The rumor mill had it that the Samsung Galaxy S6 would be the headliner of the high-end smartphone world at MWC this year, and so it was. The interesting part about high-end smartphone releases is that everyone expects the spec improvements, leaving everyone to guess about the one little extra thing that gets thrown in to generate buzz. This year, it’s the build—Samsung is leaving behind plastic, opting for Gorilla Glass on the front and back, joined by a metal frame. It’s Samsung’s most premium-looking phone yet, but is that necessarily a good thing?
The phone certainly looks pretty. The build change isn’t just for looks, though—the Corning Gorilla Glass 4 on the back and front of the phone is the latest from Corning, and should make the Galaxy S6 much hardier than its predecessors. Completing the premium feel is the metal frame, which Samsung first tried out in the Galaxy Alpha, a riff on the Galaxy S5. The S6 is also made to look like a luxury device, with colors like White Pearl, Black Sapphire, Gold Platinum, Blue Topaz (exclusive to the S6) and Green Emerald (exclusive to the S6 Edge) available. Feel free to ask what’s in a name, but the names Samsung gives tell you pretty clearly what they’d like you to think of the S6.
There’s a price to pay for ditching plastic. The back of the S6 will not be removable like in previous models, so you won’t be able to replace the battery. And, while you’ll have the option of getting tons of native storage on the S6 (up to 128 GB), the microSD card slot has been removed, as well. This allows the Galaxy S6 to be much thinner than its predecessor, shrinking from 8.1 mm to 6.8 mm, although it’s not much lighter at 138 grams. I’m still not sure what the benefit of having a phone that thin is, but if it’s a selling point for you, fair enough. For those of you that stuck with Samsung because the Galaxy S was one of the few flagship smartphones with a replaceable battery, I don’t know what to tell you. Samsung’s joined the cool kids.
There’s nothing too surprising about the hardware improvements. The S6 moves up to an octa-core (quad 2.1 GHz/quad 1.5 GHz) Exynos processor, fully leaving behind Qualcomm’s chipsets for the first time in a while, while adding a probably necessary 3 GB of RAM. The rear 16 MP BSI camera still has high dynamic range, but now features IR detect white balance and optical image stabilization, along with an f/1.9 lens. Like with the Galaxy S5, that rear camera can take video in 4k. The front 5 MP camera has that same f/1.9 lens.
The battery is smaller at 2,550 mAh, and with the bump in specs (and the display, which we’ll get to in a bit), it’s hard to say if battery life will be longer, even if the processor is more efficient. You’ll also have more wireless charging options. While the S5 left out wireless charging completely (a little strange, because the S4 and S3 did have it), the S6 brings back Qi wireless charging while adding support for PMA (Powermat) wireless charging, making it one of a very small group of phones (including the LG G3) to feature both of the competing standards.
You pretty much have the full menu of high-end connectivity options here, too. The S6 features Bluetooth 4.1 LE, 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, Cat 6 LTE (300 Mbps down, 50 Mbps up), NFC and an IR blaster, so you can use the phone as a remote.
The display is probably the only real eye-opener out of the hard specs. It’s a 5.1″ Super AMOLED 2560 x 1440 display with 577 ppi. You might point out that that kind of pixel density is pointless on a relatively small smartphone screen, and you’d be mostly right. But, that display isn’t exactly for the phone itself. Samsung is also releasing a new version of Gear VR made to hold the S6 or the S6 Edge. The virtual reality headset is the same as the Gear VR Innovator Edition that launched with the Galaxy Note 4, but is now 15 percent smaller and can be powered over a USB connection while you’re using it. So, while the display is overkill when you’re using the S6 as a phone, it’ll make a noticeable difference when it’s inches from your face in the Gear VR headset.
Samsung is also getting into the mobile-based payments game with Samsung Pay. It works in the same way as Google Wallet or Apple Pay—enter your magnetic stripe card’s information into the app, and you’ll be able to use your phone to make payments using that card. Transactions will be made using NFC or Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST), Samsung’s own technology that can interact with wireless-enabled payment terminals that don’t work with NFC. Samsung is partnered with Visa and Mastercard for now. They say they’re working on partnerships with individual banks, probably to make it possible to use upcoming Chip and PIN cards with Samsung Pay, but pretty much every mobile wallet and smart payment card maker has been saying that over the past year, so make of that what you will.
Samsung KNOX and Find My Mobile, security features that debuted back on the Note 3, return to the S6, with the former helping to make Samsung Pay more secure. Samsung KNOX creates an encrypted partition on your phone’s hard drive, which is great for personal use or for IT staffers in companies that choose to use the S6 as a business phone. Find My Mobile can still lock down a lost phone remotely, while the fingerprint scanner provides another authentication method to help keep the S6 secure. Not too much new on the security front, besides KNOX’ use in Samsung Pay.
And, we can’t forget about the S6 Edge. Unlike the Galaxy Note Edge, the modified Note 4 with a curved screen on one edge, the S6 Edge has a display that curves and slopes downward on both edges. Besides the display, a slightly larger battery (2,600 mAh), and a slightly thicker build (7.0 mm), the S6 Edge is the same as the S6. The purpose of the edge displays is the same—they are notification and information tickers that can scroll notifications, stock prices, alerts, reminders, and a bunch of other information. You can customize them to your liking, and the same SDK is available for third party developers to find even more uses for those Edge displays.
Both the S6 and S6 Edge will be available in 32 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB models and will run Android 5.0 Lollipop out of the box (with the TouchWiz overlay). AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless will carry both phones, while Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS will only get the Galaxy S6. We’re not sure about pricing or release dates yet, but we’ll pass that information along as soon as we have it.
While you’re waiting for that information, you can start thinking about which case you want for your new S6 or S6 Edge. As soon as Samsung officially announced the S6, Speck was out with their full lineup for both phones, including pretty much everything Speck has to offer. That includes their classic dual-layer CandyShell case, the CandyShell Card case that can hold credit cards and cash, the designer CandyShell Inked cases, the rubberized CandyShell Grip, the CandyShell+Faceplate combo, and the brand new MightyShell and MightyShell+Faceplate cases, which add even more layers of protection. Prices range from $35 to $60, and the cases should launch alongside the S6 and the S6 Edge.