It's expensive but the Galaxy S6 Edge was once the most powerful Android phone to date, and its gorgeous curves made it very desirable too
The Samsung Galaxy S6 may have finally given people the metal phone they wanted, but it’s the S6 Edge that everyone will truly desire – provided you’ve got deep enough pockets to afford one, that is.
With SIM-free prices for the standard 64GB version starting at an eye-watering £760, and contracts starting at around £43.50-per-month with an upfront cost of £50, it’s considerably more expensive than either the equivalent iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus (the latter of which costs £699 for the 64GB version and £789 for the 128GB version).
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review: Design and build quality
Following in the footsteps of the Galaxy Note Edge, which had one curve along the right-hand side of the screen, the S6 Edge’s display has curves on either side. The angles are much subtler than the Note Edge’s, as Samsung’s decided to ditch the separate sidebar to make the screen appear like it’s simply falling away round the side.
The two curves still pick up no end of reflections, but the tapered edges feel great in the hand. They not only make the phone feel much thinner than its 7mm chassis might otherwise imply, but the sharper, more angular frame also provides plenty of grip. I actually prefer it to the smooth, rounded corners of the S6, which constantly felt like it was about to fly out of my hand. The S6 Edge, on the other hand, felt much more steady and secure when using it single-handed. It’s still a little slippery due to its rear glass panel, but at least the edges provide two good points of purchase.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review: Edge screen
I’m quite glad the sidebar from the Note Edge has been hidden from view this time round, as I found it awkward to use and felt it didn’t really add much to the phone’s overall utility. That doesn’t mean Samsung’s abandoned its Edge Screen features, though, as they’re now activated by simple touch gestures so they don’t get in the way during day-to-day use.
Instead of the sidebar, for instance, the S6 Edge now has a small translucent tab at the top of the screen which you can slide out to access your five favourite contacts. From here, you can call them, send an SMS message or send an email. It’s a useful feature, and one that works incredibly well when you have both hands free.
Trying to activate it single-handedly, however, is a little more fiddly, as the curve’s shallow angle means you’re more likely to swipe to the next home screen or accidentally open the weather widget than open the tab. Still, with a bit of practice it became much easier to open with a single swipe, and it’s certainly much quicker than having to dive into my contacts or email app every time I want to get in touch with someone.
^ You can select up to five contacts on the People Edge tab, allowing you to call, text or email them quickly with just a swipe and a tap
I also like that you can colour code these contacts, as the phone will then flash in that particular colour when those contacts try to call you. However, this only works when the phone is face down on the table, which isn’t particularly practical no matter how much confidence you have in the screen’s Gorilla Glass coating. It’s still something I’d be loathe to do on such an expensive handset, and the effect isn’t actually that pronounced either. If you had your phone on silent, for instance, it’s quite possibly you’d miss it altogether if you didn’t have a direct line of sight to the phone’s underbelly.
However, if you do catch it but are unable to take the call, you can cleverly place your finger on the rear heart-rate monitor to send a text message explaining that you can’t answer the phone right now. Likewise, if you turn the phone back over and have missed any notifications from your key contacts, a coloured tab will appear on the side of the screen. All you have to do is swipe in from the tab to bring up the full details. It’s a neat way to keep in touch with people, and feels far more integrated than the Note Edge’s approach, which treated the curve as a completely separate display.
More useful is the Night Clock, which makes a welcome return from the Note Edge. I like this feature a lot, as it means you don’t have to keep turning the screen on at night to check the time – which is particularly useful if you’re travelling and don’t already have a digital clock in your room.
You can only activate it for 12 hours a day, but during that time it will always show the time and date on the edge of the display. Since the S6 Edge has a Super AMOLED display as well, which has individually lit pixels rather than a backlight on an LCD, it shouldn’t use up much battery either. The Night Clock isn’t particularly bright, so it shouldn’t disturb you when you’re trying to get to sleep.
Finally, there’s a revamped version of the Information Stream sidebar, which can be accessed by quickly swiping up and down on the right hand edge when the screen’s turned off. Here you can see vertical notifications, such as missed calls or unread emails, Yahoo news items, what’s trending on Twitter, or even your own RSS feed. It works well enough, but its cramped size means it’s not particularly easy to read and you don’t get much information before the text starts disappearing off the end of the bar.
Admittedly, none of these features are really worth paying extra for, but I’m pleased nevertheless to see Samsung’s making a concerted effort to integrate the curves more intelligently into the phone’s overall design. Even if this wasn’t the case, though, I can’t deny that the curves really do make the S6 Edge one stylish-looking handset. Compared to the door stop design of its Note-branded cousin, the S6 Edge is as slick as they come, making it something you really want to own and show off, regardless of whether the curves actually do anything useful. Fortunately for the S6 Edge, it does succeed in making the phone more practical, even if some of its features aren’t quite as good as they could be. For another take on the utility of the new S6 Edge features read our sister publication Know Your Mobile’s review of the handset.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review: Display
Either way, you certainly won’t be disappointed with the S6 Edge’s 5.1in display. As I’ve come to expect from Samsung, the S6 Edge uses Super AMOLED screen technology, but it’s increased the resolution from 1,920×1,080 on the S5 to 2,560×1,440 (QHD).
