Samsung needs no introduction, it’s one of the two leading smartphone and mobile brands in the world, sitting at the top alongside Apple, and the most successful company in the Android device space. Likewise the Samsung Galaxy S series, now in its seventh generation, should be very familiar to most as the firm’s flagship - the best of the best that it has to offer; cutting edge design, and all the latest high-grade tech.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 is a bit of a curious iteration, however, in the sense that by many accounts it is proving very popular already, selling like the proverbial hotcakes, you might say. That’s curious because, truth be told, it is not enormously different from 2015’s Galaxy S6 in many ways, and that handset didn’t do so well. So what’s so great about this year’s revamp? That’s something we aim to find out in this serialised review, so join us on a multi-stage journey as we live with and explore the features of the latest Samsung Galaxy S over the coming days.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Review: Design
Dimensions: 142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9 mm
IP68 Certified Waterproof
Corning Gorilla Glass 4
It’s fair to say that design wise the Galaxy S7 is near identical to 2015’s Galaxy S6, so anyone expecting some major visual overhaul may be in for a disappointment. But, with that said, I don’t think a repeat of the design is a bad thing - for whatever reason the Galaxy S6 didn’t sell so well, but I find it pretty hard to believe the design was in any way a factor in this large-scale shunning. Last year’s Galaxy S6 design was the first time Samsung had implemented a metal and glass premium build on a flagship model, and, just so that there’s no confusion here I won’t mince words - it made every Galaxy handset that came before it look like crap. So I for one am very glad to see it make a return for the Galaxy S7.
The matte finish metal surround has a enjoyably high-end look and feel to it, you really do get that satisfying ‘cold steel’ feeling when gripping the device and it makes the Galaxy S7 have a rigid and sturdy presence during operation. It’s solid, in other words. I must confess that I was quite surprised when I first picked up the phone, I can only describe my immediate reaction is that I’d describe it as “chunky”, although I acknowledge this doesn’t feel entirely fair, it remains something I can’t quite get away from.
To be clear, I don’t see this as a negative factor, and also, the Galaxy S7 is not a thick, awkward, or heavy phone by any means. It simply has a heftier look and feel when actually using it than I expected, but I find this reassuring and it remains far from being cumbersome in any way. I particularly like the measurement Samsung has gone with for the edge-to-edge width for the handset when held in the hand in profile; it’s just really comfortable and easy to hold; the join from the curvature from the back panel into the surround has also been well executed and does help with grip while also making the phone look thinner and more refined on its edges. The only minor downside there is it makes the top and bottom edges look a little bit disproportionately chunky by comparison, but this is a minor gripe.
The antenna bands have again been nicely concealed in the top and bottom of the surround, while the power and volume keys are well positioned on either side of the handset for easy operation with either hand using the thumb and index finger. The curved back panel design contrasts the flat front and mirrors the curved display front of the Galaxy S7 edge and certainly gives things an elegant appearance, and both front and back panels have a particularly neat join with the metal surround (there’s no chance of fitting a credit card in between).
As with all glass-backed phones, particularly like this one with a dark colour finish, fingerprints do show up and spoil things a little - if that bothers you - but realistically this isn’t enough to damn an otherwise fantastic looking bit of kit, Plus if you really hate fingerprints just get a white or gold one and you won’t even notice them. The display bezels are nicely thin so that the front fascia is mostly screen (72.1% display to body ratio, in fact) - always a good look - while on the rear the only disruption to the sweeping expanse of curved glass is the now-familiar softened square camera port, flanked on one side by a dual-LED flash module; this setup is not quite flush but it must be said it’s close, probably one of the more unobtrusive camera ports on the current market.
One of the key differences between the Galaxy S7 series and its Galaxy S6 counterparts is the reintroduction of waterproofing for the latest generation. It’s quite impressive that Samsung has managed to reintroduce this feature that was present on the plastic Galaxy S5, lost aboard the metal Galaxy S6, and then reintroduced to the metal Galaxy S7 in only a single product cycle. Of course, such a feature is great to have because of the peace of mind it offers; you can use your phone in the bath or near a swimming pool absolutely care free.
It’s something that goes unnoticed a lot of the time, but once you’ve had this feature in a phone you’re unlikely to want to go back to anything that won’t survive a dunk in the wet stuff and gives you that freedom not to care or even think about such mishaps. Also bonus points for Samsung having implemented this via internal nanocoatings, meaning there are no horrible rubber grommets or fiddly port covers to contend with every time you want to plug in a charger or set of headphones, and you don’t have to worry about forgetting to “seal” the phone properly to keep it waterproof either.
