Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and Gear VR Review and Giveaway

Samsung sells more Android devices than any other manufacturer, and thanks to some aggressive marketing, the Galaxy brand is almost synonymous with Android. Because of this, there’s a lot of hype behind the newly released Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. As if that wasn’t enough, Samsung has teamed up with Oculus (see our review of the Oculus Rift) to create the Gear VR for the S6 — a virtual reality headset that uses the phone to immerse you in a virtual world.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Galaxy S6 Edge and the Gear VR for the S6 to see if the phone and VR headset stand up to the hype. Read all the way through the find out how you could win them both for yourself. That’s right – we’re giving away both a Galaxy S6 Edge, AND a Gear VR to go with it, worth over $1000.

Galaxy S6 Edge Specs

  • Price: $879 unlocked, usually around $299 on a 2-year contract with a carrier
  • Processor: Octo-core Exynos 7420 (A quad-core 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57 and a quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53)
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB
  • Screen: 5.1″ 2K (2560px x 1440px) AMOLED
  • Size: 5.59in x 2.76in x 0.28in (142.1mm x 70.1mm x 7.0mm)
  • Weight: 132g (4.6oz)
  • Cameras: 16MP rear-facing, 5MP 120° wide-angle front-facing
  • Battery: 2,600mAh
  • Extras: Heart rate sensor, fingerprint scanner, wireless charging.

Design

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Samsung has really changed things up with the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Previous iterations of the Galaxy line have stood out for being plastic and cheap-feeling, but with a removable battery and microSD card support. The Galaxy S5 was even certified IP67 water resistant.

But that’s all changed with the S6. Samsung decided to go with a non-removable battery, no expandable storage, no water resistance, and a completely metal and glass design. This is nothing like the Galaxy S4 or S5 — it’s a whole new beast.

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The body of the S6 is sturdy and solidly built. The power and volume buttons have a definite click that wasn’t present in older Galaxy phones.

However, it’s hard to look at the S6 and not feel as if Samsung has taken some hints from Apple. The headphone jack and speaker have been moved to the bottom of the device — same as on the iPhone 6 — and the metal edge around the glass front and back feel very iPhone-like.

 

That’s not necessarily a bad thing — the iPhone is a well-built phone — but it is strange to see Samsung taking the S6 in a direction that looks more like the iPhone after so many people have accused them of copying Apple since their Galaxy line began.

Physically, there are a couple other features or changes that are worth noting. An LED notification light is located by the earpiece, and an IR blaster sits on the top, which allows you to control any TV using the preloaded Peel Smart Remote app.

 

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The volume keys have been moved higher on the device so that they’re not directly across from the power button. This is nice because it prevents accidental volume button-pressing when pressing the power button, but it also puts them a bit out of reach.

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A fingerprint sensor has been built into the home button, and this time it’s a tap-and-go style sensor rather than a swipeable one, which is much easier to use. We’ll delve more into the fingerprint scanning later.

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Having a curved edge does make the S6 Edge a little difficult to handle. I always felt as if it were less secure in my hand because there was barely an edge to grip onto. There’s a certain fragility to this device, and considering how expensive it is, you may want to invest in a case. Even the sturdy Gorilla Glass 4 that the screen is made of can break under the right conditions.

Not to mention that this is an extremely thin device. At 7mm thin, it’s basically as thin as the iPhone 6 (6.9mm) and the iPhone 6 Plus (7.1mm), but that curved edge makes it feel even thinner. At 132g, it even weighs about as much as the 129g iPhone 6, though it has a slightly bigger screen (5.1″ on the S6 and 4.7″ on the iPhone 6).

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After using the HTC One M9 (our One M9 review) for a couple weeks, the S6 Edge felt paper thin and super light. It’s definitely a svelte, attractive device that screams “Premium”.

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Still, it wasn’t quite as comfortable in the hand as the One M9, probably due to the curvature of the two devices.

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The S6 Edge (left) has a slight curve on the back — which allows you to pick it up easily off flat surfaces — but not much. On the other hand, the One M9 has a significant curve that makes it fit better in the hand. This may come down to personal preference, but it’s worth noting the major design differences in two of the most popular Android devices out there right now.

