Another year, another Galaxy S release. As expected, this one is called the Galaxy S7 -- although it is joined by the Galaxy S7 EDGE -- and it picks up where last year’s Galaxy S6 left off. Not through big, sweeping design changes, though, but, rather, a more focused approach whereby core elements have been updated and refined to improve the overall user experience. Sort of like what Apple does with its “S” updates.
The Galaxy S7 is the poster boy, to be sure, but it will be joined by the larger, somewhat more interesting Galaxy S7 EDGE which you can read all about in our Samsung Galaxy S7 EDGE First Look. I say, “more interesting”, but what I actually mean is better -- the Galaxy S7 EDGE has more or less the same specs as the Galaxy S7, save for the display and battery which are both significantly larger.
In my book these are two very important factors and after a year spent with phablets I'm kind of all about bigger phones these days. Still, I really like that Samsung has given punters a choice here. Smaller handsets do seem to be more popular on a macro level. Just look at Apple's iPhone 6s sales, for instance.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Display
The Galaxy S7 has a 5.1in QHD display whereas the Galaxy S7 EDGE has a 5.5in, curved QHD display. Samsung has been making excellent displays for as long as I’ve been writing about technology. Last year’s Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 EDGE possessed two of the brightest, most detailed panels of any smartphone I’ve come across. For this reason, Samsung was wise to leave the overall composition and resolution of the Galaxy S7 / S7 EDGE’s display well alone -- QHD was good enough in 2015 and it is certainly still good enough this year.
The Galaxy S7’s display does possess some new technology, though, and the one you’ll notice the most is the Always-on feature, whereby elements of the display are illuminated to deliver notifications or the time, for instance, without the actual screen having to be switched on entirely.
The battery is quite a bit larger (3000mAh) this time around as well and this coupled with improvements to Android’s power management inside Marshmallow, as well as Samsung’s MANY optimisations, should result in some pretty significant uplift in battery performance -- or, at least, I’d expect this to be the case. Samsung knows just how important battery performance is these days. But with new CPUs and crazy new features you just never know what the affect on battery performance is going to be until you've thoroughly road-tested a handset out over the course of a couple of weeks
Samsung Galaxy S7 Design
With respect to design, Samsung has pretty much left the overall design language well alone. The Galaxy S7 looks more or less identical to the Galaxy S6, aside from a few extra curves that you might not even notice unless told about them, but this was always going to be the case after such a big update last year. The Galaxy S7 is made from the same materials - glass and metal - and it will also be available in the same colours as last year’s model.
BUT there are differences, oh yes! And some of them are pretty darn significant. Take, for instance, the re-introduction of microSD-support -- you’ll find it in the SIM tray -- and the return of water and dust resistance, which has been achieved by coating the phone’s components with protective layers, negating the need for port covers and rubber grommets. Both are welcome additions and neither have been present on a Galaxy S handset since the days of the Galaxy S5 which launched many, many moons ago now.
Then there is Samsung's rather interesting and very PC-like solution for "overheating" issues -- the handset contains a heat pipe filled with water, and when the SoC heats up the water turns to vapour before being cooled via a heatsink. Smart.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Camera
The camera, now a 12MP setup, sits almost flush to the back of the handset. In reality, the lens sticks out by 0.46mm, but it's substantially reduced in its bulkiness from what came before. Samsung achieved this using a new production technique. Granted, this isn’t a HUGE deal, but it is still nets the company a nice one-up on its arch rival, Apple. Also, when you know what you’re looking for (or you have a Galaxy S6 to hand) you will see that the overall finish of the handset is a lot slicker as a result too.
We didn’t get a lot of time with the Galaxy S7, but we do know what the handset is packing in the imaging department. As per the rumours, the Galaxy S7 employs a 12MP camera but do not be fooled by the lower MP rating: the setup promises to be very impressive indeed thanks to clever tweaks in places that count. You have a brand new sensor which uses a higher-rated 1.4um pixels, up from the Galaxy S6, to help with noise reduction, improved low-light performance thanks to its larger, f/1.7 lens, dual photodiodes and 100% phase detection. I cannot wait to test this camera out properly.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Specs & Hardware
One thing that is odd (and also reminds me of Apple) is how cagey Samsung is about “details” these days. No details were given about which regions will get which processors, for instance. Nor was there much talk about memory -- both have 4GB, FYI -- or the major differences, if any, between Exynos and Snapdragon 820 versions of the Galaxy S7.
Instead, Samsung, in another typically “Apple” move, proclaimed the processors to be 30% faster than last year’s model without providing any actual evidence or method of testing. It also confirmed BIG improvements to the GPU as well, apparently it’s 67% faster this time around, but, again, we’re not exactly sure which one Samsung is talking about. All we have for now, and until we test the handset out, is a bunch of arbitrary numbers straight from Samsung’s marketing people.
We know performance will be good, but it’d be nice to know what, if any, type of disparity there will be between the Snapdragon 820 and the Exynos versions of the handset. And which model we’ll be getting here in the UK. If we were betting men, which we most definitely are, our money would be on the Snapdragon 820 version simply because this has historically been the way Samsung has done things in the past, saving its Exynos chipsets for markets closer to home.
According to some leaked AnTuTu benchmarks that surfaced on February 16 the Galaxy S7 powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 chip actually comes out with faster performance than the Galaxy S7 using Samsung's own Exynos chipset. The AnTuTu Weibo account posted a set of results for an international Galaxy S7 model tested in France.
In the past Samsung's international models have been the Qualcomm Snapdragon-based editions, but it appears here to be the Exynos 8890 version. Does this mean the Snapdragon 820 edition will be available in Asia instead? At any rate, the Exynos version scored 105,000 points. The Snapdragon 820 model has already scored 125,288 points. AnTuTu's analysis claims the difference in performance may be down to the GPUs - Qualcomm's Adreno 530 GPU allegedly being much more powerful.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Initial Reaction
I loved the way the Galaxy S6 looked. The build materials were second to none, the handset handled beautifully, and the overall finish of the device was pretty much unparalleled in 2015’s Android space. Samsung hit the ball out the park last year, but consumers didn’t react as planned, most bought an iPhone, for instance, and Samsung was left with worse than expected sales and financials.
In 2016, the company needs to change this. It needs to shift the Galaxy S7 by the boatload. But has it done enough to create the kind of buzz required to do so? Difficult to say right now. I do like the handset, the refinements and improvements all make sense and will make a huge overall difference to the usability of the phone. But -- and there’s always a but -- I’m a lot more impressed with what LG has created with its G5.
Samsung is the bigger brand out of the two, but I beleive 2016 could well be the year LG begins to really close the gap on its rival. A lot of this will be down to how the company markets and prices its phone, but for me it is definitely the more interesting launch out of MWC’s two biggest announcements.
Samsung appears to have done just enough to its flagship, treating it like an iPhone S update, but there is nothing that SCREAMS innovation or BUY ME. Whereas the LG G5 is the exact opposite, being interesting, engaging and completely different from last year’s still-excellent LG G4.