It’s said that nothing is certain but death and taxes, but that’s not really true: every year, like clockwork, Samsung can be expected to launch the latest iteration of its flagship Galaxy S device to coincide with the industry’s biggest trade show, Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress (a new iPhone every September is also a pretty safe bet). This year Samsung is expected to announce not one, but two handsets for this sixth iteration of the S: the so-called flat Galaxy S6, along with a Note Edge-like model, aka Galaxy S6 Edge, featuring a display that gently curves down both sides of the device and gives it the appearance of an edge-to-edge screen.
Display & Processor
Each year Samsung is competing not just with other manufacturers in the market, most importantly Apple, but with itself as well: observers naturally compare the new model with the old model to discern how much of an upgrade it truly is. Samsung is usually quite adept at ticking off all the necessary boxes with respect to incrementally improving the specs in each key component, and this year will be no different. For example, whereas the Galaxy S5 featured a 5.1-inch, 1080p Super AMOLED display, the Galaxy S6 should increase both the size of the screen — ever so slightly, to 5.2 inches, it’s said — as well as the resolution, to QHD, or 2K. This latter improvement is critical if the company hopes to stay competitive with arch rival LG Electronics, which introduced a 1440p display on last year’s G3.
Likewise, the guts of both handsets — which go by model numbers SM-G920 and SM-G925 — will get boosted to the newest, high-end silicon and RAM, although it’s been said that Samsung’s traditional system-on-chip supplier Qualcomm, won’t be sourced for the initial batch of handsets. Instead, Samsung will use its own, homegrown Exynos chips (in past years reserved solely for devices sold in its home country of South Korea) until Qualcomm is able to overcome overheating issues the company reportedly observed in its testing of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 chipset. It will be interesting to see how the market reacts should Samsung change horses in midstream like this, and whether consumers will be disappointed for buying their units either too early or too late.
Memory, Camera and Design
RAM should increase from 2GB to 3GB, with storage available in several different capacities, maxing out at 128GB — though the existence of a microSD slot is still up in the air, for reasons mentioned below. The two cameras, meanwhile, will get the obligatory megapixel bumps, from 13MP and 2MP to 20MP and 5MP, for the rear and front-facing cams, respectively. The fact that the Galaxy S6 will ship with a version of Lollipop should help significantly increase adoption rates for the latest flavor of Android; with the ecosystem’s most popular handset running the upgrade, its low-single-digit distribution (currently at 1.6%) thus far is poised to climb.
As for the physical appearance of the flat model, the true Galaxy S6, it’s expected to follow the industry trend towards a uni-body, metal enclosure — an aesthetic Samsung began employing with last year’s Galaxy Alpha — along with glass on the face and rear (a look first popularized by the iPhone 4). Because of the body style, this will likely be the first Galaxy S to contain a non-removable battery, which will surely be a letdown to some, as it had become a rarity in the market lately. Samsung is said to be employing a new battery technology which allows for a smaller size cell that nonetheless matches current capacities while at the same time running cooler.
New mobile payment capability
What’s really interesting, however, is the existence of a unique feature recently teased by a Samsung executive; all signs point to this being a new mobile payment capability, to rival Apple Pay. In Samsung’s case, though, the implementation is said to be done not through NFC, which requires merchants to install new point-of-sale hardware, but using a technology known commercially as LoopPay, which actually sends a signal directly to existing magnetic swipe terminals, mimicking the information transfer performed during a standard credit card swipe. If this rumor pans out, it would give the Galaxy S6 a distinct advantage over the iPhone, despite the latter handset’s first mover advantage.
It’s getting harder and harder…
It’s getting harder and harder to not only stand out in today’s crowded mobile industry, but to live up to consumers’ expectations as to what an appropriate update to an iconic product should look like. For the past several years, Samsung’s first quarter Unpacked events have tended to leave watchers underwhelmed, with the company often taking the conservative, safer route rather than risk jeopardizing the successful franchise it has built over the last half decade. But this year Samsung finds itself in a new, and wholly unpleasant situation: 2014 was the first year that its seemingly unstoppable juggernaut began to slow down, with sales and subsequent profits falling for the first time since the Galaxy era began. It desperately needs to wow the marketplace this year if it hopes to reverse course, especially at a time when Apple’s latest iPhones have been so well received.
Samsung recently sent out invitations to the S6 and S6 Edge launch, which will occur with mere hours of HTC’s One M9 debut, with both events scheduled for March 1st. Since each company is expected to debut two phones along with wearable devices and associated accessories that day, it should easily be the highlight of MWC, and perhaps the most exciting day for mobile enthusiasts throughout the entire year.