It's an unpopular opinion on the Internet — at least in the highly vocal smartphone nerd corner of the Internet — but Verizon Wireless is an impressive mobile carrier in my book. My personal line on Verizon is from the golden age of unlimited data, and while it's not really fair to use that as a point in their favor now that those plans have been eradicated, I still have it and it's still nice, so I selfishly cling to it.
In exchange for that sweet, sweet line of unlimited data that works great everywhere I have ever traveled in the US, I put up with a lot of crap. I miss out on cool devices like the OnePlus One, the Nexus 6 got delayed by what felt like forever, and I still shudder when I think about what they did to the Sony Xperia Z3v this year. The devices I do get access to are usually full of apps I don't want, and the check mark tramp stamp on the back is a constant joke among some of my friends. Every once in a while it's worth it, like the time we Verizon users got a sweet red and black HTC One M8 or when the Droid Turbo turned out to be a particularly nice phone, but most of the time it's just sad.
For once, however, the Verizon version of a phone feels like an amazing upgrade. I'm talking about the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge, and it's all about the software.
Despite being the most popular, most successful, and dare I say most powerful of the Android manufacturers, Samsung's offerings are usually different from carrier to carrier in the US. It's been like this for as long as I can remember, and while we've moved past the awkward hardware variants and wondering whether or not you'd be able to sideload apps or use NFC because the carrier demanded those features be deactivated, there's still some odd software variance in Samsung's flagships. The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge are no exception, but for some reason Verizon's deal this year wound up being a huge improvement over the experience Samsung thinks users want in their smartphones.
Choice is awesome, always, and somehow Verizon negotiated Samsung into a version of their phones with a cleaner UI and more choices.
The two biggest things missing from the Verizon versions of the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge are Smart Manager and the Microsoft suite of apps. Samsung proudly championed both of these things on stage during the official unveil, explaining that Smart Manager would keep the phone safe and efficient while Microsoft's offerings would lend some productivity help and some free storage. The Microsoft apps being missing aren't a huge deal either way for me, save for there being fewer extra apps installed on the phone out of the box. Smart Manager, on the other hand, I had been actively dreading. Samsung's decision to integrate McAffee and Clean Master into their software sounded downright awful, and no part of the experiences shared by my colleagues has lead me to change that opinion. Neither experience exists on Verizon's version of the phone, so Verizon gets an atta boy from me.
There are half a dozen other smaller experiences on this S6 edge I've been using that are, in my opinion, better than the experience Samsung initially intended. The lack of Smart Manager means some of the Settings panels are rearranged, which means finding small things like the battery percentage indicator switch is easier to locate. Briefing, the magazine-esque panel that takes up the leftmost space on most Samsung home screens, is off by default (you can turn it off if you'd like on other versions). The notification tray has less Samsung cruft on it as well, since Quick Connect and S Finder aren't tacked onto the bar to take space away from the notifications I pulled the bar down to read in the first place. S Finder still exists, and I can choose to give it priority through Quick Settings if I want, but for other Galaxy S6 users it's not a choice. Choice is awesome, always, and somehow Verizon negotiated Samsung into a version of their phones with a cleaner UI and more choices.
This is still Verizon, after all, and that means Verizon apps.
It's not all sunshine and roses. This is still Verizon, after all, and that means Verizon apps. Specifically, a folder full of nine bright red Verizon apps and a purple setup icon to help you get all of that Verizon configured. This stuff is in an easily ignored folder, but that's not all you're saddled with. Candy Crush Soda Saga, Cookie Jam, Slacker Radio (which is hilarious since Milk Music is already installed and powered by Slacker), and Words With Friends, and Verizon's Amazon folder are scattered across the launcher. Amazon's full screen widget takes up the whole second panel of the home screen, and it's the non-Play Store version of these apps which means these phones come with three discreet app stores out of the box. Amazingly, a bunch of this stuff can be uninstalled. Not disabled, because it's not system-level bloat that you're stuck with in most cases, but completely uninstalled and never seen or heard from again. It's obnoxious to have that stuff there out of the box, but way less terrible if you can just remove them.
On the one hand, writing this right now is kind of a bummer. Samsung should be able to release a single phone with a single software loadout and have that be universal. This mixed bag of configurations makes it more difficult for users to get help when they need it, and it makes writing tutorials to help people who would rather not call Samsung or their carrier for help with something that seems simple somewhat complicated.
On the other hand, Verizon's negotiations with Samsung caused this version of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge to be much closer to the kind of device I'd prefer to use, and makes this phone something I would recommend over and over again to people on Verizon who want to know what phone they should get next.