Review: Samsung Galaxy S7

The latest smartphone from Samsung is a gem

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Design

The seventh generation Galaxy from Samsung is a great looking device, and if you think the S7 looks great, the S7 Edge looks fantastic and is easily Samsung’s best version yet. I reviewed the Black Onyx, but it also comes in Gold Platinum and Silver Titanium. As you hold the phone in your hand, it fits like someone actually tried holding it before shipping it. With the back of the phone featuring curved glass, the phone is a delight to hold, even for extended periods of time. Its definitely a first world problem, but the flat back of last generation meant it was sharp and would scuff easily when placed on a table.

The ports and buttons are all standard and if I had one complaint, it’d be that we’re still turning out phone sideways to watch video and getting audio spurt out of only one end of the phone. The speaker in the bottom should be matched by another at the top to provide stereo sound. If you’re always using your favourite headphones, this isn’t an issue. While we’re on downsides, that curved edge on the back does make it impossible to stand up on the side edge or even rest it against something, if you’ve got a case, that’ll solve this problem, but personally I can’t put this design inside a case.

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Hardware

The updates S7 now comes in 2 simple to explain models, the S7 with a 5.1″ screen and S7 edge with a 5.5″ display features curves edges. The S7 adds back important functionality that were fan favourites, including expandable storage with a MicroSD card slot that supports up to 200GB cards, as well as dust and water resistance. After using the phone for a while, I’ve already managed to fill the included 32GB of storage. Thankfully the MicroSD card expansion meant I could pop the sim card tray out, drop in a 32GB card and the phone’s capacity effectively double in seconds.

Battery Life
Its far too early to tell the differences in battery life, but with Samsung stuffing the largest battery into the S7 Edge (3,600mAh) it’s going to outperform the phone in your pocket. For the S7 model that I have for review, the battery is a a very decent 3,000 mAh which is up from the 2550mAh found in the S6 and the same as the S6 Edge+.

Unlike most who reviewed the Galaxy S7, I decided not to publish my review a few days after getting the phone, instead holding off until I could talk intelligently about its real performance. An average day for me involves waking up, rolling over and flicking through updates, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, then back to Facebook. Sometimes I’ll start podcasts downloaded to listen while making coffee, or just check emails that may have come in overnight.

During the day there’s usually a few opportunities to take photos, maybe some video, definitely watch some short clips on social media of some description, but definitely lots more podcasts, usually around 2 hours. There’s a mixture of 4G and WiFi usages and definitely a healthy dose of app updates and plenty of posting to social media.

Most days start around 7am and end somewhere between 11 and 1am. I’m incredibly used to phones tapping out around somewhere between 6 and 9pm. After more than a week with the Galaxy S7, my head hit the pillow with around 30% battery life remaining which is phenomenal.

There was of course one day where I the S7 didn’t make it through the day. That day was last Thursday where my day started at 5am, included 2 flights and majority 4G usage and roughly 300 photos and half a dozen videos, most of which was shared (more than once) to social media. By 4pm, the phone was throwing up its hands with a 20% battery warning. I wasn’t going to make it and I some time at the airport to kill. I had to reach for help, I recharged. I made it to about 5 minutes before boarding time, which to be honest was a fantastic effort for a phone battery, that had basically powered the display for most of the day.

I guarantee you, you won’t use the phone harder than I did that day, I brutalised it in the most extreme, yet real life scenario I could. Overall the battery life is a stellar improvement and with 600 mAh more in the Edge version, you’ll easily get through the day.

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Speed
I giggle to myself when I get a second to think about the capability of the device in my hand. 4GB of RAM, 64-bit 8-core processor, 32GB of storage a QuadHD AMOLED display, its just kind of silly when you think about it, but we’re in 2016 and expectations never stand still. In fact as we head to the world of VR, these specs are increasingly important. When using the S7 in the Gear VR, it is noticeably quicker than the S6 to load large games and experiences, and when you’re in an environment where you really can’t multi-task, speed is deadly critical.

Everyone who’s used Android for a while will be familiar with the slowdowns that occur. Thankfully the horsepower in the S7 seems to be the right balance for current demands as I’ve not once experienced these long-standing slow downs. Basically its fast, really fast, whatever task you throw at the phone. In terms of network speeds, my best experience was last Thursday when I had the opportunity to visit the F1 pits. Capturing and wanting to share this unique opportunity, I found myself uploading a video to YouTube and another to Facebook simultaneously. Both uploads completing quickly, despite the busy network.

