It's new smartphone season. This year, Samsung is facing a strong battle not only from LG, with its new G5, but also from Huawei and other Chinese competitors. It has taken on board last year's criticism of the Galaxy S6, and has revamped and refined its flagship smartphone. To keep everyone happy, Samsung has announced two new phones -- the 5.1-inch Galaxy S7 and the 5.5-inch Galaxy S7 edge -- and has gone all-out with the tech inside.
These two new phones line up nearly perfectly with the leaks that we've seen recently; every rumour was right on the money, and that's a very good thing. Water resistant, with expandable storage, and a sleeker skin on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the new Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are Samsung's latest attempt to please an entire crowd of potential upgraders and new phone buyers, as well as keeping feature-hungry smartphone enthusiasts sated.
And, with a release date closer to the announcement than any Galaxy phone before it, and a confirmed Aussie price as of today, and and an incentive for pre-ordering, it's obvious that Samsung in Australia isn't playing games -- it knows what it has to offer, it knows that you'll want to buy one, and it's trying its hardest to make that easy for you. (Want the price and release date? Just jump to the bottom of the article.)
The new Samsung Galaxy S7 is built around a 5.1-inch, 2560x1440pixel Super AMOLED display, and at 557ppi it's identical at least on paper to last year's S6. The phone itself is slightly thicker and slightly heavier than last year's model, but that's because it's packing some pretty significant changes under the hood. Running the latest Samsung Exynos 8 Octa 8890 processor, it's the most powerful phone that we've seen in 2016 to date and is slightly faster on paper than Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820, giving Samsung an advantage over competitor LG's G5.
Released at the same time as the S7 is the S7 edge. Unlike last year's S6 variants, though, the S7 edge uses a larger 5.5-inch 2560x1440pixel Super AMOLED display, bridging the gap between the 5.1-inch S6 edge and the 5.7-inch S6 Edge+ and likely eventually (if not immediately) superseding both in Aussie retail stores. With the S7 edge, Samsung has a high-end, more fashion-forward smartphone that feels barely bigger than the S7 itself but has plenty of extra screen real estate.
Both phones are water resistant, too, with no need to close ports or insert rubber seals when you take them underwater. The S7 and S7 edge are both IP68 rated, dust tight and able to survive sustained immersion underwater rather than just splashes or jets of water. Samsung has had water resistant phones before, most recently the S6 Active, but this is the first time that technology has filtered down into a mainstream product.
Equally laudable is the Galaxy S7's (and edge's) microSD card slot. Samsung has a new SIM tray in the top of the device that holds both a nanoSIM and a microSD card, with support for cards up to 200GB in capacity. The S7's Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow OS supports SD card storage natively, and can use any inserted card (formatted correctly by the phone) for long-term storage of apps and downloaded media including synced files from streaming music apps like Spotify and Apple Music. Samsung started selling SD and microSD cards in Australia late last year, so it's a smart move.
Samsung "is still exploring" whether it will bring a dedicated dual-SIM enabled version of the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge to Australia, with that extra SIM slot being hot-swappable with microSD temporary storage in the SIM tray. Dual-SIM phones in Australia are usually the remit of smaller brands like Oppo and recent competitors like Huawei, but Samsung would capture a small but important proportion of the market that have dedicated data SIMs or secondary SIM cards for international calls and messaging.
The software, too, has been further refined and further pared back -- in most areas. The Touchwiz interface, now in white and blue with fewer pastel accents of the Android 5.1.1 iteration appearing, is quick to launch and move through. The list of currently running apps is by far the biggest improvement, jumping up immediately on pressing the S7's capacitive button where the S6 and Note 5 lagged a small amount. The most interesting new inclusion on the software side is Samsung's new Game Launcher.
The Game Launcher automatically corrals any games that users downloads, and stores them in a quick-access folder on the home screen or app drawer. It's more than a folder, though; the Game Launcher also allows access to Samsung's Game Tools, where users can choose from four resolution and frame rate presets that it says can significantly lower power consumption when playing -- by up to 15 per cent in some cases.
Colour variants are still yet to be confirmed for Australia, but at its launch in Barcelona, Samsung showed off the 5.1-inch Galaxy S7 in black, white, silver and gold, and also had the larger S7 edge in black, silver and gold. It's a sure thing that we'll get the black and silver variants, and the gold S7 edge is a near certainty, but some carriers may sign up for exclusivity on particular colourways -- especially for the imminent local launch.
The new Galaxy S7 will be available to pre-order from this upcoming February 26, and will go on sale in Australia on March 11. You'll pay an outright price of $1149 for the Galaxy S7, and $1249 for the S7 edge. It's clear that Samsung is facing the potential threat of a new, low-cost iPhone coming out in March -- but that's a win for us, since we all get the Galaxy S7 in weeks instead of months. Anyone in Australia pre-ordering a Galaxy S7 or S7 edge, too, will get a Gear VR headset for free as an incentive for getting in early.
I can't think of a smartphone launch recently, except for possibly the iPhone 6, where what I've wanted to see and what I've actually seen has lined up so well. Hitting those key points of including IP68 water resistance and dust resistance, and adding back the long-awaited microSD card slot, should go a long way towards keeping users happy for longer with their purchase. Apart from that integrated battery pack, the S7 is now a direct competitor on an even playing field with Sony's Xperia line-up, and has the power under the hood to beat LG's new G5. [Samsung]
Gizmodo travelled to MWC 2016 as a guest of Samsung.