Living life on the S6 Edge

1 Apr 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Living life on the S6 Edge.

Now that Apple is finally making big phones, and even the cheapest Android phones feel nice, we all expect more from Samsung — and rightly so. Since the dawn of the smartphone wars, there have been basic truths about Samsungs: They’re made of flimsy plastic, their cameras can’t keep up with the iPhone’s, and their modified Android software is ugly and intolerably cluttered. The phones are available in different colors, and when you hold them up to the light, you’ll detect subtle changes in hues on the body of the devices, a nice aesthetic touch.

The higher-end variant of Samsung’s superior new smartphone is undeniably gorgeous with its sloped sides, and you’ll be happy to know that the “edges” don’t reduce its usability by one bit. The hotly contested title for Android’s best was more open than ever last year, with credible contenders from Sony, Motorola, and HTC, but 2015 is starting out with Samsung clearly in the ascendancy.

If the Galaxy S6 was another plasticky, boring phone like last year’s Galaxy S5 or if it merely introduced a few hardware tricks, it would have gotten laughed out of the entire neighborhood. It’s well-made and unique, a combination rarely found in cellphones these days and it is as far from the Galaxy S5 as the T-1000 was from the original Terminator. But that’s a distraction; the real story is that Samsung needed to learn that hardware prowess and software features are tools you use to build something great, not ends in themselves.

I’m not totally convinced that it’s all that useful or worth paying the extra $100 premium, but the potential is there. (Pricing varies by carrier.) On the S6 Edge, you can use the edge of the screen to display a clock, notifications of missed calls, messages and e-mail, as well as stock quotes and sports scores. The Edge’s screen wraps around its sides, giving it an instantly recognizable, futuristic look and the potential to do a few things that flat-screened phones just can’t match. Advance orders for the One have already begun in the US The phone will be in retail stores on April 10, though it might ship sooner for those ordering it now. For the comprehensive account of how and why Samsung’s new phones are the best that Android has to offer today, make sure to read our full Galaxy S6 review. Still, when you consider the latest phones, Samsung has managed to reclaim the Android pedestal without relying too much on the gimmicky parlor tricks that too often defined prior versions of its flagship phones.

Immediately following Samsung’s presentation, I took an S6 Edge into my hands and my first impression was unequivocally damning: the curve is on the wrong side! The features Samsung is touting this time — wireless charging, mobile payments, improved fingerprint scanners — are precisely the kinds of things normal people will actually want to use. Every instinct I have tells me to turn the rounded front to my palm and the flat back to my face — because nearly every smartphone to date has been thus designed. One reason I probably like the new Galaxys so much—especially the white models I’ve been testing—is that the design looks like a compilation of the iPhone’s greatest hits. I was very pleased with most of the pictures and videos I shot with the rear 16-megapixel camera on the Galaxys, as well the 5-megapixel front cameras.

Both run a Exynos 14nm 64-bit Octa Core processor and both come in 64 and 128GB variants (you can get the S6 in 32GB.) Both have a built-in IR blaster for changing channels on your television, a usable heart rate monitor that doubles as a flash, acceptable front and back cameras, and a beautiful 5.1-inch 2560 x 1440 pixel Super AMOLED display that Samsung uses to excellent effect. This is a pure expression of form over function, which Samsung can get away with because it already offers the regular Galaxy S6 for the less adventurous among us. I have to admit I’m taking a leap of faith on mobile payments because the Samsung Pay feature that promises to transform the phones into mobile wallets won’t launch until summer. I don’t have to explain the appeal of this thing to anyone: it’s obviously different and in a way that makes it alluring rather than merely alien. Compare that to the typical experience of using the latest Android phone, which is usually characterized by subtle and incremental internal improvements.

I’ll never forget trying to justify my excitement about the LG G3 to a friend who’d seen it all before: high-res screens, fast performance, good camera, etc. But Samsung Pay also promises to work at more traditional “magnetic stripe” retail terminals that have been in place for years, thanks largely to Samsung’s acquisition of the start-up LoopPay. In my time using the handset, I’ve consistently pressed on-screen buttons with my holding hand — because the metal sides are so thin they are almost nonexistent — and found myself growing anxious about holding it just the right way. The addition of wireless charging means you can lay the phone down on a wireless charging pad in a Starbucks, say, to get some juice for your phone without wires.

