Too Late Review: Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge
The Phone That Gave Up Being a Phone
Let me start by saying I am one of those guys that dreads upgrading my phones. I've never been impressed with gadgetry, but rather have found that what impresses me about a device is the ergonomic design and logic of menu flow and the positioning of tools and buttons to conduct the following critical concerns: make the calls I need, browse the interwebs, play my games, take and post pictures of my kids, check my e-mail, text my wife. Higher numbers on things like processors and camera resolution vaguely imply something to me about speed and quality, but really, I feel we are fast approaching the level of diminishing returns on supercharging our pocket devices.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge comes with a fine pedigree as far as phones go; I've owned the Galaxy S4 and S5 and have been impressed with them both. I didn't have any reservations about the next step, until I used the Galaxy S6 Edge for about five minutes. The Edge functionality, an extension of the touch screen surface that curves over the longitudinal sides of the phone, is a gimmick that ruins the phone. The commercial we've all seen is of a caterpillar traveling from screen to screen, metamorphosing into a butterfly as the image crawls from one device screen to the next. It's impressive that the screen can "see" what's on the next and react, because of the curved sides, or at least that's what the commercial implies; but, given all the back and forth between Samsung and Apple with accusations of design theft, that's an incriminating choice to feature on your flagship phone's debut to the world, since co-operative screenplay is a rabbit Apple pulled out of the hat in 2012, and they did it without curved screens. Either way, please take note that an image-traveling-from-screen-to-screen-across-the-multiple-devices-I'd-need-to-buy-to-pull-of-that-parlour-trick is NOT on the above list of things I need my phone to do. (Incidentally, the slogan, "It's not a phone, it's a Galaxy" is that sort of warning in plain sight you miss the first time you watch a horror movie.)
Picking up the phone, my first impression was that it is backwards. I didn't realize before that moment, that after a decade of conditioning, I assume by default that the flat side of the phone is the front side. For the Edge, the back is flat and the front is the curved, the only documented case of cell phone evolutionary dorsoventral inversion. This resulted in me, for well into three weeks of owning the phone, picking it up and swiping at it to turn on the screen or attempting to mash buttons, only to find myself gazing upon the backside of the device. A minor annoyance, and not a problem after I retrained my every reflex and muscle memory to work against instinct. This isn't a huge problem, but "annoying" certainly isn't the first impression anyone would like to make and little did I know that "annoying" would be the tamest of adjectives I'd call this phone aloud.
The choicest words I saved for the most enduring and significant flaw, the thin, tapered edges running down the flanks of the phone, so that the sides are not true edges, but live, sensitive touch screen which make the phone difficult to grip, hold and pick up without activating random functions on the screen. My words were: DUMB, FUCKED, DID THEY BOTHER BETA TESTING THIS THING WITH HUMANS WHO HAVE HANDS AND FINGERS BEFORE THEY ORDERED SIX MILLION FROM CHINA AND STARTED STORYBOARDING COMMERCIALS? Yes, the biggest flaw is the Edge itself. As my fingers bend around the sides of the device to grip it, my fingertips constantly trigger parts of the screen that face outward: pausing videos, opening unwanted apps, closing windows, activating touchscreen buttons and sometimes making the screen frustratingly unresponsive because as I swipe or poke, some other part of my hand is touching the screen, unknown to me, registering earlier contact and thus the phone ignores my secondary attempts to get it to bend to my will. In order to grip the phone while not activating the screen, one is left to hold it delicately, with fingertips aligned along the edge, particularly frustrating when holding the phone in the landscape orientation to watch videos. This insecure grip lends itself to constant fumbling and dropping the phone. One finds that you don't really grip the phone as much as you allow it to lie flat in your hand so you only touch the back, the way one might hold a small crab, carefully and yet with focused attention so it doesn't drop out of your hand and break, and then you have to order a replacement crab. One-handed dialing, where one might grip the phone between fingers and palm and use the thumb to dial numbers, is flatly impossible.
"Brian, we don't know why you hate this phone,
our focus group loved it."
The edges that taper toward the back of the phone make it hard to pick up off a flat surface if it's face up. Again, it's flat on the bottom and round on top. If the screen is on, picking it up almost always triggers the edge functionality to do something unwanted because it's more natural to pick up the phone with your fingers, gripping the shorter width dimension of the phone. A sad solution I often resorted to was sliding the phone to the edge of a table and getting at it like a quarter lying flat on the ground. In order to accommodate not holding it firmly by the sides, I started wrapping my pinky around the bottom to get a grip, when talking on the phone. Of course, that's where the speakers and microphone are so I'm constantly blocking them, which means the people I'm talking to can't hear me, or whatever audio is playing gets muted.
