The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is here and is undoubtedly one of the most attractive phones ever made. The curved display, or “infinity screen” as my friends have taken to calling it, is one of the most unique features on any phone out there. Samsung has tried to up its game this year by adding in some fan favorite features like expandable storage and water resistance.

But, the question I keep asking myself is this: Is the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge a great phone, or just a spec sheet monster? I’ve spent a little while with the phone, and these are my thoughts.

Specs

  • Screen: Curved 5.5″ 2560 x 1440p AMOLED display
  • Processor: Snapdragon 820 (US and China), Exynos 8890 Octa (International)
  • Storage: 32 GB/64 GB (expandable up to 200 GB)
  • RAM: 4 GB
  • Primary Camera: 12 MP, f/1.7, 26mm, with phase detection autofocus and Optical Image Stabilization
  • Secondary Camera: 5 MP, f/1.7, 22mm
  • Battery: 3,600 mAh
  • Dimensions: 5.94 x 2.86 x 0.30 in
  • Weight: 5.54 oz
  • IP68 certified – dust proof, water resistant at 1.5m for 30 minutes

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge matches the LG G5 and Xiaomi Mi 5 for the best specs in a phone currently available. Depending on where you live, you’ll be getting a Snapdragon 820 processor (US and China), 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage standard. International (Europe, Middle East, and the rest of Asia) markets will see the phone come equipped with an Exynos 8890 processor.

There have been a lot of questions about the difference between the processors so far, and it seems to break down to this: the Snapdragon has better GPU and single-core performance, where the Exynos has better multi-core performance and better battery life. Both processors are still top of the line, no matter which one you have.

Samsung turned a few heads this year by dropping the megapixel count in its cameras. Low light pictures are the focus this year and by reducing the sensor size, more light should be able to be picked up, resulting in better pictures in less than ideal situations. Has it succeeded? You can make your own decisions in the camera section of this review.

The screen resolution remains unchanged from last year’s Galaxy S6 Edge even though the screen size has jumped up from 5.1″ to 5.5″. But, one of the biggest changes has been the bump in battery life. The 3,600 mAh battery is simply huge. An increase this large indicates that Samsung listened about how bad the battery life was with the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge were last year and moved to address it.

Hardware & Physical Overview

To begin the conversation about the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge anywhere else than the display would be crazy. The curved screen is the defining feature of this phone and certainly makes it stand out from any other flagship on the market.

Galaxy S7 Edge curve

Not only is it curved, but it’s a fantastic size. While the Galaxy S7 might be a bit easier to handle with its 5.1″ screen, the Edge is perfect for those with medium to large hands. Female friends in the past have complained that anything bigger than an iPhone 5 was unwieldy, but I’ve heard nothing but praise for the Galaxy S7 Edge due to its superior screen to body ratio.

Above the display, we find the earpiece for phone calls, the front facing camera, proximity sensor, and a Samsung logo.

The texture feels amazing, and I often find myself just moving the phone around in my hands because it feels cool.

To the south lays Samsung’s famous button layout. A physical home button is flanked by the multitasking button (to the left) and the back button (to the right). Because Samsung has sought to increase the screen to body ratio, these buttons are very close to the screen. More than once, I’ve tapped an icon in my dock when I’m trying to hit back. Not a huge deal, but it will probably happen to you if you own this phone.

Within the generously big home button returns a fan favorite, the tap-and-press fingerprint scanner. It seems that all high-end phones have fingerprint scanners, and Samsung is no different.

The fingerprint sensor this year is improved over last year. While I haven’t had the phone for months on end, my problems with misreads started early with the Galaxy S6 Edge. There are no traces of that with the Galaxy S7 Edge. While it is accurate, it doesn’t get a hit every time and can be a bit slow occasionally. The iPhone is still the leader in scanning speed with the Nexus phones right behind. The Galaxy S7 Edge lags behind both, but unless you’re used to those phones, it probably won’t be an issue for you.

