(Pocket-lint) - The Samsung Galaxy S6 edge is a radical phone. After a tepid response to 2014's Samsung Galaxy S5, the Korean giant had to do something special to stand out and get back to the top of its game.
The "standard" Galaxy S6, with its new metal build, is an impressive design push for the flagship range. The S6 edge, on the other hand, is an extravagant foray into capturing the imagination of public and pundits alike by showing off just how far design can be pushed. Point made, it's all eyes back on Samsung once again - with the likes of the HTC M9 seemingly lying in the shadows.
But is the S6 edge the phone to truly revolutionise the market, or merely an expensive gimmick?
- Best Android phone: Which is the top Android phone to buy today?
- A timeline of Samsung's flagship Android phones in pictures
Design: A different breed
Samsung has finally flicked the switch on its design ethos, moving away from its previously plastic-backed flagship phones. There's no faux stitching, mock leather, or anything of that ilk in the S6 edge. Instead, it's all metal frame, glass rear and curved Gorilla Glass 4 front. Even if you're not a phone buff it's clear to see this is one good looking, accomplished slice of design.
The curved screen edges are relatively subtle, making them less apparent than the steeper single curve of the larger cousin Note Edge, but without the same level of functionality (more on that later) the S6 edge places its design aesthetic at the fore, at times even ahead of potential functionality.
We prefer the 5.1-inch screen size, which feels spot on for single-handed use in our mind. The 142 x 70 x 7mm dimensions avoid excessive top and bottom sections above the screen, while bezel is kept to a minimum, and the single front-facing speaker is loud to the ear, but not used for media output. For that the 10 circular openings to the bottom of the device deliver audio that's surprisingly loud, although not class-leading.
However, there are minor Samsungisms that might not pander to everyone's tastes - the protruding physical home button to the front, and the protruding camera lens to the rear being two such examples - but it's as fine a phone as we've ever seen.
Moving away from the plastic-backed design does mean no removable battery and no microSD card slot either (something even the standard S6 doesn't offer). The latter point is sort-of compensated by only offering the S6 edge in 64GB and 128GB variants rather than anything less - but that obviously comes at the increased cost of purchase.
With curved edges there's less space for such openings, we suppose, with even the SIM tray trimmed down to nano SIM this time around. That hasn't affected call quality by compressing the antenna into the body, fortunately, and we've had signal as strong as any other recent device, with successful Skype and phone calls being clear whether indoors or out.
Want waterproofing? You'll need to look elsewhere. It does mean no irksome pop-up messages related to the protective flap covering the charging port, for the simple reason that the S6 edge doesn't have or need one. But with plenty of waterproof competitors out there, the Samsung hardcore may be left scratching their heads as to why a premium feature has been binned as part of the design process.
Screen: Casual curves
Principal to the S6 edge's design is the 5.1-inch Super AMOLED screen that dominates the front of the device. In line with the latest devices it delivers a 2560 x 1440 resolution (Quad HD), making for a pixel-packed 577ppi density. It's highly detailed and looks fantastic for the most part, ensuring ultra-crisp text and images. As ever with AMOLED colours are punchy and bright, with various in-device settings to soften the saturation of those bright reds and blues if you want.
But it's not flawless. The curved edges exhibit a slightly darker vignette to the outermost sides, while the exterior coating is glossier than it ought to be. Fortunately, there's enough brightness and automatic adjustment to negate any issues viewing the phone when out and about, despite reflections catching on the surface.
However, and unlike the LG G Flex 2 and its fully curved screen, we've not noticed prohibitive grain to the curved edges, but these tend to not be the area where you'll focus most active attention. Sometimes the left-side curve can feel a little unnecessary, particularly given that text is read from left to right (in most countries, anyway) and often seems to be nestled too much into that edge.
If you think that those curves mean the screen is more exposed than normal then fear not. Unintentionally we've dropped the S6 edge on concrete and wooden floors and feared the worse - only to see it remain entirely unscathed. Gorilla Glass 4 really does seem to do the trick. Not that we're going to try again.
What can the curved edges actually do?
Having a curved screen isn't just there for a laugh though, nor simply to show off how clever the design team is (well, not entirely anyway). Although some might have shrugged it off as a pointless venture - and we've seen phones with separate horizontal and vertically flexed screens with arguable degrees of use - Samsung has built-in additional software features to make more from the edge design. If these don't appeal then save some cash and look to the standard S6 instead.
But, and as we highlighted in our piece What can the curved screen edges actually do? the degree of functionality is lesser than the Note Edge. Which seems a little odd to us, and a bit of a shame. The Note Edge's right-hand curve features assignable apps, which can be positioned at your whim and the full edge panel vertically scrolled through; its steeper curve also doubles to function as button placement in the camera application. The Galaxy S6 edge, however, doesn't offer either of these features.
