Samsung revealed its new flagship smartphone — the Galaxy S7 — this week at Mobile World Congress (MWC), and we were lucky enough to get our hands on the device for a short demo. After spending a few minutes testing the device, it became clear that Samsung can still makes a great Android phone.
The Galaxy S7 is all about refinement: The camera is, once again, better than last year's model. The build quality has been improved again, too. But most important of all, Samsung brought back the expandable memory slot, so you can increase your storage with a cheap micro-SD card. There's a lot to love in the Galaxy S7, and its slightly thinner counterpart, the Galaxy S7 Edge. Here's a quick rundown of the six things you need to know about the new devices:
Water resistance and expandable storage is back
Despite the Galaxy S6's refined design last year, its lack of expandable storage and water resistance was, for many people, a huge loss. The Galaxy S7 is different. By using a hybrid SIM tray, the S7 can hold up to 200GB of expandable storage. It's also IP68 rated, meaning it can survive a drop in 2m of water for 30 minutes. That also means you could theoretically shower with the phone — though jets of water disrupt the capacitive touchscreen, so it wouldn't be usable. But it would survive the soak. If that's something you're into... (I'm not weird, you're weird!)
Samsung was also able to shave a millimetre or two off the camera bump on the back of the phone. It also employs the Galaxy Note 5's curved back, which makes the phone much easier to hold. It's easily one of the most comfortable phones I've palmed in a while.
The Galaxy's great camera is now even greater
I'm going to save my thorough analysis for our official review coming in a few weeks, but the few minutes I spent thumbing around with the S7's camera left an indelible impression. The big bump in performance is obsessively focused on low-light settings. Although the camera drops from 16 megapixels to 12, those bigger pixels let in 56 per cent more light, according to Samsung. With a f/1.7 aperture and a rearranged sensor layout for faster focus speeds, suddenly the Galaxy S7 comes with the most impressive phone camera system I've ever seen.
Despite being in a closed-off testing room like some pale-skinned agoraphobe, I peeled back a curtain to take a few test shots of the busy a New York City street — much to the chagrin of one Samsung rep. Although I unfortunately don't have the sample, the shutter was lightning quick, the colour accuracy looked great in HDR, and the detail, even at max zoom, was undeniably impressive. If there's one thing to be excited about — it's this responsive and accurate camera.
The Galaxy S7 is now "Always On"
Lots of smartphones have tried to provide around-the-clock information without completely draining the battery, but Samsung thinks its finally solved the puzzle. With its energy-efficient AMOLED display and Snapdragon 820 processor, the Galaxy S7 comes with an always-on option that can show the time, calendar, notifications, or even spartan wallpaper designs. The only downside is that the options are somewhat limited, and you can't read notifications. But if Samsung can truly bring all this info to the lock screen without sacrificing on battery life, it'd be a big plus.
Samsung gets serious about gaming and virtual reality
Samsung's always been on the forefront of using smartphones to power VR headsets, the S7 doesn't mess with the formula. The S7 will be compatible with its latest $199 Gear VR headset and Samsung will also be hocking its own Portal turret — I mean, Gear 360 camera. You can create your VR stuff right on the S7 with the phones's processor doing all the video stitching. When connected to the S7, you can also get a live preview of what the camera is seeing and also cycle through different modes. You can read all about it right here.
But Samsung's new focus on gaming goes far beyond hardware. TouchWiz, the customised version of Android that powers the Galaxy S7, comes with a new gaming hub. The feature lets you shoot video and funnel incoming calls or texts into small on-screen icons, so you're not knocked out of any serious Candy Crush sessions. A lot of these tools are packed into other apps already, like Google Play Games, but Samsung's integration is much easier to use.
The "Edge" sucks way less
When Samsung launched the S6 Edge, it definitely had "woah" street appeal, but not much else. Now, Samsung's doubling-down on its edgy decision by adding many more panels when you swipe from the side of the phone. Some of the new panels are even made by third-party developers. The edge feature is fully customisable and lets you build easy shortcuts to IFTTT-style commands. For example, if you tend to send a lot of emails to your boss, you can automate a shortcut that will automatically open your email client with your boss's information already filled in.
The standard S7 comes with the improved apps edge (app shortcuts), people edge (contacts shortcuts), and the all-new tasks edge. These shortcut sidebars are now twice as big, too, giving you space to add even more shortcuts. But the bigger 13cm S7 Edge comes with a few more extras. The phone will still do its light dance when one your favourite contacts tries to call you, it looks like this on last year's S6:
Samsung also decided to partner with Yahoo for an improved edge experience on the larger S7 Edge smartphone. Yahoo brings sports scores, breaking news, and a bunch of other options that make the "Edge" feature a less of a gimmick and more of something you'd want to have. I'm still confused why the smaller S7 couldn't also have these features, but I guess it's just another difference between the two phones.
But a lot remains the same
Although the S7 is a refinement of last year's S6 — with water resistance, expandable storage, and a better camera included — Samsung's not reinventing the wheel here. The devices I used were loaded up with apps I didn't really want, including Microsoft apps that I couldn't even delete.
Samsung's also tweaked the design of TouchWiz to make it a feel a little more lightweight. It will still feel very familiar if you've used a Samsung device before. In fact, while testing the S7 I mistakenly picked up an S6 and didn't catch my error until I saw the outdated operating system. So, if you didn't like the design last year, you're probably not going to like it now.
Samsung also opted to keep using a micro-USB charger while many other Android phones have switched over to the new USB-C standard. That shouldn't be much of a problem for most people, but it's certainly worth noting.
Oh yeah, and there's no removable battery. C'est la vie.
If first impressions mean anything, Samsung has a winner on its hands with a great camera, design, and hardware. It's too early to tell if you search for a new smartphone ends here, but Samsung definitely just made its most enticing offer yet.