Yes, it’s very much like the iPhone 4 Antennagate debacle, though unlike that hardware issue, there’s a software fix that Samsung could perform to rectify things: just make the side screens insensitive to touch input when the display is on. This comparison is the makings of an epic argument between partisans of both companies (and I’m sure you will get a taste of that if you read the comments below).

Things appear even in the race with the iPhone, until you look at the Samsung phones’ 2560 x 1440-pixel, 5.1-inch screens, which have 577 pixels per inch, compared with the iPhone 6’s 4.7-inch display with 326 ppi. Samsung has my eternal appreciation for following Google’s lead in moving to a cleaner, more minimalist interface, but Material Design emphasizes flatness and geometric regularity, which the Edge’s warping side screens disturb.

What I care about is that it really does seem like Samsung finally got around to copying the most important thing: a fully conceived, well-executed design. When you must use a wall outlet, Samsung includes a fast-charging plug that can provide, the company says, about four hours of charging after just 10 minutes of charging, seemingly a reasonable claim based on my tests. It’s actually remarkable to see a Samsung device where design feels like it was a consideration from the start, not something applied only after the component list was compiled. Go ahead and have your battles about which is better, who copied who, and even whether it’s worth losing that traditional Samsung removable battery.

While I’m honestly used to a bigger phone these days – the Note or the 6 Plus are my go-to devices – this is phone is a great size and, because it is amazingly slim, it fits the hand and pocket well. Like other flagship phones, the Galaxys run Google’s Android Lollipop software, with some Samsung screen modifications, more refined than in the past, which is a plus. However, in our grueling battery test, which cycles through a series of websites with brightness set at about 75%, the S6 lasted just over seven hours (a little less than the Galaxy S5). While the enrollment process for the fingerprint sensor was surprisingly easy (and Apple-like with a little print that filled in as you put down your finger), using it was surprisingly hard.

You can color-code your favorite contacts so that your sister can be orange, your best friend green, and your doctor red, which then illuminates the phone’s sides in the appropriate hue when you receive a call from them. This effect is best experienced when you have the phone lying upside down, which is ironically when you’re least likely to want to be disturbed, whether by color or noise. I would argue that the fast charging system, acceptable battery life, and usability should assuage your grief over a non-removable battery and I also suspect those who need more storage space will be happy just getting a phone with more memory rather than swapping in fingernail-sized SD cards.

Convex screens are harder to read than flat ones, which is why TV manufacturers went crazy with the Flatscreen branding as soon as they could move away from the traditional bulbous tube. Its downsides, while tangible, are not deal breakers, and even as a compromised version of the best Android phone, it’s still among the very best in its class. The camera, the performance, the ridiculously detailed display, and the perfectly rigid and solid construction of the regular S6 are all present and accounted for with the Edge variant. To its credit, Samsung has swept a lot of its own software clutter under the rug, making its tweaks to Android 5.0 far more benign than they have ever been. It’s the same impetus that drives companies like Nokia (now Microsoft’s mobile division) and HTC to issue multiple colors of each new smartphone and to always try to stand out with their looks.

The pre-installed bloatware – mostly carrier specific software – is acceptable and easily removed and the UI shows just how polished Android can be. They’re now expressions of style and personality, a chance to assert a little bit of uniqueness in a globalized world that’s growing increasingly homogenized. Designed to please all the people all of the time, Samsung poured everything they could into their previous model, resulting in something that, in the end, hit their profits. And Samsung continues to insist on having two browsers, two photo gallery apps and its own app store—not to mention filling the phone with extra widgets and apps.

Given that the edge costs $100 more both off-contract ($650 vs $750) and on-contract ($200 vs $300) you should probably let your wallet be your guide. I hesitate to say that Samsung “Finally Did It!” The fact that it took them this long to think carefully about design and not just paste a laundry list of features on the design lab wall is shameful.

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