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Samsung Galaxy S7 Review

by Jon Platt on August 24, 2016

Samsung Galaxy S7 Review

 

Despite being one of the world’s biggest Android manufacturers, Samsung — like most OEMs these days — has been feeling the burn of shrinking market share and declining sales. Although last year’s Samsung Galaxy S6 signaled a major shift for Samsung in the design department (a great one, we might add), the device ultimately fell short in a few key hardware areas many longtime fans cared about most. The Galaxy S6 had a smaller battery than the Galaxy S5 and removed the convenience that comes with having a removable battery and micro SD card slot.

 

 

 

For this year’s Samsung Galaxy S7, Samsung is not only gunning for new customers with one of the most compelling handsets on the market, but trying to win back old users or perhaps those that were holding off on upgrading their S5s. With a bag full of tricks at its disposal, is the Galaxy S7 not only a worthy successor to the S6 but the S5 as well? Read on for more.

Design & Hardware

Samsung Galaxy S7 DSC02085

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There’s no arguing that the Galaxy S7 looks nearly identical to last year’s Galaxy S6 and we’re okay with that. Although last year’s S6 did share a few design characteristics with the iPhone 6/S, the Galaxy S7 distances itself from Apple’s design with a few small changes. For one, Samsung no longer seems to be pursuing the dream of building thinner smartphones every year, adding a little junk in the Galaxy S7’s trunk and increasing battery capacity to 3,000mAh. That’s actually the same size as the larger phablet Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge Plus that launched last year, now crammed into a petite, 5.1-inch smartphone. This is easily one of our favorite aspects of the Galaxy S7, the fact that it’s one of the most powerful smartphones you can buy in a footprint many Android OEMs are now calling “mini.” It’s a huge win for us.

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The S7 still features the same sturdy aluminum frame as the S6, sandwiched in between two silky smooth pieces of 2.5D glass. This time around, the back glass is slightly curved, mirroring the design we saw on the Galaxy Note 5. The thickness of the phone also makes the camera housing protrude a lot less, sticking out about as much as the iPhone 6S’s. There’s nary a sharp edge or corner to be found. The Galaxy S7 is smooth, svelte, and gives you that premium feeling up until recently, only HTC or Apple was able to provide.

Samsung Galaxy S7 DSC02084

Samsung has officially retired both the forest green and darker red colors for the Galaxy S7, launching only the silver, black (it’s really black this time), and gold options here in the US. Strangely absent is the white model we saw at MWC, but there’s always the possibility this will come at a later date.

Display

Samsung Galaxy S7 DSC02072

One the display front, you’ll find Samsung’s tried-and-true 5.1-inch AMOLED panel. At 2560 x 1440 resolution, it’s very similar to last year’s model, only Samsung’s made the display about 25% brighter, while allowing you to better customize auto-brightness to suit your tastes. It’s also much whiter/cooler than the display on the Galaxy S6, noticeably so when holding the 2 side-by-side. The gamma is a bit too punchy for our tastes but with deep blacks (a little too deep) and colors that pop, it’s the quality you’ve come to expect from Samsung and one of the best reasons to buy the phone. Nobody comes close to this quality. Nobody.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Always On Display DSC02087

New for the Galaxy S7, Samsung has added an “Always On” display, a sort of widget that displays the time, date, battery life, notifications and other helpful information right on your sleeping phone. Additional Always On widgets can be downloaded and some even come as part of the many themes available in Samsung’s Theme store. To help reduce burn-in, the widget changes position around the display every so often. Samsung says the hit to battery life is minimal — about 0.8mAh per hour — which didn’t seem to impact battery life much at all during our testing. Still, for those that want to milk every last drop out of their devices, you’ll want to keep it off (don’t worry, it’s not enabled by default).

Storage (return of the micro SD card)

samsung galaxy s7 micro SD card slot

After stripping away a micro SD card slot in last year’s S6, Samsung wised up and added it back in the S7. Although it supports up to 200GB cards, Samsung made the controversial decision to remove the ability to use the SD as internal storage (adoptable storage), a core Android feature introduced in Android 6.0 Marshmallow. This, apparently, had something to do with Samsung using the more advanced UFS standard for internal memory on the Galaxy S7 and not wanting the big differences in read/write they’d encounter by using slower micro SD. There is a hack to enable adoptable storage in the S7 that doesn’t require root, but you’ll need to have a knowledge in ADB to get working. Even though adoptable storage is a core Android feature, in the end, manufacturers get the final say in what features to leave in or take out.

