The fingerprint scanners in Samsung’s phones have never been the most reliable, but the Galaxy S6 improves on the feature by ditching the “sliding” of your fingerprint across the button. Instead, you just press (wonder where they got that idea?).
Press the home button twice really fast, and you’ll launch the phone’s camera. Samsung worked hard to cut down the "quick draw" time — the interval between the phone being in your pocket to snapping your first photo — and it claims to have reduced it to 0.7 seconds. I couldn’t verify that exactly, but it certainly felt much faster than the Galaxy S5, which was a slowpoke in this department.
The Galaxy S6 Edge (right) doesn't use the curved sides as a secondary screen like the Galaxy Note Edge does, although a few features (like the night clock) carry over.
The S6 also has several high-end features you usually only find in real cameras or larger phones: The 16-megapixel imager has optical image stabilization, which can help reduce motion blur, as well as continuous autofocus, so you can track an object through the frame, keeping it in focus no matter how it moves. The continuous autofocus isn't that intuitive to engage, but it appears to work as advertised: I shot clear video of my hand, a moving wind-up car and a person moving around a crowded room, and each time the subject was kept in focus. It also has a wide aperture of f/1.9.
The front camera is 5 megapixels with an f/1.9 aperture. Both have real-time HDR shooting, which means you can select an HDR photo (which can sometimes improve exposure) after you take the pic.
Samsung has also built wireless charging into Galaxy S6 and the S6 Edge. Not only that, but it's compatible with both major standards: Qi and PMA, which means you'll be able to juice up your phone almost any place that provides charging stations (e.g. Starbucks, airport lounges, etc.). Previous Samsung phones needed a special back plate for wireless charging — now the phone supports it natively.
The Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge are the first Samsung phones to support the company's mobile-payments system… which hasn’t launched yet. But when it does, in the next few months, the phones will be ready. Samsung says its payment platform will support both NFC and old magnetic-stripe readers (thanks to technology it acquired from LoopPay); this means it will work with potentially many more machines than Apple Pay.
Although it sounds like Samsung threw everything but the kitchen sink into the Galaxy S6, the company says it worked hard to reduce complexity. Menus (particularly the camera's) no long pepper you with too many options, and there's a simple manager tool to let you keep track of which apps are hogging RAM or draining your battery.
Simplified menus and easy-to-use tools like this smart manager help the Samsung Galaxy S6 avoid feature creep.
One feature that Samsung actually downgraded from the Galaxy S5 is its water resistance. Neither the S6 nor the S6 Edge is rated for dunks in the tub; I guess Samsung, like Sony, discovered people don't care that much about how waterproof their phone is.
After handling the phone for several minutes, I already like the Galaxy S6 a lot more than last year's Galaxy S5. It’s disappointing that the S6 Edge doesn’t have the same utility as the Note version, but I can understand why since the device is targeted at the mainstream. As much as I was impressed by the Note's Edge panel, it's really a geek feature.
It doesn't hurt that the S6 Edge looks fantastic. With an emphasis on simplicity, design and restraint (there are just a few new features, but they're extremely relevant), Samsung is moving in the right direction with its flagship — even if that direction was largely trailblazed by Apple.
No word on pricing of either model yet, but you can bet the S6 Edge will cost more. It takes a lot of money to look this good.