As we prepare to welcome a new generation of Samsung flagships, what's to be made of the Galaxy S6 edge+?
At some point or another, everyone makes a bad call — a decision that seems like a good idea at the time, but under the harsh spotlight of hindsight is just really, obviously dumb. And sometimes you look back on that choice, and how everyone told you that thing was a mistake, and think: How could I have been so stupid?
On a completely unrelated note, Samsung in mid-2015 opted to forego the release of the Galaxy Note 5 in Europe. The move unceremoniously curtailed a series of phones that had been extremely popular with European buyers. Carriers wanted to sell it. Customers wanted to buy it. But nope: Instead, Europeans would have to make do with the similar but slightly different Galaxy S6 edge+.
Just about no-one outside of Samsung thought it was a good idea to exclude the Note 5 from Europe. But whatever — the S6 edge+ was what we had, and it seemed like a pretty good phone regardless.
It boasted the same internals and screen size as the Note, but with the surprisingly popular dual-edge screens from the original Galaxy S6 edge instead of the S Pen, and a flattened glass back in contrast to the Note's curved rear.
So six months on, as we prepare for a fresh round of Samsung flagships, how has the Galaxy S6 edge+ fared? Read on for some long-term thoughts.
I've been using a GS6 edge+ as my daily driver for most of the past six months. Having passed up the smaller GS6 models on account of their fairly crappy battery life, this was my first extended experience of the revolution in build and software quality that Samsung had brought in 2015. Whereas the Note 4 — which I'd used a lot previously — straddled the old and new Samsung design philosophies, the edge+ was all-new.
Picking the GS6 edge+ up felt like holding a piece of the future.
On both the inside and the outside this was more polished than any Samsung phone I had used. And more importantly, picking it up and using it felt like holding a piece of the future. Much of that futuristic feel comes not just from the improved materials, but also the gorgeous SuperAMOLED display and impressive (though largely useless) edge screens. There's nothing that the slide-out edge panel does that couldn't be replicated on a flat display. It's about looking cool, not being useful.
You can pin contacts and apps to the edge screen, and use it as a glorified night clock between certain hours. But everything the edge screen does feels like it's there to try and justify its existence. It's not a bad thing that the edges are curved — just don't kid yourself that there's any real practical benefit there.
While it's not the most ergonomic phone I've ever held, I haven't had much difficulty handling the edge+ over the past few months. For a 5.7-inch phone, it's actually surprisingly easy to hold — notably more so than the chunkier and slipperier Nexus 6P. The back glass doesn't have any kind of oleophobic coating, which means it gets gunked up with fingerprints really easily — and that's especially noticeable on the black model I've been using. But that also makes it a little easier to grip than other glass-backed phones like Sony's various Xperia devices.
The hardware itself has held up well over the past few months, weathering several overseas trips without any major signs of wear. Nor has the software slowed noticeably over time — though your mileage may vary in this area.
As for software, it's worth mentioning that Samsung, once again, is taking its time with updates to Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and as such the GS6 edge+ is currently sitting on Android 5.1.1, Lollipop. It's not all bad news, though, as the company has been keeping up to speed with Google's monthly security patches — which is arguably the more important thing to keep up-to-date.
What's more, modern TouchWiz — Samsung's UI layer — has improved considerably in a relatively short space of time, to the point where much of the visual clutter is gone, and there's a coherent design language throughout much of the software. Whereas TouchWiz was once the ugly duckling of the Android UI family, now it's one of the better-looking interfaces. (We've come a long way from the hated TouchWiz Nature UX of old.)
TouchWiz is much improved, but some software jank remains.
A few irritations remain, however. When it comes to bugs, I've noticed very occasional instances of the phone just freezing up completely for a few seconds — usually when unlocking — with the only solution being to wait for it to catch up with itself. There's no reliable pattern to this strange software jank, but it's persisted across each software update I've used on my device.
The other major gripe has to do with how noisy a couple of Samsung's software features are. All top-tier Samsung phones have an "app optimization" feature (powered by CleanMaster), which stops unused apps from taking up background resources. The only problem is when anything gets added to the list of "optimized" apps, there's a confusingly-worded notification to deal with. And there's no way to turn this off and simply let the feature do its thing in the background.
Secondly, Samsung's Gallery app has grown an automatic video highlight feature, similar to Google Photos or HTC Zoe. Unlike these two, though, the feature is implemented terribly. It'll try and pull event info from your calendar and combine it with location info from your shots. That means if you're like me and have a shared work calendar in the stock Calendar app, you'll get all kinds of weird descriptions for your video highlights that bear no resemblance to what you were actually doing at the time. And it'll also pester you with notifications every so often, which, again, you can't disable.
Fortunately the GS6 edge+ — like all phones with the GS6's camera configuration — excels at photography. Being able to load the camera instantly with a double-tap of the home key is huge, and this feature is implemented better than any of Samsung's rivals. (Such as the LG G4 with its double-tap volume shortcut, or the Nexus 6P with its double-tap of the power button.)
The camera itself is largely a known quantity, being identical to the that of the regular GS6 and Note 5. That's a good thing — this camera can still go toe-to-toe with the best out there, producing crisp, clear shots with colors that range from accurate to a little over-saturated. Optical image stabilization means that the edge+ can handle low-light shots pretty well too, though there's some tendency to overexpose night shots.
That's one of the areas where the new manual mode comes in handy, letting you tweak ISO, shutter speeds and more to take full control over your shots. Most of the time you won't need to, but it's a useful option to have.
The GS6 edge+ has been one of the most capable phone cameras I've used to date. (And it's been a year of pretty good cameras.) In most areas it goes toe-to-toe with the LG G4 — and it's often faster to shoot than LG's camera too. LG pulls ahead in low light though, with the GS6 camera tending to need a bit of manual control to bring out details and colors as well as LG does automatically.
All in all, though, it's an exceptional camera experience, and I've enjoyed taking some impressive shots using Samsung's latest hardware.
Battery life was a sore point for the smaller two GS6 models, however the jump up to a 3,000mAh cell in the GS6 edge+ (and Note 5) has alleviated this somewhat. The phone isn't exactly a battery champion, but at least we're at the point where a full day of use is an expectation, not a fringe case. I've been using my GS6 edge+ with a pair of Samsung's official fast wireless chargers, which means the only time I end up plugging the phone in is when I'm on the go — mainly using the official Samsung quick-charging power bank. The 5,200mAh external battery is small enough to fit in a pocket comfortably (it's around the size of the standard Galaxy S6 edge), and packs enough juice for a full charge and then some. Between wireless charging and quick charging, and the increased battery capacity, I'm not feeling really missing a removable battery.
If the rumors are to be believed, a 5.5-inch Galaxy S7 edge is about to drop at Mobile World Congress 2016, putting the GS6 edge+ in a precarious position. It's unlikely it'll see any direct successor, and the edge+ itself may well be prematurely killed off in favor of the larger, curvy GS7. Nevertheless, if you can find it at a reduced price, perhaps with a conveniently timed Marshmallow update, the Galaxy S6 edge+ could be worth your time, even as we step into a new generation of flagship phones.