The Galaxy S7 is Samsung’s stab at a 2016 flagship, following the very well received Galaxy S6. It’s facing some incredibly stiff competition again this year, with LG’s module-driven G5 and HTC’s polished-to-perfection HTC 10, but Samsung has always held up against most other companies in the market. It’s taking a safe approach with the Galaxy S7 by building off of the successful aspects of the Galaxy S6 instead of a radical redesign like we’re used to seeing.
So how well does the Galaxy S7 hold up?
The Galaxy S7 features what’s becoming Samsung’s signature design for high-end devices with some serious punch in the hardware department. The Galaxy S6 was a radical departure from Samsung’s MO of plastic construction and fake chrome bezels, and for better or worse that design has stuck around. It’s been adopted in the Note line and we’re even seeing it bleed down into budget phones, which has helped Samsung shake off the stigma of selling “cheap” phones.
But while the S7 doesn’t make any drastic changes, it does make alterations where it counts. Samsung has brought back fan-favorite features like the microSD card and waterproofing that disappeared after the Galaxy S5, but it’s managed to tweak the premium design in all the right ways. Overall the Galaxy S7 is an incredibly compelling package and is arguably the best smartphone that’s ever been released. You can find some faults if you really dig into it, but as a whole the Galaxy S7 raises the bar for premium smartphones so high that it’s hard to imagine a phone getting much better.
Last year’s Galaxy S6 received high marks for an impressive, premium design, and the Galaxy S7 builds on that in all the right ways. While the S6 felt sharp on the edges and on the volume rocker and power button, the S7 has been smoothed down to feel easier in hand. The actual aesthetics of the phone haven’t changed much, but there a few subtle design changes that are all for the better.
The back of the device is actually fairly similar to the Galaxy Note 5. Instead of a flat back, there’s a slight curvature to the sides of the phone. It makes the phone extremely easy to hold since the curves contour to your hand. Sometimes the edges can feel slightly too thin, but in my experience the Galaxy S7 was always easy to grip and hold.
The back is still made of glass, for better or worse. There’s no denying that the phone looks and feels fantastic, but glass is still pretty slippery. That curved back helps in the grip department, but like any other glass phone, you’ll need to be careful actually holding it or you’re going to end up with a shattered back plate.
The top of the device features the SIM tray that also houses the microSD card slot. The bottom of the phone is where you’ll find the headphone jack and micro USB charging port, plus the speakers.
If you’re upgrading from a Galaxy S5, you’ll be happy to know that Samsung ditched the flap from the charging port but still managed to keep the phone waterproof, so no more worrying about closing that flip or risking it tearing off from daily usage.
The power button is on the right side of the phone with the volume rocker situated on the left. The bottom lip houses the home button (which also doubles as a fingerprint scanner) and the Recents key and Back key. Personally, I’m used to Samsung’s implementation of Back being on the right and Recents being on the left, although you’ll hear plenty of people say that it’s backwards and confusing compared to every other Android phone.
The placement of these buttons is one of the only gripes I have with the design, and it’s not because of the order of Recents/Home/Back. Sometimes when unlocking the phone with a fingerprint, the way I rest my left thumb on the home button would also graze the Recents key, which meant I’d unlock the phone into the recent apps section or the Multi-Window that’s accessed by long pressing the Recents key. It happened often enough that it turned into an actual annoyance.
The Galaxy S6 did have quite the camera bulge, and while the Galaxy S7 doesn’t completely do away with it, it shrinks it down enough to stay out of the way. Right beside the camera lens you’ll find the LED flash for the camera and the heart rate monitor for S Health.
All in all, it’s a familiar design for anyone that’s used the Galaxy S6 or Note 5, but with enough changes to justify a newer version.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 features a 5.1-inch Quad HD (2560×1440) Super AMOLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, a 12MP rear camera with f/1.7 aperture, 1/2.6″ sensor size and a 1.4 µm pixel size, a 5MP front camera, a 3000mAh battery, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, and Bluetooth 4.2. It’s also IP68 certified from water and dust damage.
Samsung beefed up the Galaxy S7 with the best tech available, with a Quad HD 2560 x 1440 display and an extremely high-end processor paired with a truck load of RAM. All of this together results in fluid performance and a bright, crisp, colorful display.
The US versions of the Galaxy S7 use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 CPU, and there’s no doubt this will be one of the fastest mobile processors you’ve ever used. It handles gaming like a champ and multitasking is a breeze, partly thanks to the S7’s gracious 4 GB of RAM. I had to go out of my way to fill up the memory to the point that it would begin closing apps, which meant just about everything I used during the day would stay loaded in RAM. Playing games obviously chews up considerable RAM and would speed up that process, and some apps (looking right at you, Facebook) are bigger hogs than others, but for most people I doubt you’d ever experience any inconvenient slowdown here.
