One thing is clear about Samsung’s latest Galaxy flagship smartphones: 2016 is a year of iteration for the company.
At first glance, the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge look nearly identical to their predecessors, the S6 and S6 edge, but given the warm reception Samsung’s previous marquee devices received from both fans and critics, it’s difficult to fault the company for releasing what amounts to an act of impressive refinement.
Last year’s Galaxy marked a significant shift from the S5, moving the premium smartphone line away from the plastic build of the S4 and S5, to a Gorilla Glass 4 front and back, and a aluminum bezel. Samsung was onto something with the S6’s design, so it makes sense for the company to build on this direction with the S7.
With the S6/S6 edge, we saw Samsung take cues from Apple, honing in on improving specific aspects of its flagship smartphones, removing most of the bloat and gimmicks featured in the S4 and S5, two well-received smartphones hindered by TouchWiz, Samsung’s Android skin. With the S7/S7 edge, Samsung has maintained this strategy, improving specific aspects of the smartphone the company hopes its customers actually care about, specifically related to overall design, camera, battery and hardware.
Subtle design shifts
While it’s true the S7’s build is similar to the S6’s, its slightly curved back and front – borrowed from the Note 5 – give the smartphone a unique look that helps it stand out from the wash of other flagship Android devices on the market. The unique curvature also makes it easier to pick up the smartphone from a flat surface. This results in a slightly narrower bezel that’s almost flush with the sides of the phone. Still, those hoping for a G5-like complete overhaul with the S7, will be disappointed. At the outset, both the S7 and S7 edge look nearly identical to their predecessors, save for a few subtle differences.
Just like last year’s S6, the S7 features aluminum sides and a Gorilla Glass 4 front and back, which means yet again, Samsung’s new flagship Galaxy devices are a magnet for fingerprints and smudges. What is interesting about the new handsets however, is the S7 measures in at 5.1-inches, and the S7 edge is 5.5-inches, 0.2-inches smaller than the S6 edge+, which strangely, was only released a few months ago in Canada. It seems Samsung is aiming to simplify its device lineup with the S7/S7 edge, a move that makes sense considering the number of high-end Android phones currently on the market.
In general, the S7 will appeal to those who prefer smaller smartphones, coming in at just slightly larger than Apple’s 4.7-inch iPhone 6s (which is still be too large for some). The S7 edge, with its considerably larger size, is targeting the phablet demographic, falling slightly short of Samsung’s flagship phablet, the Note 5.
What’s most interesting about the S7/S7 edge, however, is how Samsung seems to have taken criticism of the S6 to heart. Last year, Galaxy fans complained about the S6’s lack of a micro-SD card slot, a popular feature in the S5 that allowed users to expand the phone’s storage. With the S7, Samsung has brought the micro-SD card slot back. The same can be said about the S7’s IP 67-certified waterproof casing, another popular S5 feature ditched with the release of the S6.
The only holdout fan demand is the ability to remove the S7’s battery, a feature LG heavily touted the G5 is capable of during its keynote presentation at Mobile World Congress. While this is far from the first time an OEM has listened to criticism of past devices, it’s refreshing to see Samsung adopt this approach with the S7/S7 edge.
In terms of other changes, the S7’s home button, which also acts as its still snappy fingerprint scanner, is slightly more square, and doesn’t protrude as far from the phone when compared to its predecessor.
Under the hood is where most of the S7/S7 edge’s improvements have gone down. In terms of battery, the S7 edge features a hefty 3,600 mAh battery, and its smaller counterpart comes equipped with a 3,000 mAh power source.
Our tests indicated that both the S7 and S7 edge performed excellently when it comes to battery life. In my experience, the S7 easily lasted an entire work day of moderate use, and even after that, well into the evening. Turning off the S7/S7 edge’s always-on display, a feature I didn’t find very useful (the always-on display is only able to show time, missed calls and emails) despite its undeniably cool factor, improved battery life, leading me to believe that Samsung’s “1 percent per hour claim” isn’t completely accurate.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that the S7’s AMOLED 1440 x 2560 pixel display, allows the phone to light up individual pixels as needed, which means it doesn’t use as much battery power as it would if the screen was always completely illuminated.
In Canada, both the S7 and S7 edge feature Samsung’s own silicon, the Exynos 8890, which according to some benchmark scores, lags slightly behind the Qualcomm 820, the processor included in the smartphone in other regions, most notably the U.S market. The average user, however, likely won’t notice a performance difference between the two processors.
In our tests, whether multitasking between resource-intensive apps, or playing high-end video games, the S7 performed excellently, with no lag or stuttering. The smartphone’s 4GB of RAM, an increase over the S6’s 3GB, is also a contributing factor in the S7’s impressive performance.
In an interesting twist, Samsung has also opted not to include USB Type-C in the S7/S7 edge, likely so the smartphone is still compatible with its Gear VR virtual reality headset. Furthermore, while USB-C is the future of connectivity, the future just isn’t here yet, and any device utilizing the technology will likely create unforeseen adapter issues.
The new smartphone camera benchmark
The S7’s most impressive improvement over the S6 is its camera. While the S6’s shooter was the best Android camera around when it launched last year, its lowlight performance was underwhelming.
To solve this problem, with the S7, Samsung is touting new dual pixel technology, which allows up to 25 percent more light to hit the device’s camera sensor thanks to larger pixels, but also lowers its back camera from 16 megapixels to 12 megapixels (the S7’s front-facing camera measures in at 5 megapixels).