As it stands, only the 32GB Galaxy S7 is available in the US and with 8GB of that being used just for the system OS itself, you’ll need to stay on top of managing all the apps, games, photos, and videos you have stored on the device. Sure you can still move some apps to the SD card, but not every single app or game supports this feature. Managing storage is never fun and while there are plenty of cloud storage apps and services available to users, the vast majority of casual users won’t even bother. Remember, last year’s Galaxy S6 came in 3 storage options: 32, 64, and 128GB varieties. We would have loved to have seen at least a 64GB Galaxy S7 here in the US, even if we had to pay a little more for it.

Water resistant and IP68 certified

samsung galaxy s7 waterproof ip68 DSC02090

Like the Galaxy S5 before it, the S7 marks the return of a fully water resistant smartphone. Using careful, clever design, the phone is capable of withstanding up to a 1 meter fully submerged in for about a half hour thanks to its IP68 dust/water resistance rating. This doesn’t mean the phone is meant to be taken into water, it’s more or less an added layer of protection to prevent any damage should an accidental drop into water occur. We have to admit, not a single device we’ve ever owned has gone to a watery grave, but the same can’t be said of our friends and family. Accidents happen and the added peace of mind introduced in the Galaxy S7 is certainly welcomed.

The best part about water resistance in the Galaxy S7 is the annoying charging port flap we saw in the S5 is no longer a requisite. In the event that water is left over in the charging port, the S7 is smart enough to detect moisture and will refuse to charge until dry. Should that be the case, wireless charging is still an option. If there was a downside to the waterproofing of the Galaxy S7, it’s that it’s made the once great speaker of the S6 sound horribly tinny, muffled and all around terrible. But alas, that’s just something that comes with the turf (the waterproof screen covering the speaker doesn’t allow for water or much air to pass).

Wireless charging

samsung galaxy s7 wireless charging DSC02103

Leading into the next big hardware feature, the Galaxy S7 once again brings support for wireless charging. It’s pretty much the same as we saw in last year’s model and that’s great. Where other Android OEMs have slowly moved away from wireless charging in their devices, Samsung is still sticking with it, going the extra mile by incorporating 2 major wireless charging standards and even adding support for fast wireless charging for less downtime.

You’ll need a wireless fast charging compatible base, but relatively inexpensive 3rd party options are plentiful on Amazon. Wireless charging, while not as convenient as traditional wired charging, still has its benefits. Should you find yourself making a pit stop in Starbucks, the Galaxy S7 is one of the few devices you can set on their wireless charging tables and juice up.

Micro USB with Quick Charge 2.0

samsung galaxy s7 micro USB DSC02089

Whatever the reason Samsung chose to stick with a micro USB port over the newer Type C standard, we applaud them for it. Micro USB has been around for the better half of a decade and all of our favorite electronic devices are already using it. That means we have countless cables laying around and they’re so common that, should you forget to bring one on a trip or outing, there’s a good chance someone out there can spot you. We’ll admit, the reversible nature of USB Type-C is nice, but it’s still the wild west. The vast majority of 3rd party cables — at least right now — are faulty and could end up frying your phone. Oh, and heaven help you find a cable at your local Target or Walmart should you ever lose one. USB Type-C might be the future, but we’re more than content hanging onto micro USB for just a little while longer. Just until Type C gets its sh*t together.

Our only complaint is that Samsung made the strange move to stick with Quick Charge 2.0 — not the even faster Quick Charging 3.0 spec — despite being supported by the new Snapdragon 820 processor. The battery still charges plenty fast enough, getting us from 0-100% in just under an hour. Oh, and should you decided Fast Charging just isn’t for you (some believe it’s not good for long term battery health), Samsung added the option to turn it off in the Settings app. Just remember that the phone only Fast Charges while the display is off, so if you’re in a hurry to get juiced up the quickest, you’ll want to leave the phone alone.

Fingerprint sensor

samsung galaxy s7 fingerprint sensor reader DSC02105