Audio and Speakers

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The S6 comes with a pair of white headphones that — like the phone itself — take a departure from Samsung’s previous design language. What used to be a typical pair of in-ear headphones has become an Apple EarPod clone, though Samsung did add a rubber covering to differentiate it a bit. Sound quality from them was decent, and the headphones have a built-in mic for hands-free conversations.

Audio quality from the S6’s speakers is definitely good enough. It was noticeably louder than the HTC One M9’s dual front-facing Boomsound speakers, though not quite as clear or deep. Basically, the S6’s speakers are smartphone speakers: good, but not fantastic.

For general audio quality, the S6 actually has quite a lot of options for tweaking the audio to your liking.

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In fact, after playing around with the audio settings for a bit, I found the settings that I preferred and was pleased with the audio coming from the headphones. If you’re worried about audio quality, these are worth tweaking some.

Cameras

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The 16MP camera on the back of the device juts out, causing the S6 to be elevated when placed on a flat surface. I found that made it easier to pick up, but others detest when cameras emerge from the back like that.

Regardless, it’s without a doubt a high quality camera. Photos in good lighting came out extremely clear, and it even managed to decently brighten up poorly lit photos. Those 16MP photos are also 16×9, which is only noteable because so many other manufactures brag about high megapixel cameras, but neglect to mention that they only shoot in 3×4 aspect ratio at that size.

Additionally, the rear camera can shoot up to 4K (3840px x 2160px) video as well as 60fps 1080p video. When shooting in regular 1080p video or lower quality, you have access to subject-tracking autofocus, video stabilisation, HDR, video effects, and the ability to take photos while recording. In all modes, you have access to voice controls and can take pictures, record video, or zoom using the volume buttons.

The Quick Launch feature also allows you to launch the camera by quickly pressing the home key twice — even if the phone’s screen is off — which allows for super fast access to the camera.

The 5MP front-facing camera is similarly impressive. It’s wide-angle, so you’re sure to get everyone in your shot, but if you can’t, it has a wide-angle shooting mode that takes multiple pictures as you swivel the phone and stitches them together for an extra wide-angle selfie.

It also has a beauty mode for smoothing out imperfections, tons of effects, and HDR. You can even take a photo by pressing your finger against the heart rate scanner on the back of the phone.

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The camera interface in general has really been improved. It’s simple, intuitive, and modern. I even prefered it over the One M9’s interface. One of the best features is the ability to add more shooting modes and effects from the Galaxy App Store.

Software

Samsung’s TouchWiz interface is notorious for being a heavy-handed Android skin that slows everything down and gets in the way more than it helps.

But, that is no longer the case with the Galaxy S6’s version of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Navigating the home screen and switching between apps is a breeze. Occasionally I ran into hiccups when returning home where it took a second for all the icons to load, but that was rare.

The most annoying lag occured when scrolling all the way to the left where Flipboard is located (exactly like HTC’s Blinkfeed) and then trying to quickly swipe back. The phone always hung there for a moment as Flipboard loaded, which was frustrating.

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The notification shade is crowded, but at least sleeker and more attractive than before thanks to a simple style and light blue color. You’ll find a brightness slider as well as S Finder and Quick Connect, two features that you will probably never use.

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S Finder allows you to search through your phone for a variety of things: contact names, apps, pictures, URLs, etc. Quick Connect says that it can help you share media with any device that supports “Quick Connect, Wi-Fi Direct, or Screen Mirroring,” but I wasn’t able to get it to work with any of my other devices. It’s likely this is a feature only useful if your friends also have an S6.

Multi-tasking is what Samsung’s TouchWiz really does best, though. You can see the Lollipop-style Recents above, but notice the dual-rectangle button in the upper right of the Messages app. That’s how you can use two apps at once.

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The screenshot on the right, above, shows Chrome running on the top half of the screen and Twitter running in the bottom. Other than copying and pasting text and watching YouTube videos, I’ve yet to find much of a use for this on a phone (though I could really see it working on a tablet). It’s a wonderful feature that Google should really work into stock Android.