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Software

The Galaxy S7 ships with Android 6.0.1 which despite upgrading a major build number, is surprisingly subtle in its user-facing changes. Running on top of Android is of course still Samsung’s own customisations, but thankfully they’ve had far more constraint this time and TouchWiz has been significantly watered down. This time its so subtle that you’re unlikely to need a launcher replacement, instead switch out Internet for Chrome and you’re basically done. There’s a number of dedicated Samsung apps on the phone, but they’re no longer forced down your throat, rather there if you want, happy to go away if you don’t.

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Camera

After spending time with the Galaxy S7, there is no doubt, this is the best smartphone camera I’ve used. So good is the camera, that I’m leaving my DSLR at home. It takes a brave set of engineers to approach a marketing department and pitch them on reducing one of the most important spec numbers. Despite that, that’s exactly what happened at Samsung. The S7 decreases the megapixel count from 16 to 12 and without thoughtful examination of this, it seems like a backwards step, but in fact, its a massive leap forward.

Each and every one of the pixels on the image sensor has two photodiodes instead of one, meaning the professional-grade Dual Pixel Sensor can focus as quickly and as accurately as you would with your own eyes

The camera in this device, has amazingly fast focus, which is critical when those unplanned moments of awesome arrive and you flip out the phone from your right pocket, double tap the home button to fire the camera app and the phone is ready to fire. When you do press the shutter button, be conscious of how long you hold it down, because this thing will fire off 30 photos before you know it. This speed is fantastic when you find yourself challenged with capturing fast moving cars, kids or the like.

The other area of excellence for this f/1.7 aperture camera is low-light conditions. Every other phone I’ve used and I’d include the very decent Nokia Lumia devices in this, artificially inflate the lighting levels in evening and night photos. After taking the photo, you see the preview refresh after the software does its ‘magic’. This typically results in a brighter than reality photo and where the image should be black from lack of light, typically ends up as a pixelated grey mess. The S7 does an amazing job at being constrained in its want to artificially impact dark photos. This was best evidenced by taking a photo of my car’s headlights at night and where the environment was too dark to see with the human eye, those pixels were indeed, properly black.

Last year’s phone had a decent bump on the rear of the device that created an awkward angle as it was placed down on a desk or flat surface. This year, the designers and engineers have thinned the camera bump to just 0.46mm, basically the bump has gone.

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Features

Smart transfer
Most of us are well into our smartphone lives and chances are you don’t want buying a new phone to mean starting over. Thankfully this process has been made ridiculously simple thanks to Samsung’s Smart Transfer & USB inclusion. Connect the USB adapter to the S7’s micro-USB port and connect that to your current phone using the included USB (charging) cable. When you fire up the Smart Transfer app, there’s a couple of prompts, but within a minute, you’re files, photos, apps are all transferring over to your new device. Personally I was upgrading from the Galaxy S6 Edge+ and can say, this is a seriously under-rated feature and success of the S7 buying experience.

Fast charging
We all hope the battery of our phones last us through the day and with the bigger batteries in the S7 and S7 edge, you’ll certainly make it over that finishing line more days than not. There are however times where you need to recharge and can’t afford the time to wait for the trickle charge of a regular USB charger. Like the S6, the S7 also continues to support fast charging, both via the cable and wireless charging with the dock (not included).

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Price & Availability

The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are available now from your favourite carrier, Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, or directly from Samsung. To buy this, the top of the line Samsung, it doesn’t come cheap, so few will buy outright, but if you want or need to, it’ll cost you A$1,148.95 for the S7 or $1,249.95 for the S7 Edge. Yep, they’re crazy numbers for a smartphone, but this is also one hell of a smartphone.

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Overall

One of the massive benefits of buying a Samsung device over another branded phone, is its ability to deliver you a VR experience with GearVR. If you’re in the Android camp already and considering a phone upgrade, you’d be crazy not to have this phone on your short list. Naturally it won’t fit everyone’s needs and its certainly not a cheap phone, but if you’re at all considering entering the VR world, this is one of the cheapest ways to get a great phone you can use day-to-day and with a $158.99 GearVR, you get to enter that world.

Ultimately the S7 is phone that shows great restraint, attention to detail and most importantly, attention to user requested features. I think companies can rest on that development plan for a product for 1-2 years, but more often than not, we need manufacturers to innovate and predict our needs into the future.

 

8.3
Samsung Galaxy S7
The Good
  • Camera with fast focus, great low-light
  • Fast - 8-core proc, 4GB RAM
  • Expandable memory
  • Big battery - 3,000mAh
The Bad
  • Mono speaker
  • No USB-C support
  • Can't prop it up on a table
  • Design
    9.0
  • Performance
    9.5
  • Hardware
    9.0
  • Software
    8.0
  • Value
    6.0
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