Until last year, the previous couple of iterations in the Galaxy S lineup were pretty predictable. They were all plastic bodied phones with removable batteries and memory. Then last year, they took the Galaxy S line in a new direction. The GS6 had an all glass and metal body and they did away with the user changeable battery and MicroSD. The last change struck a chord with users because you had to decide how much storage youíd ever need when you bought the phone plus youíd have to pay an inflated price if you needed more than the base model - just like you do with an iPhone.
Fortunately, the MicroSD is back with the latest version along with water resistance - a feature which took a hiatus last year.
Otherwise, the GS7 is an evolution of the GS6. The look follows Samsungís latest design language, the camera has been improved, you get a more powerful processor a bigger battery. That sort of thing. Is it worth the upgrade?
What about the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge?
The Edge is very similar to the non-Edge GS7 with 3 main differences; The Edge has a larger 5.5Ē curved display. While the display is quite a bit bigger, the Edge is almost the same size as the regular GS7.
Secondly, despite being about the same size, only a tad taller, the Edge packs a huge 3600mAh which is really impressive.
Lastly, the Edge sports a higher price tag.
Aside from looking cool, to be blunt I donít find that a phone with curved screen really makes it any better than a one with a flat screen. In fact, I think the curved edges make the phone harder to use because itís difficult to hold the phone without pressing the screen accidentally. It also causes everything to be distorted with shifted colors at the sides.
Get the Edge if you want the larger battery. Otherwise save your money and get the regular GS7.
What about the Huawei Nexus 6P?
While the difference in screen sizes doesnít make them direct competitors, the first phone that popped into my head when I thought of the GS7 (besides the GS7 Edge, LG G5 and HTC 10, which I havenít tried yet) was the Nexus 6P.
The 6P lacks the GS7ís 4GB of RAM, optical image stabilization, MicroSD slot and water resistance. It also a slightly more modest Snapdragon 810 SoC and a dimmer screen. That said, it counters with a bigger screen, a better fingerprint reader and better sounding stereo speakers.
Another upside to the 6p that you canít see on a spec sheet is that itís easier to use. The GS7 is just too sculpted for my tastes. I find myself constantly touching the screen or menu buttons by accident - it really needs a thick case to be usable.
Then thereís the price, the GS7 is an extra $200 over the Huawei. Unless you need the water resistance (somewhat useful), optical image stabilization (must-have if you take video), 4GB of RAM (no real world advantage over 3GB), MicroSD (you can spec the 6P with 128GB direct from Google), I think youíre better off pocketing the difference and getting the 6P.
- 5.1Ē SuperAMOLED display
- 2560x1440 resolution
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB storage
- Samsung Exynos 8890
- 12/5MP Cameras
- f/1.7 lens
- Optical image stabilization
- 3000mAh battery
- BT 4.0
- Android 6.0.1
- LTE bands: 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/18/19/20/25/29/30/38/39/40/41
- 142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9
While the screen size hasnít changed, the GS7ís body resembles the Note 5 rather than last yearís GS6. That means the sides of the back are curved which gives it a more organic shape.
Iím torn about the organic shape. On one hand, it does look pretty sleek and cool. On the other, it makes the GS7 much harder to use with one hand. No matter how I hold it, Iím almost always accidentally touching part of the screen or menu buttons. Typing with one hand is difficult, games are interrupted when I accidentally hit the back button, ditto for when Iím watching long videos. Hitting the shutter button when Iím taking a picture usually doesnít work because part of my palm is touching the bottom right of the screen.
Yeah, a lot of it is due to how I hold the GS7, instead of cradling it loosely in your hand I prefer a kung fu/death grip because I donít want to drop it accidentally. Holding it very tightly also allows me to be
Still, the slim shape means the GS7 is still very compact even if you throw it in a case which is what I recommend you do if you pick one up. A case should mitigate the problem I mentioned.
Samsung also includes some software to make one-handed usage more easily but it involves making the screen smaller. I do like how you can activate this feature by triple tapping the home button but who wants to use a smaller version of the screen?
The body which is metal sandwiched by glass in the front and back is very solid.
While itís a pricey phone, it definitely feels like a very expensive phone.
The buttons stick out the perfect amount. I wish they clicked a little more when you pressed them in but this is probably a result of the water resistance.
The home button doubles as a fingerprint reader. It has grown a little bit which youíd think would make it easier to use but in fact, I found that the fingerprint reader was much pickier than the GS6ís. A lot of the time it wouldnít recognize my thumb and yes, I tried training it a second time making sure that it learned every part of my thumb. Itís quite a bit worse than the reader on the Huawei Nexus 6p.
Theyíve trimmed down the camera bulge a little bit. While itís not flush, this should help it sit a little nicer if you place it on a flat surface and donít have a case.
