The new Samsung Galaxy S7 is out now, in electronics stores all across Australia. It's $1149, and you'll pay $1249 for the larger S7 edge. What do you get for all that money? Is this new phone worth it?
Yes, it's worth it. The Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are -- equally -- two of the best phones Samsung has ever made.
What Is It?
The Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are Samsung's newest, most powerful and sleekest smartphones, running the latest version of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. The Galaxy S7 is the smaller variant of the two, measuring 142.4x69.6x7.9mm and 152g with a 5.1-inch Quad HD (2560x1440pixel) Super AMOLED display, while the S7 edge is somewhat larger at 150.9x72.6x7.7mm and 157g with a 5.5-inch display and otherwise identical specifications. The phones themselves are slightly thicker and heavier than last year's S6 iterations, but there's a good reason for that -- it might not look like it, but this year's Galaxy flagships have the most significant under-the-hood changes in a while. And it makes a genuinely big difference.
The most obvious and potentially significant of all those is the Galaxy S7's IP68 water resistance and dustproofing. Samsung was quick to tell us that it isn't technically waterproofing -- that would be the highest possible IP69K rating, which includes resistance to high pressure and high pressure water -- but the rating means the new phone will resist water ingress during complete, continuous submersion in a metre of water for half an hour at a time. Yes, you can take your new phone in the shower and to the beach and it won't die. And all of this happens without external, extraneous, forgettable seals on the headphone jack and microUSB 2.0 charging port -- just like Sony's excellent benchmark Xperia Z5.
In Australia, the new phones run Samsung's in-house-developed Exynos 8890 Octa octa-core processor, with 4GB of fast LPDDR4 RAM. That chip has four Samsung-customised cores running at up to 2.6GHz and four ARM Cortex-A53 cores running at up to 1.6GHz, and also has a LTE Category 12/13 modem that supports theoretical 4G download speeds of 600Mbps and upload speeds of 150Mbps. The S7's Exynos processor requires a phase-change heat-pipe to channel excess heat away; this runs down the right-hand side at the rear of the phone, starting roughly where the power button is and continuing halfway down the length of the handset. And, yes, the new phone now has a microSD card slot in the SIM tray.
You can use an SD card of up to 200GB capacity in the Galaxy S7, and Android 6.0 Marshmallow's newly reintroduced support for SD cards means you can store media files on the removable card both using Samsung's own My Files app and within other apps, like Spotify, that support SD card access. The camera, too, will default to storing single photos on the SD card, although burst photos and videos are saved by default to the phone's faster UFS 2.0 internal memory. The microSD card takes the place of the second SIM in the SIM tray of the Galaxy S7 -- in markets outside of Australia, you can use a second SIM instead.
The camera on the Galaxy S7 is a 12-megapixel one, trading a slight drop in overall megapixels from last year's 16-megapixel, 1.12um-pixel sensor for significantly larger 1.4um pixels overall, which let in more light (56 per cent more) and produce superior detail even in low light settings. The S7's camera lens is much improved, too, with a f/1.7 aperture that lets in more light (25 per cent more) than last year's f/1.9. Every pixel has an accompanying phase detection point, too, massively improving the speed of autofocus in any lighting condition, and the additional power of the new Exynos processor means image noise, edge sharpening and capture speed are all better. The same two-tone LED flash returns alongside the camera.
We get the full suite of colours (except white) for both the S7 and S7 edge in Australia; both smartphones are available for outright purchase in Black Onyx, Gold Platinum and Silver Titanium. If you want to buy one on a plan, one carrier might have exclusive launch partnerships with a particular colour and particular model, so check online or in-store. Being top-of-the-line smartphones they're priced as such, and following the trend that persists with Samsung and competitor phones, the 5.1-inch Galaxy S7 32GB is $1149 and the larger 5.5-inch Galaxy S7 edge is $1249. That's a lot of money for a smartphone, but not measurably more than Samsung's chief competitor Apple's own iPhone 6s and 6s Plus and Samsung's other Aussie rivals.
What's It Good At?
The Galaxy S7 is a beautiful phone. Not only in design, but in utility. It's a great phone to hold, especially versus last year's S6 purely because its rear glass is slightly convex, and fits more comfortably in the hand. The raised ridge on the tactile home button in the lower centre of the bezel feels good, and it clicks with just enough force that it resists an accidental touch and rewards a more forceful one; the power and volume buttons are clickier still. Everything about the S7 and S7 edge just screams refined. Finally -- finally Samsung isn't adding in new things without smoothing over the last generation's rough edges first. The smaller S7, especially, is just a nice phone to hold and use. I really, really like that I can say that.
The new processor and Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow combo make for a phone that feels almost always fast. It's fast to unlock via fingerprint, it's fast to bring up the app drawer and switch to apps you haven't used recently, it's fast to load even large and memory-intensive games and 4K movies. The camera loads quickly and snaps photos fast even in burst mode. The hardware just feels capable, and I like that Samsung has granted its mainstream (not just Note) users the ability to expand storage with microSD -- 200GB has got to be enough for almost anybody, when that 32GB internal storage might not be.
Samsung's new Game Launcher software is actually a really useful and really helpful piece of technology. It doesn't do anything revolutionary, but it adds in some of the most meaningful and convenient software features of any Samsung phone in a while -- this isn't the eye-tracking Smart Scroll again. You can use it to reduce any game's impact on battery life by limiting the frame rate and resolution -- there's either "low" resolution at 30fps, or "extremely low" resolution at 30fps, with the default being native resolution and 60fps. You can record footage or snap screenshots, you can lock the phone's capacitive back and menu buttons, you can enter a do-not-disturb mode. It works on lightweight games like Jelly Jump, it works on more intensive games like Fallout Shelter and Hearthstone. If you play games on your phone, even rarely like I do, you will find Game Launcher useful at some point or another. Simple as that.
