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    Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ review: beauty in curves -- with a cost

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    The Galaxy S6 Edge+ is the closest thing we've got to a "Samsung greatest hits" phone. There's the sleek, curved glass from the S6 Edge coupled with the larger 5.7-inch screen from the Note lineup. Together, they make up one of Samsung's most memorable smartphones yet. But while the Galaxy S6 Edge+ ($300 on-contract; $768 to $815 off) is certainly striking, the Korean electronics giant clearly still has some kinks to work out around curved screens. It's a feature that's slightly more useful here than on the S6 Edge, but fundamentally it's still just about aesthetics, rather than function. That might not be a problem for some, but Samsung still has to prove why curved screens are more than a gimmick.

    Gallery: Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ review | 22 Photos

    Engadget Score
    Poor
    Uninspiring
    Good
    Excellent
    Key

    Pros
    • Gorgeous
    • Feels like a premium phone
    • Fast performance
    • Great camera
    Cons
    • Uncomfortable to hold
    • Curved display not very useful

    Summary

    The Galaxy S6 Edge+ shows some of Samsung's best, and worst, tendencies. It's a gorgeous phone with some of the finest hardware available right now, but its key feature is relatively useless, and still somewhat experimental.

    Hardware

    Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ Review

    Take the Galaxy S6 Edge and make it bigger. That's basically all Samsung did here. The Edge+ still has Gorilla Glass panels on the front and back, along with a strong metal frame, but the size of its curved screen has been bumped up to 5.7 inches from 5.1. Yes, it's gorgeous -- even more so than its smaller sibling since the overall effect of its curves is more pronounced. It's the most confident design statement we've seen from Samsung yet.

    Looks aren't everything, though. I was almost ready to give up my iPhone 6 for the GS6 Edge earlier this year -- that is, until I actually held it for several minutes. While the curved screen looks cool, it also works directly against the natural contour of your hand, digging into your flesh rather than resting comfortably. That same problem rears its head again with the Edge+ -- and it's an even bigger issue since there's so much more phone to hold. It makes the phone awkward to wield with one hand (even with my large paws) and tougher to grasp for extended periods. The curves also make it tougher to use apps that put buttons and options on the edges of the screen, as you'll inevitably hit those by accident when merely holding the phone. Basically, if you're considering the Edge+, be sure to get some real hands-on time with it before you commit.

    As for its other design elements, the Edge+ also shares quite a bit with Samsung's other S6 phones. Gone are the days when Samsung phones were made of cheap plastic; everything here feels premium, from the glass back to the metal. But just like with the iPhone 4 and 4s, having a glass rear still feels like a questionable choice, especially if you're prone to dropping your phone. And while the metal components are nice, it's hard not to notice that the S6 Edge+, like Samsung's other recent phones, looks just like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus from certain angles. The company's inspiration is clear, but at least it's a tasteful remix (and it's not as if Apple didn't take some cues from Samsung's pioneering work with big-screen phones.)

    The Edge+ also includes the same fingerprint reader on its home button as the other S6 models, and it works surprisingly well. I didn't spend a significant amount of time with those earlier phones, so it was refreshing to see a well-implemented fingerprint reader on an Android phone. Adding your fingerprints simply involves holding down your finger several times, and the authentication process was typically fast and error-free. Of course, the entire process works just like Apple's Touch ID implementation, but at this point, did you really expect anything different?

    If you're confused why Samsung didn't just call this phone the "Note Edge 2," after last year's foray into a curved-screen phablet, it's because it simply has more in common with the S6 Edge. It also lacks some of the Note Edge's screen widgets (since that phone had a much bigger curve to work with). Really, though, a more appropriate name for the S6 Edge+ might be the "Note 5 Edge." It's surprisingly tough to tell the difference between this phone and the Note 5 side by side, as they share many of the same design flourishes. But where the Edge+ has a curved display on the front, the Note 5 has curves on its back, allowing it to rest more comfortably in your hand. Under the hood, the two phones are exactly the same (more on that later). But while the Edge+ is the same size as the Note, there's no S Pen stylus; it's geared more toward consuming content than being productive.

