I’ve been following Samsung’s progression through being a player in the Android smartphone market to being almost as obsessed over as Apple’s iPhone. While their earlier incarnations were criticised for being too plasticky, and oft-times too heavily laden with bloatware, Samsung have not been afraid to return each year with phones that responded to those criticisms. That appears to crescendoed with this year’s models, the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge.
It needs to be mentioned that this model would not have happened without the S5 or S6 releases being pivotal Android launches. The S5 was a water resistant phone with expandable memory that was also one of the first smartphones in Australia to incorporate tap and pay via NFC. 2 years ago, this was a big deal. Still, the S5 was burdened with a finicky (and breakable) clip that needed to be fastened to ensure water did not enter the unit, and a fascia that was a throwback to the older Galaxy S models.
Last year’s Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge finally threw Samsung’s hat in the premium build smartphone ring, and possibly could have had an even greater success with this release were it not for unfortunate under-forecasting of the S6 Edge, a brand new style of phone with a dual curved edge that had been hinted at in an earlier Note iteration. The combination of glass and metal took this phone out out of the “plastic” territory and amongst the more noted of premium smartphone makers like HTC and Sony.
Of course, it’s hard to please us Android users, and we bemoaned the absence of expandable memory and water resistance, two features that were clear differences for Samsung’s Android phone compared to Apple’s steadily, incrementally improved iPhone.
Now it’s 2016, and Samsung have possibly learnt from their past, and re-incorporated those two vital features in two new models – the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge. The Galaxy S7 is a flat screen 5.1 inch model, and the Galaxy S7 Edge the bigger 5.5 inch model. Both have the same screen resolution of 1440 x 2560. In fact apart from the screen size, battery size and curved feature, both models share pretty much every other feature.
For those that like a larger size smartphone (and there are a lot of you out there), even if the Edge features don’t impress you, the aesthetics of the curved front and curved back will be appealing – it’s much easier to pick up off a flat surface because the edges are curved on the back, like the Note 5, and it it still a unique looking phone in a crowded market.
The Edge features are expanded this year to include more app shortcuts, more contacts, news feeds, and even a combo ruler/compass/flashlight. Yes, this is the swiss army knife of smartphones, people.
Much has been spoken about the reduction in the resolution of the back camera, from 16MP to 12MP, and I am here to assure you that this does not equate with a decrease in performance. The short time I’ve had this phone, I’ve been very impressed, even sometimes amazed, with the photo quality.
The photo and video modes are very useful this time around as well. Even if you never use the Manual mode, you may end up trying and using the other modes at different times. The focus selector works well for up close up face portraits (but not so well for landscape pics with multiple subjects, which to be fair is probably not what it’s designed for). Hyperlapse is pretty cool, giving you a stabilised fast forward version of your video, and slow motion is clear and smooth, bringing out the details of usually missed actions.
Video stabilisation is now available on nearly every video quality except 4K, an improvement from last year which only provided it from 1080p/30. Running alongside a subject almost looks like steadycam footage.
Low light performance is fantastic, and that is not hyperbole. I took a picture at 3am with little light around me and I could still see the outline and dimension of a tree in a park. Likewise taking shots in nocturnal settings were clearer than most other phone lenses have ever delivered.
The detail in each shot has not been hampered by the smaller resolution. Each pixel is bigger and the f1.7 aperture shows its strength in macro shots with great detail of a butterfly wing, to landscape shots where the details of wordings 100 meters away can be distinguished. This is a camera you’ll be using a lot, and hopefully you’ll find the time and patience to explore the different settings.
From a user interface, not much has changed from the S6 to the S7, except that there is even less Samsung-based apps preinstalled. The Google Now On Tap service is only a long home button press away, and even though it is Marshmallow, the Touchwiz overlay still carries the signature home screen and Flipboard briefing screen. This can be disabled and you can load the Google Now launcher if you want a more native Android experience.
Fast charging has been a mainstay of Galaxy phones lately, and the fast charging here is exactly what you would expect if you owned a recent Galaxy – it’s quick enough to get you out of trouble with a short top up, and doesn’t take long to fill up to 100%.
The other important accessory is of course the Gear VR, and both phones slip into the current consumer edition. The experience within the VR world is still the same overall, as there has not been an increase in pixel density to make the VR visuals more defined. It’s still a great mobile experience (the best and most refined so far) and the amount of content makes the Gear VR a no brainer if you decide to go with either S7 variant.
I’d recommend the Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S7 Edge (depending on what overall size you want) just for the camera alone. It has more than enough performance and raw hardware to create memorable pictures and videos, and the fact that it’s water resistant and has brought back a micro SD slot seals (pardon the pun) the deal for me.
Let’s just hope Samsung feel the same way and make sure there’s enough stock to keep up with demand that started with the pre-orders and lands physically in stores today!
Update: Here I am presenting the Galaxy S7 for Bing Lee on the Morning Show: