Samsung Galaxy S6 edge

Our Samsung Galaxy S6 review stands as our collective definitive take on this year's phone. But that doesn't mean it's not worth getting a second opinion. And I'm an interesting choice for it, having mostly ignored Samsung devices the past couple years.

But this year's different. This is the year I find out what I've been missing.

And so I've been using the Galaxy S6. A lot. Almost exclusively, and mostly enjoying it far more than I expected.

Let's take a second look at the latest next big thing.

On the Galaxy S6 hardware ...

Samsung Galaxy S6 edge

Believe the hype. Samsung has forged something special from that metal and glass.

I went with the Galaxy S6 edge, actually. Figured if I was going to really do the Samsung thing this year, I should go all-in and get the wildly different phone. And I'd gone back and forth on which one I preferred. When I first held the two phones at the unveiling at Mobile World Congress, the edge model (and I really hate that "edge" is lowercase) felt too thin and just weird to hold. A day later, I'd changed my mind. The roundness of the GS6 proper felt a little slippery to me.

So, the edge it was. I'm still not sold on the ergonomics. More often than not I pull it out of my pocket backwards, thinking the flat side should be the front. Maybe that's just from years of not having curved displays. The thinner edges of the phone do make it a little easier to hold, but I maintain that the overall size and shape of the HTC One M9 ultimately is a much more ergonomic phone. I'm generally not bothered by the curve in the display — sometimes when reading a big wall of text, I guess — and really it only comes into play for me visually at night when I've got it displaying the clock on my nightstand. Yeah, the curves pick up light. But that's been a minor thing for me.

Samsung made a big deal about this being an all-glass-and-metal phone, with a glass-covered back as well as the curved display. But the glass is so thin that it's almost plastic-feeling. It definitely feels better than previous Samsung phones — less, well, plastic. But it's thin glass. I've so far not had any problems with durability, knock on wood.

I've tended to go back and forth between phones with power buttons on the top, and others with it on the side. Samsung's still got button placement nailed here. I've got no complaints about their positions. And as much as still hate the idea of a physical home button on principal, I quickly grew accustomed to it on the GS6. It's even let me do away with having a camera app shortcut on my home screen (just double-press the home button), and that's a big deal. And the fingerprint scanner is aces. It's the first one I've used on Android that actually works. And it actually negates the need for the Smart Lock feature built into Lollipop. (In fact, don't use Smart Lock if you're using the fingerprint scanner. Trust me on this.)

The GS6 display is gorgeous. That's no surprise to anyone who's used a Samsung AMOLED panel the past few years, but it really has spoiled me for anyone else. The software tends to keep auto-brightness really low, but that's to be expected given the battery constraints this year. The edge display takes a little getting used to — it picks up light at the apex (and kudos to Samsung for — ahem — reflecting that in its marketing pictures), and there are times when that curve indeed gets in the way, particularly if text bleeds into it. But none of that has kept me up at night.

My only real strike on the hardware side is the speaker. It's just not good, especially when you compare it to what HTC, Motorola, and Sony are doing these days. But you can't have everything.

The slight camera bump, by the way, has not bothered me in the slightest.

But you can't say enough about the build quality. It's obvious more care was put into that with this iteration, and you can now speak of Samsung in the same breath as Apple, HTC, Sony and the like.

Performance and battery life

Samsung Galaxy S6 battery life

I tend to not get bogged down by specs, perhaps to a fault. But in terms of pure horsepower things really have plateaued the past year or two. Any real bottlenecks and hiccups are going to be from the software side. (And then I have to wonder whether it's Samsung wonk or app wonk or Lollipop wonk.) And so I've used the Samsung Exynos-powered Galaxy S6 edge as I've used any Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered phone in recent times. There's just no difference to me in the way the phone performs, as far as daily operations go. The phone does everything I ask it to do. (And I haven't experienced anything I'd consider to be habitual lag like Andrew mentioned in his review.)

Where I do tend to notice things is with battery life. And much has been said about battery life on the Galaxy S6. For some folks it's just fine. For others it's been lacking. There's no changing the fact that a 2600 mAh battery lacks the capacity of other phones. And the fact that Samsung was so quick to tell us how fast the phone would charge was not a particularly good sign that we'd be getting all-day use out of the Galaxy S6.

I've never been afraid to plug in a phone. Good thing, too, 'cause my GS6 needs a refill every afternoon.

