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Hands On With the New Samsung Galaxy S6, GS6 edge

Hands On With the New Samsung Galaxy S6, GS6 edge

CIO.com's Al Sacco goes hands on with Samsung's new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 edge in Galaxy S6

The Samsung Galaxy S6 edge in Galaxy S6

Today, Samsung officially announced its two latest smartphones, the Galaxy S6 (GS6) and Galaxy S6 edge, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. I couldn't make the trip to Spain for the company's big fête, but I did meet with Samsung last week in New York City, where it detailed both new devices and gave me hands-on time with them.

I do not yet have review devices, so this is not a full evaluation of either the GS6 or the GS6 edge. Instead, I'm sharing my thoughts on the two smartphones after spending an hour with them -- and peppering various Samsung designers, product managers and PR people with questions.

All of the observations in this article apply to both the GS6 and the GS6 edge, unless otherwise noted, because curved display aside, both devices are "completely the same on the inside," according to Philip Berne, Samsung's marketing manager of technical media.

Hands On With the Galaxy S6, GS6 edge

One of the first things you notice when you pick up either the GS6 or the GS6 edge is the frame. Samsung caught a lot of heat for using mostly plastic to build the Galaxy S5, and the company responded to that criticism by building the next Galaxy S devices with higher-quality materials, including a new brushed-aluminum frame, what Berne referred to as an "aircraft chassis."

Both devices feel very solid in hand, and the frames have a lot to do with that. Unlike the Galaxy S5 frame, there are no ridges; the GS6 and GS6 edge frames are smooth and solid, and they look and feel much better than the ridged, plastic frame on the GS5.

The new Galaxy phones also have large Corning Gorilla Glass 4 panels on both the front displays and rear sides, which is a nice touch. Samsung used a reflective coating underneath the rear glass panel that catches light and creates a shiny, glimmer effect that's quite cool.

Both devices are available in what Samsung describes as "white pearl," "black sapphire" and "gold platinum" color options. Each model also comes in an exclusive color. The S6 is available in "blue topaz," while the S6 edge comes in "green emerald." The gold, blue and green versions are particularly good-looking, and the reflective coating on the rear side of these colorful devices will catch your eye.

The Galaxy S6 devices are Samsung's best-looking phones ever, in my opinion, and the green emerald GS6 edge is particularly attractive, if slightly feminine.

I also really like the size of the two devices. They're just slightly bigger overall than my iPhone 6, though the displays are notably larger at 5.1 inches, compared to the iPhone 6's 4.7-inch screen. The two devices are also more than a millimeter thinner than the GS5, which is not insignificant when you consider that's more than 12 percent thinner than the GS5's 8mm thickness. The new GS6 (138g) and GS6 edge (132g) are also significantly lighter than the GS5 (145g). In comparison, the iPhone 6 is just slightly thinner than the GS6 edge and a bit thicker than GS6, though the difference is negligible. It's also lighter at 129g.

Samsung says it put a lot of effort into improving the cameras on the Galaxy S 6 phones. They both have 16MP (f1.9) rear cameras, with "smart" optical image stabilization (OIS) and auto real-time HDR, which apparently helps you take better selfies, if that's your thing. The Galaxy S5 also has a 16MP camera, but Samsung says the cameras on the GS6s are much better at capturing quality images in low-light environments. I didn't get to test camera quality, so I can't confirm that. I did try out a new feature that lets you quickly tap the home button when the device is asleep to open the camera function in less than one second, and it works well.

The Galaxy S 6 displays are gorgeous, as expected -- Samsung is using some of the highest quality displays on the market in its smartphones and tablets these days. Both devices have 5.1" quad HD 2560 x 1440 Super AMOLED displays, at 577 pixels per inch (ppi). For context, the Galaxy S5 has the same size display at 432 ppi, which means the GS6 phones have 33 percent more pixels per inch. The displays are crisp and bright, and they're one of the best GS6 features.

The Galaxy S 6 edge is unique because it has not just one curved edge, like its big brother the Galaxy Note Edge, but two curved edges, one on each side. The curves make the device look particularly sleek, and "fluid," but they also make it feel kind of slippery in your hand -- though a case with some grip could resolve that issue.

The GS6 has a 2,550mAh battery, while the GS6 edge packs a slightly larger 2,600mAh battery, both of which are smaller than the 2,800mAh battery in the GS5. I wasn't able to test battery life in the limited time I spent with the phones, but Samsung says a more efficient processor and a number of software enhancements make up for the lost battery capacity.

A "fast charging" feature means you can power up a dead device to full capacity in about an hour, using the power cord that comes with the GS6 devices, according to Samsung. And both GS6s have built-in support for the WPC and PMA wireless charging standards, so you don't need any sort of accessories or case to enable wireless charging. However, it takes significantly longer to charge the devices wirelessly; a dead GS6 will fully charge in about two-and-half hours, using wireless charging, according to Samsung.

About that processor ... the GS6 devices use "the world's first 14nm Samsung processor," according to the company. The processor differs based on the market it's sold in, but the LTE version for the United States is a 64-bit, 2.3 GHz quad-core processor. I rapidly opened a handful of apps and switched back and forth using the Android app switcher, with no lag at all. Both devices also have 3GB of RAM (LPDDR4).

Samsung also says it improved the fingerprint scanner that's built into the GS6's home button, which is definitely a good thing because its previous fingerprint reader was lackluster. Users now need only touch the scanner instead of having to swipe down on the button for authentication. I wasn't able to test the feature, so I can't say how well it works.

The speakers on both devices are notable, because they offer significantly higher volume and audio quality than the GS5.

Both devices run Android v5.0.2 "Lollipop," and both use the custom Samsung Android skin, "TouchWiz." I didn't spend too much time testing software features, but as soon as you start scrolling through menus, it's clear that Samsung did some much needed organizing. Past versions of TouchWiz were packed with extraneous features that were probably well-intentioned on Samsung's part but served only to clutter what is already a busy OS. The latest software doesn't feel as clunky, and according to Samsung Senior Designer, Hong Yeo, that's because the company reduced its feature set "by more than 40 percent." (Read more on Yeo and his design inspiration for the GS6 in "Galaxy S6 Designer Says Phones Are 'New Face of Samsung'.")

While my first impressions of both devices are positive, and the GS6 and GS6 edge seem like great phones, there are a few things I don't like.

For example, the GS6 devices both have fixed batteries, which are par for the course these days; fewer and fewer modern devices have removable batteries, but this is a trend that I do not favor.

The GS6s also don't support memory cards, so you're stuck with the 32GB, 64GB or 128GB of storage that's built into the phones. Combined with your cloud storage service of choice (both devices also come with 65GB of free Microsoft OneDrive storage), that's probably enough for most people, but I still like having the option to swap out memory cards.

I also can't help but worry about the rear glass panels on both devices. The more glass on a phone, the more potential for breaks, even if the glass is durable Gorilla Glass.

Again, this is not a review, and it takes time to really understand what works well and what doesn't with a new device; it's impossible to see a smartphone's real warts in just an hour.

That said, I'm very much intrigued by the GS6 and GS6 edge, and I'm looking forward to putting them through the paces in the not-too-distant future.

The GS6 and GS6 edge will be available in the United States starting in April, according to Samsung. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless are expected to carry both devices, and Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS plan to carry the GS6. Visit Samsung's website for more official details on both new devices.

AS

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