The biggest change is that Samsung has brought water resistance back. Unlike the GS5, you donít have to worry about closing the USB port because the GS7ís is sealed from the inside. I guess while the GS7 lacks a removable battery like the GS5, it also means you donít need to worry about close the battery cover to ensure water resistance.
Of course, while the glass and metal body is very classy, it probably isnít going to like being dropped too much. If you get a GS7 solely for the water resistant, remember that all bets are off if you drop it. If you plan on getting it wet AND manhandling it from time to time make sure you also stick it in a rugged case.
Speaking of the USB port, Samsung has stuck with MicroUSB instead of a Type-C. To be honest at this point I think Type-C is more bad than good. Think about it, MicroUSB has been around for so long, many people already have a charging infrastructure in place to handle it. Type-C is still quite new so chances are, youíll have more MicroUSB than Type-C devices.
Yeah, MicroUSB only fits in one way but having to handle two types of connectors (or 3 if you include Appleís Lightning) is a bit of a pain at this point. Type-C also supports very fast charging but the GS7 can actually handle 15 watts through itís MicroUSB which is comparable.
Another welcome change is that Samsung brought the MicroSD support back. As is becoming more common, the NanoSIM sled has an extra space for the MicroSD.
You get a 5.1Ē 2560x1440 SuperAMOLED display.
As is now the norm for flagships, the GS7ís display is very sharp, with extreme viewing angles and nice colour. Out of the box, the colour is a tad too intense but you can change this in the settings so that itís very natural looking.
Since this is an AMOLED display you get inky blacks that donít glow when you look at the phone at night.
While most flagships now come with awesome displays, the GS7 manages to distinguish itself by having one of the brightest displays around.
Generally speaking, AMOLED screens tend to be slightly less bright than LCDís. Iím guessing two reasons for this are because AMOLED screens can draw a lot of power when theyíre displaying white plus they are susceptible to screen burn in (yes, Iíve seen it happen).
Anyways, the GS7 at maximum brightness is more or less as bright as the 6s Plus when itís maxed out. The GS7 at around 60% brightness is similar to the 6P at 100%. Itís that bright.
The reason you want a bright AMOLED display is because theyíre susceptible to washing out outdoors in direct sunlight. And in case youíre wondering, there actually is a noticeable difference between the 6p and the GS7 when youíre outside.
The only bad thing I have to say about the GS7 display is that itís bluish when youíre not viewing it straight on. It doesnít sound like a big deal but I found myself spending a lot of time looking at it from slightly off-center and I do find the blue to be quite distracting. To be fair, every AMOLED phone Iíve played with lately has this problem.
When youíre not using it the screen displays the time, date and battery unless something is covering the sensor like when itís in your pocket. Since the GS7 has an AMOLED, this has a very minimal effect on battery life. Itís also not super bright so it wonít cause burn-in.
Samsung has actually downsized the megapixel count on the GS7 from 16MP to a still very usable 12, just like the Nexus 6P and iPhone 6s Plus. That way thereís still enough resolution to record 4K video.
Well the resolution is more or less identical, the 3 phones I mentioned all have very different cameras. The Nexus 6p has the largest sensor of the 3 but itís lack of optical image stabilization and if Iím honest, lousy camera software hold it back.
The iPhone 6s Plus has very good camera software, image stabilization so while it lacks the 6pís sensor size, it usually ends up taking better pictures even though the 6p has a more capable sensor.
The GS7ís sensor size slots in between the 6p and 6s Plus. It has optical image stabilization like the Apple. Its trick is that all of its pixels are capable of phase detection.
Basically, it focuses very quickly - even in very low light. If you turn the lights down and compare all 3 phones, the GS7 focuses like it was outdoors while the other 2 are desperately focusing in and out trying to find critical focus.
The camera software has a lot of features but itís also relatively easy to use.
Itís has a very capable camera. I have young kids and the fast focus and high quality sensor means it captures a lot of keepers - like the 6s Plus.
Looking more closely I thought that while the Samsung has a better sensor with slightly less noise and greater dynamic range, it tends to really sharpen pictures a lot and over-saturate colours just a tad.
Low light video looks good on the screen but if you watch it on a larger screen youíll notice that it does an enormous amount of noise reduction to the point that video lacks fine detail. It also does a lot of brightening so that it looks like it has a lot of dynamic range.
As is now normal for Android flagships the GS7 has a comprehensive manual mode complete with:
- Manual focus
- White balance with 100 degree Kelvin settings
- Shutter speed
- multi/center weighted focusing
- RAW setting
The fact that it's water resistant is just gravy. Mind you, when the GS7 is submerged sometimes the water can cause the screen to do funny things because it can trick it into thinking something is touching it. Anyways, you can use the volume buttons to snap a picture if you need to.
The front-facing camera has a really wide angle which is great if you want to take selfies with a group of friends. The downside is that itís not that great if youíre just taking selfies of yourself because the wide angle causes perspective distortion. You know the saying ďthe camera adds 10 poundsĒ? This is exactly what it does.
