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Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge Review: All Hail the New Android Smartphone Kings

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Yahoo Tech

Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge flagship phones are finally here. They are beautiful phones (unlike the uninspired Galaxy S5). The S6 Edge, with its unique curved screen, is especially eye-catching.

But the S6 and S6 Edge have more than just good looks. Both pack powerful processors, gorgeous 5.1-inch displays, and the best smartphone cameras on the market.

Throw in a new mobile payment system that lets you use your S6 anywhere you can use a standard credit card, and the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are the new Android smartphone kings.

Handsome handsets

After years of building the smartphone equivalents of that Pontiac Aztek, the company has crafted a pair of sleek luxury sedans.

Instead of the plastic and faux metal of its previous efforts, Samsung covered both front and back of the S6 and S6 Edge with Corning’s Gorilla Glass. Sandwiched between the glass is a slick aluminum frame.

These are easily Samsung’s most attractive devices, though the standard S6 in particular isn’t exactly original, as it looks like an amalgamation of the iPhone 4s and iPhone 6, an opinion shared by the majority of the people I showed the handsets to.

It’s the Galaxy S6 Edge, though, with its cascading display, that is the more attractive of the two handsets. Unfortunately, the phone’s unique screen configuration makes  it a bit more prone to slipping from your hand, as there isn’t a lot of real estate for you to grip with your fingers.

Both phones’ cameras stick out from their rear panels a bit (like the iPhone 6 and 6s), which is a little disconcerting. Next to their cameras are the phones’ flashes and heart rate monitors. Both phones also have much improved fingerprint readers on the home buttons. Now, instead of swiping your finger across the reader, you just place your digit on it, similar to Apple’s Touch ID sensor.  

Measuring 5.6 by 2.8 by 0.27 inches and weighing 4.9 ounces, the Galaxy S6 is a hair thinner but a bit heavier than the S6 Edge, which measures 5.6 x 2.8 x 0.28 inches and weighs 4.7 ounces.

For comparison, Apple’s iPhone 6, which has a smaller 4.7-inch display, measures 5.4 by 2.6 by 0.27 inches and weighs 4.6 ounces. The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus not is not only taller and thicker than the S6 and S6 Edge, it weighs more too.

My one complaint about the S6 and S6 Edge’s designs is that, unlike the Galaxy S5, neither of these phones is water-resistant. You could drop your S5 in the pool, spill beer on it, or take it in the bath, and it would keep on working like nothing happened. Try the same thing with the S6 or the S6 Edge, and you’ll need to buy a new phone.

Curves ahead

The S6 and S6 Edge come with the same 5.1-inch, 2560 by 1440 Super AMOLED (Active Matrix of Organic Light-Emitting Diodes) displays. They look fantastic. Colors are absolutely brilliant, and text and fine details in images are razor sharp.

Beyond looking futuristic, though, the S6 Edge’s curved screen doesn’t do much more than the S6’s. Like Samsung’s Galaxy Note Edge, the S6 Edge gives you access to a handful of apps on either the left or right side of its display including Twitter Trends, Weather, and Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Sports, but only when the phone is locked.

You can also assign up to five people to get specific color codes. When they call or text the screen’s edges will glow if the the Edge is face down and locked. It’s a neat feature, and one that’s sure to be helpful in the office.

Besides that there isn’t much of an advantage to the S6 Edge’s curved screen. It’s plenty cool, though, and for a lot of people, including yours truly, that’s enough.

A Trimmed down OS

Samsung, like most Android phone makers, uses “overlays” on top of the basic Android operating system. Overlays are phone makers’ own twists on Android. Samsung’s previous overlay, called TouchWiz, was far too cumbersome and bloated with a litany of menus, settings, and alerts.

For the S6 and S6 Edge, though, Samsung has cleaned up its interface, reducing the number of menus and alerts so that you can more easily navigate the phone’s OS. Running on Google’s Android 5.0 Lollipop, the newest version of TouchWiz is significantly easier to navigate and understand. Still, it’s not as straightforward as the unaltered version of Android or iOS.

In addition to the large number of settings it used to include with its phones, Samsung is known for preinstalling a litany of apps. And unfortunately that remains the case. 