On the back of the phone, we find the camera bump and the flash + heart rate sensor right next to it.

Galaxy S7 Edge Camera Bump 2

This year, Samsung made the body of the phone a little bit thicker. This has served two purposes. First off, it gave some extra room for a bigger battery. Secondly, the camera bump from last year is almost gone. While there is still a bit of a bump, it’s nowhere as noticeable as it used to be. If you’re buying this phone from Verizon, you’ll be treated to its logo about an inch under the flash, while the “Galaxy S7 edge” branding sits near the bottom.

It’s important to point out here that the back of the phone is curved on the edges as well. While the curve isn’t as drastic as on the screen or like phones from Motorola, it’s definitely noticeable and greatly increases your ability to pick the S7 Edge off a flat surface (which was a big pain for last years model).

Galaxy S7 Edge Curved back

Even though the sides of the phone are incredibly thin, you will still find the volume buttons on the left and the power button on the right. These buttons retain their fantastic clickiness. Seriously, this can’t be said enough. For such a small feature, it really makes a world of difference.

Galaxy S7 Edge Buttons

The bottom of the phone houses the micro-USB connector, speaker and headphone jack, flanked by antenna strips. Yes, sadly, we’re seeing a return to micro-USB instead of the newer USB type-C. I’m sure Samsung has its reasons for sticking with the older standard (Gear VR support?), but it’s a disappointment, nonetheless.

Unfortunately, the speaker on the bottom of the phone this year is a bit of a letdown. It’s certainly loud, but the sound quality isn’t great. I personally think it sounds a bit tinny and muffled. I have a feeling this is due to Samsung going for the IP68 water and dust resistance rating on this phone and sealing up the charging port and speakers to retain water resistance. It’s certainly a trade-off that I’m happy to make for the long-term health of the phone since I don’t use the speakers a lot anyway.

Galaxy S7 Edge bottom

The top of the phone sees a secondary microphone and the SIM/micro-SD card combo slot. Yes, expandable storage has returned to the Galaxy S line after a one-year absence. The S7 and S7 Edge can take micro-SD cards up to 200 GB for your pictures, movies, and documents. Notably missing from the top of the phone is the IR blaster from last year.

The body is comprised of two pieces of beautiful glass sandwiched around a metal frame. But, something is different. Recently I stood holding my friend’s Galaxy S6 in one hand and this Galaxy S7 Edge in the other. The S7 Edge feels so much better. While it is still slippery, it’s not nearly as bad as the S6.

The texture feels amazing, and I often find myself just moving the phone around in my hands because it feels cool. I wish Samsung could have done something about fingerprints as the S7 Edge collects them religiously.

What sets this year apart is Samsung’s design choice to make everything black. There are no silver outlines to show off the edges of the home button or ear piece. It’s just black. And it looks amazing. The Black Onyx color with the glass body of the Galaxy S7 Edge makes it the most attractive phone I have ever laid eyes on. It’s sleek, it’s sexy, and it’s beautifully curved.

Galaxy S7 Edge wireless charging

Screen

We’ve established how beautiful the screen is by this point. But, there is more than just how it looks.

One of the first things you notice when using the S7 Edge is that your palm is probably going to rest on the edge of the screen (unless you have long fingers). It’s just unavoidable at first. This leads to a lot of accidental touches and accidental taps until you re-learn how to hold your phone.

Galaxy S7 Edge both edges

It took me a few (extremely frustrating) days to consistently get it right. There were times when I just wanted to put the phone down and walk away. Now that I’m used to it, I still press the side on accident from time to time, but not nearly as frequent. I really feel like these issues could be fixed by better palm rejection. I’m by no means a software engineer, but this seems like one of the first things you’d want to do on a screen that’s going to replace bezel.

There is still some green discoloration at the screen curve (much better than last year), and the keyboard buttons can be a bit of a pain to hit, but you really get used to it quickly. The screen may a bit overly sensitive. I will occasionally run into the phone registering a tap when I’m trying to scroll. I feel like Samsung could probably fix this with a software update. No big deal.