Lastly, on the subject of design, there’s the physical controls on the front of the phone; a fingerprint scanner Home key flanked on each side by capacitive Android controls for multitasking and navigation. On reflection I think I prefer on-screen controls myself, although I do get that if you’re going to have a fingerprint scanner this is probably the best setup (not keen on those rear-mounted ones), and although I’m not fond of the capacitive keys having just these two on-screen without a home button would probably have looked weird.
Regardless, this is again another minor gripe and not enough to sour me on the rest of the phone. I think it's quite telling that any criticism I can come up with is a minor nitpick and I still like the phone regardless!
Samsung Galaxy S7 Review: Display
Display Size & Type: 5.1in Super AMOLED (72.1% screen-to-body ratio)
Resolution: 2560 x 1440 pixels QHD
Pixel Density: 577 pixels-per-inch (ppi)
Corning Gorilla Glass 4
You may have already read our in-depth article looking at the technology behind the Samsung Galaxy S7’s display and examining DisplayMate’s extensive testing and research on the hardware.
Put simply, regardless of what anyone thinks of it from just eyeballing the Galaxy S7’s screen, the data doesn’t lie - Samsung’s Super AMOLED tech present on this handset is empirically the best display tech on the market. It uses a diamond sub-pixel layout and is one of the sharpest QHD phone displays available - it’s a 5.1in screen at 2560 x 1440 pixels and 577ppi. It has the highest maximum brightness levels, the most accurate colour gamut, the best contrast, lowest reflectance, and best performance in high ambient light - those last two means it’ll perform better than anything else in terms of being able to see what’s on the screen when you’re out on a sunny day.
It also offers some of the best user customisation of your visual experience (if delving into fine tuning such things is your bag) - it even has something called Personalised Automatic Brightness Control where the phone will learn how bright you like the display in certain conditions and automatically adjust it accordingly. In addition, there’s the new Always-On feature, which admittedly isn’t entirely new as we’ve seen it on some rival devices before, but it is nice to have the time, date, and battery percentage displayed constantly when the phone is idle and in a low power mode that doesn’t seem to impact much on the battery life.
All of which sounds great on paper, but when you pick it up, crank up the brightness and just use the thing you can see exactly how this is all true. It’s incredibly sharp, bright and vibrant with loads of pop from the colours and contrast. In a word, gorgeous, undoubtedly one of the best displays we've ever seen.
Other Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2 (LE), NFC, A-GPS/GLONASS, microUSB 2.0
As usual, Samsung has produced two processor variants for the Galaxy S7, but the one we have for our review is the model available in the UK and Europe (SM-G930F) equipped with the firm's own Exynos 8890 SoC. This is a 64-bit octa-core chipset with a 2.3GHz clockspeed , a Mali T880 GPU, and 4GB RAM. Performance in the high-end Android space seems to have more-or-less levelled out across the board (not that this is a bad thing) and in no small part this is probably due to the fact that most of them are running Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 820 chip.
Having spent a bit of time with a few other high-end 2016 Android phones using this setup (and others) such as the HTC 10 I can say that the Exynos 8890-based Galaxy S7 is definitely in a similar ballpark. In general operation things are silky smooth for navigating Android and hopping between apps, and even when playing intensive 3D games this phone definitely packs a punch. I can't say I noticed any latency issues or lag whatsoever, even when trying to deliberately push the device out of its comfort zone, although it must be said the back panel did heat up a fair bit.
Benchmarks tests do show that the Snapdragon 820 edition does ever-so-slightly outperform the Exynos hardware, in particular when it comes to graphics, but the main takeaway here is the difference between the two in most scenarios is a handful of frames-per-second; importantly not enough to be noticeable in actual real-world use. A quick glance at most benchmarking test results and databases online shows that the Galaxy S7 Exynos model is still one of the top performing smartphones on the market, and I for one think this is reflected in actual operation. NOTHING seems to shake this handset, it just waltzes through whatever you throw at it effortlessly.
Both storage options are pretty ample with the base model being 32GB going up to a full 64GB if you're splashing out. Certainly we can see the sense in the modern app and content market of ditching a 16GB lower-tier, but although the presence of 256GB of microSD support is a welcome one it's only really any good for multimedia as Samsung hasn't implemented Android Marshmallow's native Adoptive Storage feature - in other words it can't use cards for storing apps. While the flexibility is nice, we can't help but wonder why Samsung wouldn't either open up support for Adoptive Storage OR introduce a 128GB top-tier storage model above the 64GB one. Without either option, some power users may be in for a tricky time, but most users shouldn't have too much of a problem.
A quick comment on audio. I think it's fair to say that as long as no-one but HTC is investing in precision-made and amplified front-facing stereo speakers then nothing else will really top BoomSound, but with that said I was really quite impressed with the Galaxy S7's audio quality from its single base-mounted speaker. It has a nice range on it and decently high volume capabilities, and although as mentioned I have heard crisper audio quality elsewhere this is pretty damn good; I couldn't discern any tinniness from the handset.