Instead there's a top five contact favourites - which can be assigned one of five places on the curved edge, with their own tab appearing if a message, missed call or email comes in - alongside weather alerts, night time clock, call alerts and rejection when face-down on a surface, and a limited selection of user-assignable feeds, such as Yahoo! news. Problem is, at this stage, those feeds - which lack the depth and range of those available in the Note Edge's store - are a little glitchy, with punctuation characters being shown in their full HTML equivalents, for example.
Our hope is that more functionality will be brought into play in the future. We love the way the curved edges look, and appreciate features such as night time clock the most, but there's broader scope as to what else could be achieved.
Fingerprint scanning: A big leap forward
Comparing the older Galaxy S5's swipe-to-access fingerprint scanner to the likes of Apple's press-and-hold TouchID was always no comparison: Apple's solution was far better. But the Galaxy S6 edge brings the company's feature in-line with its main competitor, meaning no need to swipe those digits.
Whether you like the look of Samsung's protruding home button or not, its function as a fingerprint scanner means you'll know exactly where to pop your thumb or finger in order to sign into the device. As there's no need for physical movement the home button placement also makes perfect sense, even for one-handed sign-in.
When assigning a fingerprint the S6 edge's software asks for multiple repeat presses, including the fingertip, in order to build up and verify information. A 0-100 per cent progress report updates with each press and instructs you to remove the finger if you're doing anything wrong. Up to four digits can be assigned to the device too, which is handy.
Once done the sign-in is ultra quick, meaning that, finally, fingerprint verification is the go-to sign-in method on a Samsung device. The sign-in fail rate is significantly improved compared to the older method too: it's only with sweaty, wet or mis-placed fingertips that things mess up, as with any similar scanning technology.
In anticipation for the Galaxy S6 edge experience, we reverted back to the Galaxy S5 last month to put us on the same page with not only Google Android, but Samsung's own TouchWiz interface and how that affects use and features. We'll be breaking down the updated TouchWiz software in greater detail in the near future for those who want the deeper dive.
For now, here's the skinny overview. With the SGS5 running Android 5.0 and the S6 edge running Android 5.0.2 (at the time of writing), it's less the software version and more the additions that Samsung has added with its own re-skin that have the biggest impact this time around.
There are, of course, the features specifically for those curved edges, as outlined earlier. But in addition the S6 edge comes with Microsoft Apps - OneDrive with 100GB free online storage in the cloud; OneNote for notes and ideas (similar to Google Docs); and Skype for online chat and calls (although we can't seem to deactivate it from background use once signed in, there's no Force Stop option) - off the bat, a drive that Samsung will be pushing in its latest flagship devices.
Left-swipe from the home page and the Flipboard-powered My Magazine section is accessible, as is typical for Samsung. It's got the same limitations to restricted news sources, but is semi-customisable and a colourful way to view collated news content.
It's also possible to multi-task, with many apps offering the multi-window symbol when viewed in active view after a press of the phone's menu soft-key. It won't work for all apps - you can't have an intense game running alongside a travel app, for example - but if you want to watch a video while keeping an eye on a webpage, it's possible. The ability to interact between pages - such as clicking and dragging a gallery image into an email - is useful, although without a stylus featured, as found in the Note Edge, the S6 edge is a little lighter in cross-app functionality.
Samsung has always reached in and put its own mark on certain software features - Calendar is S Planner, for example, but it's compatible with Google and the like, so you're free and open to use it as you choose - but it doesn't feel excessive in the S6 edge. If anything this is the smoothest TouchWiz experience we've yet experienced, the only additional hoop to jump through is signing into a Samsung Account - but why wouldn't you, as that brings with it benefits such as the 100GB OneDrive.
Which is no surprise, given the powerhouse processors working away under the hood. We're spoiled with just how powerful phones have come of late, with even mid-range devices handling toughened tasks without issue.
Samsung had been using Qualcomm chipsets in the UK for its flagship devices, but the S6 edge is one of the first devices to see an end to that: instead featuring an octa-core Exynos processor, as made by Samsung itself. That's a quad-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53, paired with a quad-core 2.1GHz Cortext-A57, alongside 3GB RAM.
Is it fast? You betcha. There's nothing this device has struggled with throughout the week. The operating system is super snappy, which is exactly what we were hoping for as a step-up from the SGS5's less-than-immediate response. Apps load fast and run without issue, from candy-popping Candy Crush Saga fun, to word processing, browsing, and whatever else you happen to fancy doing.
