In this unpredictable world, it’s the constants in life that I can count on.
The sun rises in the East, Starbucks lattes always taste the same, and Apple’s iPhones are always better than Samsung’s Galaxy phones.
Since the dawn of the smartphone wars, there have been basic truths about Samsungs: They’re made of flimsy plastic, their cameras can’t keep up with the iPhone’s, and their modified Android software is ugly and intolerably cluttered.
With the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, which arrive at U.S. carriers on April 10, none of that is true anymore. I am not afraid to say it: I love Samsung’s new phones, maybe even more than my own iPhone 6. Like a child who just found out that Santa isn’t real, I have spent the past week questioning everything I know.
OK, maybe that’s a bit dramatic for smartphones, but I’m serious about how drastic the change is. Samsung has taken direct aim at Apple’s smartphone, this time even seeming to copy some of the iPhone’s design and features.
No, neither of the new Galaxys brings any original ideas to the evolution of the smartphone. If anything, Samsung has actually sucked out the differentiators, including the waterproof design and removable storage and battery. And Samsung still needs some schooling in the software department.
Yet with a series of improvements, the Galaxy now has a leg up on the hardware of other Android phones and the iPhone. It’s got me, a once extremely satisfied iPhone 6 owner, wishing for a better screen, sharper camera and faster charging.
One reason I probably like the new Galaxys so much—especially the white models I’ve been testing—is that the design looks like a compilation of the iPhone’s greatest hits.
The screen’s glossy frame, the metal edges and the silver trim surrounding the home button look so very similar to my iPhone 6. Both Samsung phones even measure just 0.27-inch thick—just like the iPhone 6. With the speaker strip and ports on the bottom edge, Samsung doesn’t even try to hide its similarities to Apple’s work.
The back of the phone looks nothing like the iPhone 6. Covered entirely in a reflective piece of durable Gorilla Glass, it’s more similar to, you guessed it, the back of the iPhone 4.
The Galaxy S6 is a stunning device that is as equally pleasing to hold as it is to look at. If you had told me a year ago I would use the word “stunning” to describe a Galaxy phone, I would have called you crazy.
Here’s one thing my iPhone doesn’t have: a curved screen. The main difference between the S6 and the S6 Edge is that the Edge’s display slopes down on both sides. It also will cost you more—too much more. The 32GB version of the Galaxy S6 starts at $ 600 without a two-year contract (or about $ 25 a month with many of the carriers’ installment plans). The 32GB Edge starts around $ 700.
There is really no logical reason to buy the Edge. You can tap its side for notifications and other information when the main screen is off, but that wasn’t too helpful. Like with designer sunglasses, you’re mostly paying to look cooler.
Dream Screen, Fast Charging
Things appear even in the race with the iPhone, until you look at the Samsung phones’ 2560 x 1440-pixel, 5.1-inch screens, which have 577 pixels per inch, compared with the iPhone 6’s 4.7-inch display with 326 ppi. Translation: sharper photos, video and text. You can also see more on the screen, and using Samsung’s dual-app view, I find myself naturally putting two apps side by side.
Unlocking the screen is also much faster with the vastly improved fingerprint sensor embedded inside the home button. It actually felt a hair faster than Apple’s Touch ID, and not once did I encounter any error messages. (Later this year, the company plans to update the phone with its Samsung Pay software.)
Despite the higher-res screen, the Galaxy S6 gets slightly better battery life than the iPhone 6. All of these phones should make it through the day, no problem. However, in our grueling battery test, which cycles through a series of websites with brightness set at about 75%, the S6 lasted just over seven hours (a little less than the Galaxy S5). The iPhone 6 conked out after 6½ hours; so did the Galaxy S6 Edge.
And there’s no more swappable battery, though Samsung tries to make up for that with faster charging. I was able to get a 50% charge within 30 minutes. Samsung will also sell a $ 50 wireless charging pad, but it’s up to you if you want to wait the three hours it takes to charge up the phones.
A Camera Worth the Wait
I really suspected I was living in an alternate universe, though, when I saw that the new Galaxys took photos as well—in some cases, better—than the iPhone 6.
In indoor and outdoor shootouts, Samsung’s 16-megapixel camera (which protrudes like a blister from the phone’s back) captured crisper photos. In many cases, colors were more vibrant in iPhone photos, yet the Galaxy shots showed more detail.
Low-light shots were more mixed. In a dimly lit restaurant, the Galaxy’s photos picked up more details and looked sharper but had an orangish cast. While the iPhone’s shots were more washed out, the coloring was more accurate. The Galaxys also struggled to autofocus quickly in low-light environments.
The Galaxy S6 destroys HTC’s new One M9 and other flagship Android phones—not to mention all of its own predecessors—on photo quality.
The front-facing 5-megapixel selfie cam trumps the iPhone’s, too. And in case you don’t have a selfie stick handy, you can tap on the heart-rate sensor on the back of the phone to snap the photo.
But About That Software…
The user experience is where the Galaxy S6 still struggles against the iPhone and even Android phones, like the Moto X and Nexus 6.
To its credit, Samsung has swept a lot of its own software clutter under the rug, making its tweaks to Android 5.0 far more benign than they have ever been. The settings and camera menus no longer require a user manual to navigate. The Samsung-built email and calendar apps are also much cleaner, with a nice balance of white space on each of the screens. And rejoice! The dripping-water sound you’d hear when tapping the screen has mercifully been plugged.
None of those updates slow down the phone either. The octo-core processor and 3GB of RAM keep things running at record pace.
Samsung even tidied up many of its ugly app icons. Still, from the app tray to the pull-down notification menu, the styling of the operating system isn’t nearly as polished as stock Android 5.0. On top of that, Samsung’s keyboard seemed to hate my fingers, constantly inserting typos. A phone this beautiful deserves equally beautiful software.
And Samsung continues to insist on having two browsers, two photo gallery apps and its own app store—not to mention filling the phone with extra widgets and apps.
That’s why, even though the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are in many ways more impressive pieces of hardware than my iPhone 6, I’m sticking with Apple.
Finally, smartphones are equal on both sides of the iOS/Android divide. That’s a great thing, but it means the decision now really comes down to your software platform of preference. Right now, I prefer Apple’s app selection and product ecosystem. That…and I’m still under a darned two-year contract.
But if yours is just coming up or you need a new phone, I’m finally recommending you check out a Samsung before you look at HTC or Motorola. These are the best phones Samsung has ever made and the best Android phones you can buy. Plus, every time I look at my iPhone, I wish it had a curved screen.