I’ve now spent about three weeks with Samsung’s newest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S7. Like any experience with a new smartphone, it has its benefits and drawbacks, its features and its quirks. You may have read a few weeks ago that I’m planning on sticking with my Nexus 6P over the Galaxy S7 (Edge) and that’s still true but a lot of my original gripes have faded away over time. Pending what we see from HTC in the “10” smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is shaping up to be the best smartphone in 2016.
The specs are pretty standard for what we’ll be seeing this year:
- Display: 5.1″ QHD (1440×2560, 577 PPI) Super AMOLED panel
- SoC: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (MSM8996)
- Memory: 4GB RAM
- Storage: 32 GB, with microSD expansion up to 200GB
- Cameras: 12 MP, f/1.7, 26mm, phase detection autofocus, OIS & 5 MP, f/1.7, 22mm
- Battery: 3000 mAh, non-removable
- OS: Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Given that it’s pretty much exactly the same on the inside as both the HTC 10 and LG G5, Samsung had to differentiate themselves by what’s on the outside.
The Galaxy S7 is without a doubt the most elegant Android phone ever built. The industrial design of the HTC One series over the last couple of years and then the Nexus 6P last last year are certainly great, but the Galaxy S7’s fusion of metal and glass is absolutely gorgeous and it feels so great in the hand that you don’t want to put it down.
One often overlooked part of the design is where to put the 3.5mm headphone jack. It seems that nearly every OEM has moved this to the top of the phone in recent years, which leaves wires going everywhere if you’re using the phone and listening to headphones at the same time. Samsung put it back on the bottom, which may sound like a small point, but it’s an appreciated design choice.
Speaking of design choices and ports on the bottom of the phone, it is very surprising given Samsung’s propensity for wanting to be on the cutting edge that they would forego the USB type-C port on its new flagship. Every other major Android OEM that has released a phone in the last 6 months has gone with USB type-C and there has even been speculation that Apple may be putting it into the new iPhone in the fall.
The only reason that I have been able to think of that Samsung would have done this was to keep the new model phones compatible with the Gear VR headset. The Gear VR is an awesome accessory, but Samsung could definitely afford to come up with a new Gear VR tomatch the new port.
Samsung is known for having the most striking displays on the market. Another year, another Galaxy, nothing has changed. The screen on the Galaxy S7 is the same size and resolution as last year’s model. I wouldn’t be the first reviewer to say so but the Galaxy S7 is a refinement upon the S6 and in the case of the screen, there wasn’t a whole lot to improve upon because the screen in the S6 was the best on the market last year and this year it is no different.
Even though this isn’t the Edge variant of the phone, the glass does not stop flat at the edge of the phone, but instead curves around the edge by about 1mm in order to make the overall look and feel of the phone more smooth. The result of such form over function is that you end up constantly touching the screen when you’re just holding the phone normally.
The Software (aka Touchwiz)
This is without a doubt the best spin on Android that Samsung has ever made. I said the same thing last fall when I reviewed the Note 5 and I meant it. Samsung has been steadily making its flavor of Android better and better. I’m not sure how much the modern processors contribute to cleaning the clunk in Touchwiz, but the point is that the Samsung Galaxy S7 is smoother than the Nexus 6P.
Samsung has finally stopped making putting new gimmicks into the OS a selling point for its phones, which is great, but it also means there’s less to talk about on the software side of things. Still, I have some favorite features of Touchwiz that I would like to share.
Much like on the Note 5, one of my favorite features is still the theming engine/store. I’ve been a part of the root/ROM scene since my first smartp
hone in 2010 and theming has always been one of my favorite parts of that. Seeing that feature on mainstream Android devices was a dream come true and still is a lot of fun. It’s a little annoying that it is attached to the Samsung Hub rather than Google Play, but who would actually be surprised by that?
Another one of my favorites was the addition of ultra power save mode. I don’t remember seeing this on the Note 5, which was running Lollipop at the time, but this seems to be something that Samsung added with its Marshmallow release. It essentially takes regular power save mode on stock Android and turns it up to 11.
