The Galaxy S6 edge+ is a large Galaxy S6 edge. If you want this phone distilled to its essence, there it is. It is derivative. That is its sole reason for existing, and if that is the bar to meet, the Galaxy S6 edge+ meets it with unforgiving literalness and exacting precision.
The Galaxy Note 5 is a large Galaxy S6... with a pen. And a curved backplate (a reverse edge, if you will). The Note 5 is very clearly defined not by the Note device that preceded it, but by Samsung's larger "premium" corporate brand image unveiled with the S6, and makes all but a complete break from last year's device except in regard to the stylus.
So, if you like the Galaxy S6 or S6 edge, you'll like these phones. If you don't? You won't. Unless your single, solitary complaint is that the S6 and S6 edge don't have large enough displays (or a stylus, I guess). In which case, that is why the Note 5 and S6 edge+ are here - because they're bigger. Other than that? Differences versus the old devices really are negligible.
Larger batteries barely manage to get them into the "mediocre" category for longevity, more RAM (4GB) seems basically to be wasted by an aggressive task-killing implementation, and you even have fewer colors and storage variants to choose from than you did on the original S6 and S6 edge. You get the same processor, the same cameras, the same basic software, and the same non-removable battery and non-existent microSD card.
You also get Samsung's inarguably brilliant Super AMOLED+ Quad HD display, which is the best screen on any smartphone ever, full stop. You get build quality and design precision unrivaled by any other Android device manufacturer - say what you will of the actual attractiveness of that design. Samsung's uber-fast UFS2.0 NAND storage and LPDDR4 memory are class-leading, and the Exynos 7420 has pretty much wiped the floor with any Qualcomm processor product this year in terms of raw computing power.
So, are these good phones? Of course they are. Anyone telling you otherwise is trying to sell you something, or worse, is desperately out of touch with the fact that so are most smartphones today.
What separates the S6 edge+ and Note 5 are their "premium" factor, as well as the Samsung name, which like it or not has marketed its way into becoming a recognizable upscale consumer brand. And you will pay for that brand - this AT&T Galaxy S6 edge+ in 32GB Gold Platinum retails for an eye-watering $820. The Note 5? A comparatively less sphincter-clenching $740. Prices do vary by carrier and region, with AT&T being among the most expensive here in America.
Are they worth it? As it turns out, no: of course not. Don't be silly. That's like asking if a $250,000 Ferrari truly offers $175,000 more performance over a $75,000 Corvette. At a point, we all do have to wake up and smell the marketing: brands add dollars to price tags, justified or not. But do these satisfy enough of a niche market and, for the Note, existing users to justify an upgrade or consideration in the first place?
|Display||Amazing. Legitimately. Samsung can do no wrong with screens and continues to wipe the floor with competitors like LG and JDI.|
|Super premium||Both feel like very tightly-constructed, premium phones. The buttons are nice. The edges are nice. The holes for the little speaker on the bottom are nice. These are nice phones.|
|Quick||In most day-to-day usage, the Note and S6 edge+ are fast and enjoyable.|
|Camera||They're just as good as they were on the original S6 and S6 edge, and still stand up well compared to those of most competitive devices.|
|Lots of features||Wireless charging, quick charging, Samsung Pay's MST technology, [good] fingerprint scanners, 32 and 64GB storage options available for both.|
|Expensive||Both are, but the S6 edge+ is really expensive. On some carriers in some US states (with sales tax), a 64GB S6 edge+ could total out at above $1000 when all's said and done. There is no question that figure is completely insane.|
|No microSD card slot||Kind of a bummer when Google seems to be actively re-embracing expandable storage in Android.|
|TouchWiz||Is still TouchWiz, and that probably means slow Android OS updates down the road and, well, having to deal with TouchWiz.|
|Battery life||Seems very subpar. I'm not happy with it. Even with the basic power-saving mode enabled and VoLTE off, it just isn't all that great.|
|Multitasking performance||Reflows when apps get pushed out of memory can degrade that speedy experience in a rather frustrating way.|
design and build quality
Like it or not, Samsung is at the forefront of modern smartphone design, and has been since it released the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge earlier this year. The phones maintain the trademark silhouette of the Galaxy line, but add in some iPhone-like brushed metal around the edges - though that's where the Apple similarities pretty much stop.
Samsung's look for its new devices is nothing if not bold. In the gold platinum finish, the Galaxy S6 edge+ is legitimately gaudy and fits in here in Los Angeles like a pair of gold Versace high-tops stepping out of a matte-white Mercedes S Class. Which is to say: scarily well.
