They’ve done it. After a couple of false starts, Samsung have finally worked out what people want in a phone. Good design, great materials, fast software that gets out of your way, and a kick-ass camera.

The S5 was a hilaribad warmed-over S4, stuffed with crapware and ignoring much of the great work Google has put into Android over the last few years. The S6 in comparison is a fresh start.

Hardware

Apart from the obvious screen difference, the S6 and S6 Edge are all but identical. Apparently the S6 has a battery about 2% smaller than the edge. I’ve come to ignore processor, memory and screen details these days, because they’re all good enough. What matters is that the UI is responsive: Samsung have nailed it on this one. No glitches, smooth animation, and the camera startup time is finally OK (which is novel for an Android phone).
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The camera is a stunner. I imagine the nerds will give some in-depth comparisons that might prove the iPhone 6+ has better chromatospores or some other nuance, but in-person it’s obvious the S6 does incredible things in low light. Our location this morning was camera-punishing: low light with a bright window. Where the iPhone couldn’t cope, the S6 pulled out well-metered, front-lit photos with great white balance. I was pleasantly surprised because we can normally completely ignore any claims of camera superiority over an iPhone.

The phone feels … robust. They’ve done away with the flimsy removable back that made the S4 and S5 creaking and cheap-feeling. The S6 by comparison feels solid and expensive.

Software

Basically: who are you and what have you done with Samsung?!

I’m not sure if Google demanded that Samsung cut back on the crapware, or if Samsung woke up. Whatever the reason, Samsung’s take on stock Android in the S6 is massively improved over the predecessors.

S-Health, S-Travel, S-Whatever have all been relegated to simple icons in the launcher. They’re there if you want them, but not in your face like they were on the S5. Even Samsung’s take on the settings panel is logical, fast, and easy to use.

Samsung Pay is difficult for kiwis to understand, but I think it will work well in the USA, where magstripe is still a thing and will be for years to come. The convenience of magstripe is causing headaches for both chip-and-pin and NFC adoption in the USA, and Samsung have done well to find a workaround for this. I presume the S6 has a magnetic field generator inside it, and it’s pretty neat to see the way it finagles the magstripe reader into thinking it has seen a card.

The Edge

Better than the U2 version, Samsung’s Edge is more than a gimmick. For one: it looks gorgeous. It makes the phone look different to anything that has come before. It looks truly modern; space-age even. It tapers to a slim, sharp edge that feels nice in the hand, with a feeling of security that reminds me of the hard-edged iPhones 4 and 5. No slippery curves here.

The software applications for the Edge are pretty neat too. Rub it gently in sleep mode and the Edge will show you the time and notifications. An incoming call from a favourite contact will light up the Edge in a selected colour. If you’re one of those people that uses the flash-notification on your iPhone to alert you to silent calls, I think the Edge will be a nicer approach to the same problem.

Overall, I’m impressed by the S6. Samsung have pulled back from their crapware-for-everything focus, and turned their impressive heft toward hardware and system design. The results are obvious: gorgeous hardware with what looks to be the best near-stock Android platform available.