Samsung has come a long way in the last couple of years, although you might not realise it. Gone are the tacky, plastic-heavy designs of the Galaxy S4 and S5; glass is in, and big screens are in too. Launching alongside the all-round-excellent Galaxy Note 5, there's a beautiful counterpart in the equally new, curved glass Galaxy S6 Edge+ — it's what would happen if the Note 4 and the S6 Edge had beautiful babies.
What Is It?
- Processor: Exynos 7420 octa-core (quad 2.1GHz + quad 1.5GHz)
- RAM: 4GB
- Screen: 5.7-inch SuperAMOLED 2560x1440 (518ppi)
- Memory: 32GB/64GB, not expandable
- Camera: 16-megapixel rear-facing, 5-megapixel front-facing
- Connectivity: Category 9 4G/LTE, Bluetooth 4.0LE, 802.11ac
The $1199 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ is a brand new, top of the line, 5.7-inch smartphone running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop (with a light dusting of TouchWiz), using Samsung's home-brewed Exynos 7 Octa 7420 octa-core processor with four 2.1GHz ARM Cortex-A57 cores and four 1.5GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores. In this model, as with the Note 5, Samsung has bumped up the S6 Edge+'s onboard RAM to 4GB, a modest improvement from the company's previous flagships' 3GB (and the 2GB of 2014). It has a metal and glass rear case and chassis, the same 16-megapixel optical-image-stabilised camera of the Note 5 and S6 and Edge, and the largest dual-curved-glass display we've seen on any phone to date.
Being a sealed design — although not waterproof — the S6 Edge+ has a non-removable battery, with its internal rechargeable cell rated at 3000mAh (220mAh short of the Note 4's). There's a single nanoSIM slot at the top of the phone for your SIM card, and unfortunately no accompanying microSD slot. That central, clickable power button in the centre of the S6 Edge+'s lower bezel is flanked by two capacitive buttons, and it also acts as a fingerprint scanner that can simultaneously store four different fingerprints — so your thumbs and forefingers, or your thumb and forefinger and your partner's thumb and forefinger, for example. There's also no infrared blaster — hmph.
You can buy the S6 Edge+ outright in 32GB or 64GB variants in Black Sapphire and White Pearl, for $1199 and $1299 respectively, or on plans from all the major telcos. (All of that pricing and release date info is available here.) This is, undeniably, an expensive phone, but it's packed with all of Samsung's newest and best proprietary tech — like that screen and that camera — and that goes some way to justifying it. It's on par with the always-expensive iPhone 6 Plus, but apart from that, it's in a class of its own; you can get a very similar phone like last year's Note 4 or this year's S6 Edge for quite a lot less cash.
For a full run-down of the battery life, camera and performance of this smartphone, I encourage you to read Gizmodo's review of the Galaxy Note 5. Since the Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+ are really quite similar in their internal hardware — they share a camera, internal processing and graphics, even the same screen (although the Edge+'s is, of course, curved at the edges) — that review has the lion's share of the benchmarks and battery tests. Here, I wanted to pay more attention to the phone's design and the experience of using it.
What's It Good At?
The screen on this smartphone is phenomenal. It's very bright at its brightest (useful for a day in the outdoors), very dim at its darkest (useful for night-time reading in bed), and has incredible contrast thanks to the on-or-off, self-lighting pixels that make up Samsung's Super AMOLED display. I have zero complaints to make about this display (with the caveat that the curved edges do pick up reflections and distract you if brightness is too low) — I'll leave the full explanation to the experts at DisplayMate, but suffice to say it is incredibly good and you won't be disappointed. Here's a tip — set it to Basic mode and you'll have one of the most colour-accurate, most detailed displays ever seen on any smartphone.
The design of the Galaxy S6 Edge+, too, is just about as refined as any Samsung smartphone's has ever been. There's a slight, almost invisible beveling at the top of the metal frame that runs around the circumference of the smartphone that splits it in two, there's a second polished chamfer on either edge of the frame, the volume and power buttons are just about as precise and tactile as I've ever felt, the curve of the glass is consistent across both edges and the phone's entire length. Everything just feels incredibly well put together, moreso than the previous Edge or even the Note 5 built alongside it. It's light-years ahead of any LG or Sony that I've seen, and it feels more technically proficiently constructed than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
If you like your mobile data fast and your Wi-Fi faster, then the S6 Edge+ — like the Note 5 — has you covered. Category 9 4G support is a huge plus for this phone, because Telstra and Optus are both in the early stages of switching on Category 9 4G support around the country and that means theoretical download speeds of 450Mbps are possible. In the real world, around 200Mbps is more realistic — we regularly hit 155Mbps with the Cat 6-toting S6 Edge and Note 4 — and that, I am confident of saying, is more than fast enough for the 2015 smartphone needs of almost any user on the planet. In testing, I clocked a maximum 257Mbps download and 36Mbps upload using Telstra 4G on the Speedtest.net app in Surry Hills, a site where Telstra says Cat 9 4G is in early public testing. (More on that in a future article.)
