BARCELONA — Samsung is on a mission to regain its swagger.
The South Korean electronics conglomerate wasn’t afraid to shake up this year’s Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge, which features a screen that curves around the side of the device. Both flagship devices use metal instead of plastic, include wireless charging and advanced camera technology, and feature Samsung’s new mobile payment feature. Altogether, the changes represent a major redesign from the company’s earlier devices.
Samsung also didn’t hesitate to mix it up with Apple. At one point in the presentation, it put up a side-by-side comparisons photo and video shot by an iPhone 6 Plus next to the Galaxy S6 at night, with the Samsung version of the photos winning out. Directly addressing a competitor in such a public venue is typically a move an underdog would pull to gain attention, underscoring that Samsung is feeling the heat of late.
Samsung’s Galaxy S line is critical to the company’s overall success because so much of its reputation is tied into its flagship product. The Galaxy S6 is particularly important this time around because the company is in need of some excitement. Last year’s Galaxy S5 garnered a ho-hum response because the improvements over the previous year’s model were seen as incremental, setting the stage for the downturn it experienced over the last year. As a result, it had to step things up.
“Design matters, and Samsung addressed the shortcomings of the previous Galaxy S models,” said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC. “It puts Samsung a bit more solidly into the high-end category, which is good considering the pressure that Apple and HTC bring to the table.”
After leading the smartphone market for the past four years, Samsung saw its profit slide as customers defected to rival Xiaomi in China, Micromax in India and Apple nearly everywhere else. In the global smartphone market, Samsung merely tied with Apple as the No. 1 vendor in the fourth quarter of 2014 — after crushing the iPhone-maker in just the previous year.
Samsung, by incorporating new materials and removing some of its software features, known in the industry as bloatware, showed it’s willing to do whatever is necessary to attract buyers — and that it will make those changes quickly.
“By listening to our customers, and learning from both our success and missteps, we continuously push forward new technologies and ideas,” JK Shin, Samsung co-CEO and head of the company’s mobile business, said in a press release.
Edge: Gimmick or cool feature?
While the Galaxy S6 looks like a conventional upgrade with a metal frame, it’s the S6 Edge that looks materially different than previous smartphones. Samsung introduced this concept in September with the Galaxy Note Edge, but the display only curved around the right side of the handset, and it actually wrapped around to the edge.
The GS6 Edge wraps around both sides, but the curve is subtler than first expected, not curving down all the way to the edge.
While the GS6 Edge brings a unique look to the device, the roll out of two flagship devices suggests it still doesn’t quite know what consumers want. The Galaxy S6 Edge is a flashier device than its Galaxy S6 sibling, but the screens that curve around the sides are more for show than actual substance. The curved element on the Note Edge allowed users to access apps and see things like their Twitter feed, but even with that extra functionality, it’s unclear how well that device has sold compared to its fellow phablet, the Galaxy Note 4.
The Galaxy S6 Edge offers a little less functionality. There are three functions: A night mode to display the clock, notifications to display missed text messages, calls and e-mails (but not Facebook and Twitter) and a mode that flashes a different color depending on which of five pre-selected contacts call you.