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It might be hard to believe, but Samsung’s flagship “Galaxy S” phones have hit the seventh iteration, and they’re packing more than ever.
We’re talking a high resolution curved screen, glass and metal body, water resistance, upgradeable memory, and more. Is this Samsung’s best phone, or even the best phone out there?
A new phone means new specs, and the latest iteration of the Galaxy S7 arrives in two versions: the 5.1 inch Galaxy S7 with a conventional screen, and the 5.5 inch Galaxy S7 Edge, which has a curved screen that slopes down to a thin flat metal edge.
For this review, we’re talking about the larger of the two, the phablet-sized Galaxy S7 Edge.
Two known variants of the Galaxy S7 Edge exist, with one using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor, and the other leverages Samsung’s own hardware, the Exynos 8890 octa-core processor.
Most people probably won’t know the difference, but Australians will be receiving the Samsung Exynos variant, providing eight-cores of processing power split between a 2.6GHz quad-core section and a second 1.6GHz quad-core group.
This eight-core chip will comes together with 4GB RAM and 32GB storage, the latter of which can be expanded with a microSD slot, as Samsung brings back expandable storage in this model.
Google’s Android 6.0 “Marshmallow” runs in conjunction with Samsung’s own TouchWiz interface out of the box.
Cameras on this phone are pretty high-end, with a newly developed 12 megapixel rear shooter with dual-pixel auto-focus and a low f/1.7 aperture lens on the back, while the front-facing camera is set to 5 megapixels with the same f/1.7 aperture on the lens.
The rear camera can capture video in 4K Ultra HD if needed, as well as 720p HD and Full HD, while the front-facing camera misses out on UHD video capture support. To the side of the camera is a flash as well as a heart-rate sensor.
Connectivity options are also fairly high-end, with 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi support as well as 802.11ac connectivity and there’s Bluetooth 4.2 with A2DP and Low Energy (LE). Support for GPS and A-GPS can be found here, as can Near-Field Communication (NFC), which will also extend to Samsung Pay when it eventually rolls out in this country.
The curved-edge screen on the Galaxy S7 Edge bends downwards on both the left and right sides of the phone. This screen measures 5.5 inches diagonally and provides a Quad HD resolution of 2560 x 1440, with protection for the display provided by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 4.
It’s not just the front that gets Gorilla Glass 4, either, with the back also covered by Gorilla Glass 4 and the rest of the phone is encased by a metal frame.
Ports on this metal and glass handsets are provided in the form of a 3.5mm headset jack at the bottom next to a microUSB charge and data transfer port, both of which sit next to a speaker.
A pin-ejectable tray can also be found at the very top of the phone, providing a nanoSIM slot and a microSD slot on a tray.
Buttons are about standard for a Samsung smartphone, with one power button on the right edge, two volume buttons on the left edge, and three buttons at the bottom of the phone below the screen, with Android’s multi-task and back soft buttons flanking a physical home button. which doubles as a fingerprint sensor.
Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge has also been made to be more resistant to the elements than the previous Galaxy S6 Edge models, providing certification for IP68, meaning it is dust tight and resistant to water immersion below one metre for up to 30 minutes.
The battery in the Galaxy S7 Edge is rated at 3600mAh and is not removable.
With a new generation of phone comes a new set of specs, and often a new design, but in the case of the Galaxy S7 Edge, it’s less about “new” and more about “refined”.
Specifically, the design is a slight evolution on last year’s S6 Edge, which itself was an evolution and refinement of the Note Edge from the year before.
These evolved smartphone designs were the first in the world to deliver a curved display, a concept that at one point was intended to deliver notifications, calls, and shortcuts to the side of a display, but now it serves a new purpose: it makes the screen feel ‘bezel-less’, even when we know it isn’t.
That’s basically the idea Samsung is going for in the S7 Edge, with a gentle curve on each side of the S7 Edge that, when gripped, feels like you’re holding the screen on its edges as opposed to a bezel or border.
It’s a pretty convincing effect, and thanks to some changes to the rear glass and metal shaping, the new phones feel thinner, even when we know they’re actually not. In fact, they’re a little thicker.
