When Samsung launches a new high-end phone, people take notice. The Galaxy S7 edge made a splash when it was unveiled in February, though rumors of the device were spreading back when the Nexus 6P hit the scene in October. We're a good five months removed from the launch of the latest top-end Nexus phone, but that doesn't mean it's old — far from it, this phone is still a worthy contender to the Galaxy S7 edge.
With big screens and fast processors, these phones are direct rivals — but they both take a different approach to a lot of things. Let's explore how each one fights for a spot in your pocket.
Hardware and specs
The Galaxy S7 edge and Nexus 6P are both beautiful devices, but they both achieve that accolade in very different ways. The Galaxy S7 edge doubles down on Samsung's 2015 design language, with a metal frame that only slightly breaks up what is otherwise a whole lot of curved and shiny glass. It's a head turner, particularly if you pick the gold or silver variant. The Nexus 6P is a bit more sleek and subtle, with smooth lines and understated pops of flair from the chamfered edges.
The Nexus 6P is considerably wider, taller and thicker than the Galaxy S7 edge, and not just because of the larger screen. Larger bezels all around and dual front-facing speakers make the Nexus quite a bit larger, despite the GS7 edge having to make room for a physical home button. The textured coating makes the Nexus 6P a bit easier to hold than the slippery glass of the GS7, but that improvement isn't enough to balance the additional size — you definitely aren't getting a compact phone here.
It's hard to hate on the looks of either phone — but the Nexus 6P is so much heftier.
Though the Nexus 6P gives you more screen size for your money, the Samsung device definitely wins in terms of overall display quality. The 6P's display isn't unimpressive, but the SuperAMOLED panels that Samsung selects for its own phones are just fantastic — they're brighter, crisper and more vibrant than anything else out there. And that daylight brightness mode is wonderful.
Both phones offer great one-touch fingerprint sensors, but the difference in placement really does have an effect on how they're used. The Galaxy S7 edge's front sensor requires a press of the home button to activate the screen before it can sense your finger, and depending on how you hold the phone it can be a tad awkward to reach down and register. The Nexus 6P's sensor, by contrast, just feels so natural, letting you touch the back of the phone to immediately wake to the home screen — the only downside is its inaccessibility when the phone is resting on a table.
Internally, there isn't as much differentiating the two. The Galaxy S7 edge has the upper hand as the newer device with the latest Snapdragon 820 processor (or Exynos 8 Octa elsewhere in the world) topping the Snapdragon 810 in the Nexus 6P, and Samsung also bumped its phone up to 4GB of RAM to the 6P's 3GB. The battery capacities are also very close together, with the Galaxy S7 edge having the slight advantage at 3,600mAh versus the 3,450mAh of the competition.
That brings us to two of the Galaxy S7 edge's headline features: the microSD card slot and IP68 waterproof rating. On the first point, the Nexus 6P really has you covered by offering the option of up to 128GB of internal storage — while it isn't removable or expandable later, chances are it can meet all of your storage needs without an extra card. But you can't understate the importance of waterproofing — the Nexus 6P should be afraid of water, while the GS7 edge just doesn't care if it gets wet.
Software and performance
Even though both phones are operating on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, what you'll find on the Galaxy S7 edge is nothing like the Nexus's stock Android experience. Samsung's take on the software includes a lot more in the way of little features and visual tweaks, taking what Google offers and adding plenty to like... along with other, controversial additions. (And that's before the carriers get their hands on it.)
You can turn off or ignore most of the features you don't like on the Samsung phone, though that's not quite the same as starting with a clean slate on the Nexus 6P and adding apps of your choosing from the Play Store. And though Samsung has made steps in the right direction in interface design, I think most people will still find the clean Marshmallow UI found on the Nexus more visually appealing.
They're both running Marshmallow, but the experiences diverge from there.
That also brings us to the other part of the software — security updates. Writing this right now in mid-March, the Galaxy S7 edge is already behind with its February security update, while the Nexus 6P is on the latest patch from Google. In a couple weeks, the Galaxy S7 edge will be two months behind, while the Nexus 6P will get yet another update to bring the latest security fixes to the phone. It's not something to be taken lightly, no matter what your personal thoughts on the security of your phone, and Samsung has yet to show us that it can keep up with Google's monthly security updates.