Out of the box you get Android 6.0.1 - the same version youíll find on my Nexus 6P.
If youíre concerned about updates Samsung generally makes you wait for new versions, as your phone gets older youíll generally have to wait longer and longer for updates. Expect around 2 years of updates and maybe a 3rd if youíre lucky. If youíre using a variant of a popular phone then all bets are off and thereís a good chance you wonít get any major updates unless you learn to flash the phone yourself.
Samsung ships with GS7 with their Touchwiz overlay. To be honest, overlays where important when the original Galaxy S II came out, starting with the GS3 or 4 overlays began more and more superfluous and these days, aside from a custom camera, text messaging client and maybe an email client, app overlays in general donít contain anything terribly useful. Touchwiz comes with S-Voice, their own web browser and their own app store.
Why would you bother with those when Android phones come with Google Now, Chrome and Google Play?
To their credit Samsung has been slowly paring back the duplicate apps by making some of them like chat-on optional downloads.
Then again, you need a custom app for some of the goofy Samsung extras like the heart rate sensor which I doubt anyone uses.
One new feature theyíve added is their game launcher. When you play a game thereís this icon that appears on top of your game. Donít worry, you can move the icon around. Anyways, when you tap it it has shortcuts to allow you to:
- Disable alerts while you play
- Lock the back and app switcher keys
- Minimize the game
- Take a screenshot
- Record the game play
Being able to disable the back and app switcher is nice since itís really easy to press them by accident. Then again, if Samsung had designed the GS7 better you wouldnít need this feature.
If you donít think this feature is useful you can always disable it.
Migrating to a new phone can sometimes be tricky so Samsung includes a USB OTG connector in the box. Basically, it allows you to connect other phones to the GS7 like you would a computer so it can grab the information off of it like that. After you're done migrating you can also use it to connect mice, keyboards, USB drives, etc.
2015 was an interesting year when it comes to Android flagship performance. Everyone used a Snapdragon 808 or 810 while Samsung used their own Exynos 7 Octa 7420. All 3 SoCís were released in early 2015 but unlike previous years, there was no follow up later in the year. In benchmarks the Exynos was a tad faster than the 810 but practically speaking, there was little real world difference between these when it comes to performance.
The difference was that while neither chip ran cool, the 810 ran hot enough to mean that it could rarely run at full speed.
Anyways, itís 2016 and once again it looks like Samsung will be using their own Exynos 8890 while everyone else will be using the 810ís bigger brother, the Snapdragon 820.
Interestingly, US GS7ís will also be using the snapdragon 820 because US models need support for CDMA.
Whatís interesting about the Exynos in the GS7 is that it isnít that affected by the temperature. While I was running Antutu I thought Iíd see if cooling it would increase its score.
I filled a mug with ice water while I ran some tests. Next I drained a sink and filled it with fairly warm water and it actually got the same score! Iím impressed.
Benchmarks are impressive with a noticeable improvement over 2015ís flagships.
The GS7 is generally half a step ahead of the 6p when youíre doing things like loading games/apps and switching between them. That said, you probably wonít notice the difference unless you have them side-by-side.
I guess the bigger difference between the 2 is the GS7ís ability to stay cooler when youíre running intensive tasks and graphics performance. However, the difference in graphics is only noticeable when youíre running something which really stresses the GPU.
As a Phone:
Earpiece and speakerphone volume are both excellent.
RF performance is above average.
Despite the GS7ís extremely sculpted shape, Samsung managed to cram a 3000mAh battery into the GS7 which is very impressive.
I ran Netflix for an hour with default brightness and maximum volume and the battery only ran down 9% which is very impressive:
Thereís a single speaker on the bottom. Itís relatively loud and very tuned sounded so thereís quite a bit of bass. Itís not quite as powerful as the Nexus 6pís stereo speakers but itís still one of the better ones on the market.
The MicroSD slot is back on the GS6. It shares the same sled as the Nano SIM slot. So you donít need to bother with a 64 or 128GB variant. Just pick up a MicroSD if you need more space.
The GS6 is a pretty decent phone so I was skeptical of how much Samsung could improve the GS7 but as it turns out, itís actually a noticeable improvement in many areas. The MicroSD and water resistance are pretty easy to understand but to me, the thing I was most impressed with is that they managed to put a battery that has 20% more capacity in a phone thatís roughly the same size. The cameraís focusing speed is also pretty impressive.
That said, the GS7 is an Android phone so there are plenty of competitors available now or soon which will probably be more affordable and offer comparable specs.
4 Howies out of 5.
- Water resistance
- MicroSD is back
- Long battery life
- Bright screen
- Difficult to hold without touching the screen accidentally
- Pictures have too much sharpening
- Video can contain excessive noise reduction