The Galaxy S7 Edge with its 5.5 inch Quad HD screen manages to be 0.7mm thicker than last year’s 5.1 inch Galaxy S6 Edge and 0.8mm thicker than the 5.7 inch Galaxy S6 Edge+ (plus), also from 2015, and we suspect this is intentional for a few reasons.
One is it gives Samsung a little more room to move in the battery department, and the second is that you’re probably not going to notice the shift in thickness anyway.
However, the main reason we suspect Samsung has gone this way stems from the curved glass back. This was one of those surprise new features in the Galaxy Note 5 last year, and it made the phone feel really good in the hands, as if you were no longer gripping a block of glass and metal, but something with softer, almost organic form.
It should be no surprise then to see Samsung has brought the soft curved rear glass from the Note 5 to the S7 Edge, minimising that metal frame and making the phone feel a little softer and friendlier, and certainly easier to hold and pick-up.
Granted, it’s still coated in glass, and so it can be a bit slippery and will show quite a lot of fingerprints, but the refinements to last year’s design make the S7 Edge feel lovely, and more premium than a lot of phones out there.
Next up is the screen, and this is an area that Samsung knows all too well, building TVs and displays for quite some time, with quite a lot of research in OLED and AMOLED technology.
As expected, Samsung’s S7 Edge relies on Super AMOLED — Active-Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode — much like Samsung’s phones have for years now, and just like in last year’s flagships, you’re also seeing a screen delivering on Quad HD resolution, or that of 2560 x 1440 pixels for those playing at home.
The screen size has changed a bit, with a 5.5 inch model on the Galaxy S7 Edge, and when you do the math and put these numbers into a blender, you find out that this creates a density of 534 pixels per inch (ppi), roughly 200 ppi higher than Apple’s iPhone 6S, and almost a hundred ppi higher than Apple’s similarly sized iPhone 6S Plus.
What does this mean to the human eye?
Not much, and once you go over 300 pixels per inch, it more or less becomes a pointless contest, except to say the screens are all bloody sharp, and Samsung’s S7 Edge screen even more so.
Take the phone out in the bright Aussie sun — or the bright sun in any part of the world — and just like we saw on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 back in 2014, the phone grabs power from a reserve and pushes the screen past its maximum controlled brightness to a level where you’ll be able to actually see what you’re doing.
The screen is also curved which helps make it feel like there are no edges and you’re merely gripping the sides of the display. It’s not quite true, but it works, and about the only time it becomes a problem is when icon and shortcut touching doesn’t get detected.
Finally, Samsung has included Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 4 on both sides, the front and the back.
Let’s just get this clear: this is scratch-resistant glass, not drop or shatter-proof glass. If you drop this phone and the screen breaks, the glass is not at fault, and there’s only so much a curved glass screen can do to accomodate corner drops.
That being said, if you keep it in your pocket with other items — keys, rocks, sharp objects — or have very sharp and long nails, the phone should look a little nicer than other devices that don’t have Gorilla Glass 4.
With the design and display out of the way, it’s time to get into how the S7 Edge performs, and in Australia, we’ll be experiencing a slightly different hardware mix to what some other parts of the world are receiving.
The processor found in the Aussie S7 Edge is one of Samsung’s own units, the Exynos 8890, which is an eight-core chip that continues some of the work left by the S6 series last year.
Like the processor in the S6, the benchmarks on Samsung’s 8890 are stellar, producing speeds that are 20,000 points higher than what we saw last year, while the inclusion of 4GB RAM keeps apps moving along nicely.
When testing a phone, we usually find spots of lag or slowdowns here and there, but the week we’ve spent with the Galaxy S7 Edge has shown very little, if any at all.
In essence, the Galaxy S7 Edge just flies.
Mobile data performance is equally impressive, with Samsung’s latest phones adding to the choice of Category 9 LTE devices in this country, of which Samsung is still the only supplier of (at the time this was published).
For those unaware of what this jargon translates to, we’re talking about the maximum download and upload speed you can get when connecting to a 4G network, and with a Category 9 modem inside the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, you could theoretically see speeds as high as 450Mbps down and 50Mbps up, though on our tests through Telstra’s 4GX network in Sydney’s CBD, we saw as low as 40Mbps and as high as 154Mbps.