That’s the same resolution as the LG G4, but since Samsung’s used a smaller screen, the S6 Edge (along with the S6) has the highest pixel density of any other QHD handset I’ve seen, coming in at a staggering 577 pixels-per-inch. Combined with the curved edges, the screen really pops out at you, making whatever you’re doing that much more involving.
I certainly noticed how sharp the screen was, and the colours were equally excellent. I’ve always been impressed by Samsung’s AMOLED technology and our colour calibrator measurements didn’t disappoint. It covered a full 100% of the sRGB colour gamut and blacks were a near-perfect 0.02cd/m2, ensuring rich, vibrant colours and dark, inky blacks. The screen’s contrast levels were also off the charts, providing plenty of detail on our test films and photos.
Our initial brightness measurements were also good, for an AMOLED display at least. 346.5cd/m2 was still a long way off Samsung’s claimed 600cd/m2 estimate, which is higher than the capabilities of most LCD displays. For example, the HTC One M9 managed 478.5cd/m2 at its highest brightness setting. AMOLED screens are typically much dimmer.
However, take the phone outside and it’s clear that Samsung has finally fixed the issue of outdoor usability on AMOLED screens. My live brightness reading shot up to a huge 577cd/m2 when using the automatic brightness setting in direct sunlight. This is a first for an AMOLED smartphone, and dramatically boosts screen clarity when you’re outdoors. Colours look punchy and I had no trouble using it in direct sunlight. Even better, this extra brightness is only available in Auto mode, which will help prevent unwanted power drain when moving from outside to indoors. Samsung has combined the best features from AMOLED and LCD screen technology, making this one of the best smartphone screens I’ve ever seen.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review: Performance and benchmarks
As widely expected, Samsung has ditched Qualcomm this time for the UK version of its flagship handset. Instead, everyone in the world is getting the same Samsung-made octa-core Exynos 7420 chip. With four cores running at 2.1GHz and another four running at 1.5GHz, it uses ARM’s big.LITTLE design to improve both performance and battery life. This is the first smartphone processor to use a 14nm fabrication process, which means that it should run cooler and use less power. It’s also among the first Android handsets to have a 64-bit processor, now supported in Android Lollipop.
Admittedly, the phone did get quite toasty when running our benchmarks, but it easily outstripped almost every other Android handset we’ve tested, including the 64-bit HTC One M9, LG G4 and Sony Xperia Z3+. In Geekbench 3, for instance, it scored a massive 5,130 in the multicore test, making it by far the fastest handset I tested last year. To put that in perspective, that’s around 1,500 points higher than the One M9 and Z3+, almost 2,500 points above the G4. It’s also 500 points ahead of the ordinary S6.
The S6 Edge also proved itself the more capable gaming companion, as its huge 1,537 frames (or 25fps) in GFX Bench GL’s offscreen Manhatten test is one of the quickest I’ve seen. The S6 wasn’t far behind with its 1,429 frames (or 23fps), but even the Z3+ and One M9 could only manage scores of 1,194 (19fps) and 1,220 (20fps) respectively. This is still more than enough power to play even the most demanding games in the Google Play Store, including Blizzard’s Hearthstone, but the S6 Edge should be able to cope with higher graphics options if you have the choice.
The only area where the competition surpassed the S6 Edge was in our Peacekeeper web browsing tests, as the S6 Edge’s score of 1,024 rather lags behind the S6’s 1,257 and the Z3+’s leading 1,312. Still, web browsing was still incredibly smooth during day-to-day use and I had no problems scrolling or zooming in on news articles from the Guardian whatsoever. Either way, the S6 Edge is certainly one of the most powerful and quickest smartphones I’ve seen to date, which is a relief after the Galaxy S5‘s rather more rocky transition to Android Lollipop.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review: Android Lollipop and Touchwiz
Once again, Samsung has customised Android Lollipop with its TouchWiz interface. Thankfully, the company has taken the approach that less is more this time round, which means that most of the pre-installed applications have gone. Indeed, there are less than two pages of pre-installed apps in the app tray when you first turn on the phone, which is brilliant news for anyone who’s suffered through mountains of Samsung bloatware on its previous handsets.
^ For the first time ever, the app tray has just two pages of apps (and even most of these are still only download shortcuts).
This not only removes any excess clutter from the home screens, but it also frees up storage space. Even the Microsoft apps that are bundled (OneDrive, OneNote and Skype) are merely shortcut icons that you tap to install the apps. The 64GB version of the S6 Edge had roughly 52GB of space to spare, with 12GB taken up by the operating systems and pre-installed applications.