It comes up every time Samsung releases a new phone, but the display on the S7 is, once again, the best I’ve ever seen. It’s bright, crisp, colorful, vibrant, you name it. There are several things you can fault Samsung for, but the quality of their mobile screens is not one of them. Text is sharp, videos look gorgeous, and surprisingly, the high pixel count doesn’t seem to hamper battery life, so it’s an incredibly efficient screen to boot.
Battery life was a serious fault with the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, and it’s something that Samsung wanted to positively get right this time around. Fortunately, that massive 3,000 battery seems to have helped.
While the S7 might not have the best battery life ever, it gets pretty close. I had no problems squeezing an entire day’s usage out of the phone and still getting home with 20 – 30% of my battery. And that’s not light usage, either; I have several email accounts set up on the phone, multiple social media apps, and I generally use phones pretty heavily. The only thing that managed to cut into the battery was heavy gaming, and that’s not something I typically do throughout the day. Light gaming and playing a few rounds of Candy Crush while waiting for the bus probably won’t murder the battery here, but Samsung does have a power saver mode specifically for games if you’re worried about it.
On the best day of the phone I topped out at around 5 hours of screen-on time, although on average it seemed like I would get around 4 to 4.5 hours before needing to find a charger. I’m sure there are phones that can do better, but I’m personally extremely happy with the S7’s performance here.
Love it or hate it, the Galaxy S7 still uses TouchWiz. That really shouldn’t surprise anyone, since Samsung has stuck to its software overlay for years now with no intention of changing. The good news, however, is that TouchWiz is toned back (again) this year.
I’m sure you hear that every year, too. The new version of TouchWiz is always “toned back” for better or worse, but Samsung always does something simple like cutting out soda or chips instead of going on a full-blown diet with exercise. This is still TouchWiz, make no mistake, but Samsung has removed many pre-installed apps and other features that were present even on last year’s Galaxy S6 version of TouchWiz.
If you compare TouchWiz now to what Samsung was shipping on the overly bloated Galaxy S3, it’s certainly trimmed down. Compared to what was on the Galaxy S6, it’s a minor change.
With that out of the way, TouchWiz has never particularly bothered me. It adds plenty of extra features to the Galaxy S7, like Multi-Window, Quick Connect, a theme engine, and even things like being able to log in to web sites in the browser with a fingerprint. All of these things are non-intrusive if you don’t want them, but add useful extra functionality if you do want them. On the other hand, things like a preloaded music player are completely absent from the Galaxy S7, and if you want them you’ll have to grab it from Galaxy Apps or Google Play. There are, however, things like Milk Music and Samsung’s Gear VR apps that take up precious space out of the box and chew up some of that 32 GB of internal storage.
Speaking of pre-installed apps, while Samsung managed to curb back at least some of what they ship on a device, AT&T stepped right in to muck it up again. I can’t speak for the other carrier versions of the phone, but AT&T slaps DirecTV apps in your face alongside carrier bloat apps, plus Amazon apps, Uber, Facebook, and Lookout. I won’t hold anything against you for using those apps, but I don’t want them on my phone because I’m not using them.
Whether or not the Galaxy S7’s performance can be attributed to a slimmed down TouchWiz, an insane processor, or a little bit of both, there’s no denying that it performs extremely well and the software doesn’t slow it down. Animations are quick, apps are quick to load, and there’s no lag in sight.
Samsung pulled out all the stops with the camera, building on what was already a pretty fantastic shooter in the Galaxy S6. It’s paid off, too, as the Galaxy S7 is nothing short of phenomenal.
Outdoor shots came out crisp, detailed, and with vivid, colorful lighting. If you’re outside, just pull out the camera and click. I guarantee you’ll get a great shot.
But outdoor shots aren’t where most cameras struggle, and even most mediocre cameras can pull that off. Where the S7 really shines is in, well, everything else.
Autofocus on the S7 is insanely quick, so you won’t have to wait for anything before you’ll be able to snap the photo. Indoor shots turn out well thanks to the dual-pixel technology that captures more light for your photos, and even night time shots with poor lighting look great for a smartphone camera.
You’ll also have access to plenty of different shooting modes to get a little more control over your shots, including a Pro mode that opens up access to things like ISO and aperture settings. Most of that is over my head (and still lacks a bit compared to what LG offers) but it’s there if you need full-fledged camera options.
Samsung also bakes in other photo modes, like Selective Focus, Panorama, and Surround Shot, and the default camera app supports live broadcasting to YouTube. There are several other modes to download from Galaxy Apps, too.
The Galaxy S7 isn’t perfect, but I think Samsung has gotten closer to perfection than anyone else. There are very few things to complain about here, and most of those complaints are only going to bother a very small portion of potential buyers, like folks that need a removable battery. Otherwise, Samsung has made a phone that ticks off so many check boxes on its feature list and still performs great with a premium feel.
The Galaxy S7 is going to be the phone to beat in 2016, and I don’t think we’re going to see anyone catch up with this round of flagships.