It limits your data and CPU usage, as well as completely shutting off a majority of the apps on your phone except for those that the user deems essential. It also utilizes the AMOLED display and makes everything black and white. It even disables the screenshot function!
The battery life on the Galaxy S7 is pretty good, but I’ve found that in a pinch, ultra power save mode can be invaluable. Ironically, using ultra power save mode disables the themes.
I’ve been using the Verizon variant of the phone, which normally requires the obligatory complaint of bloat. This isn’t to say that there isn’t bloat on this phone, there most certainly is, and you’ll probably want to be disabling some of them if you’re on Big Red lest you get annoying notifications about visiting the Verizon store. I feel sorry for the average Verizon customer who will never think to a install third-party SMS client, but I found that after I settled in with the phone and got it all set up the way that I like, I didn’t care about the apps that came pre-installed.
Samsung doesn’t just stuff things into Android, though, they take things out, too. In Marshmallow they removed two features that I thought were pretty crucial and left me disappointed with the implementation. One was something that I detailed a few weeks ago – they removed the ability for timed or ’til next alarm’ do not disturb. These are pretty small features, but why remove them? It’s really nice to be able to put my phone into do not disturb while I’m at the movies and set it to two hours so I don’t have to remember to turn it back on when I leave!
The other is something that a lot of people probably didn’t know about, maybe don’t care about, and technically can be brought back; and that’s adoptable storage. There was a feature introduced in Android 6.0 Marshmallow where the system could adopt the SD card as though it were internal memory and treat it the same way that it already treats the internal memory. That means that you can install as many apps as you want on a phone that is only sold with 32GB of storage but has been expanded to accommodate up to 160GB of storage. Samsung took this feature out. It can technically be brought back with some work at the command line, but why take it out in the first place?
Like I mentioned before, the battery life on the Galaxy S7 is pretty good. It’s not as good as the OnePlus One, but it worked some sort of magic. Impressively, Samsung packed the same 3000 mAh battery that it had in the Galaxy Note 5, which had a lot more physical space to work with and more pixels to push, into the smaller footprint of the Galaxy S7, giving it better battery life than the Note 5. The battery on the S7 regularly lasted me throughout the day and only when I was planning on going past midnight did I bother with recharging before the end of the day.
Like with overall performance, I’m sure that some of the battery performance can be attributed to the Snapdragon 820 under the bonnet, but I’ve heard that the Galaxy S7 with an Exynos 8890 Octa, which is sold everywhere that isn’t America.
It’s no secret that Samsung is the unquestioned leader in Android cameras, if not smartphone cameras in general and that hasn’t changed with the Galaxy S7. Photos outdoors come out very crisp and enjoyable and thanks to a lower resolution sensor and some new licenced tech, it’s better than ever in low light and has an impeccably fast shutter speed/auto focus. There’s a little bit of noise in the low light photos but they’re still better than what you’ll typically see from the competition.
I’m not what you would call a photographer and if I were I wouldn’t probably recommend using a smartphone to take pictures. But for the casual snapper, it’s hard to go wrong with the S7.
Other stuff/Final thoughts
The biggest selling point for the Galaxy S7 after having used it for several weeks is not the phone itself, but the Gear VR headset that came with a lot of early sales. Even for $99, it’s a great accessory to your smartphone.
WIN A GEAR VR!
I’ll be doing a full review of the Gear VR soon, right after we give one away, but it was the highlight of my review and for my roommate’s girlfriend, the only thing she cared about when I told her that I had the Galaxy S7 to review.
In the meanwhile, we’re going to give away a brand new Samsung Gear VR. All you have to do is head to our Instagram page and leave a comment on this post. We’ll pick a winner on April 27!
Overall, I’m still going to keep my Nexus but that doesn’t mean that the Galaxy S7 isn’t a great phone. In fact, I think it’s the best phone you can buy right now, especially if you have already owned Samsung phones and are used to some of their quirks. It’s a gorgeous phone, one that I would be ashamed to put a case on but almost definitely would have to. Make no mistake, you’ll be paying nearly $700 for this phone and almost $800 for it’s edged brethren, and that’s no small amount of money but if you have to live with a phone for two or more years, I don’t think you can go wrong with this one.