Samsung today showed the world its latest two "phablet" devices, the Galaxy S6 (GS6) edge+ and the Galaxy Note5, at a press event in New York City. The curvy, sleek GS6 edge+ is an upsized evolution of the company's smaller GS6 edge, which was released in the United States last April. The stylus-equipped Note5 is the newest member of the popular Note phablet family. The Note 4 first hit the U.S. market last October.
The timing of Samsung's announcement not so coincidentally comes about a month before Apple's expected new iPhone unveil -- which should take place on or around Sept. 9 -- and the Korean electronics king is clearly hoping to divert attention from Apple.
Last week, I spent some time with both of the new Galaxy devices during a media event at New York's Soho Grand hotel. Though I didn't put the two phablets through all the paces, I had enough hands-on time to form some solid first impressions. A number of things -- some for better, some for worse -- stood out to me about the new GS6 edge+.
What you'll like about the Galaxy S6 edge+
The Galaxy S6 edge+ looks like a large GS6 edge, with one notable exception: The stainless steel bezel has a distinct ridge at its center that surrounds the device, which gives it a bit more texture and helps you grip it when it's not covered in a case. The difference is relatively minor, and most users will quickly cover their phones with a case or skin anyway, but it's hard to miss if you're familiar with the original GS6 edge. The GS6 edge+ is composed of the same contoured glass and metal, and like the GS6 edge, its big brother is great looking.
Samsung's "edge" devices get their names from the curved sides of their displays and the associated "People edge," and now "Apps edge," features. The company has expanded and enhanced that functionality by adding a new application tray that gives you quick access to your most-used apps. The original GS6 edge lets you slide a tab inward from a side to access five preset contacts, and the new GSG edge+ builds on that feature with easy access to five apps, which you access by sliding a tab from the edge inward, and then scrolling sideways, past your favorite contacts, to your app tray. The next time you slide the tab to see your the edge features, it picks up where you left off; if you used the app tray last, you'll see it first instead of the contacts.
When I reviewed the GS6 edge last spring, I wrote that the People edge was as much about aesthetics as it was functionality -- let's face it, those curved edges look slick. The addition of the App edge adds real value, because most people probably use their favorite apps more frequently than they call or text friends or colleagues.
The GS6 edge+, which runs Android 5.1 Lollipop, also has a new "Live Broadcast" feature built into its default camera. Instead of opening up your Meerkat or Periscope app to capture and broadcast video in real time, you can now just launch the GS6 edge camera (front or back), enable the new mode and send live video directly to your YouTube channel. Though I watched a live demo of the feature, I didn't get to try it out for myself, so I can't say how well it works. It is, however, a unique addition to the Galaxy camera.
The display on the GS6 edge+ shines, as expected. Samsung established itself as the star of the smartphone-screen space during the past few years, and the GS6 edge+ screen doesn't disappoint -- though it also doesn't have as many pixels packed into each square inch as the smaller GS6 edge. Both the GS6 edge and GS6 edge+ have 2560 x 1440-pixel quad HD, Super AMOLED displays, but the edge+ has a larger 5.7-inch screen, while the GS6 edge has a 5.1-inch display. That means the smaller device packs 59 more pixels per inch.
The GS6 edge+ also supports a faster LTE standard, LTE cat. 9, than the original GS6 edge's LTE cat. 6, though it's unclear if the chip in the U.S. version will have LTE cat. 9 or stick with cat. 6.
One of the best things about the original GS6 edge is its support for two wireless charging standards (Qi and PMA), which means you can power up your phone using the majority of charging pads and wireless power accessories on the market today. The GS6 edge+ takes that a step further, with faster wireless charging, according to Samsung. (Charging accessories must also support the faster standard to take advantage of higher speed.) The GS6 edge+'s 3,000mAh battery is 15 percent larger than the battery in the GS6 edge (2,600mAh), but Samsung says it will fully charge, wirelessly, in the same amount of time, thanks to the speed boost in wireless power support.