Here are some sample images from the S6 Edge+'s 16-megapixel camera:
The foibles of Samsung's TouchWiz suite of skins and tweaks for Android have been the topic of complaint for many a smartphone reviewer and user, but as with the S6 Edge in May, it is great to see a toned-down, stripped-back version of the Samsung skin on the S6 Edge+. More basic features like Smart Stay continue to exist and are enabled by default, but I'd even suggest leaving them enabled and using those extra services — that are genuinely convenient and useful — for the extremely minor hit in battery life they charge. For the most part, TouchWiz now means convenient extras like a torch in the quick settings menu, customisable themes for that menu, and a Pro mode in the Samsung camera app that enables RAW image capture.
What's It Not Good At?
Any review of a late-2015 superphone like the S6 Edge+ would be incomplete without a mention of its wallet-emptying price tag. At $1199 and $1299 for 32GB and 64GB variants respectively, it comes in at an identical price to the iPhone 6 Plus (which I think it trounces in a lot of ways simultaneously, but cedes ground in others) and solidly beats out any of its competitors including the LG G4, which you can literally buy two of for the S6 Edge+'s upfront cost. Most notably, though, the Edge+ is $100 (9 per cent) more expensive than the flat-screened Note 5, and that's a difficult burden to bear unless you really like that curved glass face.
As per our complaints with the earlier S6 and S6 Edge, and the Note 5, the Galaxy S6 Edge+ does not have a removable battery or a user-replaceable microSD card. If you're a power user, a person that wants to store dozens of movies or that wants to swap out their phone battery in the middle of a long day or a long flight, that might be a real and genuine annoyance for you. These are compromises that have had to be made, though, to get the S6 Edge+ as thin as it is with the hardware that it has — but it might drive away a small proportion of potential buyers that might not use those extra features, but that want them anyway for the price that they're paying.
Samsung's selling hook for the S6 Edge+ is its dual, curved edges, obviously, and those edges mostly serve a purpose beyond just looking pretty. Their curved design does lend itself to flicking from the edge, and to that end Samsung has preloaded the Edge+ with two bespoke software features called Apps Edge and People Edge — basically a miniature dock that you can populate with half a dozen quick-access apps or contact cards for quick launching or calling friends (and still the same Information Stream notifications and light-up notifications bar as on the smaller S6 Edge). You can, of course, find similar apps on the Google Play Store that will do the same for any other phone. It's OK, as added extras go, but the curved edges still feel under-utilised.
Here's the default interface that Touchwiz presents to a new user on the Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+:
This is a minor complaint about the S6 Edge+'s design, but just like the previous S6 Edge its metal side frame is quite skinny, and not only does that make it slightly uncomfortable to hold during extended phone calls or extended Web browsing, but it's also a little hard to pick up from a flat surface like a desk or a table. The protrusion of the lens and camera sensor bump makes it easier to grasp at the edges at the top — I recommend you use your thumb and forefinger — but it's still not as easy to pick up as, say, the Note 4 or 5 or any vaguely squarish device. Beyond that, its slightly squared-off corners actually make it more attractive than the regular Edge.
Should You Buy It?
At its outright price, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ is an expensive proposition. $1199 is a lot of money for a phone, even one as large and as powerful and as stylish and as bleeding-edge as the S6 Edge+ is. It's certainly an investment though, as late-2015 smartphones go, because of its laudable combination of reasonably large battery, large and incredibly colour-accurate screen, beautiful and sturdy and professional design, and excellent class-leading specifications in that ridiculously fast 4G Category 9 radio and Samsung-bespoke octa-core Exynos processor.
At the same time, not having an externally accessible battery or microSD slot, as were two of our complaints were with the S6 and the original S6 Edge, takes away from the S6 Edge+'s utility as a completely all-in-one device. If you want to watch downloaded movies and TV shows in a quality that flatters the Edge+'s excellent AMOLED display, you'll have to use an external micro-USB flash drive — no ifs, ands or buts about it. To that end, you'll also need to be using cloud services like OneDrive and Google Drive more than with a microSD-equipped phone.
It is, of course, quite (quite) similar to the equally new Galaxy Note 5, and that's potentially its biggest problem. The Note 5 has a flat screen and a stylus, two features I think are big points in its favour. And, of course, it's nearly identical in specification to the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge from May. You could argue that with the Note 5, Edge+, S6 and Edge, Samsung has four very closely spec'd and equally impressive flagship phones, any of which you'd be very happy to own — but at the same time, I can't help but think that I would prefer the Note's flat screen over the S6 Edge+'s curved panel. And it's that little niggle that I keep coming back to.
My own preferences aside, the Galaxy S6 Edge+ is an excellent large-screen smartphone in one of the smallest and most compact large-screen smartphone chassis that I've seen. Everything about this phone is just so refined — the manufacturing quality is incredible, the fingerprint scanner works well, TouchWiz is now a complement rather than an impediment to Android, fast wireless charging is useful, even the Apps Edge is convenient sometimes. All of these are small "huh!" moments of contentment that you get when you're using the S6 Edge+, and because of that, I'd recommend it to a friend or family member in a heartbeat as a legitimately great phone purchase.