Looking beyond the big differences in design, the experience of actually using these two phones isn't all that different. Particularly if you choose to run the same launcher and keyboard on both phones, they feel very similar. Performance is really fantastic on both, and you don't notice a single speed difference in terms of using any individual app or switching between them. Looking at processors, memory and benchmarks is one thing, but in using both phones you wouldn't know which one has "more" inside.
With comparable internals, screens and battery sizes, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the phones have very similar battery life. Naturally this is going to depend on how you use them, but either phone is going to get you through a day of typical usage. Both offer some form of fast charging capability to get the battery filled back up when it's low, though the Galaxy S7 edge has an upper hand in that it supports wireless charging.
After having one of the best smartphone cameras available last year in the Galaxy S6 and Note 5, Samsung switched things up this year with a lower megapixel sensor and larger individual pixels on the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. Interestingly, the 12MP sensor and f/1.7 lens closely match that of the Nexus 6P's 12.3MP and f/2.0, though the individual pixels on the 6P are larger at 1.55-microns over the GS7 edge's 1.4-microns. The other main spec comparison here is focusing: the Galaxy S7 uses a new "Dual Pixel" sensor that lets every pixel on the sensor get involved in phase-detect autofocus, while the Nexus 6P uses a laser autofocusing mechanism.
The Galaxy S7 edge just wins in the overall camera experience.
Numbers and stats are cool, but how about the experience of using the cameras and their resulting photos? Well, both absolutely hold their own when it comes to photo quality.
The Nexus 6P tends to take more "realistic" photos, almost to a fault as it can often take pictures that are a bit washed out and lacking dynamic range — especially when HDR+ isn't used. On the other side the Galaxy S7 edge takes very vibrant, warm and sometimes over-saturated photos, which are usually more pleasing to the eye but aren't necessarily true to the scene. In daylight both can take good shots, with the slight advantage going to Samsung, but at night the Galaxy S7 edge really does pull ahead.
Here are a few casual shots that show the differences between the two cameras:
Galaxy S7 edge (left) / Nexus 6P (right) — click images to view larger
While you can fire up either phone and expect to get good photos in the end, the Galaxy S7 edge definitely pulls ahead of the Nexus 6P in the overall experience of using the camera. Samsung's camera is consistently faster to open and take the first shot, and unlike the Nexus 6P it doesn't have any lag in processing, reviewing or sharing photos. The camera app itself is more fully featured as well, whereas you can feel a bit hamstrung by the lack of controls on the Nexus.
The bottom line
There's a lot to digest here, and both phones offer a ton to love — but quite interestingly they're perfectly comparable in most areas.
The Galaxy S7 edge is ahead in terms of screen quality, ease of handling with its smaller dimensions, camera experience, waterproofing and sheer number of features. The Nexus 6P absolutely offers a cleaner software experience with a proven path of updates, plus great front-facing speakers, a forward-looking USB-C port, arguably better fingerprint sensor implementation and a bigger screen that's still great. This is basically a neck-and-neck race in terms of battery life, performance and daily use factors. Perhaps the most polarizing point between the two is the big differences in hardware design — these are very personal devices, and the Galaxy S7 edge and Nexus 6P do not look similar.
Setting aside the merits of the phones, price is also a major consideration. The Nexus 6P is available starting at $499 for 32GB of storage, whereas the Galaxy S7 edge starts at roughly $750 for the same storage capacity. Even the top-end Nexus 6P with 128GB of internal storage at $649 is a full $100 cheaper than Samsung's latest.
That's a very large difference in price for two phones that are very much on the same level, and though the carriers can help you with financing the Galaxy S7 (as can Project Fi with the 6P), that doesn't make the total price any lower. The Galaxy S7 edge has a lot going for it, but is it that much better to justify $250 extra over the price of the Nexus 6P? That's a tough one to answer for every person out there. The Galaxy S7 edge is easily worth the price of admission, but if that $250 means a lot to you the Nexus 6P won't disappoint.