Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge sport new design and new payment system

BARCELONA, Spain--Samsung Electronics unveiled the next versions of its flagship line of smartphones, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, with high hopes that these devices will be a bigger hit than their predecessor, the S5.  The two smartphones are dramatically different from the plastic-backed progenitors of the Galaxy S family because they have metal bodies. 

Samsung's Galaxy S line and its variants helped the device maker become the world's largest smartphone manufacturer by volume. However, over the last few years analysts and professional reviewers have said the company was doing too little to update the design and features of its premium smartphones. In the fourth quarter, thanks to record iPhone sales, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) tied with Samsung for the No. 1 smartphone position in the market, a perch Samsung had held unchallenged for years.

Feeling the heat, Samsung gave the new S6 phones all-metal bodies and 5.1-inch quad-HD Super AMOLED displays with 577 pixels per inch resolutions. The S6 Edge has a curved screen on two sides. The phones have improved processors, cameras, battery life and support multiple wireless charging standards. In addition, both devices will use a new mobile payments system, Samsung Pay.

"People want a best-in-class smartphone with best-in-class design," Samsung co-CEO JK Shin said at a massive press event to unveil the two devices that was held on the eve of the start of Mobile Word Congress. "That's what we have set out to build. And we did it from the ground up."

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), AT&T Mobility, (NYSE: T), Sprint (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) and U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) will be among the carriers around the world that will launch the S6, which should hit stores in 20 countries on April 10 before expanding globally. Samsung said there will 32 GB, 64 GB and 128 GB options for the devices. Samsung and its carrier partners did not reveal exact pricing. However, Young-hee Lee, Samsung's head of mobile marketing, told the Wall Street Journal that the Galaxy S6 Edge will retail for about $100 more than the Galaxy S6, and will be "in the same price bracket" as the Galaxy S5. The Galaxy S5 sold in the U.S. for about $200 with a two-year contract.

Samsung Pay, which the company unveiled shortly after it announced it was  buying mobile payments startup LoopPay, uses LoopPay's magnetic secure transmission, or MST. Samsung said its payments system works with both Near Field Communication (NFC) and MST technology to make it device, merchant and card issuer agnostic. Users will be able to authenticate a transaction by using their fingerprint and then swiping the device on a card reader, even if it does not support NFC. Samsung said it will not store card details and will tokenize the card information with each transaction to keep users' personal data secure. Samsung has partnered with MasterCard and Visa and will soon add American Express, Bank of America, Chase, Citibank and U.S. Bank as partners. The program will be available this summer in the U.S. and South Korea.

The Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge have F1.9 lenses and high-resolution sensors on both front-facing 5-megapixel and rear 16-megpaixel camera. The phones feature Optical Image Stabilization and have a new "Quick Launch" feature that Samsung said gives users access to the camera from any screen in less than a second by double clicking the home key button.

As had been expected, the S6 sports Samsung's 14-nanometer Exynos octa-core chipset. Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) cut its outlook for the second half of its fiscal year in part because it disclosed that its Snapdragon 810 processor "will not be in the upcoming design cycle of a large customer's flagship device," widely believed to be the S6. Qualcomm has said the 810 has no performance issues and will be used in more than 60 other phones. Samsung said its chip is 35 percent more power efficient than the chip it had in the Galaxy Note 4.

Samsung said the S6 can get a full charge in half the time of the iPhone 6 and that after just 10 minutes of charging it can get four hours of battery life. However, the new Samsung phones do not have removable batteries like their predecessors, bringing Samsung in lien with Apple's iPhones. The S6 and S6 Edge also support multiple wireless charging standards,  which the company hinted at earlier this year. Samsung is a member of the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP), Power Matters Alliance (PMA) and Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which supports the Qi standard. Samsung embedded WPC and PMA technology into the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge and the phones work with any wireless pad that supports WPC and PMA standards.

Samsung is counting on the Galaxy S6 performing better than its predecessor. According to a November report in the Wall Street Journal, Samsung produced about 20 percent more Galaxy S5 units in 2014 than Galaxy S4 units produced in 2013, based on a survey of its carrier partners around the world. As a result, when demand fell below expectations, inventory piled up, forcing Samsung to spend more on marketing to sell the units.

The report also said Samsung sold 40 percent fewer Galaxy S5 smartphones than expected, with about 12 million units sold to consumers in the first three months since April, compared with about 16 million units for the Galaxy S4. The United States, which is Samsung's largest market, is the only market where Samsung sold more S5 units than S4 units.

Samsung's strategy of building smartphones to cover every price point is coming back to bite the company as it faces challenges on multiple fronts, according to analysts. In the fourth quarter, sales in Samsung's key mobile segment fell 23 percent year-over-year and its operating profit plunged 64 percent from the year-ago period.

Shin said that Samsung is focused on innovation and listening to its customers.  "I am very proud of this company and the team behind it," he said. "I believe Samsung has an important role to play in advancing technology in our daily lives."

"This new device is absolutely critical in terms of getting momentum going again, turning things around and proving Samsung has still got it and can deliver a killer device," Jackdaw Research analyst (and FierceWireless contributor) Jan Dawson told CNET.  

For more:
- see this Samsung release
- see this CNET article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see these two separate The Verge articles
- see this Gizmodo article 

Related Articles:
Samsung unveils new 14-nanometer chipset, likely will be used in Galaxy S6
Report: Samsung's Galaxy S6 will come in 2 variants, including one with a side display
Samsung replaces mobile marketing chief ahead of expected Galaxy S6 launch
Qualcomm lowers sales forecast partly because Snapdragon 810 chip will be missing from a flagship phone
Samsung loses top smartphone vendor title to Apple in Q4, according to analysts
Apple's blowout: 74.5M iPhone sales, net profit of $18B

Article updated March 2 at 11 a.m. ET with additional information.