Samsung also (finally) provided U.S. release date details (sort of) for its much-anticipated mobile payment service, Samsung Pay, the GS6 edge+ will be able to make contactless mobile payments at the majority of U.S. retail locations, using magnetic secure transmission (MST), or NFC, if the retailers have compatible contactless point-of-sale terminals. (Samsung should have a distinct advantage over Apple Pay, thanks to the MST support.) The new mobile payment service will be officially released in the United States at some point in September, according to Samsung.
The Galaxy S6 edge+ has the same powerful, Exynos 7420, 64-bit octa-core (2.1GHz quad + 1.5Ghz quad) processor as the GS6 edge, which in my experience provides a smooth, seamless experience on the smaller GS6 edge. The larger edge also has 4GB of RAM, 1GB more than the original GS6 edge.
And finally, the GS6 edge+ has a new Ultra High Quality Audio (UHQA) "upscaler," which you can use to convert poor or average quality audio files to higher bit rates. More specifically, Samsung says "any audio" MP3 files, or files from a CD, can be upscaled to a maximum of 24bit/192kHz, though not all audio players will be able to take advantage of the increases.
These are the features and functionality that impressed during my hands-on time with the Galaxy S6 edge+, but a number of the phablet's unfortunate shortcomings also caught my eye.
What you might not like about the Galaxy S6 edge+
I'm going to come right out and say it: I don't like phablets. They're just too damn big. Of course, that's a matter of preference, and clearly lots of people love their obscenely gigantic phones. If you're partial to large phones, the Galaxy S6 edge+'s size shouldn't be a concern, but despite its sweeping lines, smooth curves and slick glass surfaces, the phone feels clunky. And its curvy design and size make it somewhat slippery and unwieldy.
Continuing in the tradition of the original GS6 edge, the GS6 edge+ does not have a removable battery or an expandable memory card slot. That's par for the course these days, but I stand firmly in the camp that mourns the loss of these important features. You can never have too much battery life, and the option of swapping out a dead battery for a full one is always better than scrambling to find a power outlet in an unfamiliar environment.
The absence of a memory card slot is all the more notable because Samsung chose to offer the GS6 edge+ with only two storage options: 32GB and 64GB. Gone is the 128GB option that was available for both the GS6 and the GS6 edge. Honestly, this isn't a big deal for me, because I, like most consumers today, rely more and more on cloud storage. But it's sure to rub certain users the wrong way. If nothing else, it represents the unfortunate trend toward fewer choices for consumers in high-end gadgets, and that's not a good thing.
The GS6 edge marked a notable new focus on design from Samsung, and it was available in a variety of vivid colors, including a memorable and unique emerald green. Unfortunately, the GS6 edge+ comes in only two, boring colors in the United States: black and gold.
The GS6 edge+ has the same cameras (rear and front-facing) as the GS6 edge, and while there's nothing wrong with the camera on the original GS6 -- in fact, it's a great camera overall -- it's somewhat disappointing not to see any improvements or enhancements, beyond a new image-stabilization tweak for the video camera. Cameras are among the most used, and most important, features in modern smartphones, and I wanted to see Samsung bolster the shooter on the GS6 edge+. Something about that plus sign tagged onto the end of the name seems to call for enhancements to major features.
Finally, the GS6 edge+ does not have an infrared (IR) blaster. For most folks, this will be a nonissue. In fact, I bet most people have never even used the IR blasters on their favorite mobile devices. However, if you've come to rely on a specific app that use the feature (a remote control app for your Apple TV or other streaming box, for example) you may be disappointed to learn that it won't work on the new GS6 edge+.
To be clear, this isn't meant to be a GS6 edge+ review. It's impossible to accurately evaluate a new device after only an hour or two of hands-on time. Instead, I tried to spotlight the features, or lack thereof, that will stand out to people familiar with Samsung's current smartphone lineup.
You can learn more about the new GS6 edge+ on Samsung's website.