Samsung Galaxy S7 review
This is what the Galaxy S6 should have been
The Samsung Galaxy S6 may have been a bestseller, but it was a controversial smartphone for long-time Samsung fans. Thanks to its departure from the cheap and cheerful plastic of the S5, the Galaxy flagship phone finally felt like a handset that justified its high price. In the process though, the S6 did away with many beloved features such as the micro SD slot and waterproofing. The Galaxy S7 should be much more pleasing to the Samsung faithful. It not only regains features missing from the S6, but moves the state of the art forward.
Glass and metal
The S7 looks very similar to the S6 with its glass-backed casing rimmed by metal. It’s available in a variety of colours - the black colouring of our review unit had an attractive pearlescent sheen that sets it apart from other smartphones.
Despite the use of glass, it didn’t feel slippery. Some faint scratches accumulated on the screen and fingerprint reader, but these were only visible if we looked out for them under the right lighting. Small scratches on the fingerprint reader were more noticeable.
While the S7’s screen is completely flat unlike its gently sloping counterpart the S7 Edge, the rear of phone is curved at the edges. It’s very similar to the curved back of the Galaxy Note 5 and while we were initially sceptical of its value, we came to appreciate this subtle design touch. It narrowed the girth of this 5.1in phone just enough to make it more comfortable to hold and use single-handed than other similarly sized phones.
Like the Sony Xperia Z5 range, but unlike the S6 and many other competing Android flagship phones, the S7 is waterproof. It’s rated to survive immersion in water of depths no lower than 1.5m for no more than 30 minutes. It survived a half hour dunking in our kitchen sink unscathed, so it should have no trouble with rain, puddles or spilled pints. Of course, it’s best to ensure the flap-free ports are fully dried out before plugging anything in.
Screen and camera
There are no surprises when it comes to the S7’s Super AMOLED screen. It has spot-on colour accuracy and contrast, plus text is pin sharp thanks to the 2560x1440 resolution. The screen can temporarily boost its already high brightness when outdoors so it’s still readable in bright sunlight.
The screen has an ‘always-on’ mode so it can display basic information even when asleep, such as the date, time and battery charge. Nokia/Microsoft and Motorola smartphones have had a similar feature for years. It’s nice to have and didn’t noticeably deplete battery life, but is hardly essential.
The rear camera in the S7 has come a long, long way from the frankly mediocre cameras of the first few generations of Galaxy S phones. Although it ‘only’ has as 12 megapixel sensor compared to the 16 megapixels of the S6, shots are still more than detailed enough for most purposes.
Plus, the bigger pixels and the very wide f1.7 aperture of the lens make for excellent low light photography. The wide aperture lets in a lot of light, although it can also result in a very shallow depth of field. If you want to manually control the aperture to compensate for this then you’ll need a third party camera app, as Samsung’s default camera app doesn’t have manual aperture control.
Landscapes in bright sunshine and portraits indoors under harsh fluorescent lights looked great, with none of the overaggressive sharpening that have spoiled previous Galaxy S cameras (and indeed cameras on many other Android smartphones). Autofocus was sometimes a bit soft, but always very fast and this was the only flaw in a sterling camera.
Speed and battery life
S7 phones in some foreign markets use a quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, but UK units have instead an eight core Exynos 8890. Four cores run at 2.6GHz for strenuous tasks, while the other four run at 1.6GHz and only kick in for less demanding tasks to save battery life. It should come as no surprise that it topped the charts in our benchmarks, closely matching the performance of a prototype 820 seen by our sister title Expert Reviews and edging ahead of the A9 dual core processor in the iPhone 6s.
Samsung claims that the S7 has been outfitted with a water-cooling system to keep excess processor heat under control. Samsung hasn’t gone into great detail about how it works, but it does seem to be effective. The phone only became uncomfortably warm when we pushed it very heavily, such as gaming for prolonged periods or when used to drive a VR headset.
Battery life was something of a mixed bag. The battery fared very well in our video playback test, lasting just under 18 hours which is a superlative score and easily the longest score of any phone we’ve seen. However, when connected to O2’s 3G network and used in central London for calls, photography, GPS and web browsing, it lasted just over 23 hours. When browsing the web while connected to WiFi and playing MP3s, it lasted just under nine and a half hours – these are more mundane scores little different from any other phone. Overall, it’s much like any other phone of its size – it’s likely you’ll need to charge it every night.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 comes with Android Marshmallow 6.0 preinstalled. As expected, Samsung’s own TouchWiz interface has been laid on top but it is at least far less irritating and intrusive than previous versions of TouchWiz. Many of the needless Samsung-branded apps are optional installs, while most of the needless animations and gimmicky interface geegaws are gone. We still wish Google Now was to the left of the first homescreen, as it is in stock Android, instead of Samsung’s Flipboard-style newsfeed though.
Although the Settings is still as cluttered and fussy to navigate as ever, TouchWiz does have some benefits. The setup wizard that runs you first turn on the phone prompts you to set up Knox, especially if you’ve input your Exchange account details. The ability to customise the quick settings shortcuts in the Notifications drawer is a long-standing and welcome feature that stock Android users won’t get until the release of Android N.
One particularly odd and frustrating limitation stems from Google no longer mandating the pre-installation of Widevine DRM on Android phones as of 6.0 Marshmallow. With no easy way to install it yourself, it means there’s currently no way to use certain apps that depend on it such as Channel 4’s All4 video catch-up app. Until Google, Samsung and app developers get their act together, this will prove to be an aggravating problem.
S7 vs S7 Edge
This year the differences between the ‘standard’ model and Samsung’s Edge model go beyond just a curved screen. With its rounded edges, the S7 Edge can now display shortcuts, notifications and snippets from third-party apps. These notifications still have little practical use, but there’s potential for something to happen.
The S7 Edge is also 0.4in larger than the S7, which is 5.1in. Resolution-wise, the two phones are the same, though the curved sides of the S7 Edge do make it susceptible to reflections and some contrast issues.
When it comes to the processor, camera and battery, both phones feature the same components and offer outstanding performance and features. At the time of publication, the S7 Edge is still an additional £70 more than the S7, and really is not functionally different. However, if its curved-screens and larger size appeal to you and you have money to spare, it is an even classier alternative to the already stylish S7.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 may be ‘just’ an evolution and a refinement of the Galaxy S6, but it has almost everything you could want in a smartphone. It’s a great and highly desirable phone with our enthusiasm tempered only slightly by the strength of the competition.
The Moto X Force has an inferior camera, but it too is waterproof and also has a close to stock installation of Android, a highly rugged build and a ‘shatterproof’ screen. The Nexus 5X doesn’t have a micro SD slot and isn’t as comfortable to hold, but its camera is similarly excellent, it gets Android updates more quickly, it lasted longer in our everyday battery life test and it’s cheaper too.
Even so, unless you need a feature found only in one of those phones, the Galaxy S7 should be on your shopping list.
This review was originally published on 18/3/2016 and has since been updated, most recently on 20/06/2016.
|Processor||Octa-core 2.6GHz Samsung Exynos 8890|
|Rear camera||12 megapixels|
|Storage (free)||32GB (24.8GB)|
|Wireless data||3G, 4G|
|Operating system||Android 6.0.1|
|Warranty||One year RTB|