Android smartphones have come a long way. As the budget end of the market continues to plumb new depths with unbelievable specs at low, low prices, the premium end is having to work harder to capture our interest and persuade us to part with large sums of cash. After a disappointing year, Samsung has taken decisive action to stop the rot, but with the S6 and S6 Edge, it has made changes that won’t please everyone.
With the Note 4 and the standard Galaxy S6 flanking it, you can’t help but feel that Samsung is hedging its bets. Will people buy the S6 Edge? Shouldn’t it be Samsung’s flagship? Do we need the S6 at all?
The expensive design trend
It was always trumpeted as one of the iPhone’s unique selling points, but it was probably the iPhone 4 that cemented its reputation as a stunning design triumph that looks and feels expensive. It’s not that other people never made expensive feeling or looking smartphones, but none of them had really had a major mainstream hit with one.
HTC led the charge to brushed metal desirability for Android with the One M7. The reviews were glowing and it was possibly the first Android smartphone that was consistently ranked as more beautiful than the iPhone. Samsung’s latest Galaxy S releases would always garner good reviews, for cutting edge specs at least, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single review that didn’t mention the reliance on plastic and how Samsung wasn’t matching the expensive design of other flagships.
The trend toward metal and glass is firmly entrenched at the high end of the market. Sony hasn’t revealed the Z4 yet, but its signature industrial design, blending metal and glass, is a sure thing. Huawei’s new Ascend P8 is probably going to have a chamfered metal frame. HTC’s One M9 is a gorgeous, if a little safe, sequel. Apple’s iPhone 6 has the expensive feel, though the curved metal aesthetic is compromised by those strips of plastic.
If we’re having a beauty contest, then the Galaxy S6 Edge walks it. If you’ve not been wowed by the pictures then you need to get a close-up look. The S6 Edge is impressively gorgeous.
The right time for a change
It would have been braver of Samsung to just release the S6 Edge as its sole flagship. That would have been a real statement of intent. It has always preferred to offer more choice, though it did promise to tone down the huge range this year. When Samsung stuck to its guns under pressure to go metal in the past it was a decision you could respect, but the S4 simply wasn’t exciting, and the S5’s dimpled back cover was downright ugly. With a tough year ahead it was definitely time for a change.
If Samsung had just released the Galaxy S6 it wouldn’t have been enough. People would have shouted copycat again, but the S6 Edge combines the move to premium materials and design with real innovation in form factor. You can dismiss the curved edges as gimmicky, but Samsung has some smart ideas for features and when developers get their hands on the SDK we’ll start to see the real potential.
The only other Android manufacturer doing its own thing right now and still offering top end smartphones is LG. The G Flex 2 sticks with plastic and offers something new with that curve, and it still looks really good. It’s also by far the most comfortable flagship smartphone to actually hold in your hand right now, which is the saving grace of plastic designs. Will LG bow to the metal design trend with the G4?
Betraying the faithful?
When you look back at the arguments of loyal Samsung fans in the past, you’ll find references to the comfort and practicality of the plastic design and an insistence that the latest Galaxy S looks awesome. There has also always been much love for those twin pillars of Android fan excitement – expandable storage via microSD card slots and a removable battery. No two features have generated more comments on articles about Android smartphones across the land.
Will traditional Samsung fans go elsewhere in significant numbers, or is it just a vocal minority? Could we see a change in the Samsung fan base, or is brand loyalty stronger than mere features? It will be interesting to see.
The other casualty of Samsung’s shiny new design aesthetic is the IP rating. It looked like some level of waterproofing might become standard for a while there, but sadly it’s being confined back to a special category (there will be an S6 Active). If there’s one weakness you might point to looking at the S6 and S6 Edge it would have to be fragility. The S6 Edge is the least rugged-looking phone we’ve seen for quite some time. It’s definitely going to be prone to scratches, chips, and cracks.
The best of the best?
As the reviews and comparisons roll out, the S6 Edge looks like it has a real shot at the title. The iPhone traditionally punches above it weight in terms of specs on paper, but we’re already seeing credible reports that the S6 Edge has a better display, camera, and far superior multi-core performance. Samsung has also improved the fingerprint sensor, toned down the bloatware, and provided support for both major wireless charging standards.
Having said all that, it does look fragile, we’re not sure about the battery life (2,600-mAh), and it does still run TouchWiz, even if it is scaled back.
We’ll need some real time with it to decide whether it really outdoes the rest of the field. One thing’s for certain – the S6 Edge is much more attractive than the plain S6. Samsung has reported 20 million pre-orders already from retailers, but apparently the split is 15 to the S6 and 5 to the S6 Edge.
If you’re in the market for one of them then we urge you to try the S6 Edge. It’s has everything the S6 offers and more, and it deserves to be Samsung’s real flagship.
What about you? Which one do you prefer?