To curve or not to curve, that is the question for the S6 Edge.
When Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S6 Edge alongside its conventionally flat S6 sister at Mobile World Congress earlier this month, the general consensus was one of ‘cool, but why?’ After all, curvature in smartphones is nothing new, as the Edge follows in the footsteps of last year’s Galaxy Note Edge (curved on the right-hand side only), and LG’s experimental Flex series.
The Edge is clearly a maverick offering compared to the linear S6, a physical tribute to the innovation Samsung prides itself on. That mantle has been called into question in recent years, after a series of disappointing financial results as their smartphone sales fell and arch rival Apple celebrated its biggest quarterly profit ever. Does the Edge have what it takes to help turn the company’s fortunes around?
Design and screen
Is there any need for a smartphone with dual-sided curved display? Not really, no.
Does it look great? Yes. The company has revealed the inspiration for the design as the modern affliction of fear of missing out, but while it’s unnecessary, it’s also what sets it apart.
The device feels balanced and pleasant to hold, and the tempered Corning Gorilla Glass and metal body is a world away from the sticking-plaster feel of the Galaxy S5’s plastic back. Samsung have been keen to push their focus on the Edge’s premium materials, produced using “first-of-its-kind glass crafting technology and unmatched quality control”. Marketing chat aside, the White Pearl version I tested looked and felt expensive, despite a propensity for quickly becoming grubby with fingerprints.
But all this new style doesn’t come without sacrifices.
There will no doubt be some left bitterly disappointed by the decision to do away with the removable battery and microSD slot – however, a choice of 32, 64 and 128GB storage options is not to be sniffed at. It’s almost like Samsung have been taking notes from another smartphone giant.
Talking of which, although you now only need to rest your finger instead of swiping across the home button, it look longer to register my fingerprints for unlocking (and in time Samsung Pay services), and was generally less sensitive than the iPhone 6 Plus’ sensor.
It’s a minor point, but when you’re unlocking your phone up to hundreds of times a day, not an insignificant one. As you’d expect, the fact the 5.1-inch Quad HD display wraps around almost the entire width of the handset makes watching videos a joy. Watching programmers and films on a traditional candybar-shaped handset afterwards feels oddly lacking – the mark of a strong feature if ever there was one. The AMOLED 2,560 x 1,440 (577ppi) resolution is currently the best on the market, and it shows.
If there was a single point I’d fault the Edge on, it would be battery life, or lack thereof.
After using it to check emails and watch the odd video throughout the morning, within just a few hours the battery had fallen to around 60 per cent.
Given this was only light to moderate use, it’s not brilliant. Samsung say that a mere 10 minutes of charging through a regular charger translates into four hours of additional power, so it could be argued that while the Edge may storm through battery life, at least it replenishes quickly. I was able to test the wireless charging pads that have been released alongside the Edge and S6, and I can conclude that they aren’t much faster than using a plug and the USB lead.
Software and features
The much-maligned TouchWiz interface has been spruced up for the Edge, and it comes with far fewer annoying preloaded apps than ever before. Among these is an entire folder of Google fodder, including YouTube, Hangouts and Drives, and another of Microsoft (OneDrive, OneNote and Skype).
There’s less initial ‘noise’ on your home-screen than previous iterations following a stripping back on the number of dialogue boxes and menus, but it’s still a bit bloated for my tastes.
People Edge, a new feature which allows you to register five contacts on the curved edge of the phone (left or right, your choice) with individual colours. When the Edge is placed face down, the curved sides light up with the appropriate colour of the contact who is calling, which Samsung claims allows the owner to check who’s trying to get hold of them discreetly without interrupting their conversation.
Owners can touch the heart rate sensor on the phone’s rear to reject any incoming calls and trigger the sending of a default reply text, without having to flip the handset over. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s fun.
Given that the S5 also had a 16MP rear-facing camera, at first sight Samsung haven’t really changed much with the Edge’s snapper. But cool new feature Quick Launch, which triggers camera access in 0.7 seconds by tapping the home button twice, is a welcome addition, and the S5’s ability to snap selfies via the front lens by resting your finger on the heart rate sensor on the rear remains intact.
Pictures taken with the rear-facing lens were incredibly sharp, and I was truly impressed with the level of detail.
The front-facing 5MP lens produced clear, defined pictures even in low-level light, complete with 120 degree wide-angle lens for all those wide selfies you’re dying to snap.
Does the Edge have, well, the edge?Everyone I showed it to was initially skeptical of the curves, but they all ended up cooing “Ooh, I really want one actually” after playing with it for a while. Because that’s the appeal of the Edge – Samsung have excelled themselves by making their first handset that looks as good as an iPhone.
The camera is exceptional, it’s incredibly powerful and it’s a joy to use.
The downsides to all this brilliance are the tolerable Touchwiz, the battery life and the pricetag – at £760 for the 64GB version, that’s only £29 cheaper than the 128GB iPhone 6 Plus.
But it’s a premium price for a truly premium phone, and one I feel many will be willing to pay. I would argue that in the past, Samsung has tried but failed to produce a phone that’s transcended from gadget to status symbol. The Galaxy S6 Edge is good enough to change that.