Hands-on with Samsung’s 2015 big screen phones

Four years ago, Samsung invented a category with an experiment: a big phone that could work as both that and a tablet. While some shot down the idea, the phablet has been a huge success, so for the fifth generation of the idea, what is Samsung up to?

Unless you were living in a cave without WiFi or mobile reception last week, there’s a good chance you already know about Samsung’s latest gadgets, with news breaking from New York’s “Unpacked” show only a few days ago detailing two big screened devices.

They are the Galaxy S6 Edge+ (Plus) and the Galaxy Note 5, mobiles for people who like big screens and might want to ditch the tablet they’re usually carrying around, converging two gadgets into one.

Both feature a 5.7 inch Quad HD screen detailing 518 pixels per inch, a little over a hundred more Apple iPhone 6 Plus Retina display and which should provide picture perfect detail that few devices can compete with.

They each also sport similar technology, some might even say identical, with an eight-core 64-bit processor, 4GB RAM, a 3000mAh battery, WiFi 802.11ax, a 16 megapixel rear camera with a 5 megapixel front facing camera, and support for the new high-speed Category 9 mobile broadband technology.

All up, they are very similar devices, so what exactly is different about each? Quite simply, it’s about what you intend to use your phone for beyond that of phone calls.


It’s about work

If you find yourself using your phone or tablet for work, the Note 5 appears to be the device for you, with enough technology inside the phone to handle most of what you would use day in, day out, but with a few little touches to help you in your work.

That main touch — the point of difference — is the S-Pen, Samsung’s digital stylus now in its fifth-generation which allows you to write on the screen and control mouse (cursor) position using the stylus itself.


In fact, this S-Pen does a few things differently, with a little magnet inside the pen and phone now working together, allowing you to write a note straight from standby simply when you pull the pen out.

That will go a long way to help make the Note 5 handset feel like a pen and pad since you’ll be able to take down notes whenever you want, even if you’re not using your phone at the time.


Samsung says it has done some work to make the pen feel more like a rollerball pen, and it does feel good to write with — slightly more stable and less fake than we’ve felt from the Note series — though the pen itself is still far too light and flimsy to be considered a real pen.

One thing it does do like a real pen is provide clicking action, and you know the clicker at the back of some pens? You have one on this pen, too.

Time to turn those meetings into all out percussion festivals. Woot.


The back of the phone is also interesting, a phrase you wouldn’t normally hear GadgetGuy utter, but this is because this is where Samsung has thrown in a bit of curved glass.

Now it’s not a lot, and it doesn’t sport the slope LG took with its G3 or G4 smartphone, but it’s just a slight curve at the back designed to conform with your hand as you cradle the device, and it does feel nice.


It’s about style

On the other side, if you fancy a phone that’s all about look and style, that might be the S6 Edge+.

This is a bit of an interesting one because really, the S6 Edge+ is a slightly bigger S6 Edge, jumping from the 5.1 inch Quad HD display of the smaller phone to a 5.7 inch Quad HD in this slightly bigger version, and most of the specs are even on par.

S6 Edge+ on the left, S6 Edge on the right. Identical if not for the size, the battery, the extra gigabyte of RAM, and the Category 9 LTE.
S6 Edge+ on the left, S6 Edge on the right. Identical if not for the size, the battery, the extra gigabyte of RAM, and the Category 9 LTE.

The S6 Edge+ features the same processor as what’s in the standard S6 Edge, the same camera on the front and back, the same wireless technology (for the most part), and the same fingerprint sensor on the front button.

It even curves the screen slightly on each side, though it’s not the sort of curve that made the Note Edge famous, rather that gentle slight gimmicky curve on the S6 Edge.


What Samsung has improved, however, is what you can load from the edge of the display, with apps thrown in for good measure, so now you can’t just choose between people to dial, but also an app you might want to load quickly, like an extended shortcut dock.

The design on the S6 Edge+ is a little more eye catching as well, and will appeal to anyone who likes the look of something thin and metal, but wanted a bigger display than Samsung made with the S6 and S6 Edge from earlier in the year.

It’s about… the same

Primarily, though, the devices are close to being identical, and if it weren’t for the fact that one has a curved screen and one has a pull-out pen, they probably would be.

Essentially, they’re even the same as the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge from earlier in the year, with most of the same hardware underneath and a few changes here and there between the big screen models and the small screen models.

Over the small screen models, you’ll find a bigger screen — shock horror — and an extra gigabyte of memory, which could easily improve performance.


Samsung is also providing a bigger battery, with a 3000mAh battery in both the Note 5 and S6 Edge+, larger than the 2600mAh in the 5.1 inch Edge S6. That could mean you’ll find a little more life, though we suspect a day is all you’ll really see from either of these given the specs haven’t changed dramatically.

The inclusion of a Category 9 modem is particularly impressive, though, as no other phone support this. When in use with a compatible network, you should find speeds as high as 450Mbps down and 50Mbps up. Try getting that with your home or work connection.


There’s also support for something a little different, with a high-speed wireless charging technology. You’ll need the extra optional accessory to make this happen, and Samsung tells us this should be coming later in the year for a little less than $100, but if you hate cables and slow recharge times, this is something specific to the new phones.

But there are also things missing, and like the S6 and S6 Edge, there is no waterproofing here, nor is there a replaceable battery.

Infrared is also missing, and this is one of those surprises that doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge had it, so why doesn’t the S6 Edge+, or even the Note 5?

Whatever the reason — and we’ve asked for one — Samsung’s 2015 big phones won’t be controlling that TV of yours, unless it’s a WiFi one with an app available (which is probably the reason there’s no infrared).

Samsung has also kept out the microSD slot, meaning you can’t just upgrade the memory inside the phone easily, as you can with many other phones.

This is probably the biggest sore point on the S6 Edge+ and Note 5, especially since in this country, Samsung will not be releasing a 128GB variation, with the Note 5 arriving in a 32GB version for $1099, while the S6 Edge+ will be found in stores for $1199 for the 32GB and $1299 for the 64GB.

If you run out of storage, though, you’ll be stuck, unless you backup to cloud or some other solution, such as a computer or wireless drive.


What we think

Hands-on with the phones today, they both feel good, but we came away from the briefing feeling like the S6 Edge+ is exactly what it looks like: a larger edition of the S6 Edge.

That’s not a bad thing, but it’s certainly not as special since nothing has changed.

In comparison, we found the Note 5 to be the star of these two, with its point of difference — the S-Pen — making more sense, especially since you wouldn’t just be getting the S-Pen, but also the screen compatible with the S-Pen technology.

That’s something not all understand, because you can’t just use Samsung’s S-Pen with any screen, and you need a special compatible display to make them work. The Note 5 has that, it just doesn’t have the curve, and honestly, we think not having the curve and having a pen instead makes a little more sense.


Indeed, the big screen devices for Samsung this year are very different from last year’s, and while last year was all about the Note improving, this year it’s about having one in the Note range, and another that’s just a big flagship.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with either, but given the two major selling points — pen and utility versus curved screen and style — consumers are really going to want to play with each before they work out where they want to spend their dough, if they even want to at all.

For those that do, you’ll find the Note 5 and S6 Edge+ in stores September 4, with pre-orders beginning August 18 (today) for a outright phone, while both Telstra and Optus will see the phones available on plans, too.