But as if that weren’t enough, Samsung snuck in another form of multi-tasking. If you pull down and inwards from the top left corner, the app you’re in will minimize into a smaller window, and you can navigate around it, work inside it, or minimize it into a small icon. The above left screenshot shows Chrome running over the homescreen. The window can be resized or moved around as you see fit.

This is an awesome multitasking feature that worked surprisingly well. Not all apps support these two multitasking modes, but a lot of them actually do. Overall, multitasking is no problem on this phone.

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By default, you can unlock the lock screen by swiping anywhere on the screen, which will be accompanied by a bubble effect (though there are a couple other effects to choose from in the settings). Tap on the phone icon in the bottom left or the camera icon in the bottom right and drag to unlock one of those apps. However, the buttons are pretty small and you can easily miss, causing you to unlock the phone regularly.

Notifications will show on your lockscreen as normal in Lollipop, but the method for accessing them has been made pretty awkward. In stock Android, notifications require a double tap to unlock. On the HTC One M9, notifications require a single tap. But on the Galaxy S6, notifications require a single tap and then a swipe anywhere on the screen, or you can tap a notification and pull down, and then tap it again.

Either way, lockscreen notifications are a bit more annoying to access. On top of that, Samsung has gotten rid of one of Android’s cooler features: album art that covers the lockscreen when listening to music. Why they would do that is beyond me.

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The settings menu is colorful but simple; I’m actually impressed by how Samsung has managed to tweak everything just a bit to make it uniquely Samsung without making it gaudy and annoying (as they used to). You can search through the settings for whatever you need, but most things are in the same place as stock Android, making it easier to follow online Android tutorials.

Hidden in the settings is an Easy Mode that is meant to create a simplified home screen for older folks or the less technologically inclined out there (though there are simple launchers for that if you’re not using an S6).

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As you can see, Easy Mode makes all the icons larger and gives you easy access to whichever contacts you choose. It couldn’t get much simpler than that. There’s even a magnifier for zooming in on anything that’s too small.

The phone app is colorful, clear, and easy to use.

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One small detail of TouchWiz that I’ve always loved is the screen you see after getting off a call with someone. The “Call ended” screen hangs around for a second and allows you to call them back, text them, or add an event to your calendar — all things that you’re likely to do after trying to call someone or hanging up.

The phone app also has a nice non-intrusive method of dropping down from the top when you receive a call, rather than yanking you out of whatever app you were using.

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And of course, because it’s Samsung, they had to add motions and gestures that most people will probably forget about. They should get credit though for dialing it back, and the four motions they chose to keep could be useful.

The Edge features, however, are worthy of their own section since that is what differentiates this S6 Edge from the regular S6.

The Edge

Well, this is why we’re all here, isn’t it? The legendary, ground-breaking, revolutionary curved screen.

Eh, it’s neat – but it’s not changing any lives. The curved edge can do four things: display items like time or news while the rest of the screen is off (as shown below); display only the time at night; allow quick access to up to five contacts; and notify you if one of those contacts calls, texts, or emails you.

 

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First up, the time/news ticker. The motion to activate this one is swiping your finger along the edge and back quickly while the screen is off. It’s a nice battery saving method if your phone is just sitting on your desk and you want to check the time, but the motion is surprisingly hard to successfully pull off — I’d rather just tap the power button.

Secondly, the nighttime clock is nice in theory, but it has no way of sensing when you go to bed, so you have to choose a specific time for it to activate. It’s really just the time displaying on the edge, and its dim so that it doesn’t blind you in a dark room. But if you don’t abide by the same schedule every night, the clock will either be on while you’re still awake or be off by the time you wake up, since the max time you can set it to be on is 12 hours.

The quick access to your contacts is activated by a swipe in from the lockscreen or homescreen. If you’re often calling or texting up to five people, this could be quite handy.

And the last feature, the notifications, is really only useful if you often text, call, or email up to five people. A specific color and spot on the edge is assigned to each person, so if you see a purple glow coming from the top part of the edge, you know who tried to reach you.

However, if you don’t rely on calls, texts, or emails, it’s not much use. For instance, I use Facebook Messenger for 90% of my communication, and many others use Whatsapp, LINE, or another free messaging app. The S6 can’t tell when your contacts message you on those apps.

