BARCELONA — The Galaxy S5 is finished. Gone. Done in by peer pressure to adopt prevailing design trends.
Its twin, slim replacements, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and curved-screen Galaxy S6 Edge, finally ditch the utilitarian plastic build and removable battery of previous Samsung flagship phones. They arrive at the smartphone party dressed in sharp metal lines and plenty of glass.
The two new phones are nearly identical — both run Android 5.0 Lollipop with 5.1-inch high-resolution displays. But the Galaxy S6 Edge competes for the spotlight with two curved-glass edges, each wrapping the long side of the phone with a smooth, readable display.
Samsung unveiled the fraternal twins during its press conference at Mobile World Congress, the annual trade show here in Spain that has become arguably the most important global smartphone showcase. And while the phones won’t be available worldwide until April 10, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge must succeed, and quickly.
The phones were forged in the crucible of Samsung’s financial struggles as the company fights over phone profits with Apple’s latest megasuccessful iPhone models and an army of “good enough,” low-cost rivals from China-based manufacturers such as Lenovo, Xiaomi and Huawei.
Some of the new S6 features — upscale metal design, updated fingerprint scanner — play catch-up with the iPhone 6, which, last year, pursued Samsung’s pioneering large-screen phones. Samsung even used today’s press conference to announce an Apple Pay competitor that will debut on the S6 phones called — wait for it — Samsung Pay.
Other upgrades force uncomfortable tradeoffs. The S6 and S6 Edge lack a removable battery and a microSD card slot, not to mention the Galaxy S5’s waterproofing. Meanwhile, the curved strips of screen that make up the Edge’s borders do so little compared to the Note Edge’s screen that it’s hard to justify their existence other than giving you something to do with those curved edges. And Samsung’s own untested Exynos processor (versus the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 that will be found in most of its high-end Android rivals) is a performance wild card. (We’ll test it when we write our future full review.)
That said, the new Galaxy S6 models set some of their own Android trends. Both deliver built-in wireless charging support and compatibility with a new version of the Gear VR virtual reality accessory — two features you won’t find on the iPhone. And with the S6 phones’ new designs, Samsung has addressed the predominant critiques of 2014’s Galaxy S5, viewed by many as an uninspired doppelganger of the 2013 Galaxy S4.
The new phone pair has the looks and the specs of a flagship phone worth its salt, but it’s too early to know if that’s enough to reverse Samsung’s sagging smartphone sales — or dent the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus’ staggering revenue.