Galaxy S7 Review: Samsung’s most refined Galaxy yet
Samsung unveiled the successors to last year’s brilliant Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge a day before the commencement of MWC 2016. As always, the company promised everyone that its newest smartphones would offer better performance, better image and video quality, longer battery life, and improved software than their predecessors. You would’ve read our review of the Galaxy S7 edge already, and you might think that both devices would be similar except the difference in screen and battery life. However, there are a number of subtle differences that may influence your buying decision, and that’s why we decided to bring you a review of the Galaxy S7 as well.
At first glance, you won’t notice any major differences between the design of the Galaxy S7 and its predecessor. Samsung has stuck with the glass-and-metal build of the Galaxy S6. However, once you hold it in your palm, you’ll notice that the Galaxy S7 is much smoother and curvier than the Galaxy S6. Its back is curved around the sides, similar to the Galaxy Note 5. Even the corners are curved. Moreover, the glass panels on the front and the back have 2.5D curves on the edges, making the device even smoother and comfortable to hold. It’s much easier to pick up the device when it is resting on a table as well as when it’s in the pocket. Typing with one hand is fairly easy as well.
Water- and dust-resistance on the Galaxy S7 gives you peace of mind while taking your device to outdoor locations such as a beach or a pool party. The device is fragile to drops though due to the glass covering. Overall, the device feels comfortable to hold, use, and carry around. It’s easier to put in and take out of your trouser pockets because of the compact size, which might please those that aren’t comfortable with the larger Galaxy S7 edge.
The Galaxy S6’s display was already the best in the industry when it launched, but Samsung has a habit of improving the display quality with each passing year (or even within six months). The Galaxy S7 comes with a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display with QHD resolution, which is protected using Gorilla Glass 4. This display is brighter than the Galaxy S6’s in the manual mode. However, when auto mode is activated, the brightness level under direct sunlight is a bit lower than the Galaxy S6’s.
The display is bright, sharp, and colorful. Out of the box, the Adaptive display mode is activated, which cranks up the contrast level. The colors look a bit unreal, but that’s how most people like it. If you’re not a fan of oversaturated colors, you can switch to Basic mode for accurate color reproduction from the settings.
The Always On display mode is a new feature that shows information like the calendar, clock, and notification icons even when the device is in sleep mode. It is quite handy – Samsung claims that the feature consumes just 1 percent of battery each hour, but I’ve noticed that it takes up a little more than that. You can even change “wallpapers” in the Always On mode, but the effect is very subtle.
On paper, the Galaxy S7’s camera seems like a downgrade in terms of resolution with just 12 megapixels instead of 16 megapixels on the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5. However, Samsung has focused on improving low-light imaging capability rather than going after more megapixels. The Galaxy S7 uses the widest aperture ever in the smartphone industry: ƒ/1.7. Combine that with larger 1.4µm pixels and dual-pixel phase-detection autofocus mechanism, and what you get is a camera that can shoot brilliant images in low-light.
Samsung ships some units of the Galaxy S7 with the Sony IMX260 camera sensor while other units come with its own ISOCELL S5K2L1 sensor. Our Galaxy S7 review unit came with a Sony sensor, while one of our Galaxy S7 edge units came equipped with an ISOCELL sensor. Both have exactly the same specifications, and there’s negligible difference in real-life performance. No matter which sensor your unit has, the end result will be impressive.
Thanks to dual-pixel phase-detection autofocus, which is usually found only in DSLR cameras, the focusing is lightning quick. It never missed focusing on the subject. Samsung claims that all the 12 million pixels in the camera sensor are equipped with phase-detection elements. The Galaxy S7 (and S7 edge) has the fastest autofocus mechanism in any smartphone that we’ve used till now. You can click an image within 2-3 seconds, which includes waking up the phone from sleep, launching the camera app using the home button shortcut, pointing the device at the subject, and clicking the shutter button.