Yikes, now that’s fast, and is a description you could probably repeat a lot when describing the S7 Edge.
Helping to shape this speed is Google’s Android 6.0 “Marshmallow”, the latest incarnation of Google’s mobile operating system. This is a version that has been cleaned up to be faster, more secure, and designed to help you find things online using Google’s Now and “Now On Tap” service, which will come up with a double click of the home button to look through your email or webpages for terms Google can search for.
Now Samsung is no stranger to Google Android, and like the slimmed down build we saw on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S2 last year, the implementation of Android and Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay also feels equally scaled back.
Simply put, this is a pretty lean edition of Android, providing multiple home screens, an app drawer and left and right swiping of the menu, a drop down notification bar, and just enough of an operating system that it doesn’t ever feel like you’re being inundated with options.
You can even change the grid size on the home screens, giving yourself 4×4 for larger icons, 4×5 for more height, and 5×5 for total use of the screen real estate.
And hey, if that’s too complicated, Samsung has provided a section in settings called “Samsung Labs” where you’ll get to try an experimental feature that turns the layout of the S7 Edge into something more like that of the iPhone.
We do need to say that while this is Samsung’s best implementation of TouchWiz yet, it isn’t identical to that of stock Android “Marshmallow”.
There is no swipe to the right on the home screen to get Google Now, nor is there commonly used apps at certain times of the day in the app drawer like there is in the current edition of Google’s stock operating system.
But that doesn’t matter, and whether you’re an experienced Androidian or someone just dabbling for the first time, Samsung’s version of Android on the S7 Edge is at a point where it won’t take you long to get familiar, and even less to stay there.
One area that we’ve found absolutely staggering is the rear camera, which is easily one of the standout features of the S7 Edge.
Last year, Samsung’s flagship phones already featured one of the best cameras you could find, and it gave both the Apple iPhone 6S and LG G4 a good run for their money, but in the S7, Samsung has stepped it up a bit.
Let’s start with the nitty gritty, because you might hear some hullabaloo about how the megapixels are decreased, and this is true, with the S7 Edge’s camera dropping down to 12 megapixels from the 16 megapixels of the older S6 Edge.
That might sound bad, but the tech inside has changed, with a new sensor with larger pixels sizes to increase light intake, faster autofocus via dual-pixel technology, and a lens capable of letting in more light, at f/1.7.
All of this comes together to create what is easily one of the best smartphone cameras we’ve ever seen, and one that is able to find light where very little can be seen by the naked eye, and combine multiple images to create fantastic finished photos.
Indeed, what we’ve found in playing with Samsung’s S7 Edge camera over the past week or so is a collection of images that rivals some of the compacts we’ve seen, and even gives the low-light on some larger cameras a good run for their money.
It’s impressive to say the least, and the speed the camera works at is also something worth noting, too.
We’ve already touched upon the quality of hardware in the S7 Edge, and in Australia, the Exynos processor and 4GB RAM combination likely contributes to the excellent camera shot speeds.
You merely need to double tap the S7 Edge’s home button to launch the phone into camera mode and you’re good to go. No waiting, no excess time needed to sit there and let the phone think: double tap and you’re there, ready to touch the screen to acquire that super fast auto-focus before firing the shot using the camera button below.
And again — just like the speed it takes to launch the camera app — the S7 Edge camera has fired the shot.
Without doubt, this is one of the fastest smartphone camera apps we’ve seen in recent years, because you don’t need to wait at all.
You just take the phone out and take a picture, which is tremendous news if that’s one of your main reasons for choosing a smartphone.
It’s super helpful that the camera itself is solid, too, not just offering great low-light imagery, but also providing great close-ups in macro and decent shots from afar.
In daylight, the camera shines, and at night, it handles its own, too.
In fact, about the only time it might go a little awry is when the auto mode occasionally sets a low shutter speed and captures a blur.
We’ve seen it when people laugh and when dogs move, and the good news is that these random moments are few and far between.
Even the front-facing camera handles its own, with a similarly low-light capable 5 megapixel camera at the front, allowing you to get selfies that are suitable for your social media sharing without problem, even if the detail isn’t quite as spot on as its rear sibling.