In fact, the S6 edge+ is easily the most commented-upon phone I have ever reviewed. Perhaps the retina-searing glare of the gold platinum finish merely happens to make a lot of non-consensual contact with the eye-parts of passersby, but even then, the comments have been universally positive. There is little doubt in my mind that Samsung has struck an aesthetic and cultural chord with its most recent products that no other phonemaker has. If the S6 edge+ were a song, it is the end-of-night, indulgent, sing-along reprise of Samsung's #1 double-platinum hit single Galaxy S6 edge, in which the audience shouts "PLUS!" into the extended microphone of the singer at the end of every verse. And anyone who's paying the price of admission is probably so drunk on the Samsung-brand designer alcoholic energy drink that they really couldn't care less what some no-name tech journalist on the web thinks about their phone choice or the fact that it is the same color as some cosmetic dental implants.
If you want a phone that makes a statement, you want a gold platinum Galaxy S6 edge+. I don't know if there has ever been a true statement phone sold at scale prior to this, but if there was, it's probably nowhere near as statementy as a gold platinum GS6e+.
The Note 5, by comparison, is much more normal and subdued, even if the actual design of the phone itself is largely similar. The curved edges on the reverse side of the Note 5 are a nice touch I didn't expect, as well. Both devices feel exceptionally well-assembled and reek of first-class mass production. They are very, very nice.
Functionally, they're both glass bricks, and they're both pretty easy to hold. The headphone port is on the bottom, along with the microUSB port and bottom-firing speaker (which is pretty not great placement, if I'm honest). The power and volume buttons click easily and with strong feedback, exactly the kind of button-pressing experience a smartphone should have.
Picture the best smartphone display you've ever seen. OK, done? These are better. That's just the way it is.
Samsung's Quad HD Super AMOLED is unrivaled in the business, and this new version gets even brighter than the S6's, and it looks amazing. Truly, I do not know if anyone will ever catch up to Samsung on smartphone displays. They're so far ahead of the game it's like they're cheating - and yet they aren't, these screens are practically as vivid in reality as they are in those rendered TV commercials.
Both phones get plenty bright for daylight viewing, the minimum brightness is unmatched (great for reading in bed!), and the viewing angles have to be nearing the point where the optical limitations of the glass are more of a concern than the panel itself. Add in the curve of the edge+, and sometimes you'll just catch yourself staring into your homescreen wallpaper trailing off into infinity over a waterfall of color.
So, keep doing whatever you're doing, Samsung Display wizard-scientists. It's working.
I don't want to say it's bad. But it's also... not good. For me, the S6 edge+ can barely, and I mean barely, eek through a day of away-from-home usage. And sometimes it can't even manage that, and sometimes it can't even manage it when I'm using the power saving mode.
Most of the drain is hard to manage, too, because it seems to occur when the phone is idle. There is no unusual process activity in battery stats, and even with VoLTE disabled, the battery life is still plainly subpar.
Three hours of screen-on time was doable if I actively worked to burn through the battery by mid to late afternoon and then charge back up, but even on days where I wasn't even using the phone for more than an hour or so, it would still end the night at under 50%, most of that just being idle seepage.
The Note 5, I have to assume, is similar - I simply haven't used it as my true daily device, but the internals, including the battery, are the same, and there's no reason to think it would use any more or less power to significantly change the experience.
storage, wireless, and call quality
The Note 5 and S6 edge+ come in either 32 or 64GB variants - no 128GB this time around. The storage is Samsung's ultra-fast UFS2.0, and it's about the fastest you'll find in any available smartphone.
Wireless connectivity has been fine for me apart from 5GHz Wi-Fi - both the Note 5 and S6e+ have had difficulty maintaining a connection to my 5GHz network, and I'm not sure why. This also increases the idle battery drain, it seems, so I've moved them to my 2.4GHz network for the purpose of this review. Otherwise, I've had no wireless difficulties at all.
Call quality on VoLTE using AT&T is quite nice, assuming you're connecting to another VoLTE subscriber, which is far from common just yet. Regular voice quality is fine, as well, in the "it sounds like a cell phone call" sort of way.
audio and speakers
The headphone jack produces very respectable audio, certainly at least up to par with what Qualcomm is shipping on the latest high-end Snapdragon devices. Samsung also gives you a suite of little audio "optimizer" tools in the settings, but I found these generally just made my music sound artificially "pumped-up" and annoyingly bassy. Also, the notion that "upscaling" your audio can provide you with any more fidelity is quite hilarious - audiophile pandering at its finest, Samsung.