Samsung’s take on Android Lollipop won’t please everyone, but it’s not that far from the norm either. You’ll still find a fullscreen Flipboard app to the left of the main home screen, which acts as your main news feed instead of Google Now or HTC’s BlinkFeed app, but the notifications and settings are quite different from your stock version of Lollipop. For instance, you don’t need to swipe down twice to get both your notifications and settings shortcuts, and you’ll find another batch of shortcut icons when you go into the main settings menu as well.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review: Battery life
Samsung has fitted a 2,600mAh battery to the S6 Edge, which is slightly smaller than the 2,800mAh battery in the S5. While some will no doubt mourn the loss of a replaceable battery, I’d rather have the better design and curved screen than suffer a plastic handset with a removable back panel. As some recompense, the S6 Edge supports wireless charging, with support for both the WPC (Qi) and PMA (Powermat) standards. There’s also the usual microUSB port on the bottom of the phone and a fast charge option which means that ten minutes of charge will provide a claimed four hours of use.
Admittedly, we were hoping that its 14nm processor and more efficient OS would help make up for its smaller battery, but it doesn’t look like it will be able to beat the S5’s battery life of 17 and a half hours. In our continuous video playback test, for example, it only managed just 15h 33m with the brightness set to 170cd/m2. This is still a great score, though, and it outperforms the HTC One M9 by almost 7 hours.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review: Storage
It’s worth noting that there’s no microSD card slot on the Galaxy S6 Edge, so you’ll have to rely on the phone’s internal memory for storing all your files. Unlike the flat S6, though, Samsung isn’t releasing a 32GB version of the S6 Edge, instead offering you a choice between 64GB and 128GB models, so you shouldn’t have any space issues. On the up side, Samsung’s promising that its USF 2.0 Flash Memory is 30 per cent faster than those used in its older phones, so it should make apps and its TouchWiz UI faster to respond and start.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review: Wireless, sensors and mobile payments
As you’d expect from a modern phone, all of the most recent wireless standards are supported, including Cat6 LTE (up to 300Mbit/s throughput) and 802.11ac (up to 600Mbit/s throughput). It also supports Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC and has a full range of sensors, including an accelerometer, barometer, gyroscope and heart rate monitor.
Just like the Galaxy S5, the home button on the front doubles as a fingerprint reader. As well as being used to unlock the handset, it will also let you authenticate financial transactions using Samsung’s upcoming mobile payments system, Samsung Pay. This will compete with Apple Pay when it eventually launches, but at the moment Samsung’s yet to announce when the service will be coming to the UK. Continues on Page 4
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review: Camera
Like the iPhone 6, the S6 Edge’s camera protrudes from the rear of the handset, so it’s not completely flat when you lie it on its back. However, its 16-megapixel sensor has received several improvements since the Galaxy S5, including optical image stabilisation and a brighter f/1.9 aperture that Samsung says should let in 34% more light.
Real-time HDR is also turned on by default, improving the dynamic range of your images. Likewise, a double-click of the fingerprint sensor/home button now launches the camera app in less than 0.7ms; in other words, you’ll never miss taking that perfect shot again.
I was certainly impressed with the quality of my photos, as colours were bright and accurate and there was plenty of crisp detail to be seen across the entire picture. It also coped well with correctly exposing the sky and surrounding clouds, but using the HDR mode really helped to bring a little more contrast to any areas that were particularly bright. HDR shots were perhaps a fraction darker overall compared to the ones I took on Auto, but it certainly didn’t affect the warmth or richness of the colours.
^ In Auto mode, colours were bright and vibrant and there was plenty of detail on show.
^ Using HDR brought a little more contrast to the picture, but the effect was quite subtle.
There are some new modes, too, including a time-lapse setting to accompany the 240fps slow motion mode, and Virtual Shot, which lets you move the phone around an object to create a 3D image of it that you can then view and rotate later.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review: Verdict
The Galaxy S series has always been excellent smartphones, but the S6 Edge continues to put in a strong showing even a year on from its release. It may have been surpassed by the even more impressive S7 and S7 Edge, but when this year’s flagships are still so expensive, the S6 Edge starts to become a very attractive alternative for those that want to save a bit of money.
Assuming you don’t mind buying something that’s not completely cutting edge, the S6 Edge’s only other serious Android rival is the regular S6. However, when both phones share exactly the same specs (bar the curved screen), it’s the S6 Edge that everybody’s going to want. It’s beautifully made, it looks fantastic and it’s a handset like no other. There’s also the S6 Edge+ to consider, but unless you’re desperate to have a 5.7in phone, it’s really not worth spending the extra money, as the S6 Edge+ has exactly the same specs as the regular S6 Edge and doesn’t offer anything more to make it good value.
It does have some downsides, namely the arguably frippery of its curved screen, but if you’re after a phone that will make others green with envy, there’s nothing else that even comes close.
|Processor||Quad-core 2.1GHz & Quad-core 1.5GHz Samsung Exynos 7420|
|Screen type||Super AMOLED|
|Storage||64GB / 128GB|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||N/A|
|Wireless data||3G, 4G|
|Operating system||Android 5.0.2|
|Price SIM-free (inc VAT)||£760|
|Price on contract (inc VAT)||£49.99 on £43.50-per-month|