Samsung's latest curved-screen smartphone looks great, but does that make it a better device?
Samsung's Galaxy devices
Samsung is offering not one but two big high-end smartphones this year -- and while the Galaxy Note 5 is the more prominent product of the pair, the Galaxy S6 Edge+ is an eye-catching alternative.
The Galaxy S6 Edge+ (try saying that five times fast!) follows in the footsteps of Samsung's regular Galaxy S6 Edge: It adds a curved display to an existing formula. It's striking and distinctive, to be sure, but what's it actually like to use? And is it worth owning? With an off-contract price ranging from $719 to $888, depending on the carrier and model you select, these are questions you won't want to take lightly.
After using the phone alongside the Galaxy Note 5 for the past several days, here's what I've discovered -- and what I'd advise.
1. The Edge+ is basically just a bigger version of the original Galaxy S6 Edge -- with better stamina.
If you've seen the original Galaxy S6 Edge (or read my review of that device), you more or less know what you're getting with this newer model. In terms of physical form, it's the same exact phone -- only larger, with a 5.7-in. screen instead of 5.1.
That aside, you've got the same glass back, the same metal frame and the same glass front that slopes subtly over both sides. If you put the regular Edge into a magic enlarging machine, this is what would come out.
The only significant difference is that the Edge+ lasts a lot longer on each charge; while the regular Edge skimped a bit in the battery department, I've had no problem making it through full days of moderate to heavy use on the Edge+ without running out of juice.
2. The Edge+ is pretty much the same phone as the Note 5, too -- only without the stylus and with the curves reversed.
If the Edge+ looks extra-familiar right now, it should: It follows the same basic blueprint as the just-launched Galaxy Note 5. The two phones share the same size, same design elements and same internals. In fact, the only thing setting them apart is the fact that the Note includes a stylus and has the curved glass panel on its back instead of its front.
The placement of the curved glass is an interesting point, especially when it comes to real-world use. When I tested the original (smaller) S6 Edge this spring, something seemed strange to me about the form -- the way the phone felt when I picked it up, held it and used it. But I couldn't put my finger on what exactly was weird.
After handling the Edge+ alongside the Note and experiencing that curved panel on the Note's back -- the same configuration, in other words, just flipped around -- it struck me: The Edge concept is completely backwards from an ergonomic perspective. Whereas having the curved glass on the back makes the Note feel more natural and comfortable in the hand, having it on the front makes the Edge feel less so.
The sloped glass on the front causes the part of the frame where you rest your fingers to feel unusually narrow and sharp. It also leaves you with a flat back panel pressed awkwardly against the curve of your palm. No joke: It feels as if Samsung built a backwards phone, with the screen on the wrong side. The counterintuitive nature of the arrangement is immediately apparent when you hold the two phones together -- and once you've seen it, it's impossible to unsee.
3. Like the smaller S6 Edge, the curved screen looks cool but isn't the most practical thing in the world.
Even without the ergonomics, the Edge+'s curved display actually makes the phone harder to use in many normal day-to-day situations. Don't get me wrong: It's a sleek and distinctive design, and quite impressive from a technological standpoint. But form shouldn't get in the way of function -- and that's precisely what happens here.
When you're looking at text on the Edge+ -- be it on a Web page, in a document or in any random app -- parts of words frequently fall along the sloped areas of the glass and end up curving over the edges as a result. That makes things more difficult to read than if they were on a regular flat surface. The same sort of effect happens with photos and videos, too, which can be visually jarring.
The phone's curves create a similar challenge when it comes to active input: Whether you're using the on-screen keyboard or trying to tap icons in an app or website, buttons and keys often extend partially into the sloped sections of the screen and become awkward to press as a result. I've frequently found myself having to tap something multiple times to get it to work -- and suffice it to say, that's neither fun nor productive.
4. The S6 Edge+ gives you the same outstanding camera, display quality and fingerprint sensor you'll get in Samsung's other current flagships.
Remember when I said the Edge+ is pretty much the same phone as the Note 5? That means it has the same exceptionally good camera, which delivers consistently superb images in almost any condition. It's the same imaging setup you'll find in the Galaxy S6 and regular S6 Edge as well.
In fact, as far as hardware goes, everything not specific to the Edge+'s curves or size is consistent with the other flagships -- including the excellent display quality, the easy-to-use fingerprint sensor and the generally impressive performance.
5. The software on the Edge+ is almost identical to what's on Samsung's other current flagship phones, save for a few unnecessary extra features.
It's not just the hardware that carries over from one phone to another: The Galaxy S6 Edge+ also runs the same basic software seen on the regular Galaxy S6, the regular Galaxy S6 Edge and the Galaxy Note 5 (minus the stylus-specific additions).
The only area in which the Edge+ veers from Samsung's standard setup is that, like its smaller sibling, the device has a handful of extra features meant to highlight its unusual display. And just like on the regular S6 Edge, those features feel like a stretch -- like Samsung was struggling to come up with a way to justify the curved screen's existence.
Most of them are gimmicky things you'll never use -- like a weird tiny bar you can activate to see notifications and news headlines while the rest of the display remains off -- and the couple that could be useful have nothing to do with the curve itself and could just as easily be accomplished using third-party apps on any device.
The most beneficial of the bunch is probably the "night clock" option, which shows a small dim clock on the side of the screen when the display is off. It's certainly nothing transformative, but it could potentially come in handy if you like leaving your phone by your bed at night.
6. For most people, the Galaxy Note 5 is going to be the better option.
Look -- I get it: It's easy to become enamored with the Galaxy S6 Edge+. Its curved-screen design really does look cool, and if you consider the device only briefly or without context, it seems like the more memorable phone of Samsung's plus-sized pair.
Once you start using the device in the real world, though -- and comparing it directly with the almost-identical Note and its flat front and curved back -- it becomes clear that the Edge+'s design doesn't make for the most ideal experience. You're gaining form at the expense of function, which is a costly tradeoff to make.
And speaking of cost, the Edge+ is actually more expensive than the Note 5, too, so you're also paying in a literal sense.
If you're just head-over-heels in love with the Edge+'s design and don't mind the downsides that accompany it, then this might be the device for you. Curve-related quirks aside, it's a top-notch phone with a lot of compelling qualities.
But for most people seeking a standout smartphone from Samsung, the Note 5 is the more advisable way to go. It gives you all the same positives in a far more sensible (and still quite attractive) body -- and even if you never touch its stylus, it's going to provide a superior overall experience without the added annoyances.
(See our Galaxy Note 5 review for pros and cons inherent to the plus-sized Galaxy line as a whole.)
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