The bottom-firing speaker is definitely pretty loud, but the fact is you're going to cover it up at least once in a while with your fingers while watching a video or playing a game. The placement is just not optimal, and front-facing speakers on phones like the Nexus 6 and HTC One M9 are plainly superior. But Samsung is all about preserving device real estate, so this ostensibly allows them to make the devices shorter and thinner.
This is the same basic imaging system you'll find on the standard S6 and S6 edge, and it's a very good one. The 16MP stills are solid, and the automatic HDR mode generally steers exposure in a desirable direction in tough lighting. As is becoming common with more and more smartphones, the Note 5 and S6 edge+ have a "pro" mode allowing control of things like EV, ISO, shutter speed, and even manual focus. RAW capture is supported as well. I'd avoid both of them if your only concern is reliable, consistent image quality, though - the auto mode with HDR in auto provides good results and generally knows what to do.
I'll let the pictures do the talking, as well as a couple of short 4K video samples (the benefits of 4K capture are clear for further-away subjects, like this soccer game and the car race).
The S6 edge+ and Note 5 are both quick phones - especially as far as any benchmark is concerned. The Exynos octacore chipset blows away this year's offerings from Qualcomm, and still provides very respectable GPU performance, as well. Samsung's ultra-quick UFS2.0 storage and LPDDR4 RAM are industry-leading.
But the way these phones handle background tasks means that oftentimes they can feel slower than phones even going back into 2014. You see, Samsung manages the system memory in such a way that only four or five apps will "stay" in RAM completely at a time. So let's say you open Dropbox, go to a PDF, look at the preview so you can see a name or number, then go to Gmail to send an email. Then you go to your browser to look up a web address. Then you send a text to someone. And then you briefly check Twitter. Now, you go back to Dropbox because you've accidentally forgotten to copy something else - and the whole app reflows and may not even remember what exactly you were doing when you closed it. That's annoying, and it's a behavior pretty specific to Samsung devices. We're not sure what Samsung's justification for handling memory this way is, but you can read more about my experience with it here (it's also a problem on the S6 and S6 edge).
Otherwise, performance is strong, if not absolutely jaw-droppingly insane. They're quick phones, but not really noticeably quicker than, say, a One M9 or Nexus 6 in day-to-day operation for the most part. There are exceptions, though - the S6 and S6 edge+ both have significantly better performance in Chrome (their Octane scores are quite impressive), and there is a noticeable reduction in things like game load times or other read/write-intensive activities.
I've not encountered any major bugs with either device, but it's hard to say how that experience would change after a month. Samsung phones are rather notorious for developing software faults as time and new OTA updates go on, so we'll be keeping an eye on our review units to see if things stay speedy and stable down the road - especially come Marshmallow time.
Samsung's never-ending tweaking and modifying of TouchWiz continues, but because much of the software is identical to that on the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, I'll only be highlighting the differences. These phones essentially run slightly modified Galaxy S6 builds - they're largely the same on the software side. Reviewing TouchWiz from the ground up is also quite a job, and it's one that's been done many times already. If you want to know what's new in TouchWiz compared to, say, the Note 4, I'd suggest our Galaxy S6 review, which takes a more holistic look at the software.
The first big TouchWiz change I noticed is that the settings UI has been restructured yet again, this time into a set of tabbed lists. It's really... quite bad. You cannot switch back into the list view mode of the S6, either, and despite ample space, the first tab - a custom list of your favorite settings - can only contain 9 items, because those are the rules. This entire layout makes managing your device's settings unnecessarily difficult and time-consuming and I'm honestly unsure what Samsung's possible logic in increasing the number of steps needed to do something like this was. I'm also unsure if the lack of a full list-view mode is an AT&T tweak - that could well be, but I have no way to check.
Samsung has continued to replace iconography in TouchWiz with text, as well. For example, in the notification shade where there once was a small image of a pencil, there is now mere text that says "edit." Samsung began this trend with the S6, but it appears to be continuing and expanding it with the Note 5 and S6 edge+.
The edge+'s edge display features are the exact versions you'll find on the standard S6 edge, and they're exactly as useful (read: not at all). Edge notifications only seem to work with certain apps, the "people" edge is still just a list of contact bubbles, the apps edge is that but for apps, and the night clock is the quasi-ambient mode Samsung first unveiled back on the Galaxy S4 (I think). These really are fringe use case items, and I'm not going to dwell on them here - if you find them useful, great, but to me this feels like Samsung attempting to turn an aesthetic decision (a curved screen) into a functional one, and they don't really make a very good case. This is software as marketing, not as a tool.
