It’s been a good 12 months for Samsung Mobile. After a few hit and miss years of uninspiring design and gimmicky software, the launch of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge at MWC 2015 felt like the turning point when everything fell into place.
The company finally ditched the plastic for a more premium metal and glass design, and matched it with excellent software and top-notch hardware to produce two killer handsets that gained many five-star reviews.
There’s no doubt their successors are hoping for the same, building on last year’s achievements with some careful tweaks and upgrades that could make this year’s Galaxy S range the best yet. We went hands on with the S7 for a closer look.
From a design perspective, the Galaxy S7 looks very similar to its predecessor, sharing almost identical dimensions when it comes to on-paper spec.
Pick it up though, and you will notice a difference. While the build feels as premium as ever, and still covered in glass and aluminium, the back now has a very subtle curve to its edges, making it easier and more comfortable to hold.
It’s waterproof too – IP68 rated for handling depths of up to 1.5m for up to 30 minutes – something we haven’t seen on a Galaxy handset since the S5. It’s a welcome return though, especially since this time Samsung has waterproofed the microUSB port so there’s no need for a fiddly rubber cover for protection.
Another welcome return is the microSD card slot, which was nixed last year in place of a more premium design. It was one of few major criticisms of last year’s handset, so it’s good to see Samsung has worked around the hardware restraints to squeeze it back in as part of the SIM tray. You’ll now be able to boost the 32GB internal storage by up to another 200GB. Hurrah!
The final design tweak is another subtle one, but one that will please plenty. While the rear camera module jutted out some way from the slim body of the S6, Samsung has managed to sit it much closer into the body of the S7.
It still doesn’t quite manage to sit completely flush, but at 0.46mm away from the back casing, it’s close enough to make for a much cleaner line.
Samsung’s excellent fingerprint scanner of course returns here too, as part of the home button, and is as responsive as we remember.
There wasn’t a lot more we’d ask from Samsung in the screen department – last year’s S6 screens were among the best we’d seen on a phone – so we’re glad to see that it’s still looking as good as ever.
Unlike Sony, Samsung hasn’t been tempted by the pull of 4K, instead sticking with the 2560 x 1440 2K Super AMOLED display from last year, in the same 5.1in screen size.
And that’s fine by us. Colours are vivid but realistic, blacks are market-leadingly deep and lines are crisp and sharply drawn. Contrast is superb too, allowing whites to punch through even the darkest of scenes, with plenty of detail on offer to boot.
A new feature this year is the always on display, which allows you to have basic information, such as time, date, notifications and even a simple illustration, appear on your display at all times.
Like LG, Samsung told us the average person checks their phone for this kind of information over 150 times a day, which is a big battery drainer. Instead this will use less than 1% of your battery life per hour thanks to the AMOLED display’s ability to turn black pixels off completely, and the S7’s self awareness to when it’s face down or in a pocket, when it will turn the display off completely.
We’ll get more chance to put the S7’s screen and its new features through rigorous testing in our full review, but it’s safe to say that it looks very promising indeed.
We all know better than to judge a camera by its megapixels, and despite the S7 dropping from a 16MP to 12MP, the camera on the S7 is certainly one of its biggest talking points.
It’s the world’s first smartphone with dual-pixel autofocus, something usually found in full-blown DSLR cameras, which basically allows for almost-instant focusing speeds in around 0.2 seconds.
Not only does it mean you’ll get great, sharp shots without waiting around, but it’s also able to track fast-moving subjects and keep them in focus throughout.
Autofocus isn’t the only place the S7’s camera has improved on the S6 though, with a larger aperture (up from f/1.9 to f/1.7) that lets in 25% more light and an increase in pixel size to absorb more than 50% more light than before.
All of this should mean better results in low light, and Samsung’s demo certainly left us hopeful. When compared with the iPhone 6s, the S7 showed off a brighter picture with substantially less noise and much more detail in a dimmer environment, but we’ll have to wait for the full review to put this to the test.
Audio wasn’t touched on during Samsung’s press conference, but a little nose around the phone shows us that hi-res audio is still supported on the handset, which we’re glad to see.
We were also interested to find Samsung’s own music player was nowhere to be seen on the demo handsets, with Google’s Music app in situ instead.
Staff told us it was available for download instead should we wish, so we’re hopeful this is a further move for Samsung away from the pre-installed bloatware that it’s been guilty of in the past. Fingers crossed.
As for its audio performance, we’ve been impressed with Samsung’s improvements in this department in recent models, so we have high hopes for the Samsung Galaxy S7 – more on this in our full review.
Performance and battery life
Though the Galaxy S6 hardly gave us reason to want more, Samsung has used a 30% faster processor in the Galaxy S7, meaning even more horsepower for whizzing through menus and tackling heavy multitasking.
In our short time with it, it certainly proved to be no slouch, with stutter-free transitions between apps and fast response times. While there were no games for us to test on the demo handset, gaming should both look and perform even better than before too, thanks to a 64% faster GPU.
We’re hopeful the larger battery will help to support this extra power, and give the S7 a longevity boost over its predecessor to boot. It’s up from a 2,550mAh battery in the S6 to a 3000mAh one here, and though it’s still not removable due to the S7’s unibody design, this increase might help to allay the grumbles of power users who miss this feature.
Gamers can also now access a new Game Tools feature as well, which will allow you to lower the resolution and frame rate of games you’re playing to put less strain on the battery. Not an option for those who want the very best performance of course, but a nice additional feature to get more from your battery when you need it.
After such a big jump in design last year, we’re not surprised to see Samsung stick to its guns, making welcome refinements to the S7’s look and feel rather than any huge changes.
Waterproofing is a nice touch, but we’re particularly happy to see the microSD card slot make a triumphant return for a cheaper memory boost over buying a larger capacity phone.
The larger battery should help allay any battery concerns with the more powerful processor and bright screen, but perhaps the biggest talking point is the new camera, which shows real promise indeed.
We can’t wait to get our hands on the Galaxy S7 for a full review – from first impressions it looks like that run of five-star reviews could keep on coming.