Samsung has been working hard over the past couple years to improve the quality of their devices. By trading plastic for metal and glass on the Galaxy S6, it marked a massive change for the company in terms of design, however the S6 and S6 Edge were far from perfect. The hardware had issues, the battery had issues, and the software had issues. In the Galaxy S7 family, Samsung’s goal was not to make a massive revision to their flagship, but instead to give us an slight iteration to fix what was wrong with the previous model. Did they succeed? Short answer, yes, yes they did.
- 5.5” 2560×1440 AMOLED Display – Dual Curved Edges
- Snapdragon 820 Processor
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB Storage (with microSD)
- 12MP Rear Camera, f/1.7, OIS, Dual-Pixel Autofocus
- 5MP Front Camera, f/1.7
- 3,600 mAh Battery
- microUSB, Quick Charge 2.0, Wireless Charging (+ Fast)
- IP68 Water Resistance
Note: We will be reviewing Samsung’s Galaxy S7 at a later date in a separate review.
Like on the Galaxy S6 before it, the S7 Edge features a glass and metal design which still looks great. At a glance it’s a beautiful phone and this time around the look is matched by a device which actually feels quite good in the hand. The edges on the back are now rounded and that makes a massive difference in terms of comfort, and even more importantly, in terms of grip. While the Galaxy S6 felt at times like it was actively trying to jump out of your hands, the S7 does not. I can easily go without a case on this phone, but since it’s still glass, I don’t.
Disregarding what came before it however, the S7 Edge is a fantastic device in the hardware department. The premium materials reflect the price (both metaphorically and literally), and you certainly won’t be disappointed with it. What does take things down a notch however is the fact that this phone is a fingerprint magnet. While the Silver Titanium model I’m using isn’t the worst, you will still get tons of fingerprints at all times. Do yourself a favor, if you opt to buy the black model, get yourself a case or skin.
One other small change that makes a big difference is the thickness. Samsung actually heard the cries of customers last year and made the phone thicker. Now contrary to the belief of several smartphone manufacturers, making the device thicker wasn’t a bad choice, in fact it was one of the best decisions Samsung made with the S7 family. While the smaller S7 only got a slight battery bump, the S7 Edge packs it in with a massive 3,600 mAh battery, all thanks to that extra millimeter.
One of the biggest additions to the S7 family is the built-in water resistance. While the Galaxy S6 Active and Galaxy S5 before it were capable of being submerged, the Galaxy S7 is the first to do so without a rugged design or any port covers. Straight out of the box you can drop this phone underwater and it’ll survive, no problem at all.
Flipping the phone over you get a look at the 5.5” display which is, well it’s just fantastic. As they have in the past, Samsung continues to create some of the best displays on the market. This display is no exception, providing great colors and contrast as well as a bright panel which looks good indoors and out. The 5.5” size is also a great mix of a large screen while retaining the compact form factor.
Now let’s not forget about the edges. Just like on the Galaxy S6 Edge from last year, the S7 Edge curves not only the glass, but the display itself off the edges of the phone. This creates a very immersive effect as it almost feels as though the panel doesn’t truly end. I’ll talk about the software benefits later on in the review, but in terms of the hardware these edges don’t affect much. The phone is still pretty easy to pick up and since the phone is thicker now, you don’t have to worry about grip on the side as there’s a bit more room now.
Another feature new on the S7 family is the always-on display. This feature, adopted (and modified) from Motorola’s Moto Display, constantly shows information on the display without eating up your battery life. While this is all well and good, I personally found the feature mostly useless. It does have it’s use cases, of that there is no doubt, but it would have been nice to be able to see a notification or two on this screen or perhaps even useful information such as a to-do list or news headlines. I was very glad to find out however that some third-party themes do have the ability to add more styles to the always-on display.
Here’s the thing with the always-on display though, while it’s cool and can be useful, it really is worthless. Checking the time with this is just as quick as press the power or home button, but at least when you do that, you can also see your notifications and interact with them. Really the only situation where I can find a use for this is in a business meeting where your phone is sitting on the table and it would be rude to turn on the screen or check your watch. Otherwise, I can’t find a use for it.
Flipping over to the front, we’ve got the home button/fingerprint sensor. This works quite a lot like the one found on the S6 and Note 5, but in my experience it’s somehow slightly worse. I’m not sure if it’s the size of the device or the sensor itself, but I found it to be a lot less accurate. Generally it only worked about 6-7 times out of 10. For comparisons sake, the Note 5 generally worked 7-8 times out of 10 while devices like the Nexus 6P and iPhone 6S Plus work 9-10 times out of 10.
What I do like however is that thanks to Android Marshmallow, the fingerprint sensor can take better advantage of the software. It uses the same standard built into Android which means developers can easily make their apps compatible without having to worry about proprietary solutions. One quick and useful place you’ll find this is in the Google Play Store, where you can now use your fingerprint to authorize purchases.
Out of the box the S7 Edge runs Android Marshmallow with Samsung’s own TouchWiz skin on top. While it’s still not perfect, it’s actually gotten very good and it’s very difficult to make legitimate complaints about it at this point. Go back a year or two and TouchWiz is a completely different story. It was full of lag, bugs, and terrible design choices. However fast forward and things are much better. It’s still not perfect, but it’s no longer something I dread using. However if you still don’t like the looks, you can easily apply a third-party theme from Samsung’s theme store. There are a ton of great options available to give you everything from a sci-fi look and feel to a Stock Android design. While I still don’t care for aspects such as the keyboard, which is still an abomination in my opinion, or the pre-loaded apps, I don’t mind the design anymore. It looks good and things make sense now.
