Review: Samsung’s Galaxy S6 phones hold their own against iPhone

Both the Galaxy S6 and the S6 Edge tick all the boxes for a contemporary smartphone, and feel great in the hand

Samsung Galaxy S6

The Samsung Galaxy S6 at its unveiling at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on March 2, 2015. (Albert Llop/Anadolu Agency/Getty)

I have to admit that my excitement for new smartphones isn’t as palpable as it used to be. A few years ago, each new flagship release from competing manufacturers seemed to herald some amazing new wizardry: app stores, amazing cameras, fingerprint sensors!

All of that stuff has become standard these days, with just about every phone doing what you need it to. It’s almost harder to make a bad smartphone now than it is a sufficient one.

It’s against that backdrop that Samsung comes to market with the latest update to its flagship Galaxy S line. This time around, the South Korean company has not one but two models—the regular Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge, which features a screen that curves on both sides.

I had a sneak peek at both models last month and have spent the past week with the Galaxy S6 Edge. Both phones excite me a little more than the standard run of the mill, mainly because they represent a big departure for Samsung.

The most noticeable change is where it matters—how the Edge and its flat brethren feel in your hand. Gone are the plasticky materials of the previous phones, replaced instead by glass on the front and back and an aluminum frame around the whole thing.

It gives the phone a solid heft, meaning that Samsung’s flagship device no longer feels like a child’s toy. I’m a stickler for “hand feel”—does it feel good sitting in your palm?—and Samsung has finally nailed it after missing with so many previous phones.

The Edge goes a step further in this department with its curved screen. It’s unlike any other device out there, and that’s a good thing. At the risk of sounding creepy, I found myself absent-mindedly rubbing my thumb up and down its sides—the smooth curves just feel good to touch. There’s no doubt about it: this is Samsung’s best-feeling phone yet.

It’s also the best-looking. The 5.1-inch Super AMOLED screen features a resolution of 1440 by 2560 pixels, for an overall density of 577 pixels per inch. I don’t know of any other phone on the market that has that kind of resolution. In real terms, it’s a fantastic screen. And the curves don’t affect viewing photos or videos at all.

That said, the curves do feel gimmicky—it’s nifty technology in search of a true purpose. As with last year’s single-curve Note Edge, the double curves here allow for some innovative types of apps. There are the ticker-like feeds that run across the curve, notifying you of sports scores of Twitter mentions.

More intriguingly, you can set up your contact lists so that the curves flash a certain colour when the associated person is trying to get in touch. It works when the phone is placed face down, with the curves allowing for the colour to mirror off the table surface.

It’s neat, but is it useful? Maybe, but it’s not something that would ever sell me on the phone. I’d need to see several more clever uses like this for it to become a thing.

Better Pictures

Samsung has also made improvements to the cameras, with a bump up to five megapixels from two for the front-facing selfie camera. The main back camera has the same 16 MP of the Galaxy S5, but both cameras benefit from additional aperture settings.

Photos are noticeably improved, to the point where they’re now able to hang with industry leaders. Even in low light, the S6 Edge shoots comparably to the iPhone 6 Plus, for example:


(Photos by Peter Nowak)

With the shift toward more durable materials—and the Galaxy S6 Edge is hardy, having survived several accidental drops—Samsung has eliminated the removable battery and SD card slot. Neither is a big deal for me, but this could be a deal breaker for some buyers.

I was disheartened to see that the S6 still has more bloatware than I’m comfortable with (which is to say, any). Swiping to the left-most screen brings up Flipboard, for example, while getting any apps that take advantage of the curves still require signing up for a separate Samsung account.

The Galaxy S6 Edge isn’t as heavily loaded with extraneous features as some other phones, but it’s also still a few steps removed from plain old Android.

If I have any other qualms, it’s that the 5.1-inch screen feels small to me. I’ve become a full phablet convert over the past few months and have trouble stepping down. If you haven’t made the switch yet, this won’t be a factor. But if you have, be warned: once you go big, it’s tough to go back.

One last hiccup is the price. The Galaxy S6 Edge, when it becomes available in Canada on April 10, starts at around $850 with no contract, or around $350 on a two-year deal. The flat S6, meanwhile, is about $100 cheaper in both cases.

If you’re looking for something a little different and have the money to spend, the S6 Edge is a great choice. But there’s really no compelling reason to go with the curves other than novelty, which means the plain, old, flat Galaxy S6 might be the better choice for most buyers.

Samsung supplied a loan unit for the purposes of this review.