With an improved camera, we look to the battery to see if Samsung has managed to make strides in this department, because this is one area that users have felt the pinch for some time.
It seems the more our phones do, the worse the battery life becomes, and so it has become normal to either carry around a charge cable or power brick (or both) on a regular basis.
Fortunately, that’s an area Samsung has apparently been working on, and in the Galaxy S7 Edge, we’re seeing a large 3600mAh battery, bigger than the 3000mAh in the 5.7 inch Galaxy S6 Edge+ (plus), and bigger again than the 2600mAh in the 5.1 inch Galaxy S6 Edge.
Take this and combine it with more optimisation on the part of the rest of the phone and you find a solid one day of life.
It’s not just “one business day” with enough life for the nine to five and not much outside of it, but close to a full 24 hours if need be, with both our wired (wired headphones on 3.5mm jack, no Bluetooth) and wireless (Bluetooth headphones, Bluetooth wearable) rundown tests yielding the day of life users have come to expect, but usually miss out on.
Power users will likely see a little less, but a day of life isn’t bad at all.
We’ve certainly seen the flagships phones falter in this department, and none of Samsung’s models last year could survive a day of rundown, so to see both do it with either Bluetooth on or off is a positive step.
…and then some
There’s more in the Galaxy S7 Edge, and you merely have to pay attention, because in this phone, it is quite clear that Samsung has been listening to feedback from the previous two generations of phones, while also bringing a few new tricks to the table.
Let’s start with expandable memory, because this is back after Samsung tried to pull the wool over people’s eyes in the previous generation.
That was a feature omission we never really understood, and when Samsung opted for storage specifics of 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB, we didn’t really get where Samsung was going.
After all, this was a company that had pushed expandable storage in its phones for years, and yet now was saying that it didn’t matter. It made no sense!
Fortunately, this year Samsung has come to its senses and found a way to include microSD storage, and it’s on the same tray as the nanoSIM slot, something we’re beginning to see from other manufacturers, too.
Granted, overseas variants may see support for two SIMs on this tray, but we’re less fussed about that, and happy that we can install a microSD to expand on that 32GB storage, which will be super handy for VR videos, games, excess apps, and of course the high-resolution 24-bit music that the Galaxy S7 continues to support as well as some neat sound control to make your audio sound a little more full if need be.
Water-resistance has also returned, a feature that went missing last year after the “made for Australia” slogan took a backseat when Samsung removed IP certification from its phones.
That was a shame, but it’s back in this one, and while the glass and metal body can be a bit slippery and prone to fingerprints, you can at least wash any dust or prints off under the tap without fear that it will break the device.
We sure did.
Those two features were the most talked about things missing from the previous generation, but more has been added, while other bits and pieces have stuck around.
Wireless charging is one of those, with Qi compatibility still a thing, and if you have one of Samsung’s Wireless Fast Chargers, you’ll find a speedy cordless charge is possible.
If you don’t, worry not, for Samsung will be selling an accessory to handle this, though it’s optional, and you can still charge quickly using the wired “fast charge” block for the wall as per normal.
The VR side of things is still here too, and this is the first accessory we’ve seen from a previous year that really plays nicely with the new phone.
Indeed, the Gear VR for consumers — the third Gear VR headset, actually, and the one that works with any S6 or Note 5 handset — also plays with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, meaning you not only have an expandable phone, but you have an expandable phone that can work with a Samsung virtual reality headset.
That’s all kinds of cool!
Samsung’s new Edge screen functionality makes the phone feel like it is curved for an actual reason, as opposed to just being a point of difference.
In fact, just like how you could use the curved screen in the Galaxy Note Edge to show news feeds and shortcuts to apps, so too you can do these things on the Galaxy S7 Edge, with customisable feeds that you can swipe between for shortcuts or calendar information or financial stock tickers, and so on.
Finally, the edge screen does something worth writing about: it responds the way edge screens are supposed to, almost like a second screen. You have to swipe it in to get it to work, sure, but at least it does something.
There’s also still a fingerprint sensor, and while it works 90 percent of the time, it isn’t quite as impressive as either Apple’s or Huawei’s. Still, not bad effort there.