I've said this about just about every new flagship Samsung (or Apple, or HTC, or Sony) smartphone that comes out in the yearly cycle, but the 12-megapixel camera on the Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy S7 edge is a work of art -- within its class, of course, for a smartphone. That 1/2.6-inch, 12-megapixel sensor and 26mm f/1.7 (equivalent) lens combo create genuinely surprisingly beautiful photographs in good lighting, and the new S7 outperforms its closest competitor -- the optical-image-stabilised iPhone 6s Plus -- with low-light detail. The detail of the images captured is consistently impressive, as is the JPEG image processing that captures edge detail and sharpness without turning everything into a messy combination of blur and artifacting. The colours are smooth, without being oversaturated. Here are some examples:
The Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge have 3000mAh and 3600mAh internal nonremovable batteries respectively, and they're effectively equal in run-time and capacity when you take the two phones' different screen sizes into account. Battery life for me has been pretty good, although not incredible. Phones these days, and the S7 is no different, usually rely on fast charging to fill their fast-draining batteries -- and the Galaxy S7 acquits itself with Samsung's 18-Watt wired fast charging and support for fast wireless charging too. You'll need a Samsung-spec charger to make the best of this, though, so older and generic chargers are less useful. The always-on clock display has a small but cumulative effect on the S7's battery life -- keep it off if you want to extend the phone's battery as much as possible.
And the screen is, as always, the best screen on any smartphone thus far. It's especially true of the incredibly pixel dense, 577ppi 5.1-inch 2560x1440pixel Super AMOLED screen on the Galaxy S7, but the larger S7 edge sets itself apart with the pure sex appeal of its 534ppi 5.5-inch 2560x1440pixel Super AMOLED display -- it may not be quite as detailed for tiny text-peeping, but it's curved and that looks cool. Both screens have that signature OLED if-it's-black-the-screen-is-off thing going on, the same thing that makes LG's OLED TVs amazing, and they're able to switch from impressively bright to nearly imperceptibly dark while still maintaining great colour accuracy and good saturation. It's the screen to beat in 2016.
What's It Not Good At?
The Galaxy S7 gets hot when you're using it. Hot enough to notice, if you're playing a high-resolution and high quality game or downloading a bunch of files via Wi-Fi with the screen brightness pushed up to maximum, that the heat-pipe on the rear of the phone does its job and moves heat away from the CPU. Being a sealed glass-insulated design, it must be hard for the S7 to dissipate processor heat, and after extended use it does get hot in your hand, and that means your hand gets sweaty. Sweaty hand plus slippery glass phone is a recipe for disaster. Heed this warning; buy a case if you're concerned.
I'm still not sold on the utility of the edge features on the 5.5-inch Galaxy S7 edge. Don't get me wrong, they're nice to have and they do have a use case, but I never used them in the time that I spent with the phone. The fact that the edge itself now has two rows rather than the one does make it more useful, and it's good to have that range of customisation, but I just don't see a compelling reason to keep it activated. TouchWiz more generally is becoming more refined, and I think the edge features are next on the chopping block. I'd prefer an edge swipe to directly launch the camera or start music playback instead.
If there was one substantive thing I'd change about the Galaxy S7, it would be to swap its tiny trapezoidal microUSB 2.0 port for a USB Type-C port. I know that there's the legacy factor of having to support the existing Samsung Gear VR virtual reality headset, but that could have been solved with a new iteration of the headset -- and the Galaxy S7 is the phone that'll drive Gear VR sales anyway. The S7 charges fast nonetheless, but I wish it supported the same new data and video standard as the LG G5 and Google's Nexus 5X and 6P. That's all. I don't think there's any denying USB Type-C is the future, and it's one small complaint I have with what is an otherwise futureproof and impressively capable Android smartphone.
In other markets, the Samsung Galaxy S7 supports the Samsung Pay app -- the company's own competitor to Apple Pay, with Visa and MasterCard and American Express supported and the potential for contactless NFC payments and magnetic secure transmission swiping. It's incredibly convenient, and it can store your loyalty and gift cards as well as credit cards -- great! Samsung Pay is not out in Australia yet, but it's on the way. So this negative is not that it's not supported on the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge, because it is, but it's just not available in Australia yet. I'm waiting, Samsung. Patiently, for now.
Should You Buy It?
Yeah, you should. I would.
Samsung has successfully hit on and addressed so many of the annoying small problems with its previous phones. It's powerful and snappy (enough) that Samsung's traditionally laggy and heavy-weighted TouchWiz interface gets out of the way when you need it to. The camera is probably the second, after the iPhone 6s Plus's, that I'd actually take on holiday and take photos with without being disgusted at its quality afterward. It has expandable and easily accessible microSD storage. It's (practically) waterproof, for god's sake. OK, it doesn't have an IR blaster, but apart from that, I can barely find fault with this phone.
You can pick and find faults -- no USB Type-C, a hot backplate under heavy load, some continual unnecessary software frivolities like the S7 edge's edge -- but it doesn't change the fact that the Samsung Galaxy S7 is a refined phone in almost every single aspect that matters to the average user. Like the last three (or so) generations of Apple's iPhone, it's not about new and, in the long run, unimportant features with the new Galaxy S7. That part of Samsung might not be dead for good, but it's gone at least for now.
It's about small but substantive changes -- like water resistance, like expandable storage, like a beautiful camera -- that matter in making the Galaxy S7 a phone that you, and I, will use for a long time to come.