But, it’s not all bad. There are many reasons I believe this is the best screen on the market.

The biggest of which is how vibrant these colors are. Sure, there is some oversaturation in places, but it looks beautiful throughout. In the settings, you can change the scenes between Adaptive Display, AMOLED Cinema, AMOLED Photo, and Basic. All have their different focuses, but I love AMOLED Cinema for how vibrant the colors are on the AMOLED panel.

In addition to how beautiful the colors are, the screen is incredibly bright. The ability to read the display comfortably in direct sunlight is a huge plus for this phone. Auto-brightness does a great job of keeping the phone at an adequate level. I never see it inch above 50% unless I’m in an extreme situation. Turning the brightness all the way up in a normal light situation almost hurts my eyes because it’s so bright.

Galaxy S7 vs. Nexus 6P 100% brightness
Galaxy S7 Edge vs. Nexus 6P 100% brightness

Minimum brightness is another strength of the Galaxy S7 Edge. Reading in bed is comfortable and free of any kind of eye strain due to how dim the display can get. The real issue with reading at night are the back and multitasking buttons lighting up. Fortunately, there are third-party apps in the Play Store to rectify this.

The screen is so good it overshadows a lot of little flaws with the phone.

Performance

This section of my review may be a little bit different than others. I don’t focus on scores at all. I think benchmarking is only important pre-release to give people a frame of reference for what kind of device we’re talking about. Instead, I focus on real world performance. What the phone feels like, where it stutters, where it frustrates, where it shines.

One of the biggest things I like to focus on are graphical stutters and dropped frames. These two things indicate that the CPU or GPU is unable to keep up with whatever task you’re trying to complete and must render fewer frames in order to have the power to get it done. In previous Samsung devices I’ve owned (Almost everything in the Galaxy S and Note series), I’ve always had issues with dropped frames and stuttering.

Most people refer to this as TouchWiz lag.

With a brand new top-of-the-line processor, GPU and 4 GB of RAM on board, nothing should slow this phone down, right? Well, not so much. I must say, performance, for the most part, has been excellent. But, the lag is still there. It shows up in the weirdest places as well. I’ve noticed it the most when scrolling through apps in my app drawer and through the Google Play Store. While these issues aren’t game breaking, they do take you out of the experience. They make you think about what you’re doing instead of it being effortless.

When the Galaxy S7 Edge is humming along, it is an absolute joy to use. For the handful of times it stutters, it frustrates. These instances are few and far between, and however annoying they may be, they aren’t a reason to pass up this phone.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 that powered the last generation of flagships (the exception being Samsung’s who used their own Exynos chips) had a bad reputation for running hot. A processor that puts out excessive heat gets thermal throttled more often, and that leads to a loss of performance and operational efficiency. Samsung was so worried about the thermals in the Galaxy S7 Edge that it put a liquid cooling pipe in the phone.

Galaxy S7 Edge cooling

It helped. But there are still issues.

During set-up, the phone became extremely hot. I could still hold it, but it was uncomfortable. I believe that while installing apps after the initial set-up the phone thermal throttled to such a degree that it took HOURS to download about 100 apps from the Play Store on a moderately fast connection. This was a bad first impression, but things did get better. I don’t play many games but for the purpose of this review, I did try out Asphalt 8, a notoriously power hungry game as a sort of real-life benchmark.

Results were pretty great. The phone ran smooth at high frame rates and with little heat displacement. It definitely became warm, but not uncomfortable enough to put the phone down. I was impressed after the initial misstep during set-up. The phone runs cool almost all of the time unless you really push it, a big win for Samsung and Qualcomm.

Multitasking is great. The problems that the Samsung Galaxy S6 faced are gone. For the unfamiliar, the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, and Note 5 would only hold four or five apps in memory at a time. That is staggeringly low for a phone released in 2015. I did a test and loaded up 10 applications of varying sizes and had zero issue with the OS killing them in the background. This was one of the most frustrating issues (along with battery life) with the Galaxy S6, and I’m glad to see that Samsung made a huge leap in performance here.