And then there are the new bits and pieces, and these are likely to be things you may not expect, such as the liquid cooling built into the handset to keep the phone cool.
That’s been brought in to deal with excess gaming and overheating, which we suspect also affects the virtual reality side of things, because the Gear VR headset can overheat the previous Galaxy phones in this area.
It’s also there because gaming is now a properly important thing on the S7 and S7 Edge, with a “game launcher” box that groups your games together and even gives you the option to switch on a special “do not disturb” mode that deal with notifications while you’re playing games.
Phone calls will still come through, but you can game without fear that your boss will send an email asking you to come in, or rather it’ll still come in, you just won’t be notified about such things.
In game, you’ll find a small toolbox pop up that almost feels like something left over from the Note 5 research, and this is here to do some of those things above, while also letting you capture the screen in both images and video, because some gamers are into that.
There’s even an “extra” in the box, with a microUSB to USB converter. Granted, this isn’t exactly an expensive inclusion, but is tiny and cute, and super useful if you keep a USB stick with you as it means you can transfer files to and from the stick without needing to buy a hybrid microUSB to USB stick.
Or you could even use it and a card reader to bring in files directly from your digital camera, post processing images on your mobile like we did the week we tested the S7 Edge.
It’s also handy for migrating from your old Android phone to your new S7, as it works in conjunction with Samsung’s Smart Switch app and makes short work of copying files between devices.
Finally, Samsung has brought something in to take a bit of the wind out of LG’s sails.
Before Mobile World Congress, LG pre-announced that its new G5 phone would have an “always-on screen”, and lo-behold, Samsung’s S7 had one, too.
In the S7, this is an optional thing, but it essentially turns your screen into an always-on clock that doesn’t consume a lot of power providing you with the time and notifications, proving to be quite useful if you don’t wear a watch.
You don’t have to have it on if you don’t want to, but we do wish it could be customised for more notifications, because outside of phone calls and messages, you’re not given a lot of control. You can change from a clock to a calendar to a small selection of background images, but that is more or less it.
What needs work
What’s most impressive with the S7 Edge is that for the first time in ages, you get the feeling that Samsung’s refinements haven’t been about just doing something to be different.
Rather, this appears to be more about solidifying something great, and listening to feedback from customers.
Storage is back. Water-resistance is back. Upgradeability is back. Performance is back.
Yes, Samsung has been listening, and much of what we took issue with has gone, but it’s not entirely perfect, even if it does get very close.
For one, the fingerprint sensor isn’t the best in the world, and doesn’t feel as fast as the ones we’ve used from Apple and Huawei.
It will work, and is generally fast, but the times the sensor fails occur far more often than we’d like. At least the pin-code option seems a little easier to work than in prior versions of Samsung’s TouchWiz, but the fingerprint could be better, and Sony’s sensor in the Xperia Z5 Premium feels like it nailed our prints better.
The screen is the other minor issue for us, because while it’s pretty much pixel perfect, gripping the edge of the display can sometimes lead to delays between when you touch the icons or make gestures, such as scrolling or zooming. This is likely because you are already in contact with the screen by holding it, which conflicts with your finger inputs.
It’s minor, and we didn’t see it often, but felt it important to note as we suspect it’s something that could be fixed with a software update later on.
The Galaxy S7 Edge is Samsung’s best phone yet, and takes the crown as the phone to beat for 2016 thus far.
But more than that, Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge isn’t just an improvement, it’s also a stand out product that shows Samsung is listening, and listening well.
Samsung has responded to what was good about the previous phones and what was bad, and even found a few ways to surprise those of us that have been reviewing phones for longer than we’d like to admit.
And while it’s not without flaws, these are very minor, and Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge gets very close to nailing perfection.
So while you shouldn’t be surprised that Samsung’s S7 Edge is its best phone yet, you may be surprised to find that it is one of the more complete phones we’ve ever reviewed, providing speed, performance, design, and more in a package that looks pleasing and isn’t made by Apple.
Seriously, things just heated up, and Samsung’s competitors need to take note, because the S7 Edge is well and truly bringing the game this year. Highly recommended.