    Display

    If there's one thing Samsung can do without much effort, it's make a gorgeous display. And the Edge+ is yet another example of that. Its 5.7-inch, Quad HD (2,560 by 1,440) Super AMOLED display is vibrant and colorful, even in direct sunlight. Given its size, it's ideal for watching movies or perusing photos, but it's also sharp enough to make text look great. It basically packs in everything you'd want from a modern mobile screen.

    None of this should be a surprise, though: Samsung's had a great run with Quad HD panels over the last year, starting with the Galaxy Tab S slates. Now you could argue that such a high resolution might be overkill on a phone screen, and you'd probably be right. The Edge+ packs in a whopping 518 pixels per inch in its display, but you'd have to be superhuman to see the difference between that and the 386 pixels per inch on a similarly sized 1080p display. Those extra pixels might actually be useful if you plan to use the Edge+ in Samsung's Galaxy Gear VR headset, but that's a $200 accessory most people won't buy (and will probably never even see in person). All of that being said, it's hard to knock the phone's display in real-world use. Samsung is positioning the phone as an ideal media-consumption device, and it's succeeded at making a screen that you can easily spend hours gawking at.

    Software

    Another year, another slimmed-down software offering from Samsung. The Edge+ ships with a lightly skinned version of Android Lollipop 5.1.1. While Samsung's TouchWiz interface isn't as clean as stock Android, it's nowhere near as intrusive as the company's earlier software attempts. Even the preinstalled apps are pretty useful, including Microsoft Word, OneDrive and Skype (which are also more signs of Microsoft's ever-broadening mobile ambitions). Samsung also offers a choice selection of software via "Galaxy Apps," which is where you can also pick up Samsung-built apps like "S Translator" and its custom chat app "AllTogether." The beauty of this approach is that there's less crap installed on your phone that you might not need.

    Gallery: Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ software | 8 Photos

    Out of the box, the Edge+ sports a pretty clean home screen. Swipe left and you can peruse the latest news via the Flipboard Briefing screen, which offers up large images and text formatted precisely for reading on a large phone display. It's not as substantial as the full Flipboard app, or any other news reader, but it's a handy feature for glancing at news quickly. If it's been a while since you've used a new Samsung phone, you'll likely also appreciate the slightly more refined take on the notifications tray and lock screen.

    Livin' on the Edge

    For the most part, the Edge+ offers up pretty much everything you'd get on the Galaxy S6 and Note 5 -- save for the small amount of software designed specifically for its curved screen. Swiping on the "Edge handle," an unobtrusive tab that can be configured to appear on either the left or right side of the screen, brings up those apps. The phone ships with "People edge," which is basically a collection of shortcuts to your key contacts, and "Apps edge," a quick way to access your favorite apps. You can also have the device light up one side of its screen when you get a call, show notifications when you swipe the edge of the screen and display an always-on clock at night.

    While Samsung is certainly trying its darndest to make this whole curved-screen thing happen, it's still mostly a novel feature, even with apps built specifically for it. Only a few of those Edge applications actually rely on the curved portion of the screen, and since the curve is also pretty thin, there's not a lot of room for them to display much information. Features like People edge and Apps edge could easily be implemented on a standard phone screen without losing much. They rely on the flat portion of the screen to display shortcuts, and they barely use the curved edge.

    Samsung also has a few "Edge Specials" apps available through Galaxy Apps, including an RSS reader and a simplified version of the public transportation app Transporta. Samsung might be able to get developers to start building more apps for curved screens eventually, but I wouldn't bet on that happening over the next year. Developers won't jump aboard until the Edge phones start selling more widely, although Samsung might be able to tempt devs by partnering with them (and paying handsomely).

    Camera

    Samsung was one of the first Android phone makers to get cameras right, and it's also steadily improved its shooters over the years. It's no surprise, then, that the Edge+ packs one of the best cameras I've seen yet on an Android handset. Its 16-megapixel camera takes sharp, vibrant photos without the need for fiddling with settings, although there's a "Pro Mode" too if you want more control. It also performs wonderfully in low light thanks to its fast f/1.9 aperture and advanced optical image stabilization, both of which allow you to avoid using the phone's flash until absolutely necessary.

    If you're a fan of beautiful background blur, the Edge+ has got you covered as well. Taking a photo of any subject up close almost always gets you some silky smooth blur, and you can also artificially increase the effect with Samsung's "selective focus" feature.