Images clicked in good lighting conditions come out great. They contain almost as much detail as the images clicked using the Galaxy S6 or the Galaxy Note 5, despite the lower megapixel count. White balance is spot on most of the time, but I did see some images with blown highlights, but they were the exceptions rather than a rule. Color rendition is accurate and the dynamic range is good. There’s a bit of noise if you pixel peep, but the kind that doesn’t spoil an image. Images clicked in low-light conditions have a yellow cast, but they exhibit more details when compared to any other smartphone from the company. Unlike the Galaxy S6, there are no halos around light sources.
It can record 4K videos at 30 fps, 1080p videos at 60 fps and 30 fps, and hyperlapse videos at 1080p. Unlike the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5, the Galaxy S7 can shoot videos in manual mode where you can adjust focus, shutter speed, and exposure. There are plenty of details in videos and the color reproduction is similar to still images. The stereo audio in videos is clean, thanks to a high bitrate. You can either choose the speed (4x – 32x) of hyperlapse videos or let the device set it for you. If you choose the latter, the device will try to match the action in the scene to choose the appropriate speed.
The Motion Photo mode is like Live Photos on the iPhone or Live Images on recent high-end Lumia smartphones. The device records high-resolution videos of a few seconds before an image is clicked. Though the playback of the short video is supported only on the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, there’s a third-party app that lets you extract that video as an mp4 file. The only thing that we didn’t like about the Galaxy S7’s camera is its aspect ratio of 4:3 instead of the 16:9 ratio that was used in the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note 5. It feels odd when you view images clicked with the Galaxy S7 on either the smartphone’s display or any other TV with black bars on the sides.
Software & UI
The Galaxy S7 became the first smartphone from Samsung to come preinstalled with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. It comes with a newer version of TouchWiz (the company doesn’t call the user interface TouchWiz anymore), which appears a lot cleaner. We will not focus on what has been there already in terms of software, but on what’s new. The notifications bar comes with a new color combination with a lighter shade, making the UI look elegant and clean. Lock screen shortcuts can be edited, and this feature has also been made available to other Galaxy devices that have received the Android Marshmallow update.
Avid mobile gamers can enjoy the Game Launcher and Game Tools features. The former, when activated, places a folder on the home screen which contains all the games installed on the device. Not only that, gamers can also save battery power while playing games. The Save Power option caps the maximum frame rate at 30 fps. The Save Maximum Power not only caps the frame rate at 30 fps but also lowers the game resolution. The Game Tools feature is actually a small floating icon that pops up whenever a game is being played. It allows taking a screenshot while playing a game, recording your game moves and saving it as a video file, activating do not disturb mode, and disabling the multitasking and back keys to prevent accidental presses.
The new software allows you to unlock the device using a pin code if the device fails to recognize your fingerprints for some reason. If you use your fingerprints to unlock the Galaxy S7, you’ll need to enter the pin code each time you restart the device. Since Samsung has moved to using Android 6.0’s default fingerprint recognition APIs (Nexus Imprint), you can use the fingerprint authentication to purchase paid games, apps, and other media. This also makes the device compatible with a lot of third-party apps that use Android APIs, and one of them that we regularly used was 1Password. The other new feature on the device lets you take scrolling screenshots, so that you can share a listing of anything (maybe a list of restaurants or a shopping list) with others as a screenshot (this feature was seen before on the Note lineup).
Support for third-party themes has been there since the Galaxy S6, and Samsung has included an option in the theming engine where developers can show different designs when the device is in sleep mode with an active Always On display mode. You can find themes with custom Always On display widgets/designs in the Theme Store. The Galaxy Labs is a new feature that lets users try out new software features. Right now, there are two features that are listed in Galaxy Labs. One lets you switch off the dedicated app launcher. The second Galaxy Labs feature lets you dial a number by long pressing the home button followed by saying the name of the person aloud. Users can even report back to Samsung whether they liked a particular Galaxy Labs feature or not.