The last metric I use to determine performance is battery life. During the review period, all the radios were on except for WiFi, location was set to high accuracy and auto-brightness was turned on. We started off strong, but it has sure been a struggle recently.

My average seems to be between four and four and a half hours of screen on time, with about 20 hours on battery. I sleep odd hours because of my job so I take the phone off the charger about 1:30 AM and it goes back on the charger between 9 PM and 10 PM. That’s a lot of standby time and that’s one of the areas where problems crop up. Something or some things that identify under the “Android System” category are ruining the battery life on this phone. Every day I’ve used it, Android System has been at the top of the list with between 35% – 50% of the battery used.

Some days are better than others, though. There have been a few days where I could only get about three hours of screen on time before the low battery reminder kicked on.

On the flip side, the screen seems to be extremely power efficient. To be able to get almost five hours of screen on time with auto-brightness and not have it be the top power user is very impressive. Well done, Samsung. If Google or Samsung can figure out what is going on with Android System, they could have a two-day battery on its hands. Until then, you’ll be reaching for that charger before bedtime.

Unfortunately, the screen shots didn’t capture the remaining battery. On day 1, I had roughly 25% left and on day 2 I had roughly 40% left

Camera

In an effort to raise the quality of pictures taken with their phones, Samsung for the first time in memory dropped the megapixel count in their cameras. This year we see a 12 MP main shooter with f/1.7 aperture, phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilization paired with an LED flash. The camera has the ability to simultaneously record 4K video and take 9 MP pictures.

The front facing camera is 5 MP with a f/1.7 aperture and features auto HDR.

The improvements in low light are real. The details picked up in full auto mode are fantastic. Below you can see a comparison I took of the anchors at the station I work at. In the first photo I used our professional lighting grid. The second photo is just the house lights that barely light the room. I think the detail is still great.

The improvements don’t stop with just low light. This camera is seriously fast, almost instantaneous. Phase detection autofocus helps with quick moving objects, and while it doesn’t get everything right every time, it’s pretty reliable. The colors are not just vibrant on the beautiful screen of the phone, but everywhere else too. Below are five pictures I took at varying light levels.

Lighting conditions: Well lit to low light

In the two well-lit pictures, you see everything. Every detail. There is very little to no artifacting or blurriness.

Outside on an overcast day, the camera does a good job of not blowing out the sky for the sake of everything else in the picture. It’s balanced and gets most everything right.

The two low light pictures show off, again, how well the camera can do with varied light levels in the picture. You have very bright monitors along with a dark coffee cup from Starbucks. While the cup isn’t perfectly in view, you can make out what it is and some small details. Most cameras would make that a black hole of nothingness because of the light being emitted from the monitors behind it.

What makes taking great pictures easy is a great camera application and Samsung delivered one on the Galaxy S7 Edge. The application is easy to use and intelligently laid out. It’s as simple as you want it to be with more powerful features like setting the ISO and white balance a tap away.

You’re offered many, many modes within the app. Auto, Pro, Selective Focus, Panorama, Video collage, Live Broadcast, Slow motion, Virtual Shot, Food and Hyperlapse all come standard on the phone with the ability to download more from Samsung’s market.

There has been a lot made about the Galaxy S7 Edge’s camera. Many are stating that it has passed the iPhone 6S Plus in quality. No matter if it has or not, you simply aren’t going to go wrong with using this camera. It’s more difficult to take a bad picture than the other way around. Color me impressed.

Interested in more? Check out our Galaxy S7 Edge vs. Nexus 6P Camera Shootout!

Software

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge comes running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow out of the box. On top is Samsung’s skin, TouchWiz. TouchWiz has been notorious over the years as one of the heaviest Android skins out there. It’s also synonymous with bloat.

I’ve seen a lot of praise being thrown around by owners and reviewers alike for how much Samsung has “paired down” TouchWiz. I don’t understand why people are saying that. TouchWiz is just as heavy and bloated as it’s ever been. The biggest change I can really identify over years past is that the color scheme is more pleasing now.