    Gallery: Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ camera samples | 19 Photos

    The Edge+ is similarly adept at video. When shooting in 1080p (its default resolution), the phone captured my Q train ride over the East River into Brooklyn effortlessly. The results were sharp with a decent amount of depth and color accuracy. Check out some of my footage below, and take special note of just how fast the phone's autofocus worked when another train got into my shot.

    Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ Video Recording Test

    The Edge+ also includes YouTube livestreaming built right into the camera app, although that feature worked only intermittently for me. It's not quite as seamless as Periscope is yet.

    Yes, it shoots 4K video as well, but you're limited to just five minutes of recording at a time (something many 4K phone cameras do to avoid overheating). My test footage looked pretty good, although I didn't see a huge difference between that and comparable 1080p shots on my 4K Samsung monitor. You're better off sticking with 1080p video for now, especially if you're concerned about storage space or if you want to shoot longer clips.

    Performance and battery life

    With an Exynos 7420 SoC (an octa-core chip made up of a 2.1GHz quad-core processor and another 1.5GHz quad core) and a whopping 4GB of RAM, you can expect the Edge+ to simply scream based on its spec sheet alone. And boy, does it. The phone juggled multiple CPU-intensive apps at once, including graphically rich games like CSR Racing and Modern Combat 5, without any noticeable slowdown or stuttering. Even huge games launched within a few seconds. There was basically nothing I could throw at the phone that made it falter. You can thank the extra gigabyte of RAM this phone has over Samsung's earlier S6 devices for that.


    Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Samsung Galaxy S6/Edge Samsung Galaxy Note Edge LG G4
    AndEBench Pro 10,114 9,995 10,552 8,886 8,352
    Vellamo 3.0 5,032 4,564 3,677 1,882 4,065
    3DMark IS Unlimited 23,523 21,316 21,632 19,912 18,572
    SunSpider 1.0.2 (ms) 715 706 674 788 725
    GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps) 25 25 25 18.4 15
    CF-Bench (overall) 77,546 55,267 62,257 40,143 71,260
    SunSpider 1.0.2: Android devices tested in Chrome; lower scores are better.

    Thanks to its large 3,000mAh battery, the Edge+ lasted throughout the day with typical usage. That usually involves lots of Twitter, Slack and Google Hangouts interactions; a decent bunch of mobile web browsing; and constant back and forth on Gmail. I don't really watch video on the go, but I do listen to plenty of podcasts and Spotify. Most days I was left with around 10 to 20 percent of battery life. And the Edge+ proved to be a strong performer on our standard battery test (looping a video with WiFi on until the battery dies), where it lasted for around 13 hours and 45 minutes.

    The competition

    Samsung's Galaxy Note 5

    Even before Samsung launched the Note Edge last year, there was a bit of an arms race over curved screens. LG had its G Flex phone back in 2013 and Samsung had the Galaxy Round. Those phones were basically prototypes, but they were a precursor to how both companies are handling curved screens now. LG followed up with the G Flex2, a phone we really liked, whereas Samsung started exploring how it could bend the edges of its screens. There really isn't a direct competitor to the Edge+ at this point, although you might want to consider the smaller S6 Edge if you just have to have curved sides, or keep an eye out for the LG G Flex2 on sale.

    If you're just in the market for a big phone though, consider the Edge+'s sibling: the Note 5. It has exactly the same internals, but it's easier to hold and a bit more useful, thanks to the new S Pen stylus. Plenty of phones just let you consume content, but the Note series has carved out a niche for itself by offering a decent amount of productivity. Another plus: The Note 5 should cost a bit less. It starts at $250 on-contract (depending on the carrier), or around $700 off.

    Wrap-up

    The Galaxy S6 Edge+ shows some of Samsung's best, and worst, tendencies. It's a gorgeous phone with some of the best hardware available right now. But its key feature is relatively useless, and still somewhat experimental. That idea of throwing an unproven feature into the wild worked out for Samsung with the original Note series, but here it feels a tad desperate.

    Still, it's hard to deny that there's nothing on the market that looks like the S6 Edge+ right now -- other than its smaller counterpart. Aesthetics is one of those things that's hard to define in a review score, even though it's most likely a big reason we choose one product over another. So even though the S6 Edge+ is a bit tough to hold, and those curves might just be for show, you couldn't be blamed for falling for its good looks.

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