Samsung Galaxy S6 phones emphasize design, ditch many popular features

Samsung strips Galaxy S6, S6 Edge of water-resistance feature, microSD card and removable battery

A sleek glass and metal body, no removable battery or waterproof capabilities, fixed storage space and a new mobile payment service.

No, not the iPhone. It's the newest Samsung smartphone.

The South Korean electronics giant introduced its redesigned smartphones, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, over the weekend with an emphasis on design first — and in the process, stripped the flagship series of many fan-favorite features.

The phones are "carefully crafted" with "purposeful design" and "premium device aesthetics," the company said. The Edge, with its double curved screen, "shows unique and outstanding beauty."

Even if it's better looking, the loss of functionality was a tough blow to longtime Galaxy users such as Michael Lambie, 33, who said he was disappointed to lose the water-resistance feature, microSD card and removable battery.

"Those were some of the differentiating factors I loved about S5," said Lambie, the head of product at a Culver City marketing platform. "They really have to make up for lost ground if I'm going to upgrade in the Samsung Galaxy family."

Revamping the phones was a bold and necessary move for Samsung, which struggled last year as rival Apple and fast-rising Chinese upstarts including Xiaomi and Huawei emerged as viable competitors in the smartphone space.

Samsung remained the world's No. 1 smartphone brand by unit sales in the third quarter, with 24.4% market share, according to research firm Gartner. But among the top four smartphone brands — Apple was No. 2, followed by Huawei and then Xiaomi — Samsung was the only one to lose market share and see year-over-year unit sales decrease.

"The success of this new phone is extremely important," said Shoneel Kolhatkar, Samsung's senior director of product marketing. "What we did with the GS6 and the GS Edge is basically say, 'Let's start from scratch, let's reinvent the phone category.'... All of us know it's getting more and more difficult to meet the needs of the consumers."

Kolhatkar acknowledged some "negative sentiment" after the product unveiling but defended the company's decision to do away with a few product features. He noted that the new phones come with super-fast charging capabilities — 10 minutes with a charging cable will net four hours of battery life — and built-in wireless charging. That has essentially removed the need for swappable batteries.

As for microSD cards, Kolhatkar said the company's research showed that the average consumer only uses about 20 to 25 gigabytes of storage. Both the S6 and S6 Edge start at 32GB of space, which should be more than enough to satisfy most consumers, he said.

Doing away with water resistance was a harder trade-off to make, he said, because it was something many customers requested. Without the feature, the phones are thinner and don't need to have a port flap to keep water out, making the new devices more attractive.

"Maybe in the future we might be able to offer water resistance and an extremely slim profile ... but at this point, the technology is not there yet," Kolhatkar said.

Tech analysts overwhelmingly applauded the new phones, saying they elevated the brand and gave the devices a more premium aesthetic. Samsung said they would be available in the U.S. in April. Pricing info was unavailable.

"The design for the Edge version is very nice. We believe much better than last year's GS5," J.P. Morgan's Rod Hall wrote in an analyst note. "Samsung also seems to have stripped out a lot of unnecessary bloatware."

"Samsung was right to do all of those things — this is the right move," said Daniel Matte, an analyst at research firm Canalys. "I know consumers are upset about it, but it really is progress. It's a more modern design; it's more integrated; it's more efficient. All of these things together will lead to a better device with better performance."

There have also been complaints that the new phones look too much like iPhones. Eagle-eyed tech fans quickly posted side-by-side photos of the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6 to show that the devices are almost indistinguishable from each other when viewed from the bottom.

"No removable battery, no added storage? Thinking I'll stick with the 5. I don't want an iPhone by another name," tweeted Carter Quinn, an author from Colorado.

Moving more firmly into Apple territory "was a gamble," particularly with the Cupertino, Calif., company doing so well lately, said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies Inc.

"I'm a bit concerned that Samsung, even with these phones, can regain momentum on their own," he said. "Apple's momentum at the moment is so strong — I don't know even with the great design if they'll make much of a dent in Apple's position and continual growth."

Longtime Samsung fan Jordan Posell, 50, said for the first time he's considering switching to Apple now that the company has boosted the iPhone's screen size and allowed third-party keyboards.

Ultimately the managing partner and founder at a financial services firm in Santa Monica thinks he'll stick with Samsung and buy one of the new Galaxy S6 phones. Still, some of the bragging rights that come with being a Samsung owner are no more.

"The one thing that I've always said to Apple people is: "But yeah, I have a removable battery, and you don't!" he said. "And now that's gone."

andrea.chang@latimes.com

Twitter: @byandreachang

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