Review: Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge lead the Android pack

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Credit: TJ Blackwell via Flickr

The new flagship Samsung Android smartphones are surprisingly elegant and thoughtfully designed, with better security capabilities

At a Glance
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Samsung's new flagship Android smartphones, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, go on sale tomorrow at AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless and ship on April 10. Fortunately, we managed to get our hands on the shipping hardware in advance.

The results of our evaluation: Both devices are major steps up for the Android ecosystem, marrying enhanced hardware capabilities, better security, and a cleaner user interface with a strong design derived from both Apple's iPhone 6 and HTC's One. But as good as they are, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge come with a few quirks and one apparent bug.

Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6 Galen Gruman / InfoWorld

The Samsung Galaxy S6 (left) takes numerous design cues from the Apple iPhone 6 (right).

The new Galaxy S6 devices have a much nicer feel and more thoughtful design than last year's plasticky, boorish Galaxy S5. Both have a decidedly Apple feel. Samsung is often accused of cloning whatever Apple does or is even rumored to be doing, and there's much truth to the claim.

At first glance, either Galaxy S6 looks like a love child of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 5s, with metal and glass cases and an understated design. The key differences are the Samsung logo, the rectangular Home button, and the larger body and screen of the S6. The S6 Edge's curved screen helps it stands slightly apart.

Samsung Galaxy S6 back Florence Ion

The glass back cover of the Samsung Galaxy S6 has a sensuously lustrous feel.

Samsung's wide selection of bezel colors, which vary based on the carrier, will help some models stand out. The two Galaxy S6 models have a glass back -- which I missed terribly when Apple launched the metal-backed iPhone 5. Glass is warmer and smoother to the touch, so it feels more luxurious. The S6's glass back has a feathered edge, which means there's a slight curve at the edges, so it fits like a glove. There's something softer about the glass in the S6: It feels more like a high-quality resin, but without the risk of yellowing over time. Whatever Samsung did, it's a treat to touch.

The Galaxy S6 Edge's edge is its curve

The new Samsung Galaxy comes in two models: the S6 and the S6 Edge. The Galaxy S6 Edge has curved glass edges that expose the left and right sides of the screen, similar to the Galaxy Note Edge. The regular Galaxy S6 has the standard flat screen, with an iPhone 6-like bezel on all sides.

The curved edge displays are shallower than in the Note Edge, so there are no special status icons in the Galaxy S6 Edge. Instead, the edges help make some information more visible when the smartphone is resting on a table and you're viewing the screen at an angle. You get to choose what it displays: people icons (for as many as five individuals of your choice) and what form of contact causes their icons to light up -- missed calls, text messages, and emails. Tap an icon to see the recent communications from that person.

Galaxy S6 Edge home screen and edge display Galen Gruman/InfoWorld

The Galaxy S6 Edge's edge display (left) appears when you swipe the nearly invisible control (circled in yellow at right) on your home screen.

The feature is not intuitive; there's a very thin line near the top right or left edge (based on your preference setting) that you swipe inward to display people's icons. You leave that view on, which means you no longer see the notifications tray while the S6 Edge is unlocked.

Galaxy S6 Edge showing missed-call details Galen Gruman/InfoWorld

On the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, a thin notification bar appears if one of your favorites tried to contact you. Swipe the bar inward to reveal the details, as shown here.

There's another hard-to-see indicator on the same edge toward the bottom of the S6 Edge; it appears if you missed communications from one of the people you indicated as a favorite, using that person's color. Swipe it inward to see the details of what you missed.

The Galaxy S6 Edge also lights the other side of the screen when the device is face down and receives a call. The idea is that you can turn off the ringer and still see that you got a call, although not who called.

I don't find the edge info very useful -- the lock screen or notifications trays are usually visible even when I set the smartphone on a table, and they deliver more critical data.

But the S6 Edge's curved edge provides a rounded feel that I find slightly more pleasant to hold than the regular Galaxy S6. It's not that the S6 is uncomfortable, but the S6 Edge is more comfortable. But others who tried the devices didn't like the S6 Edge's curved sides -- the edge felt too sharp to hold comfortably, and they had trouble typing on the keyboard where it flowed into the curves -- so be sure to try both models in a store yourself.

To get that curved screen and (if you see value in them) the edge notifications, I'm guessing you'll pay about $100 more for the S6 Edge -- unfortunately, Samsung won't release list prices, saying that's up to each carrier. Prices in Europe, though, suggest that the 32GB Galaxy S6 will cost about $750 when purchased outside a contract, and the 32GB S6 Edge will cost about $850.

The differences between the Galaxy S6 series and the iPhone 6 become clearer as you use the devices. The new Google Android 5.0 Lollipop OS is cleaner, and Samsung has tidied up its version of the Settings app, so it's easier to navigate. Lollipop is iOS 7-like in its flatter design, but it has a distinct look that Samsung has not messed with. The result is a more sophisticated yet distinct Android smartphone.

You won't find any breakthrough technologies in the Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge, but you'll notice useful enhancements. Beyond the new processor and screen, most of the S6s' hardware enhancements debuted in the Galaxy Note 4 or Galaxy Note Edge. The biggest advancements are the Home button's fingerprint sensor and the Galaxy S6s' screen.

The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge smartphones are narrower than the Galaxy S5 or S4, and with the reduced size, they're more comfortable to hold. More important, the new devices are easier to operate because more of the screen falls within range of your thumb when using the smartphone in one-handed mode. Although they're slightly larger, thicker, and heavier than an iPhone 6, they have bigger screens, and they still beat the old Galaxy S5's dimensions.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Apps and Web (20%)
Platform services (20%)
Security and management (20%)
Usability (20%)
Hardware (20%)
Overall Score
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge 8 7 8 8 9 8.0
Samsung Galaxy S6 8 7 8 8 9 8.0
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