The Samsung Galaxy S7 is everything Galaxy S6 should’ve been, and more
Samsung Galaxy S7 Review
Samsung has finally done it. After years of frustrating us with feature rich but fugly phones, and then last year chucking out that approach completely and producing the iPhone-aping Galaxy S6, the company has finally given us what we’ve wanted all along. A beautiful, feature-rich, gimmick-free flagship phone.
Now, the Galaxy S7 may not look like that much of a revelation. Its design is very reminiscent of last year’s S6 and there are no outlandish hardware features like the LG G5’s modular design.
However, that’s precisely why this phone is so good. Samsung has refined and tweaked and learned from past mistakes to create what is perhaps the finest phone that has yet been made.
It all starts off with its stunning all metal and glass design, which makes it look and feel every inch the £500 phone. To those that have used previous Galaxy S phones you’ll also notice that this black version is actually black. There are none of the strange speckled patterns or faux brushed metal colours of previous handsets. It’s just black.
Okay so there’s a slight metallic shimmer but it doesn’t give off that sense of trying to be something it’s not like on previous Galaxy S phones.
Samsung has also subtlety darkened the colour of the metal sides as well as blacked out the speaker grille and trim around the home button. It all adds up to a moodier, classier looking phone compared to the dark Galaxy S6.
Also improved is the handling. The phone is actually slightly thicker than the S6 but the sides have been curved to make it easier to hold and sit more comfortably in the hand.
The extra thickness also serves to reduce some of the camera bump, making it look better and be a little less likely to get knocked.
Of course, the irony of having such a nice looking phone is that you’re more inclined to want to protect it with a case and thus hide it all away but, that’s a problem with any of these nice looking handsets.
For all that the S7 gets right, though, I do have a few complaints about the overall design and handling. One is that the back is pretty slippery, especially with cold dry hands. The aluminium sides are also likely to scratch fairly easily, and because of the dark colouring the scratches will likely show through more than if it were plain metal.
Another issue is that, as ifixit has shown, this is one difficult to repair phone, with much of the phone needing to be removed to replace the screen and the battery being hidden under the glued down back. This isn’t a concern for daily use – I’ve long since moved on from wanting to actually swap out my battery and instead carry around a portable charger – but in a year’s time when the battery starts to loose capacity then it remains to be seen how easy it will be to get a replacement.
Finally, I’m still not too keen on the way Samsung packs the bottom bezel of its phones with buttons. While the buttons themselves can be useful the lack of space to rest a finger or thumb means I’m forever accidentally pressing the back button. I really wish Samsung would add in the option to control which of the buttons is and isn’t used. A version of this phone with just the physical home button I think would work really well.
Said home button is, like with the S6, a fingerprint reader and it works just as well as before, in fact better. It’s just that bit quicker to scan your print and is even less prone to fail when unlocking. Some people think fingerprint readers are a bit of a gimmick but I’ve come to find the good ones incredibly useful in day to day use.
Taking a closer look at the sides you can see that the basic layout is the same as the S6, and indeed pretty much all phones these days. The volume buttons are on the left and power is on the right and they both fall nicely under thumb and finger and are easy to press.
Along the bottom is the single speaker, microphone, microUSB and headphone jack. I’m still not a fan of downward facing headphone sockets but apparently the whole phone market disagrees. Meanwhile it would’ve been nice to see Samsung include the reversible USB Type-C but I can just about see the logic that few people are going to have the hardware to truly take advantage of it.
Moving to the top edge, here is where things get really interesting. Pop out the SIM tray and we’ve got space for not just the SIM but a microSD card, with the phone supporting cards up to 200GB in size. If Samsung had done little more than add a microSD slot to the S6 design I still think it would have been enough to make this a hugely competitive phone. It’s just so useful to be able to swap files back and forth, plus it makes upgrading storage a doddle and of course it’s far cheaper than buying a phone with more memory built in.
Also hinted at here is the return of waterproofing. You can see the little rubber seal that protects this phone’s innards running round the inside of the SIM tray. Rated to IP68, the S7 should survive being completely submerged under water up to 1m in depth and for up to half an hour.
In reality that means it isn’t going to be the best idea to take this phone diving, or even to the swimming pool but means it will survive a coffee spillage, being dropped in the toilet or being left out in the rain.
That said, you’ll still have to be careful about cleaning it if you get any mud or anything other than water on it as all the ports on the bottom are exposed so it would be easy to do some damage if not rinsed out properly.
In fact, it will be interesting to see if any case manufacturers come out with waterproof cases that simply protect the ports round the edges as, I would have thought, that would be sufficient to make this phone a real take anywhere sort of device.
Elsewhere the S7 is as capable as you’d expect of a flagship Samsung phone.
