In the peaceful moment between the theatrical unboxing of Samsung's Galaxy S6 Edge+ and Note 5 at Lincoln Center and the race to queue for demonstrations, one tries to find a find a grand principle to understand what the story Samsung just told us means. Perhaps it means that Samsung designs luxurious devices, engineered with eclectically selected components from its own and partners' factories to compete with much more than just Apple's iPhone. Competitors like Motorola, Xiaomi, HTC, and LG create incredible devices, leaving little room for design, engineering, and marketing errors even for a vertically integrated electronics conglomerate with over $170 billion in annual revenues.
Samsung built on the proven success of the Galaxy S6 design to bring two big new phones to market. First impressions are that both devices, designed with glass and metal, feel sturdy and at the same time elegant, with the rounded back of the Note 5 having an edge on the S6 Edge+.
The S6 and S6 Edge, announced in March at the Mobile World Congress, pass on their design heritage to these new phones that are all members of the same family. It's easier to explain the Note 5 and S6 Edge+ by saying the hardware is identical. Both have new fingerprint readers, an Exynos 7420 octa-core 2.1GHz processors, a spacious allotment of 4GB of RAM, storage of either 32GB or 64GB of ROM, a strikingly responsive and clear 5.7-inch QHD 518 ppi super-amoled display, 16MP/5MP front and rear cameras, and LTE category 9.
These are powerful devices with a lot of memory, a fantastic display and camera, and a modem that will keep up with carrier LTE upgrades – a phone that will survive a two-year contract without going obsolete, if it's not dropped, of course. Those with a careless tendency should buy a case, because these devices don't look like they would survive many drops onto hard surfaces.
Looking back at the S6 and S6 Edge announcement, Samsung may have wanted to test the Edge design and make a decision later if it wanted to increase the screen size of the S6 Edge. If this speculation is true, it looks like the Edge design won. Besides some negligible differences, the S6 Edge+ is an S6 Edge with a 5.7-inch display instead of the smaller device's 5.1-inch display. Samsung pioneered large displays long before Apple introduced one. The company has found a large following of consumers by building phones with larger displays and the smallest bezel possible to keep the overall phone dimensions as small as possible.
The Edge design folds the LED screen around the bezel-less rounded side edges. The additional rounded-side LED area can be programmed to display text, such as a clock or an alert notification color. The Edge design can also present notifications or the time while the rest of the phone is in standby mode – similar to but a different approach than the Motorola active display. New to the design with the S6 Edge+ is the Edge launcher – the ability to place an icon of any app on the Edge display and launch it with a swipe. The design makes the S6 Edge and S6 Edge+ look more fashionable than its plainer sibling, the S6.
The Note 5 is a dramatically different update to the Note 4. Like the Galaxy S5, the Note 5 is a powerfully engineered device, but its plastic mechanical enclosure leaves a very utilitarian impression. Though the S6 heritage can be seen clearly in the Note 5, it is designed for an entirely separate audience. As a phablet pioneer with the Note, Samsung found a very visual audience when it launched the original Note in 2011. It found a different kind of consumer – one that loved graphics and images presented on the 5.3-inch display, which at that time was enormous compared to other phones. They preferred the precise navigation, writing and drawing with a stylus on a big display. At 153.2x76.1x7.6mm, the Note 5 and the S6 Edge+ share the exact same dimensions too.
The S Pen, enclosed within the Note 5, rests flush to the enclosure's surface and is released with a finger push. The S Pen is the biggest difference compared to the S6 Edge+. This quick-release S Pen mechanism is a vast improvement over previous S Pen storage in early Note designs.
The Note 5 rests nicely in the hand with a new rounded back – somewhat like the Moto X and Nexus 6, but this is all made of glass and metal.
The Note 5 is an engineering advance, exceeding all the specs of the previous version. But comparatively, the Note 5 feels really good and looks luxurious. First-time Note 4 customers had to have a use case to want to choose it over all the other attractive large-screen phones. Note customers looking to upgrade will love the Note 5, and on the merits of its design, consumers who never thought they needed a large-screen phone will consider it.
The first impression of each phone is very positive and should stand up to extended testing. Both are beautiful and powerful. Samsung designed the S6 Edge+ to round out the Galaxy phone product line. Samsung designed the Note 5 to retain that special Note customer segment.
Neither phone has a removable battery or a removable SD card. While this might turn off some Android enthusiasts who burn through batteries with frenetic use and load programs and special Android ROMs from the SD card, these aren't really a negative. Both phones have 3,000 mAh batteries and fast connected or wireless charging. The audience for these phones isn't the DIY enthusiasts; Samsung is going after a more general market of users who want Samsung to make Android work for them.