Overall, the Edge seems to be more gimmick than anything else. The uses for the Edge are extremely limited, and unless you find yourself dying for one of those four features, you might be better of sticking with the regular S6.

Fingerprint Scanner

That’s right, the fingerprint scanner is back, but this time, it’s actually good. As we noted in our review of the Galaxy S5, the fingerprint scanner on that device, which required an awkward swiping motion, was terrible.

However, things have turned around for the S6 — the fingerprint scanner on the home button now only requires a brief, light touch (like the iPhone 6’s Touch ID) to recognize your fingerprint. And, surprisingly, it works nearly every time.

Setting it up is easy, just head into the settings and choose “Fingerprints” as your lock screen method.

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You can store up to four fingerprints, so most likely both your index fingers and thumbs. They’ll work from any angle, so it’s easy to use your index finger if it’s resting on the table or your sideways thumb if you’re holding the phone.

In addition to unlocking your phone, you can also use it to sign into websites if you use the stock Internet browser, and you can use it to sign into your Samsung account. You should also be able to use it to authenticate your credit card using Samsung Pay when that service launches in the US in the summer.

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You’ll be required to make a backup password incase something happens to the fingerprint scanner or your fingers aren’t accessible for some reason (maybe you’re wearing gloves). On that topic, it’s worth noting that the S5 had a extra sensitive screen that allowed you to touch the screen with your nails or while wearing gloves, but the S6 doesn’t.

Notifications

The way the Galaxy S6 handles notifications is just strange, to say the least. LED notifications are not customizable and behave differently for each app.

Facebook Messenger gets a green light every second. Facebook gets a blue light every eight seconds. Text messages get a yellow light every five seconds. It’s just random, and it’s silly that you can’t alter it.

On top of that, text messages will wake up the screen, but other notifications don’t — though that’s less of a problem if you use an alternative texting app.

Pre-loaded Apps

Samsung really seems to not like being dependant on Google. To break away from their Google overlords, Samsung has begun making their own app store called Galaxy Apps. You’ll find a lot of Samsung-specific apps here, as well as more generic apps like games.

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The built-in clock/alarm app is a bit different, and it feels downgraded from the stock Android app. Scrolling through the time to set your alarm is annoying, rather than just entering it directly.

But my biggest peeve with the alarm app is that it doesn’t do what every single other alarm app on Android does: tell you how long until your alarm will go off when you set it. That’s been a staple of Android since the beginning. It’s also worth noting that if your phone is on “mute”, your alarm will not go off. This isn’t like “silent” mode on previous versions of Android, this is like an absolutely do not disturb mode, which is irritating.

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Other apps are pre-loaded are Peel Smart Remote, S Planner, S Health, S Voice, and Smart Manager.

S Planner is a basic, yet nice, calendar app. S Health is much like Google Fit in that it can track your steps and fitness goals, though S Health can also track your heart rate thanks to the sensor built into the S6 on the back next to the camera flash.

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S Voice mostly stays out of your way, since Samsung decided to let Google Now be accessible by long-pressing the home button, but you can call up S Voice for help by training a voice command (like, “Hey, Galaxy!”) and opening it by that. It essentially does what Google Now does, but in a less obtrusive way by only taking up a small sliver of the bottom part of the screen.

Smart Manager gives you a nice overview of your storage, battery life, RAM usage, and security. Though I would caution you against clearing your RAM too much, it can actually do more harm than good.

Battery Life

This is definitely the weakest point about the Galaxy S6. Battery life was just pitiful. That 2,600mAh battery just can’t keep up with that stunning 2K screen. Compared to the HTC One M9, which has a larger 2,840mAh battery and a lower resolution 1080p screen, the S6 just can’t hold that much juice.

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I regularly got about 3 hours of screen time, which, to be fair, isn’t horrendous, but I wouldn’t call it good. On most days, the S6 barely made it from morning to evening, and with heavier usage it died before the end of the day. When I know phones like the BLU Studio Energy exist (our review) that get multiple days of battery life, I can’t help but feel like Samsung could do better.