Galaxy S7 Edge SettingsOne of the biggest offenders is the settings application. This is a central hub for everything you’d want to change about your phone and needs to be as easy to navigate as possible. In past versions of TouchWiz, there were a million brightly color coded categories. Now there aren’t as many categories, but more settings hidden in each option.

What used to takes two or three clicks now takes four or five. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, burying options and settings that far down makes it significantly less likely that the average user will ever find them.

There has been a rumor going around that in the next version of Android the app drawer will be removed. Further rumors around MWC 2016 pointed to the LG G5 and Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge doing away with it NOW to get ahead of the game. Fortunately, that isn’t the case. Unfortunately, Samsung’s choices regarding the App Drawer are some of the clearest of examples of an OEM changing something just to change it and making it worse.

The app drawer button is locked to the bottom right corner of the screen, unable to be moved. Once you get into the app drawer, the first thing you see are folders for Amazon, Google, and Samsung (and Verizon if you have that variant) holding multiple apps. These apps no longer show up in the rest of the list so you have to know exactly what’s in those folders or you’ll be scrolling back and forth forever. Lastly, and most frustratingly is that the default sorting is by newest app last, and there’s no way to change it. You can hit the A – Z button to re-arrange them, but as soon as you delete or install an application, your order is screwed up again.

Why, Samsung? These are awful choices. Pre-defined folders in the app drawer? An icon that can’t move? Awful sorting? None of these save time and that’s one of the biggest advantages of HAVING an app drawer in the first place. You know exactly where everything is and can get there quickly.

This is what my app drawer looked like after deleting and installing a few apps. Horrible.

Samsung could do everything else right in their software and this alone is so frustrating that it sometimes makes me want to put the phone down. Stop changing things just to change them. There is no improvement here.

The bloat on this phone is simply outrageous. 8 pre-installed Verizon apps, 5 from Samsung and 3 from Amazon, and if you consider some of Google’s extraneous apps bloat, there are a lot more. The two gigs or so of space I could get back if these apps simply could be uninstalled instead of disabled is invaluable. I feel bad for AT&T customers who have it even worse than Verizon customers.

Samsung, LG, Sony, HTC, Huawei, Xiaomi, Apple, you guys need to listen. Some of you are better than others but stop forcing us to keep apps we don’t want on our phones. People are paying upwards of $800 for these devices and to tell them that they MUST keep Verizon’s Message+, NFL Mobile or Slacker Radio on their phone at all times is ridiculous. It’s 2016. Get it together.

Some of you are better than others but stop forcing customers to keep apps we don’t want on our phones. People are paying upwards of $800 for these devices and to tell them that they MUST keep Verizon’s Message+, NFL Mobile or Slacker Radio on their phone at all times is ridiculous. It’s 2016. Get it together.

I’ve beat up Sammy a little bit here, and I do believe it deserves the criticism for some of these awful decisions, but not everything it did to the software is bad.

Galaxy S7 Edge Quick TogglesQuick toggles are back in the notification shade and I absolutely love that. Sure, it does take some screen real estate, and it can get a little crowded when you have multiple notifications, but those instances don’t present themselves often enough to be a big annoyance. Making these settings easier to get to just makes the choices in the settings app even more head-scratching. It seems like Samsung gets it in some places, but not others.

Another huge improvement comes with gaming. I’m not a huge gamer, but I can appreciate the improvements Samsung made for hardcore gamers here. Game Launcher and Game Tools are great additions to Android.

Game Launcher is a central hub to keep track of all your games. This is one of those features that keeps you from going into your app drawer or creating a special folder just for games. They’re organized and easy to get to. It will identify some weird apps as games occasionally (my Barclays app is definitely not a game), but it lets you add “unlisted” applications as well.