I've been using a T-Mobile GS6 edge. And I've been making sure I charge up before I leave the office in the afternoon. That's the way it is, and that's the way I expect it to remain for the foreseeable future. Battery life, for me, isn't great by any stretch of the imagination, and I've come to live with it.

Samsung's got a big push for wireless charging in the GS6, but it's been hit and miss for me. I've got a number of Qi-compatible charging pads laying around. Some work. Some don't. Regardless, I've found it's quicker and easier to plug in and use Quick Charge (never mind Samsung's name, any Quick Charge 2.0 charger works fine for me) in the afternoon or when I'm in the car, and then use a slower-rate charger overnight on my nightstand.

I'm fine with having a non-removable battery — for me that's about simplicity. We'll have to see how many times I have to charge up when I'm traveling, though.

Galaxy S6 software

This is no longer Samsung's Galaxy S6. It's mine.

And then there's TouchWiz. You either love it, hate it or just try to get Samsung's software out of the way. I've never been a huge fan of it, but you have to respect how the design has matured over the years. I do think whoever started the "we've scaled things back a lot!" narrative deserves a medal, though. There's still a lot going on with Samsung's software.

I got rid of Samsung's launcher pretty much straightaway. But I do that on every other phone, too, including Nexus devices. (Action Launcher 3 is what I use, in case you were wondering.) And for me this has been a good mix. I mostly like what Samsung has done with menus in this latest iteration of TouchWiz. And that includes changing the three-dot overflow menus to the more brain-friendly "More" button. This is one of those cases when different is better. (See also: "The best icon is a text label").

Samsung Galaxy S6Pulling down the notification shade is a mixed bag, too. The quick settings are nicely done, and I like having the brightness slider there. But that all takes up a pretty good amount of space, maybe a little more than a third of the total vertical real estate. And that's including the shortcuts to S Finder and Quick Connect — two features I have absolutely no intention of ever using.

I'm on the fence about some of Samsung's other apps, though. S Health may actually be useful — though if you noticed earlier that I didn't even mention the heart-rate monitor on the back, it's because that's another feature I'll never, ever use — and Samsung's weather app is gorgeous. But then you have to wonder why Samsung didn't give it a proper app shortcut. You read that right — Samsung's beautiful weather app is only accessible through the occasional notification (every 6 hours) or through its widget — or by adding an activity to your home screen if you're using a replacement launcher. (And they don't all support this, or can see Samsung's weather widget.) I almost don't even want to know the reasoning for that.

The Galaxy S6 camera

Samsung Galaxy S6 camera

Oh, the camera on the Galaxy S6. This is what brought me back to Samsung. I'd looked longingly at the Note 4 but didn't want a phone that big. But I wanted a better camera.

A great camera that you don't have to overthink. Period.

Let's start with the camera app itself: It's pretty much perfect for me. From launching it with two taps of the home button to the options that are presented at the top level. You get just the right amount of things without feeling overwhelmed. HDR isn't buried. Modes are easy to get to. (Pro tip: Swipe right on the display.)

The end result is what's most important, of course. And I've been thoroughly impressed by what I've seen. Blacks are dark. Colors tend to pop. And I can't help but wonder how much of my impressions of the GS6 photos comes from the display being that good. It certainly doesn't hurt.

That's not to say every picture is perfect. I still take more than one shot, just in case. (And even then I still blow it.) This is a smartphone, not a DSLR. But it's still very, very good.

But moreover, it's just easy. There's less work, less concern about the end result. I'm a lot more confident that I'll get something I can use later on than I have been with other phones, and I generally need to do less post-processing, if any. I can still dive into the manual controls if I want, but I don't have to do so to get a decent picture. That's the biggest difference.

The bottom line

The Galaxy S6 isn't a perfect phone. (There is no perfect phone, of course.) And there's plenty about it that I'm not crazy about. The speaker, for me, is a huge step back from what I was using. But the display is a huge step forward. For as great as the camera is, I know I'm going to need to charge the phone at some point during the day. And Samsung still has a bunch of software I'll never need, taking up space (both physically and virtually) I'd rather use for something else.

But those are the trade-offs you get with any smartphone from any manufacturer on any carrier.

The simple fact is Samsung has remembered that it has what it takes to truly make a flagship smartphone. The Galaxy S6 won't be for everyone. But it should be more than enough for most.

More: See what folks are saying in our Galaxy S6 forums!