The hard edges of the phone's outer casing, which might protect the glass screen from most front-on collisions or drops, can't protect the vulnerable curved edges of the screen. That's where the first cracks develop. Maybe, I'm willing to concede, there is simply no work-around for this; if you want to have the curved edge, you have to accept this vulnerability. But this begs the phone's central existential question: "Just because you have the technology to do something, should you do it?" This phone is the epitome of the triumph of aesthetics over function. A whole suite of ergonomic function is tossed in the wastebasket to achieve a touch screen that wraps around the edge of the phone, but for what? To set up a side tray of icons to jump to between apps? To scroll a news feed across the edge? To display the stopwatch? To give me indication lights that reflect on a tabletop surface if the phone is placed face down when I have pending messages and missed calls? All of these features except the last exist on a regular screen. And to the last, if the phone is face up, resting upon its less vulnerable back, you have an LED notification light doing the same work. The only thing I found even marginally useful is a side clock that displays on the edge while the screen is off. I can read the time on my phone's edge when it's sitting on my bedside table without raising my head off the pillow in the middle of the night. AND THIS COULD BE SOLVED IF CELL PHONES HAD GODDAMN KICKSTANDS! WHY DOESN'T EVERY PHONE HAVE ONE BY NOW?
I'm sure this is a huge innovation to the market of quadriplegics who have rolled off their beds and landed with their phone a foot away from their eye and are stuck there for hours before orderlies show up to help them and as they pass the time, they wonder if they have any Facebook comments waiting for them. First, that sounds horrible; I'm sorry you're in that predicament. Secondly, I'm glad Samsung made a cell phone for you. Third, it belongs in an orthopedic device catalog and not for sale to the general population where unknowing moms might buy it for their unsuspecting kids for Christmas and devoted wives, in what was certainly an unquestionable act of love and affection, choose it for their husbands as they set up our new cell phone plan. (Did I just say "our?" I meant "a" or some other less specific article.)
Notice where all the missing glass is?
Given that the cell phone market is highly competitive and, according to everyone's high school understanding of free market economics, dozens of diverse, competing companies should be churning out the most amazing phones as each tries to impress the consumer with evermore functional devices, it's depressing to find that instead, we have a handful of mostly identical corporations offering us mostly identical phones, at mostly identical prices, each, ironically, trying to appeal to our sense of identity and exploit our proclivity to simply jump to the next thing. The endeavor these days isn't about each device's ability to improve or impress, but merely to "disrupt," to appropriate that buzzy tech term. And maybe I'm not really appropriating it; maybe that's the true meaning behind the ascendance of the "disrupt" terminology.
Seemingly gone are the days of true innovation where some stroke of genius vastly improves a technology, raising the bar for all to follow, earning that inventor or entrepreneur a well-deserved shower of riches. It seems these days the only way to get said shower is to create a spectacle that catches the attention of enough people so that, as everyone jumps on board, there is enough momentum to drive the market your way a bit; to disrupt the status quo and for the disruptors to be there for the feeding frenzy that follows as everyone re-acquires all the detritus needed to make the new tech actually functional: new protective cases, car chargers, software updates, upgrades, extended protection policies, more data. If everyone is done buying your products, the only way to make more money is to entice them to, and sometimes make it practically impossible for them not to, re-buy your products. I honestly don't know what free market economics means in light of that new paradigm. We all learned that the free market was meant to reward the best innovators and the lowest prices of an industry, but companies and consumers alike have accepted that we can swap out the "best" for the "new" and pretend like we've colonized the moons of Saturn every time we crank out a new gimmick and charge a higher price for it. Instead of getting the girl by being the most handsome, sharpest-dressed man with a winning personality, it's now a game of who can sit on the clever joke long enough to impress the ladies with the poor (or...impaired) judgment at the end of the party. That's fair enough for the suitors, but the ladies are playing along now too. The ladies are us. I assume with the Edge, Samsung intended to disrupt the cell phone market by introducing a feature that would draw the attention of the world, and they have, to the tune of six million devices sold. For me, they managed only to disrupt me having a cell phone.
Poor design in service of an unnecessary gimmick that caused me to lose faith in an entire industry, question the validity of modern economics as a whole, and lament its contribution to the deterioration of the human condition? The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge gets 0 out of 5 Steve Jobs Corpses.