Remember how Samsung was supposed to release the Galaxy S5 Prime last year, but then didn't? And then how that device was supposed to have turned into the Galaxy F, which in turn vanished like a startled vampire around the time the Galaxy Note 4 debuted?
Well, twelve months on, it's time for another white whale of a Samsung super-flagship. Say hello to the rumored Galaxy S6 Plus (or Galaxy S6 edge Plus, depending on which rumors you're reading) supposedly hitting sometime this quarter with a bigger screen and S6 edge-style dual edge displays.
Rumors are rumors, and should be treated as such in the absence of any firm evidence. Nevertheless, the prospect of a "plus" model Samsung flagship so soon after the vanilla GS6's launch — and indeed so close to the inevitable Galaxy Note 5 — is an intriguing prospect. Let's dive into what it could mean for Samsung and its competitors.
According to reports from SamMobile, the "Plus" version of Samsung's flagship will pack a 5.7-inch screen with dual edge displays. (Earlier reports pointed to a 5.5-inch panel.) Photos of the purported phone obtained by YouTuber Marques Brownlee show a device that's the spitting image of its smaller counterpart. Reports state that Qualcomm's Snapdragon 808, a chip currently found in only the LG G4, is headed to the GS6 Plus in place of the Samsung Exynos SoC used by the regular GS6.
Software-wise, the phone will allegedly run Android 5.1.1 out of the box, and the leaked images show slightly revised icons, with a more rounded, lozenge-like appearance.
Finding a place in Samsung's phone lineup
Whereas last year's Galaxy S5 Prime rumors focused in improvements to the screen resolution, processor and build quality, the GS6 Plus's advancements appear more nuanced. That it looks like a supersized Galaxy S6 edge sends the message that Samsung is broadly happy with its new design language — as it should be — and instead wants to widen the GS6 line's appeal. While many in the West see the 5-inch area as the sweet spot for smartphones, larger handsets are hugely popular in Asia. That includes the all-important Chinese market, where Samsung faces tough competition not just from Apple, but a host of nimble local players offering 5.5-inch-plus handsets.
A bigger screen for buyers in Asia; A bigger battery to address a major GS6 frustration.
And yes, a bigger phone would allow Samsung to pack in a larger battery, addressing one persistent complaint with the regular Galaxy S6. The company is surely aware that it needs to do better in this area.
The apparent choice of processor is curious, too. On paper, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 808 is notably less powerful than the Exynos 7420 inside the regular GS6s, however the LG G4 has proven that the 808 is perfectly capable of powering a Quad HD smartphone. Qualcomm's chip is manufactured using a less efficient 20nm process compared to Samsung's 14nm Exynos, but that might be balanced by the fact that it's packing two fewer power-hungry Cortex-A57 cores. And there's no telling whether an Exynos version might also be available in some markets — Samsung has split chip orders between Qualcomm and itself on many previous occasions. (To speculate some more, who knows what might have happened had Snapdragon 808 been ready in time for the GS6.)
If Samsung releases this kind of phone in the third quarter as reported, between the GS6 and the Note 5, then we might infer a few things. Firstly, it's identified a gap in its high-end lineup that it believes this year's Note won't fill. There could be a few reasons for that — maybe the Note's life cycle just doesn't fit with when Samsung wants this bigger GS6 to be available in the markets in which it's important.
If there really is going to be a 5.7-inch GS6, what does that mean for the Note 5?
But maybe it's more to do with the nature of the product. We're in very speculative territory here, but if Samsung really is launching a 5.7-inch Galaxy S6 before the end of September, surely the Note 5 that follows in October will be more than that device with an S Pen. The Note usually represents the apex of Samsung's phone lineup for the year, as well as its main high-end "phablet" class device. The existence of a GS6 Plus might free up the next Note to cater to power users missing trademark Samsung features of old, like removable storage and battery options. If both launch around the same time, as seems likely, the GS6 Plus would surely be the more mainstream of the two.
It's hard to draw any firm conclusions on the success of the Galaxy S6 at this still-early stage. The Korea Herald recently reported that the GS6 and GS6 edge have been shipping at about the same rate as the previous two Galaxy S phones, reaching the 10 million mark in around a month. A refreshed GS6 model around the middle of its lifespan might help it avoid the tail-off in sales seen by the Galaxy S5, while bringing that series of phones back into the limelight as Apple readies its next iPhones.
Finally, we can be pretty sure this is no cut-price GS6, nor the latest iteration of the Galaxy Mega or any other mid-level, big-screen Galaxy phone you'd care to dig up. Whatever you think of the choice of processor or any other aspect of this phone, curving the glass and AMOLED beneath it is difficult and costly, and Samsung wouldn't waste two edge displays on a half-assed phone. Expect this to be a flagship device, and for it to be priced as such.
We've been here before
Until JK Shin stands up on stage with this thing, take everything you read about it with a pinch of salt.
There's still time for all of this to change, and of course the specter of the Galaxy S5 Prime looms large. Just because Samsung might be working on a larger GS6 somewhere, for some unspecified market or carrier, doesn't mean it's a dead cert for release. Chances are at least one of the two rumored GS5 Prime iterations — either the OG Prime or the vapory Galaxy F — were real at some point, and neither saw the light of day. Phone and tablet makers cancel unannounced products all the time.
And yes, rumors are still rumors. Until JK Shin stands up on stage with this thing, take everything you read about it with a pinch of salt.
There's also the possibility that the GS6 Plus isn't destined for a widespread launch — and there'd be plenty of precedent for that. Last year's Galaxy S5 Broadband LTE-A, with a 2K display and an upgraded processor, was only sold in Samsung's native South Korea. The company also made an upgraded Galaxy S4 with a Snapdragon 800 and LTE-A support, but this too saw a very limited release.
Or to put it simply: We still don't know exactly what this is or where it's headed.
The launch of a new high-end Samsung phone is always a major event in the Android world, and the arrival of a new Galaxy S model mid-cycle would be a big deal. A bigger GS6 could help Samsung's push into China, while offering a "mainstream" phablet-class device to buyers elsewhere who don't want a phone with a pen — or who want a more spacious display and a bigger battery than Samsung offers in the vanilla GS6. More phones means more choice — a good thing for consumers. But if a global launch is on the cards, Samsung would have to carefully position a GS6 Plus launch so as to not disrupt sales of the regular GS6 or the upcoming Note.
Would you buy a 5.7-inch Galaxy S6 Plus? Or have you already purchased one of Samsung's latest Galaxy S phones? Hit the comments and share your thoughts.