display and friendlier software.

It feels like I'm holding a piece of the future – as if someone sliced me off a piece of a Daft Punk helmet and put it in my hands. And that's exactly the vibe Samsung is going for with the Galaxy S6 Edge, which makes a clean break from the brand’s plasticky past.

With its glass-and-aluminum body and curved, dual-edge display (a first for smartphones), the S6 Edge is easily the sexiest smartphone yet. But given that the regular S6 has all of the same features - including a powerful octa-core processor, quicker and brighter camera and sharp quad HD screen - are those curves enough to justify the $100 premium over the regular S6 and other flagship phones?

iPhone-Beating Design

Most people don't believe me when I tell them that the Galaxy S6 Edge looks better than the iPhone. And this is coming from a long-time, card-carrying iPhone snob.

Samsung has delivered a complete redesign, starting with strong Gorilla Glass 4 on the front and back. The frame of the phone uses aluminum, complete with a bottom that resembles the iPhone 6. The result is a handset that's as sturdy as it is alluring.

The S6 Edge comes in Black Sapphire, White Pearl and Gold Platinum. I love the way the black model plays with light so that it looks blue depending on how it's being held. The white version did a much better job resisting fingerprints, but it also looks boring. Having a curved display on both sides makes the S6 Edge sleeker, but there's not a ton you can do with it (see below).

Measuring just 0.26 inches thick and weighing 4.7 ounces, the S6 Edge is thinner and lighter than the regular S6 (0.28 inches, 4.9 ounces) and slightly thinner and a bit heavier than the iPhone 6 (0.27 inches, 4.6 ounces), which has a smaller screen. HTC’s One M9 weighs a hefty 5.5 ounces.

I do have some complaints about the design. At first it felt almost too narrow in my hand while typing; it could be easier to grip. And you need to be careful not to accidentally activate something on screen when you pick up the phone or when you're passing it to someone else to show off a photo or video. That's the cost of having almost all screen up front.

Finally, A Camera That Cures Apple Envy

You don't even have to think about it. A double tap of the Home button is all it takes to launch the S6 Edge’s beefed-up camera. It didn't save me a ton of time versus swiping up on the iPhone 6's home screen (1.5 versus 2 seconds) but I appreciated the convenience.

Although the S6 Edge's back camera has the same 16-megapixel resolution as the S5, Samsung has made some major upgrades. The f/1.9 aperture lets in considerably more light than its predecessor, as well as the iPhone 6 (f/2.2).

In side-by-side shots versus the iPhone 6 Plus, the S6 Edge delivered better sharpness, color saturation and contrast in some shots. Take this photo of a bunch of flowers. The S6 Edge manages to bring out fine shading in the petals, while the iPhone's shot has a hazier look.

Indoors without much light, a portrait of my co-worker Valentina offers more detail - especially in her scarf - as well as better color.

One of the highlight features of the S6 Edge's camera is the tracking autofocus, which lets you keep a moving subject in focus. I just tapped on a moving van and a yellow square appeared on the live view, following it as I continued to hold down the shutter. Surprisingly, all but one of the 11 shots had the writing on the van door in focus.

Samsung has streamlined the number of camera modes available, giving you eight out of the box.

These include selective focus, slow motion, fast motion and panorama. If you want other options - like Sports Shot and Sound & Shot - you'll have to download them.

Sharper, More Group-Friendly Selfies

Samsung deserves kudos for the 5-MP front camera on this S6 Edge (up from 2 MP). Its 120-degree, wide-angle lens let me capture three people at once much easier than with the iPhone 6's front shooter. I could have fit a couple more folks in the frame. I noticed some noise in the photo when I viewed it on my desktop, but overall, the S6 Edge delivered warm colors and a good amount of detail.

Best Quad HD Display, Louder Audio

No, there's not much content that takes advantage of 2560 x 1440 pixels on a phone, but there’s no denying that the 5.1-inch quad HD Super AMOLED display on the Galaxy S6 is the most luscious yet. Text in websites and notifications look as sharp as what I'm used to seeing on the printed page.

When watching The Age of Ultron trailer at 1440p, I could make out nearly every vein in the Hulk's green neck, as well the patches of soot and dirt all over his battle-worn torso. This panel is certainly colorful and bright, delivering 150 percent of the sRGB color gamut and an impressive 536 nits of brightness. That's above the category average but below the iPhone 6­.

During the trailer I had to turn the thumping soundtrack down so as not to disturb my colleagues. According to Samsung, the bottom-mounted speaker gets 1.5 times louder than the S5, and I believe it. Repositioning the speaker from the back was a smart move, because it doesn't get muffled when placed on a table. When I played Muse's "Starlight" on Spotify, the S6 got louder but sounded harsh at max volume; the iPhone 6 sounded a little fuller.

A Softer, Cuddlier TouchWiz

Like a hoarder that promises to clean up its act, Samsung has been reducing the clutter with each iteration of its TouchWiz software. With the S6 Edge, the company says that TouchWiz has 40 percent less built-in features and steps for doing things than previous models, such as making menu selections. The settings menu is definitely more intuitive and less onerous than before, thanks to some Quick Settings shortcuts up top for things like Sounds and Notifications and the Display and Edge Screen.

Overall, TouchWiz looks and feels friendlier than on the S5. For example, the Calendar icon is no longer just a flat white box with a number on it; now you can see a little fold in the middle (like a real desk calendar). And all the icons have rounded, not sharp, edges.

Edge Screen Doesn't Do Enough

As slick as the dual curved-edge display looks on the Edge 6, there's not much you can do with it. Swiping in from the right side of the screen launches People Edge, which lets you quickly access your favorite contacts - each marked with a distinctive color. Note that you can move the edge screen to the left or right side.

If you happen to have the phone turned face down on a table, the edge display will glow that hue when that person calls. Neat. There's even a quick-reply option, which enabled me to send a canned message to an incoming caller by placing my hand on the heart rate sensor.

Unfortunately, Samsung limited access to People Edge to the lock screen and home screens. I’d like to access the feature from within apps as well.

With the display turned off, you can glance at various tickers for notifications, news, stocks and sports, but there's really no reason to versus enjoying the full phone experience. The only thing I'd use with the display off is the clock mode, which was dim enough not to wake me.