The S6 and S6 Edge come with an array of Google’s basic apps, several proprietary Samsung apps including Milk Music and Milk Video, as well as Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, and a variety of carrier-specific apps.

Also onboard: Microsoft’s OneDrive, OneNote, and Skype, though at least you get 100GB of free cloud storage with OneDrive.

The camera to beat

For years, Samsung has been playing catch-up with Apple when it comes to its smartphone cameras. With the new 16-megapixel cameras on the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, though, Samsung has taken the lead.

The S6 and S6 Edge have the same camera; we used the S6 to take our test photos. In side-by-side shots, the S6 repeatedly outperformed the iPhone 6. What’s most impressive is that the S6 actually took better images than the iPhone in low-light situations, something that Samsung has struggled with for years.

A picture of a bottle of fruit juice taken with the S6 in a dimly lit room was far clearer and offered more vibrant and accurate colors than the iPhone 6’s image did. 

A portrait of a handsome man taken with the S6 under office lights was equally colorful, while the iPhone 6’s shot was a bit too white. The iPhone, though, offered slightly more detail.

What’s more impressive is how much better the S6’s camera is than the S5’s. Put two images taken with the S6 and S5 side-by-side, and it’s no contest, the S6 is on a whole other level.

Mobile payments

Samsung is going head-to-head with Apple’s new Apple Pay mobile payment system with a payment solution of its own called, appropriately enough, Samsung Pay. Like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay will use special near-field communication (NFC) chips built into the S6 and S6 Edge that will let you pay for items at participating stores by tapping your phone on a specialized payment terminal.

The problem with NFC-based mobile payment solutions is that not many retailers use NFC-compatible payment terminals. The majority still use regular magnetic credit card scanners. And that’s where Samsung has Apple beat.

In addition to using NFC, Samsung Pay can also be used with standard magnetic card reader terminals. To do this, the S6 and S6 Edge have to be placed close to the reader. The phones then simulate the magnetic field created when you swipe your credit card through the reader.

The problem? We still haven’t seen Samsung Pay in action. In fact, we haven’t even seen what the Samsung Pay app will look like. Here’s hoping Samsung can get it up and running in relative short order after the S6 and S6 Edge are released.

Performance

The S6 and S6 Edge are absolute beasts in terms of performance. Sporting 64-bit, 8-core processors and 3GB of RAM, the handsets are more than capable of handling anything you can throw at them.

Apps, like the camera, open in an instant, and you can snap off photos without any delay. That’s a huge improvement over the S5, which lagged a bit between photos.

The S6 and S6 Edge each come with your choice of 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB of storage. They don’t, however, come with microSD card slots. So you can’t expand their storage capacity. Instead, you’ll have to rely on cloud storage, which is where that 100GB of free Microsoft OneDrive storage comes in.

The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge come with large batteries that will get you at least a full day’s worth of use. Running low on juice? The S6 and S6 Edge come with Samsung’s Power Saving and Ultra Power Saving modes which cut down on the handsets’ performance in order to save battery life.

Unfortunately, to make the S6 and S6 Edge’s frames unibody, Samsung had to make the phones’ batteries non-removable, reversing something that Samsung fans have been able to hold over iPhone users for quite some time.

Wireless charging

To make up for the fact that the S6 and S6 Edge’s batteries aren’t removable, Samsung has given both phones the ability to charge wirelessly. That means, as long as you have a wireless charging station, you’ll be able to place your S6 or S6 Edge on the charging mat and let it charge without having to plug it into a wall.

But the only time this will be really useful is if you go to a place like Starbucks that has wireless charging pads built into its tables. Otherwise, you’ll still need to plug your own wireless charging pad into a wall.

The new smartphone king?

Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge are the best smartphones the company has ever produced. They are gorgeous, speedy, have excellent cameras, and are bursting with helpful features. Sure, both phones look similar to the iPhone, but that doesn’t make them any less attractive.

If you’re in the market for a new Android smartphone, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are the ones to get. For what it’s worth, I’m more partial to the S6 Edge and its futuristic design, but both handsets are easily the best around and should even sway more than a few iPhone fans.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+.