This week, Samsung and a set of its U.S. wireless carrier partners announced pricing and availability details for its two latest smartphones, the Galaxy S 6 and GS6 edge. Prices vary by carrier and payment options, but the GS6s will be available starting on April 10.
Both devices are "completely the same on the inside," according to Philip Berne, Samsung's marketing manager of technical media, who I spoke with at a GS6 press event last month in New York. That's not entirely true, the devices have slightly different battery capacities, but the major difference between the GS6 and GS6 edge is on the outside: The Galaxy S6 edge display is curved on both of its sides.
So which GS6 phone is right for you? What do the GS6 edge's curved sides really do? Do the sides change the user experience? Are they just a gimmick to make Samsung's quirky new device look different than the iPhone?
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I spent an hour or so with both the Galaxy S 6 and Galaxy S 6 edge a few weeks ago, at the previously mentioned press event, (check out my first impressions here) and Samsung sent me review units this week, so I've had some time to kick their respective tires. If you're considering a GS6 purchase, and you're asking yourself any of these questions, keep reading for some answers.
Galaxy S 6 vs. Galaxy S 6 edge: Form over function?
Before getting into the actual functionality, it's worth noting that the curved sides of the GS6 edge add aesthetic value as much as anything else. The GS6 edge is Samsung's best-looking phone ever, and it's quite possible the company's best-looking mobile device. It's distinctive, thanks in no small part to those curved edges.
Appearance isn't everything, of course, but Samsung's goal with the Galaxy S 6 is to create a smartphone that grabs your eye and possibly even serves as a high-tech fashion accessory. If so, the company appears to have succeeded, because the Galaxy S 6 edge is a real looker.
What do the Galaxy S 6 edge's curved sides do?
The Galaxy S 6 edge has two curved sides, but you can use only one of them at a time. In other words, you have to pick one "edge screen position" — right side or left side — so while the device's display is curved on both sides, its features work on only one. The idea is that left-handed users can set the "edge screen" to the left and righty users can use the right edge screen.
The edge screen works in different ways when the display is turned on and when it's dark. When the device is awake, the edge screen serves as the "People edge," and it shows notification information for a designated set of five contacts. You assign a specific color to each person, and a corresponding colored tab appears on your edge screen whenever you receive notifications from that person.
The tabs appear on top of each other if you receive notifications from more than one of your People edge contacts. And you can quickly initiate new conversations or place calls to People edge contacts by sliding a finger inward from the edge of the screen and tapping their profile icons.
When the GS6 edge is asleep, the edge screen serves a number of purposes. You can turn on "edge lighting" so the edge screen glows when you receive calls or notifications, if your phone is placed facedown on a surface. If you use the "People edge" features, the screen glows the corresponding color when you receive calls or alerts from any of those contacts. You can also enable or disable edge screen notifications for calls, email or text messages, so you only see specific alerts.
The GS6 edge "information stream" shows up when you slide a finger back and forth across your edge screen, while the display is asleep. The customizable edge screen shows the date, time, weather information, battery status and a variety of feeds, from sources including Yahoo and Twitter. (The selection of available feeds is limited at this point, but it will presumably increase as more developers build support for the new feature into their apps.) You can also choose to see missed calls and messages in your information stream.
Finally, a "Night clock" lets you pick set a specific time period during which the date and time appear and stay on your edge screen, so you can use your phone as a bedside clock without having to wake it to see the date and time.
You can also disable any and all of the edge screen features, so you can pick and choose which ones to use.
Do the curved Galaxy S 6 edge sides change the user experience?
The curved sides on the Galaxy S 6 edge take some getting used to, mainly because they're so different and because they make the device feel somewhat slippery. The curved glass is smooth and slick, so it's easy to lose your grip on the phone. Of course, a case could resolve this issue, and I strongly recommending using one, because the GS6 edge looks and feels delicate. I do not have a case for my GS6 edge yet, so I can't comment on how one might modify or impede the use of the curved edges.
I find myself using the People edge features more than anything else, because they make it easier and faster to start new conversations or respond to alerts from my most frequent contacts. However, many other devices and platforms offer similar "shortcuts" to contacts, so People edge doesn’t really offer anything unique beyond the novelty of using the curved display.
There’'s not a lot of value in the information stream features, because it's easy enough to just tap a home button to see the time, and sliding your finger across the edge screen takes about the same amount of effort. It's also somewhat difficult to read or consume information in such a small, thin space.
I like the idea of the Night clock, but it's difficult to see when the GS6 edge is placed at bed level on a nearby night stand, because the text is small and the angle of the edge is such that you have to slightly lift your head above the display to see it.
I haven't spent enough time with any of these features to give them a definitive thumbs-up or thumbs-down. However, my initial impression is that the GS6 edge's curved sides do not dramatically change the user experience, and the only features that seem truly valuable to me are the People edge features.
Are the Galaxy S 6 edge's curved sides a gimmick to make it look different than the iPhone?
Samsung's first phone with a curved display was the Galaxy Note Edge, which has just one curved side. I used that device for a week or so before it was clear the curved display didn't really provide any value beyond aesthetics.
[Related Feature: Samsung Galaxy S 6, GS6 edge in Pictures ]
The Galaxy S 6 edge is different, and Samsung definitely improved the edge screen features by further integrating them with its OS. However, I'm still not sold on the curved screen concept. I plan to use the device as my main phone for the next couple of weeks, and I may change my tune by the time I write a full review, but the curved sides still seem like a gimmick to me.
Of course, you should go to a carrier store or electronics retailer such as Best Buy, Target or Wal-Mart, all of which will eventually carry the GS6s, and get your hands on both options before purchasing one of them. Personal preference will dictate which device is right for you, but understanding the differences between these two new phones is half the battle.
This story, "How to pick between the Samsung Galaxy S 6 and GS6 edge" was originally published by CIO.