Within Game Launcher, you can set some additional settings like power saver or not receive alerts while you’re playing which is really handy. There are some ads for other games and videos that will appear at the bottom of Game Launcher, but I suppose we can give it a pass on this one.

Game Tools is a floating chat head-like icon that pops out options without taking you from your game. In the pop-out menu, you’re given the option to turn off all alerts during the game, lock the recent and back buttons to avoid accidental presses, minimize the game while putting it in a save state, take a screenshot or record the screen.

I don’t know how useful recording gameplay on a phone or the screenshot option will be (you can take a screenshot by holding down the home button and hitting the share icon too), but the first three options are very, very nice to have.

 

One feature that was prominently displayed at Samsung’s announcement event was the addition of an always-on display. This is a software feature that keeps your screen on at all times with a black background and a graphic of your choice. I personally have a clock with the date, time and battery percentage with a nice blue design behind it. You can choose between a clock, calendar or an image always displayed, and since it’s an AMOLED panel, only the pixels in use are lit up. This is great for battery life since you don’t have to constantly turn on the entire screen to check out what’s going on with your phone.

If you want the curve of your screen to be more than just something pretty to look at, Samsung includes some software features to make the most out of it. Edge panels and Edge feeds can both be customized to your liking.

By default, you’ll have four Edge panels on. These swipe in from the right side of the screen (there’s a white tab to indicate where to swipe from) to display quick links to tools, applications, contacts, and news. You can also enable other panels like stocks, sports scores, and a compass. Samsung has opened this functionality up to third parties and lets you download more options from their store, both free and paid, to customize the phone even further.

Edge feeds is a bit more simplistic than the Edge panels. These black background and (mostly) white text graphics display notifications like missed calls and emails, news headlines, sports scores, fitness information, and stocks. You can download more of these as well from Samsung’s store. Edge feeds are activated by a swipe long ways along the curve, rather than swiping in from the side.

Edge lighting is the third option here and it lights up the edge of the screen when you’re getting a call. I don’t know how many of you are going to set your phone face down on a table, but the option its there.

For some reason, the option to set the Night Clock isn’t in the same menu as the previously mentioned features, but it’s my favorite use of the Edge. I often times wake up in the middle of the night and I always check what time it is so I know how much longer I have to sleep. The Night Clock displays the time and my next alarm in a dim light that doesn’t wake me up (or keep me up) but lets me know the vitals.

The curved screen of this phone looks great, but almost every feature that it has come up with feels like a gimmick.

Evolution, not Revolution

Consumer Reports recently came out and said that the Samsung Galaxy S7 was the best smartphone ever made. I can see how anyone could come to that conclusion, it truly is a tremendous phone, but I don’t think I can sit here and call it the best phone ever.

I don’t have an answer to “the best phone ever made” question, but I do have a while of use under my belt with this phone and I wouldn’t go as far as Consumer Reports did. There are still some really big flaws with this phone that need to be overcome in order to lay claim to that title.

Samsung does deserve a lot of credit. IP68 water resistance and dust proofing, a microSD card slot, the best screen I’ve ever seen, a better fingerprint reader and an Always-On Display make this phone much better than the Galaxy S6 Edge. That doesn’t even take battery life into account. While it’s not great this year, it is far improved and will get most through an entire day.

But, it’s frustrating to see the best hardware on the market held back by subpar software. The lack of better touch rejection on the curved display hampers the phone and frustrates me as much as any phone ever has. TouchWiz lag, as much as we hoped it would be gone with a new processor, is still alive and kicking. It may be on life support, but it shows up and reminds you of the missed potential with this phone.

I can’t in good conscious sit here and say this phone is worth $800. I know I have to return this phone at the end of the review period so I’ve kept my eyes out for deals, and even though I’ve found some, I haven’t pulled the trigger. That tells me a lot about the value of this phone.

It’s a tremendous phone, but a few fatal flaws keep it from greatness.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Build Quality
Screen
Performance
Camera
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Matt is an avid sports and technology fan and Managing Editor for AndroidGuys.com. You can get in touch with him by email at [email protected]