The Note 5's stylus features I really haven't had much opportunity to test, since my S Pen no longer detects if it is in or out of the stylus slot. This has rendered features like the new quick "screen off" memo broken. So, don't put the S Pen in backward, or you'll end up like me.
Perhaps, if anything, we should at least be happy Samsung is moving toward unifying the software experience across its devices so as to hopefully optimize and stabilize that software more effectively going forward.
As with just about any Samsung device, pretty much everyone on the team here agrees that the first thing you do is get rid of the TouchWiz launcher and generally make it such that you have to actually interact with Samsung's software as little as possible. While things like the new theming engine are certainly cool mainstream features, for Android enthusiasts, TouchWiz remains a frustratingly limited and often needlessly "differentiated" take on the basic Android OS.
As Android itself bursts with more and more features, APIs, and standards support with every major release, OEMs like Samsung are finding their customized software increasingly unable to offer major functional advantages over Google's vanilla Android, and that is something that I've seen with each subsequent year since I began this job. We're at a point where, as far as users of devices are concerned, updating the underlying Android OS is going to provide far more interesting "new stuff" than a manufacturer like Samsung (or HTC, or LG, or Sony) could ever hope to pack into a maintenance update.
This isn't to say TouchWiz is bad - it's just that it's not really adding much to the experience these days. OEM UI overlays had a lot more reason to exist when they served to plug up Android's various technological holes and bridge feature gaps, but many Android OS versions and API levels have passed since those justifications were especially strong. Today, Google has steadily marginalized these "experiences" like TouchWiz and HTC Sense into glorified branding exercises - a launcher, a theme, a few bonus/bloatware apps, and a handful of extra entries in the settings menu. Otherwise, an Android phone is kind of an Android phone at this point - the biggest improvement you can make to it is almost always updating the underlying OS to the latest version, not attempting to cram more branded features into the current one.
Also, let's not forget: you'll probably be able to buy a phone with Android 6.0 Marshmallow inside of the next two months. When will the Galaxy Note 5 and S6 edge+ get Marshmallow? If I was being optimistic, I'd guess maybe Q1 2016. But perhaps Samsung will surprise us.
Do you want the best phone Samsung makes? It's either the Note 5 or Galaxy S6 edge+. They have striking, modern designs, the best displays on any smartphone in existence, cutting-edge internal components, excellent build quality, and very good cameras with 4K video capture. They're jam-packed with useful features like quick charging, wireless charging, voice over LTE, NFC (plus MST for Samsung Pay), a heart rate sensor, and fingerprint scanners that actually work. They are, apart from a removable battery and microSD slot, the complete package.
They are also the completely expensive package, and neither phone really does much practically above and beyond the typical device to justify those price points. If you want to spend $800, $900, or more (after taxes) on a smartphone, these really are the only non-iOS option available to most people (especially here in the US), and Samsung is well-aware of that. The Galaxy S6 edge+, in particular, seems wholly aware of its "status symbol" allure, and I have a strong feeling Samsung will move a lot of them. It is the perfect counterpoint to Apple's iPhone 6 Plus - flashier, newer, brighter, and distinctly un-Apple.
The Note 5 is, if not the death knell for the Galaxy Note line, at least a sign that the future of that brand is in question. The S Pen and display size are now the only real differences between the Note series and the standard Galaxy S phones, and with Android gaining native Bluetooth stylus support in Marshmallow, it's entirely possible Samsung could spin off the Note name into a set of accessories. Will there be a Note 6? I think it's at the very least a reasonable question to ask. And even if there is, will it even see a global launch? The Note 5, while certainly a good phone, is easily the least differentiated from its Galaxy S counterparts yet, and consolidation is very much in vogue in the smartphone world right now.
So, should you buy these phones? I mean, that really comes down to the criteria they don't meet for you, not what they do. Because these devices really are the technical pinnacle of the smartphones currently out there, a given person's lack of interest in them is going to almost certainly come down to price, philosophy, or a particular missing feature or other perceived weakness (such as the absent microSD slot or a lack of stock Android). Make no mistake: these are excellent phones. But is excellence worth this much money, especially when the pitfalls (subpar battery life, slow updates, and performance hiccups) mirror or sometimes even exceed those of devices costing potentially much less? That's for you, the consumer, to decide. If you're asking me, the flash isn't worth the cash - Samsung's premium phones today are much more about brand image and fashion than they are user empowerment or choice.