All the leaks had pointed to a unique phone with a curved screen on both sides of the device, and that’s exactly what Samsung delivered on Sunday when it launched the new Galaxy S6 smartphone and its curvier cousin, the Galaxy S6 Edge.
Samsung has a lot riding on this latest pair of devices, which hit shelves on April 10.
It needs to revive flagging sales in the midst of greater competition than ever from Apple and Chinese smartphone makers on the low-cost end like Xiaomi and Huawei. The curved screen puts Samsung on the cutting edge of new form factors, but the obligatory upgrade in specs is also impressive, including faster processing speeds, quicker battery charging and a super-fast, high-resolution camera.
Ultimately the question is whether that will all be enough to attract consumers in the midst of some other potentially negative tradeoffs. Primarily: Samsung Galaxy fans love the fact that its phones allow you to pop out the battery and also insert a microSD card.
Yet the S6 got rid of both these features.
Samsung executives actually addressed this on stage at Sunday’s launch event, arguing that the battery life of the S6 was so good now (getting to 100% takes the S6 roughly half the time of the iPhone 6 to charge), that owners wouldn’t even have to worry about replacing it. Still, the u-turn might drive some Samsung faithful away.
Now for those curves. It’s unclear at this point if Samsung is releasing an API that will allow third-party developers to create apps that utilize the curved sides of the screen, but bear in the mind that the curves themselves are subtle.
They don’t play that same second-screen role as that of the Galaxy Note Edge. They’re more gentle slopes than clearly-defined, rounded edges.
Yet they can still come in handy with a couple of features that Samsung has pre-installed on the Edge. There’s a feature called Quick Contacts, that allows you to swipe in a column for contacts shaded in various colors on the curved side of the screen.
In addition, when the phone is lying flat on its screen, the color of that contact will glow when they call, so you can know who it is without having to pick up the phone.
Fundamentally though, the curves still seem like more of a statement piece than a practical use case. One of Samsung’s executives practically admitted this on stage: “It’s a more comfortable grip, amazing user experience and above all, your friends will think it’s very cool!” said Young Hee Lee, executive vice president for marketing at Samsung.
Cool begets novel, which potentially begets the-dreaded “gimmick.” If consumers start seeing the curved novelty as more of a gimmick than useful feature that could be a big problem for sales of the S6 Edge.
Hands on, the Edge does indeed have a comfortable grip, though the tapered sides may take some getting used to for those who’ve carried rounded or square-edged phone for the last few years.
One of the real standout features though is the camera. At its launch event, Samsung showed low-light photos taken by the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy S6 side by side on the large screen.
The latter won out hands down both for photos and video. In one demo a video showing a couple sitting in front of a fountain at night almost looked like silhouettes on the iPhone 6 video, but they were clearly illuminated in the Galaxy S6 version.
The camera benefits from a 16-megapixel sensor and an F1.9 lens that’s also very quick to load. Just tap the home button twice and it launches almost immediately — in 0.7 seconds, according to Samsung.
The screen’s resolution is also super crisp, packing in an incredible 577 pixels per inch on the phone’s AMOLED screen.
All told the Edge is an impressive effort by Samsung and the curved screen shows a bold attempt to redefine the way smartphones are designed and used.
The built-in battery and lack of a microSD card may also be a tough pill for Samsung fans to swallow. All the more reason to fear the company’s best years of smartphone sales may well be behind it.
This article appeared in Forbes.