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Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge or S5 -- which do I choose?

Samsung has a dizzying array of flagship smartphones. CNET's Marguerite Reardon helps you break down your options.

Lovers of Samsung Galaxy smartphones have a lot to be excited about. The latest flagship phone from Samsung is available for preorder starting this weekend.

With a sleeker design, a better camera and easier-to-use software, the new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are being called Samsung's best smartphones to date. But truth be told, the Galaxy S5 was no slacker either, even though it didn't sell as well as expected. And for savvy smartphone consumers, it shouldn't be ruled out entirely when buying a new device.

In this edition of Ask Maggie, I help a reader decide which Galaxy S smartphone might be right for her.

Dear Maggie,

I have a Samsung Galaxy S4 that I need to replace. I know the Galaxy S6 is about to come out. Should I wait and upgrade to the S6? Or should I get the Galaxy S5? Also, is the Galaxy S6 Edge really worth paying extra for? I'm not even sure what the difference is.

Thanks,
Margaret S.

Dear Margaret,

A newly designed Samsung Galaxy S6 is just around the corner. All four major wireless operators started taking preorders for both the Galaxy S6 and its sexier sibling, the S6 Edge, on Friday. The devices will be on sale starting April 10.

Meet the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. Samsung's latest flagship phones share very similar specs and designs, but a few key differences help them stand apart.
Meet the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. Samsung's latest flagship phones share very similar specs and designs, but a few key differences help them stand apart. Josh P. Miller

With this in mind, I think you should wait till the S6 and S6 Edge are available before you buy a new device, regardless of whether you decide to get one of the newer phones or opt for last year's model. By waiting, you'll have the option of getting one of the new devices, which comes with a brand-new design and a few upgrades over the Galaxy S5. Also, even if you decide to forgo one of the newer products, the Galaxy S5 will be offered at a reduced price once the S6 is available. So either way, it makes sense for you to wait a couple of weeks longer before upgrading your device.

If you can't wait to try the S6 and S6 Edge, both devices are already available in carrier and retail stores to check out.

Design, design, design

Samsung says that it's listened to customers when it comes to the design of this year's Galaxy S smartphones.

Even though the Galaxy S5 is loaded with great features, the phone wasn't a big hit with consumers. Why? Most Samsung fans complained that its plastic body felt too cheap in comparison with competing flagship devices from Apple and HTC, which both use premium materials like aluminum for device bodies. Up until the Galaxy S6, Samsung argued that the plastic casing was more durable, but the company finally relented in the latest version of its flagship. Gone is the plastic casing of the former Galaxy products.

Instead, the new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge feature a glass back and matte metal frame, wrapped in glossy Gorilla Glass on the front. There's no question these are prettier and slicker smartphones than previous generations of the Galaxy family of smartphones. The new design makes these phones narrower and thinner than the S5. Samsung has also made them a smidge taller.

In terms of specifications, the S6 and S6 Edge are pretty much the same device. The big difference between the phones is the design and the price tag. The lower-priced S6 has straight edges, while the sexier S6 Edge has a curved edge on each side, creating an infinity-pool-like effect. Both devices look remarkably similar to the iPhone 6, but it's the S6 Edge that's likely to make even iPhone fanboys and -girls jealous.

CNET Reviews Senior Editor Jessica Dolcourt said in her review of the S6 Edge that its wraparound screen "transforms an already great phone into Samsung's best-looking handset. Ever."

But before I get too deep into offering advice on which S6 model you should choose, you should decide if you really want the newer design or whether you'd rather have the S5.

S6 vs. S5

So let's start with some basics.

The Galaxy S5 was worthy of its flagship designation when it was introduced a year ago, and in terms of specifications, features and functionality, it's still near the top of the pack when compared with smartphones in the market. As a result, there's no doubt you'd be well served by this device.