The new design does mean it'll get warm, though, but not so much that you can fry an egg on it. Just be cautious when finishing a more intensive app experience and then popping the device in your pocket: close to warm skin and it won't cool down as quickly, which will affect battery performance.
When it comes to longevity per charge there's always been a pecking order among flagship devices, one that the Sony Xperia seems to be high up the rankings. With the Galaxy S6 edge we've come to get exactly what we've expected from the device: it's as capable as the Galaxy S5, but not an advancement. That leaves us semi disappointed, but almost nonplussed at the same time. Here's how our experience has panned out.
After a full overnight charge - via a cable, as there's no contactless charger included in the box, which is something to note - we managed 8am to 11pm with one per cent battery remaining on day one. So 15-hours of use, with Skype and WhatsApp always running in the background, various browsing and quick app experiences, and some YouTube video snippets too.
Thereafter we've had a mixed experience. Another day saw 45 per cent remaining after nine hours use, with the battery blitzed thereafter due to needing to use the phone as a wireless hotspot.
A quieter weekend day, with fewer work emails pouring in, saw 60 per cent remained after nine hours use, with 25 per cent still in the bank by bed time. So the S6 edge is capable of a full day's use, but we would carry a spare top-up charger, as we usually do. The inability to remove the S6 edge's battery might annoy some, but for the sake of design we prefer it.
To get more from the device there is the Samsung's usual Power saving mode, but we don't find it makes as significant an impact as it could. We want to see more modular adjustment options, like with the Sony Xperia setup. However, if you really need to stretch things then Ultra Power saving is the one to go for, which turns the phone into a simplified device with basic features, a black and white display, cuts 4G connectivity, but increases longevity by around three fold.
Samsung was keen to shout about its quick charge feature at the S6 edge's announcement conference, but the review model we've been handed, presumably from Germany given a few pre-loaded German apps, means we don't have the necessary UK power socket to test this feature's proficiency.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 edge's 16-megapixel rear camera comes from a good stock and does a good job overall, particularly in good light. It's got a fast f/1.9 aperture lens for letting in lots of light and the interface is quick and easy to use, with speedy autofocus and face-detection.
One key option is real-time HDR (high dynamic range) just like the Galaxy S5, meaning the ability to balance highlight and shadow details right before your eyes. Not to excess, and it's only an off/on system rather than anything more detailed, but it's useful to have. Just make sure the lens is clean, as sometimes a milky look can impinge image quality.
Other options include voice control, GPS location tags, grid lines for rule-of-thirds composure assistance, and a bunch of filter effects which can be applied pre- or post-shooting.
Now that f/1.9 number might not sound that different to the f/2.2 of the iPhone 6, but the way aperture values work (f/1.9, f/2.0, f/2.2 are the steps between a full "stop") means it is capable of letting two thirds more light in than Mr iPhone. But despite this, the optical image stabilisation doesn't work particularly well, and as the software is happy to shoot using 1/10th sec or slower shutter speeds, it means subtle blur isn't uncommon in low light conditions.
As a workaround there is a Pro mode where the ISO sensitivity can be set (forcing the shutter speed to be faster, at the sake of final quality), but there's no direct control over the shutter speed itself. Not that most people are going to want to mess around tweaking such settings - really Samsung should put in a faster minimum shutter speed in place so people can happily point and shoot with more confidence. However, as most shots will never make it off the 5.1-inch screen's scale, it's easy to "hide" blur.
That is the S6 edge's one camera weakness: stabilisation combined with auto settings. But we've taken some nice close-up snaps with ample detail. Even low-light results, such as a snap taken in a funky burger joint at the weekend, fare well for a camera phone, despite detail not being as prominent and some colour noise - which shows as green and red flecks - being visible in the shadow areas.
While the competition release subtle reworks of their flagship devices in 2015, Samsung has really gone out on a limb with the Galaxy S6 edge. It's the best looking, most radical phone of the year.
With a snappy software experience, octa-core Exynos processor that eats apps for breakfast, considerably improved fingerprint sign-in solution, quality Quad HD screen and a decent camera, the Galaxy S6 edge is the true flagship experience.
It has its quirks and feature omissions - no microSD slot, slow shutter speed camera issues, so-so battery life and limitations to edge functionality that could be improved down the line - but the surge of positives outweigh the low points. It's not cheap, mind, at £760 for the 64GB version upon launch it's £160 more than the likes of the iPhone 6 Plus, or the conventional Galaxy S6.
When design is done correctly it fuses aesthetics with functionality. The Samsung Galaxy S6 edge does exactly that; it's a phone that will turn heads, rightfully reinforcing its position as the most enticing flagship on the market and the most exciting phone we've seen for some generations. Best go raid the piggy bank.