Samsung’s software also really hasn’t changed much since the S6, but in the S7, they have added a handful of new features. Some of the minor changes include the built-in Audio EQ and the ability to use a PIN as a backup to your fingerprint rather than just a password.
Specific to the S7 Edge, there’s also the new Edge screen. On the S6 Edge, we saw many of the same features, however Samsung has re-thought this feature and made it fairly useful. I set up my S7 Edge with the apps edge, people edge, Yahoo News, My Places, Yahoo Sports, Quick Tools, calendar, and weather. Now that the edge screen expands further onto the display, I actually found these features useful, rather than them just “being there”.
There is one massive new feature however, the “game launcher”. Added to your homescreen (optional), the game launcher automatically gathers every game into one location for easy access. Furthermore, it adds a handful of very useful features to help give you a better gaming experience. First off, there’s the “game tuner”. This allows the S7 to adjust the performance of your games to increase quality or decrease battery consumption. It does this by changing the frame rates and/or the resolution of the game. The game tuner also allows you to lock the recents and back keys to prevent them from being pressed by mistake. You can also turn off alerts while you’re in the game to prevent messages from popping up or the phone from vibrating/making noise while you’re gaming. You can also minimize the game so that it is not closed while you do another task, take a screenshot, or record gameplay. While recording gameplay you can also show a profile image or show the front camera, record audio through the microphone or the game’s audio, and also adjust the resolution and bitrate of the recording.
Now, let’s not talk about gaming without talking about performance. Powering the S7 Edge is the new Snapdragon 820 processor. This processor attempts to erase the mistakes of the Snapdragon 810 from 2015, and for the most part, it succeeds. This processor doesn’t have heat issues or throttling problems. Is it perfect? No, but it’s a solid chipset.
In my testing of the Galaxy S7 Edge, performance was good, most of the time. 90% of the time things work without a hitch, performance rivaling other top performers like the Nexus 6P and Galaxy Note 5, however there are problems from time to time. Generally these issues are nothing more than lag. I’ve had everything from some dropped frames to a complete lockup. That said however, everything is usually fixed with a quick reboot. Samsung even recommends that you do so every 14 days, make of that what you will.
Battery Life & Charging
One of the massive sore points of the S6 family in 2015 was the battery life. Samsung massively undercut the battery capacity on these two devices and the result was a battery that rarely made it through an entire day of use. That said however, Samsung has redeemed themselves, at least on the S7 Edge. I’ve yet to test the standard S7, but the S7 Edge has phenomenal battery life, easily making it through a day of use.
My standard battery use includes 2-4 hours of screen on time over the course of 15-18 hours. On average the S7 Edge will make it to the end of the day for me with about 30% remaining with about 2.5 hours of screen on time. Heavier days usually end up with about 15% left but with a little over 3 hours of screen on time. Standby time is also fantastic thanks to Doze in Android Marshmallow.
To help with charging, even though you’ll really only need to do it once a day, you have three options; quick charging, wireless charging, and fast wireless charging. While that’s all well and good, and what we should expect on flagship phones at this point in time, there are some caveats. First, the wired quick charging option is limited by Samsung to Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 rather than the newer Quick Charge 3.0 even though it’s supported by the Snapdragon 820. Second, there’s no USB C. The S7 remains on the older microUSB standard. While that’s great in the fact you won’t need to upgrade your cables, it’s disappointing to see the lack of adoption on this new and better standard. Another huge disappointment that few other people talk about is the fast charging support which is a proprietary method Samsung has cooked up. The Note 5 and S6 Edge+ also both use this method, but it’s not the Qi 3.0 standard which is already available. Now let’s be clear, it’s still Qi, but it’s not the officially fast Qi standard which will be available in tons of Qi accessories this year.
On the Galaxy S7 Edge Samsung did something a bit “out of the norm” for them, they took away some megapixels. The S6 packed a 16MP sensor, however the S7 packs a 12MP sensor. The difference however is the size of those pixels. The sensor is now more sensitive to light which makes for better pictures in low-light. Obviously it still takes great shots otherwise, but Samsung clearly took focus on improving the phone’s low-light capabilities. Overall, it’s a solid camera. OIS is great in videos as well (and it reminds me how bad my Nexus 6P is at video). Auto-focus is also insanely fast thanks to the Dual-Pixel technology. There are some minor issues with exposure where the phone will at times over-expose, but nothing that ruins the experience.
The Little Things
- The buttons on this phone are fantastic, and people really don’t talk about that for some reason. Each button (power, volume, home) are all insanely tactile and very satisfying to click.
- A case is basically required with this phone, so plan on buying one with or before you buy the phone.
- Let’s not forget the speakers. While they aren’t horrible, they do suffer greatly from the device’s waterproofing. Sound is tinny and gets distorted at higher volumes. Oh, and it’s still on the bottom, which is annoying to say the least.
Samsung’s latest smartphone, the S7 Edge, is also one of their best. It’s a very well-rounded device with good hardware, a good camera, and software which they can finally be proud of. Add in water resistance and battery life that’s actually respectable, and you get what is easily one of, if not the best device available on the market today. Of course you’ll pay for this, handsomely, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it.
– Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge provided for review by Verizon Wireless