Samsung has had a relatively tough time of it lately.

From one perspective, it’s had its hands full fending off stiff competition from the likes of Huawei, LG and Sony who are producing some of the finest devices the market has ever seen. On the other, it’s dealing with harsh criticism from distributors and retailers who feel that the fifth generation flagship (Galaxy S5) didn’t perform quite as well as was originally predicted.

That’s the reason the pressure was on Samsung to pull an absolute showstopper out of the hat at tonight’s ‘Unpacked’ event where it lifted wraps on the long-awaited Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge.

I think the Korean electronics giant got it right.

Great specs

As is the case with most of its newly announced devices, it’s difficult to call Samsung on anything in the specs department. Both the S6 and S6 Edge have dramatic performance improvements to offer users.

Powering the S6’s brains, Samsung has chosen a processor that’s a new 64-bit affair running on 14nm technology and delivering 20% more speed and 35% more power efficiency than the processor used in the Galaxy S4. From a memory perspective the improvements continue. The ‘big S’ has employed DDR4 (which leads to an 80% speed boost) and a combination of the memory used in today’s solid state disks and smartphones and tablets in the form of Flash. The results are once again, increased performance and reduced power consumption. And a choice of 32GB, 64GB and 128GB worth of storage.

While I didn’t get a chance to put the phones through their paces I found the interface responsive and the phones surprisingly quick.

The screen technology used with the S6 is also astounding. It’s tough as nails because it’s Gorilla Glass 4, but it’s also a 5.1-inch, quad-HD, Super AMOLED unit that brags with 566 pixels per inch. That’s 77% more pixels than were present on the S4.

During my hands-on time with the phone, it felt like the screen was almost too sharp and that I was handling a dummy-phone, complete with a sticker on the front face. It has to be seen to be appreciated.

Next up comes battery and power consumption. Samsung’s new fast charge capability sees a battery going from completely empty to having four hours of life in it after a mere 10 mins plugged in to the mains.The S6’s battery apparently also charges to full capacity in half the time it takes to charge up an iPhone 6. And of course, both phones come wireless charging ready.

Bringing up the rear, there’s the camera. It has a new F1.9 lens on the front and the back of the device, which Samsung says performs fantastically in low light conditions in concert with a 16MP sensor which has an increased (43% larger) pixel size that lets more light in.

At the launch we tested the new camera out with a handful of selfies and some pics of the conference venue. Not only were the images bright and vibrant, as promised the camera performed well in low light.

Now while the tech side of things is pretty exciting, I don’t think it’s going to be the drawcard. Looks and UX are – and Samsung has done a massive amount to improve on both fronts.

New Look

Before I go on to describe how the two devices feel (and behave) in hand, it’s important for me to say that I played with both and I far prefer the Edge to the standard S6. That’s because it’s interesting and unique.

For me, the Galaxy S range right from inception has been pretty boring in terms of looks. While the S6 is an improvement – the metal finish inspires confidence and the slightly curved edges are comfortable – it does however look too much like Samsung ran out of ideas with the S6 and churned out an imitation of an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. Particularly when it comes to the bottom edge of the handset where the charging cable plugs in between a speaker and the headphone jack.

The S6 Edge by contrast is great.

I loved the whole idea about having a small screen that wraps around the edge of a handset when it debuted on the Note 4 Edge, and now with the S6 version it makes even more sense. That curved edge is on both sides and is configurable to the user’s preferences. Similar to the Note 4 Edge, the wrap around screen is great for stock tickers, keeping an eye on the date and time, or having a quick peek at the ever rising e-mail volume. It’s responsive and easy to configure.

That curved part of the screen is also useful for notifying users of an incoming call, by lighting up (contacts can be placed in groups and different colours assigned to each group), particularly useful when the phone is lying face down on a desk.

Apart from the functionality it delivers, the ‘edge’ adds a great deal to the phone’s aesthetic. It looks new, interesting and exciting. And that counts when you’ve been criticised for taking a more conservative approach.

When it comes to feel, the device is light when you hold it, but not ‘plasticky.’ The metal finish inspires confidence in the device that was sorely lacking in the S5. It’s also hellishly responsive, making navigating Samsung’s new, flatter, more simplified UX (more on that soon) a pleasure to use.

Do I think it will be enough to restore faith in Samsung from a distributor and retailer’s perspective?

Well, yes.

The specs have been dramatically improved, placing Samsung ahead in so many regards. What it needed was a radical new look – and I think the S6 Edge does that.

Whether or not the presence of the S6 Edge will cut into the standard S6’s shipments remains to be seen. But, I know which one I would choose.

Brett is the big cheese at Hypertext Media. He's been covering the technology industry for so long, he's seen old technology be 'respun' as the next big thing one too many times. He started Hypertext in 2002 and quite frankly hasn't looked back (although he often longs for the days when a steady salary, sick days and leave were a given). Publications in his stable include htxt.africa; DailyFive (http://www.dailyfive.tv); Connect; Tarsus Channel and GirlGuides (http://www.girlguides.co.za). He also hosts the ZA Tech Show (http://www.zatech.co.za), does a monthly tech column for Sawubona and writes the odd gadget piece for a magazine here and there. Currently uses: 11-inch Macbook Air, iPhone 5, Blackberry Z10, iPad Mini, Nexus 7, Kindle Paperwhite, Marley TTR Headphones, Xbox360, PS3, Nintendo 3DS.