That said, the S6 does offer some upgrades, even if they aren't revolutionary. They're more evolutionary. For instance, both the S5 and the S6 sport 5.1 displays. Samsung tweaked the resolution on the S6 smartphones, giving the already excellent display found in the S5 a slightly improved resolution that's incredibly crisp and sharp.

Samsung also improved the already very good camera found on the S5. Cameras on both the S5 and S6 offer 16 megapixels. But Samsung has added a wider f/1.9 aperture on the new phones, which captures 40 percent more light as compared with the S5, which means higher-quality photos taken in low-light environments.

Samsung also stripped away some of its TouchWiz device software, which makes the S6 run faster and smoother than the S5. The software running on the S6 makes navigation a lot more pleasant, especially for those who prefer a more pure Google Android experience rather than Samsung's customized TouchWiz experience. It also runs Google's latest version of Android.

But the new sexier design of the Galaxy S6 also comes with a few potential drawbacks. First, the aluminum and glass body doesn't allow for a removable battery. And there's no SD memory card slot to add additional memory. These functional features were considered staples of former versions of the Galaxy products.

Though these design trade-offs may be deal breakers for some Samsung Galaxy fans, the fact that millions of iPhone customers have never had the option of a replaceable battery or expandable memory suggests that the absence of these features might not bother most consumers. You should note that the phones come in 32 gigabyte, 64GB and 128GB configurations, so you can choose more memory if that's a concern.

Whether those features matter to you is a personal decision. For me, they're something I can and have lived without for years. So I have little problem recommending a device that doesn't include them. But as I say, it's entirely up to you.

In terms of features, the S6 smartphones offer improvements across the board, though some of these improvements may be so slight that they'd be imperceptible to some customers.

If you can live without the flashy new design and the slight improvements in functionality, you could get the S5 and save some money. Traditionally, wireless operators have offered the previous model of an iconic device like Samsung's Galaxy products or Apple's iPhone at a discount once the newer model is released. This is likely to be the case again with the Galaxy S5.

With the new device-financing plans carriers offer today, this means you can likely save yourself at least $100 over the life of the product if you buy last year's model. For this reason, I'd argue that buying the Galaxy S5 is a safe and frugal option for a more practical and price-sensitive smartphone shopper.

Now Playing: Watch this: Samsung Galaxy S6 vs. S6 Edge vs. Apple iPhone 6
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S6 vs. S6 Edge

If looks are important to you and you want a more premium-feeling device in your hand, then you should consider one of the new Galaxy S6 phones. But which one should you choose?

As I said earlier, the specifications and functionality of the S6 and S6 Edge are identical. The real difference between the models is design and price. The sexy design of the S6 Edge will cost you more. How much more depends on the carrier you subscribe to and the type of plan you have. For instance, AT&T offers the 32GB S6 at full retail for $685, and the 32GB S6 Edge will cost you $815. That's a difference of $130 for the curvier and cooler looking S6 Edge without any other additional bells and whistles.

But if you plan to finance your device on one of AT&T's installment plans, the difference in cost is spread out over many months, so it will likely cost you only about $5 more a month to get the S6 Edge rather than the S6. Though each carrier is offering the new devices at different prices, they all offer programs that spread out the cost of the devices in such a way that the difference in price between the S6 and the S6 Edge in terms of your monthly bill is around $5 a month.

For example, Sprint is offering these devices as part of its new leasing program. For $80 a month, its customers can get the S6 with an unlimited voice, text messaging and data plan. The S6 Edge is offered for only $5 more a month at a cost of $85 a month.

The bottom line: What should you do?

If you're on a tighter budget and you absolutely need a Samsung phone, I'd say go for the Galaxy S5. In spite of the fact that the device may not have sold as well as Samsung had hoped, it's still a solidly good device that offers a lot of high-end features and specifications. But if design is important and cost is only minimally important, I'd say the Galaxy S6 Edge is the device for you. The S6 is nice, but for the cost of a latte each month you can have a smartphone that could make your iPhone-toting friends drool.

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.