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However, the one advantage the Galaxy S6 has here is fast charging. If you use the included 2.0A charger (or another compatible 2.0A charger), it can go from 5% to 100% in about an hour, in my testing. The downside to fast charging is heat. The S6 gets extremely hot while charging, nearly to the point of making you not want to touch it.

The Galaxy S6 supports wireless charging. Samsung’s official pad is $50, but the S6 is actually compatible with both major wireless charging standards, Qi and PMA, so any wireless charger on the market should work.

Gear VR

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Ah, we’ve made it to the $199 Gear VR, officially known as the “Gear VR Innovator Edition for GS6 and GS6 Edge”. This is the second generation of the Gear VR platform, the first having been announced back in September and only compatible only with the Galaxy Note 4.

And let me tell you, it’s pretty dang fun to play with, though a bit limited right now.

Hardware

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The Gear VR itself is a nice, modern-looking device. If you’re going to be sitting alone in your room with some kind of device on your face, it might as well be a nice-looking one.

A black piece of plastic is latched into place as a cover, which you replace with your phone when you actually go to use it. This model of the Gear VR is only compatible with the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge.

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There’s a scroll wheel at the top for adjusting the focus on the device, and all three of the straps are adjustable to make it comfortable on your head.

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A touchpad is situated on the right side, which makes it easy to navigate menus — I was surprised by how well it worked. You simply look around in real life to move the cursor, and use the touchpad to select things or swipe through elements. A back button sits above the touchpad and you can hold it to access the menu.

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In general, the device is light enough that I didn’t have any discomfort after over an hour of playing. It’s pretty easy to plug in some headphones (there’s a cutout to plug into the phone) and get lost in the virtual reality for a while.

Using the Device

Despite having a 2K screen, things are actually quite pixelated when you get so close to the screen. It’s not terrible — I certainly felt it was real when I was being scared in Dreadhalls — but you’ll often notice the pixelation of everything, which kind of ruins the illusion.

Navigating menus is easy enough with the touchpad, but for actual gaming, you’ll need a Bluetooth gamepad. Samsung sells theirs for $80, but I simply used the Red Samurai V2, which you can get at GameStop for about $5. This is actually a controller we’ve recommended before and that I used to set up a retro gaming console. It has a lot of uses, but set to gamepad mode, it works perfectly with the Gear VR.

Once you’re all set up, games and other apps are super fun to use. You can play your own videos or movies in a virtual movie theater (or on the moon!), you can turn on your phone’s external camera to see outside the headset without taking it off, you can play scary games like Dreadhalls, or you can play sillier games like James’s Legacy or Temple Run. All of that is enjoyable and realistic enough to make you reach out and try to touch things or jump when you hear a loud noise behind you.

But sadly, the Gear VR’s biggest weakness at this point is the general lack of games. Once you play through the very limited library, what do you do? It’s a cool experience, but without more games, there’s not much to do in there. Not to mention that some work has to be done on accessing the phone aspects of your phone while you’re wearing it. You get notifications that (annoyingly) take up the center of your screen while using it, but you can’t interact with those notifications. You can’t select them using the touchpad or voice controls — you have to take off the headset and remove the phone to do anything. That’s a problem.

Should You Buy The Galaxy S6 and Gear VR?

The Galaxy S6 Edge is probably the most innovative Android phone out there right now. Samsung is pushing boundaries in hardware and software, and they’ve finally managed to do it in a smooth and user friendly way. Unfortunately, it’s hindered by an extremely high price and poor battery life.

The Gear VR is a lot of fun to play with, but it still needs a bit of polishing up on the software side of things, and a whole lot more games in its library. At this point, you’re probably better of just waiting until Spring 2016 for the consumer Oculus Rift. And if you absolutely can’t wait, grab yourself a Google Cardboard to play with.

Don’t buy either of these. The Galaxy S6 Edge does a lot of things right, but at the end of the day, it can’t justify it’s ridiculously high price. Likewise, the Gear VR is on the right track, but it doesn’t have enough content right now to justify its $199 asking price. Our verdict of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge: 8/10

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and Gear VR Giveaway

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