For a start the screen is fantastic. Yes, the standard S7 doesn’t have the eye-catching curved sides of the S7 edge but, snazzy as they are, they still don’t serve any practical purpose so for me the non-edge version is the more sensible bet.
The 5.1in AMOLED panel with 2560 x 1440 pixels may sound similar to its predecessor but it has been improved with even greater brightness and overall image quality. In fact according to displayMate’s tests it’s technically the best phone screen they’ve ever tested. What more needs to be said.
A new feature on this phone is the always-on screen option that leaves just a few pixels illuminated to show the time, date, battery and some basic notifications. It’s pretty basic but it’s nice to have.
The final tangible physical upgrade with this phone is its camera, which has dropped from 16 megapixels to 12. Now of course Samsung is claiming this is a worthwhile drop as you get larger pixels and thus better lowlight performance.
And you know what, they’re absolutely right. A quick indoor snap without the flash reveals clear differences in noise and detail levels between this phone and the S6. What’s more, you even get a larger overall view, thanks to the sensor being a conventional 4:3 aspect rather than 16:9.
The downside is you do get a bit more vignetting. That’s where the edges of the image are just a touch darker than the centre. It’s something you’ll seldom notice but worth noting.
Otherwise it’s a great camera that’s easily up there with the best. The camera app loads quickly with a double tap of the home button and the app itself offers plenty of options for adjusting your photos.
The phase detection autofocus is also incredibly fast, even in low light, and you get optical image stabilisation too for less blurry photos and smoother video. There’s no dual-tone flash, though, only a single LED, so shots using it aren’t as natural looking as the iPhone 6S and HTC One M9.
More importantly, though, there is one potential issue here, which is that Samsung is actually using two different sensors for the camera, one made by Samsung and one by Sony. It’s not yet clear how much performance difference there is between the two and just which devices have which, but it’s a potential concern if one proves to be noticeable inferior. All I can say now is that the version I’ve got impressed me.
When it comes to overall performance this phone wants for little. Again there are actually two different bits of hardware under the hood, with some countries getting phones with the Samsung Exynos 8890 processor and some getting the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820. Here in the UK it’s the Samsung chip, and although that’s technically the worse of the two, so far that doesn’t seem to be an issue.
In general use this phone is incredibly fast, loading and switching between apps with no hint of lag. Fire up a demanding game like GTA San Andreas and you can play it with everything set to max, with only a slight drop in framerate.
All told then, as a piece of hardware the S7 has impressed but where this phone does trip up is with Samsung’s software. The phone runs Android Marshmallow with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface on top, and as well as looking kind of ugly it fills the phone with a fair amount of unneeded apps.
You get an extra web browser, email app, messaging app and more. Some are admittedly quite useful. I use the voice recorder and Clock apps, for instance and there are quite a few gesture settings. The likes of S Voice and S Health, though, can be quickly forgotten about.
You also get yet another attempt at a news feed widget on the left screen. Much like the one on the S6 it works well enough but it’s not compelling enough to return to with any regularity.
One of the potentially more useful tweaks are the dual-screen and one-handed screen modes that resize app windows supposedly in an effort to boost productivity and ease of use. However, again, I’ve never found them useful long term and in fact it’s all too easy to accidentally invoke one of them.
What’s more, as ever, you can’t uninstall most of the apps, so you’ll have to resort to just hiding them away as much as possible.
Otherwise, though, being based on Android Marshmallow the overall experience is excellent. Long gone are the days of slightly sluggish, stutter animations on Android. This is a smooth, easy to use, intuitive experience.
Now, the final potential stumbling block for any phone is of course battery life and here the S7 doesn’t excel but it does okay. The battery capacity has increased from 2500mAh on the S6 to 3000mAh on the S7, making it larger than that even of the iPhone 6S Plus.
That adds up to a phone that far more comfortably lasts a whole day. In comparison the S6 would quite often come up short if used a lot. The S7 won’t stretch to two days unless you’re particularly careful but there’s definitely enough in the tank to not be a constant worry or frustration.
Just before I wrap up it’s worth taking a quick look at what else you get inside the box. Joining the charger and cable is a set of passable headphones. They’re reasonably comfortable and sound quite clear but totally fail to block outside noise and lack bass.
You also get an adapter that can be used to transfer files from one phone to another. In fact this is one Samsung software addition that is useful, as the company has an app that will transfer all your files across from your old phone, which it can either do via a cable or wirelessly.
The adapter can also then be used as a generic OTG USB adapter for connecting USB storage devices or peripherals.
So there we have it. The S7 is a pretty stellar phone. It really does successfully marry some of the much lauded Samsung qualities of old with the company’s new eye for design, resulting in a phone that’s easily the match for any iPhone in terms of styling but has some of the customisation elements Android users so enjoy.
Of course there are some compromises and it remains to be seen how much of an issue it will be upgrading the battery in the future but right here and now this is the best Android phone you can buy.