Samsung has stopped shipping its legendary music player and the video player with its flagship smartphones starting this year, but you can download them on the Galaxy S7 through the Galaxy Apps store (the music app is also available on the Play Store). The company, as usual, is preinstalling Microsoft apps including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, OneDrive, and Skype. Users who activate the automatic camera upload feature in the OneDrive app are entitled to receive 100GB of cloud storage for free. Some users might see this as bloatware, but they come in quite handy. If you absolutely hate those apps, you can disable them, but they can’t be uninstalled completely.
The Galaxy S7 comes in two variants, one with a 64-bit octa-core Exynos 8890 processor, and the other with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC. Both the variants feature 4GB of RAM and at least 32GB of internal storage space. More importantly, the company brought back the storage expansion slot to win back its long-time fans. Our review unit came equipped with the Exynos 8890 processor. The SoC has eight cores: four Mongoose CPU cores clocked at 2.1GHz and four ARM Cortex-A53 cores that are clocked at 1.6GHz.
Mongoose CPU cores have been developed by Samsung in-house, and as predicted, they offer much better performance than ARM’s stock Cortex-A57 cores. While they aren’t as fast as Apple’s Twister or Qualcomm’s Kryo CPU cores, it’s a great beginning for Samsung since they are developing custom cores for the first time while the other two companies have been doing it for a couple of years. Apart from a faster CPU, the Exynos 8890 also comes with a beefier GPU in the form of the Mali-T880 MP12. The new GPU is twice as fast as the GPU that was used in the Exynos 7420. As a result, frame rates have doubled and you can expect butter smooth gaming performance from the Galaxy S7. We’re not a fan of synthetic benchmarks so we’ll refrain from using them here.
Needless to say, the UI on the Galaxy S7 is very smooth, and it appears Samsung has definitely spent a lot of time fine tuning the software. The audio through the loudspeaker isn’t that great. The volume is lower and the sound quality isn’t satisfactory, and that’s because the loudspeaker opening is covered by a membrane that doesn’t let water seep inside. It’s a sacrifice that Samsung has made to make the Galaxy S7 a water-resistant device without adding plastic flaps. The signal reception was great throughout and the call quality was great too.
The Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 edge were really solid devices, but they were weak in terms of battery life because of small batteries. Samsung listened to complaints about subpar battery life and made the Galaxy S7 thicker to accommodate a larger, 3,000 mAh battery. On top of that, the S7 comes with a more power-efficient Exynos 8890 processor (or the Snapdragon 820).
As a result, the device lasts a full day after a complete charge. Over the course of three weeks, the device was consistently able to last a whole day with around 4-5 hours of screen-on time. I also had the Gear S2 classic connected to the Galaxy S7 at all times. If you don’t have any wearable connected, the Galaxy S7 can last even longer. The first few days might not see you through the day, but let the battery settle and the endurance becomes pretty good.
The device charged from zero to 100 percent in a little over 90 minutes using the bundled Fast Charge-compatible wall charger. If you didn’t know already, the Galaxy S7 supports Qi and PMA wireless charging as well as fast wireless charging. This helps a lot. You can charge the device for 15 or 30 minutes, and you’ll be good to go for another six to eight hours. However, the device heated up considerably while getting charged, making it quite uncomfortable to use.
The Galaxy S7 is an excellent smartphone, one that focuses on every basic facet and makes it as good as it can be. There’s no major disadvantage on this device – there’s not even a minor disadvantage if we’re honest, as all the things you would need in day-to-day life are done well. The camera is amazing, performance is fast, and you get a premium body with water and dust resistance and top-notch internals. If we were to nitpick, it would be over missing features like an IR sensor or a USB Type-C port or the fact that the loudspeaker isn’t as good as it was last year.
For anyone not interested in the Galaxy S7 edge either because of the larger screen or the higher price, the Galaxy S7 is the best bet and as good as it gets in the smartphone world right now.
|Good design with improved handling||Camera sensor has 4:3 aspect ratio|
|Great camera, especially in low-light conditions||No IR blaster|
|MicroSD card is back!||Home button gets scratched easily|
|Water- and dust-resistance||Gets quite hot while charging|
|Improved UI and performance|
|Good battery life|