That’s an argument Samsung fans have hurled at iPhone owners for years. Heck, even Samsung joined in on the chorus of insults with its Wall Hugger campaign. But, today, at an event in Barcelona, Samsung completely abandoned why people, power users in particular, cared in the first place, sacrificing functionality for a seemingly fresh approach to design.
It’s a move we knew was coming, but it still cuts deep. It ditches Samsung’s early philosophy of function over fashion, and, more importantly, disregards the company’s core fanbase.
In the buildup to today’s announcement, Samsung fans were frantic, refusing to believe the rumors that Samsung might release a new flagship without supporting these favored features. And they have every right to be upset! These features have been a part of Samsung’s mobile DNA for years now—even as recently as last year, the Note 4 and Note Edge supported expandable memory and removable batteries.
You won’t find any such compromises with the Galaxy S6 or Galaxy S6 Edge. In an effort to counteract its diminishing marketshare, Samsung came up with a new project called “Zero,” a complete mobile reinvention that puts emphasis on design and speed. What you get are phones that are indeed beautiful, with premium aluminum unibody frames, durable glass backs, and a statement that says, “Our designs are just as strong as our competitors’.” You won’t find any faux leather here.
But it comes at a big sacrifice. The devices are appropriately specced—we expect that from Samsung—but, in a pinch, you can no longer swap out the battery, or plug in a microSD card loaded with movies, music and photos. These are things you automatically associate with Samsung. Not anymore. That was the old Samsung. They aren’t even water-resistant, another big feature Samsung touted in a high-profile smear campaign.
What this move ultimately does is make Samsung’s newest phones completely and utterly indistinguishable from the rest. Compared to a Moto X, G3, or an HTC phone, what is the headlining feature? You can argue Samsung’s improved fingerprint scanner and payment service set it apart. But you know what would have been better? A fingerprint scanner, payment service, expandable memory and a removable battery, all in one phone. Maybe we’ll get that with the next updates to the Note series.
I’m not condemning Samsung’s decision to put focus on design—I actually think the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge look slick, the latter of which is arguably the coolest and most futuristic mobile device we’ve seen in awhile. We have to give credit where credit is due. And from what Todd tells me, they both feel terrific, too. Great. That’s not always something you can say about Samsung phones and keep a straight face.
But it seems that, in Samsung’s pursuit to be unique and different, the company has actually taken a step backwards, and it puts Samsung in a difficult situation. I can excuse the company for ditching a microSD slot and removable battery in the S6 Edge, because that design is unlike anything we’ve seen. But the Galaxy S6? Puzzling. It ignores Samsung’s most loyal users, and gives competitors the opportunity to highlight one of Samsung’s biggest weaknesses: TouchWiz.
Sure, the company trimmed some of the software fat, improving the experience and optimizing for speed. But at the end of the day, it’s still TouchWiz. It looks and behaves as it did before, there’s just less of it. Without any real aesthetic overhaul, you can argue it’ll be the nail in Samsung’s coffin for longtime fans, rather than a move that will further draw them in. Now Samsung doesn’t have expandable memory and a removable battery to fall back on. As a consolation, both new Samsung phones are offered at 128GB options (and a ton of OneDrive storage), along with support for wireless charging. But will that be enough?
It’s definitely a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Samsung is taking a bold, brave step toward a future that’s focused on putting design and services first. With the release of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, we’re getting a glimpse of a more mature Samsung, but it’s not the same company people originally fell in love with. Samsung phones in the past were immensely popular because they offered what others didn’t.
With everything stripped away, Samsung phones are just regular Android phones, one of which has curved edges. The new designs are certainly fantastic, and I’m sure the company will sell a boatload—I’m really excited to try out the Galaxy S6 Edge. However, by abandoning the features early Galaxy fans loved, Samsung’s fresh new look might do more harm than good.