Belfast Telegraph

Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge first look: two new phones that are ahead of the curve unveiled at Mobile World Congress

Smartphone design is more important than ever. Mobiles are, at a glance, pretty similar: flat oblongs with big screens on the front and glass, metal or plastic on the back. If you want to stand out, you need an eye-catching and distinctive design ...

BY DAVID PHELAN

For Samsung, things were never more crucial: first, the Apple iPhone 6 released last September brought a stunning design that led to record-breaking sales.

And secondly, Samsung’s last flagship, the Galaxy S5, was not the out-of-the-ballpark hit the company had hoped for. Reviewers continued to criticise Samsung for making phones that lacked style and elegance: a plastic back on your premium phone? Really?

So this time Samsung had to really get it right. The company had hinted that it was going to throw everything at its smartphones in terms of design, capabilities and innovations. Customers needed an irresistible reason to upgrade and Samsung was going to give it to them.

On Sunday afternoon in Barcelona, Samsung revealed two handsets that have certainly set high benchmarks for snazziness. In a typically large-scale launch event, the Korean giant revealed the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 edge. I’ll discuss the special elements of the edge separately, but both phones have largely the same features so let’s look at those first.

The S6 pair don’t have plastic backs. Hallelujah. But rumours of an all-metal back were wrong. True, the S6 and S6 edge both have metal frames instead of the metallic-looking plastic of many previous phones. But the rear is glass. Gorilla Glass 4, if you’re counting, like the front of the phone, so it should resist damage. This glass, Samsung proudly said, was moulded at temperatures of 800 degrees C.

But the reason for glass on the back is that the S6 and S6 edge have wireless charging and a metal back, obviously, isn’t compatible with that. So you no longer need to plug the phone in, just rest it on a compatible charging pad and you’re away.

This may not sound like much but it’s one of those added conveniences that quickly become second nature and you miss it when it’s not there.

As for compatibility, Samsung has boasted that it works with two different wireless charging standards, so you can get used to this feature in more places.

Those toughened, wireless-compatible backs look fantastic, too. Both the S6 and S6 edge come in four colours each, though not quite the same colour. Each has a shimmery, high-end gleam to it that is pretty eye-catching on its own. It also feels great in the hand.

Both phones also have extremely high-end displays, so when you turn the phone on it looks even more striking. At 577 pixels per inch, the 5.1-inch display is the highest-resolution of any smartphone.

Of course, you would be right to point out that the human eye can’t easily see the difference between this resolution and a slightly lower one, but it certainly looks astonishingly good. Samsung is master of the Super AMOLED screen, a pin-sharp, bright and eye-poppingly colourful technology and this is easily Samsung’s best screen yet. It has also been tweaked to improve visibility outdoors

The new phones pack in most of the features of the Galaxy S5, such as a dedicated heart rate monitor on the back and an infra-red blaster so you can use your phone as a sophisticated TV remote. This is handy if you’ve dropped the original behind the settee cushions but not everyone will feel this is a feature they need.

And some functions have been upgraded – last year’s fingerprint scanner to keep the phone locked was a swipe-action model. This time it’s a touch-to-unlock procedure, which is better.

Still, some things are missing. The S5 was pretty much waterproof, but this one isn’t, though I was told there was some water-resistance. And there’s no expandable memory in the S6 phones, nor a removable battery, so we must hope the built-in battery lasts. Samsung says it will. The phones come with 3GB of RAM and a choice of memory capacities: 32GB, 64GB and 128GB.

The camera is a 16-megapixel model, with a five-megapixel front camera for top-notch selfies. Samsung claims that it’s very fast to launch, just 0.7 seconds from the moment that you double-press the home button (there’s no dedicated camera button here).

There’s also tracking auto focus so that once you’ve decided who your subject is, the camera will stay focused on it even if they move. Both front and back cameras have wide-open apertures (f/1.9) so that more light streams in, making lower-light situations more photogenic.

It certainly feels fast and responsive, and the menus have been simplified so that they don’t clutter the screen. That doesn’t mean advanced features have been ditched, just that they’re put in a Pro mode – most people will find the initial ones enough.

These simpler menus are part of a recognition that many felt Samsung’s TouchWiz interface was too complex. Apps have been simplified and slimmed down – a Smart Manager shows you how much battery life you’ll get back if you switch off background-running apps, for example.

Power consumption has been a big focus for the new phones, and the batteries are fast-charging, too. Ten minutes of charging, Samsung says, yields enough power to watch a two-hour HD-quality movie on the phone.

These are easily the most attractive, premium-feel phones Samsung has made. They are no longer the poor relations in terms of design and can hold their own with the likes of HTC and even Apple.

Many features (onboard RAM, camera pixel count, entry-level storage capacity and screen resolution) now outstrip the iPhone comfortably.

If the company is out to win defectors from rival manufacturers or persuade current Galaxy users that now, right now, is the perfect time to upgrade, Samsung has put itself in its strongest-ever position.

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