Apple and Samsung spend most of each year leapfrogging each other’s smartphone advances. With the unveiling of the new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge today (Feb. 21) at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, it’s Samsung’s turn to jump forward.
Neither of Samsung’s new phones are revolutionary departures from what’s come before. But the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge introduce several improvements and enhancements over last year’s flagship models. Several of their marquee features seem to take direct aim at the iPhone, as Samsung aims to steal some of Apple’s shine.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Galaxy S7 compares to the iPhone 6s, and how the Galaxy S7 Edge and iPhone 6s Plus phablets stack up.
The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge continue the glass-and-metal look of their predecessors, in contrast to the aluminum case that encloses Apple’s iPhones. The backs of the S7 and S7 Edge feature curved glass, making them easy to hold, while both the edges of the S7 Edge’s screen are curved too.
Samsung threw in another wrinkle with the phones’ sizing, making the 5.94 x 2.86 x 0.30-inch S7 Edge noticeably taller and wider than the 5.6 x 2.74 x 0.31-inch S7. That’s to accommodate the S7 Edge’s larger screen — more on that in a moment — but it also follows Apple’s lead by offering two distinctively sized phones.
The iPhone 6s Plus is taller, wider, and imperceptibly thinner than the S7 Edge, but the Edge weighs less (5.53 ounces to the 6s Plus’s 6.77 ounces). Yet both phones have the same 5.5-inch display —Samsung was able to deliver the same size screen in a smaller body. (For its part, the iPhone 6s is smaller and weighs less than the Galaxy S7.)
Apple incorporated 7000-series aluminum, used by the aerospace industry, into the design of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus to create durable devices that wouldn’t bend if you flexed them too hard. Now Samsung has added durability features to its phones that could make iPhone owners envious. Both the S7 and S7 Edge can survive a dunk in 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes, and they’re dust-resistant as well.
The current iPhones enjoy a well-deserved reputation for picture-taking. We’ve rated the iPhone 6s Plus as the best camera phone, and the camera on the iPhone 6s is nearly identical save for optical image stabilization. The Galaxy S7 could make a play for the iPhone’s camera crown, thanks to the dual-pixel sensor Samsung has built into both of its new phones.
The dual-pixel sensor — the first to be included in a smartphone — lets the 12-megapixel rear camera autofocus on images faster and more accurately. Samsung says the S7 can focus two to three times faster than “other leading smartphones,” and you don’t have to read too closely between the lines to deduce which iDevice Samsung has in mind.
The S7’s camera has a wider aperture (f/1.7) and larger pixels (1.4 microns) than the Galaxy S6’s camera, which had an f/1.9 aperture and 1.12-micron pixels. Both changes allow the S7’s rear camera to capture 95 percent more light, which should result in brighter, sharper images.
The camera on the iPhone 6s Plus excels in low-light settings, helping it stay on top of other smartphone cameras. We’re looking forward to see if the Galaxy S7 can close that gap — or even surpass the iPhone’s skills at taking pictures in low-light.
Both iPhones offer the Live Photo feature, which adds audio and motion to the photos you take and can be quite effective when you snap a natural setting or a child playing. (It can also create much larger photo files if you leave the feature turned on.) Samsung hasn’t added anything like that to the Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge.
The Galaxy S7 has a 5.1-inch screen, compared to the 4.7-inch display on the iPhone 6s. The S7 looks to stand out with an always-on display that shows the time, upcoming calendar events and notifications. The always-on feature might appeal to users who want to glance at their phones for information without having to wake the screen. Still, it’s hardly something that puts the S7 miles ahead of the iPhone 6s.
The S7’s 2560 x 1440 resolution on a Super AMOLED display outpaces the iPhone 6’s 1334 x 750 LCD screen, although the Galaxy S6’s display had the same specs as its successor. But the iPhone 6s supports Apple’s 3D Touch feature, which responds to how hard you press the screen to bring up different contextual menus or launch specific features. Samsung hasn’t added anything similar.
A Tale of Two Phablets
It’s a bit of a different story when comparing the Galaxy S7 Edge to the iPhone 6s Plus. The new Edge has a 5.5-inch screen, up from the 5.1-inch display on last year’s S6 Edge. The Edge now has the same size screen as Apple’s phablet.
The S7 Edge’s Super AMOLED display boasts a 2560 x 1440 resolution, the same as the S6 Edge, and still outshines the iPhone 6s Plus’s 1920 x 1080 LCD screen.
The Edge has another trick up its sleeve — a curved screen on both edges. Samsung has improved on the functionality of that screen, adding an extra row of app shortcuts and a wider news ticker. A Tasks Edge screen lets you create macros for one-tap access to contacts, selfie mode or other features.
In a noteworthy design feature for anyone who likes to operate a phablet with one hand, the S7 Edge has less bezel around its screen than the iPhone 6s Plus. In our initial hands-on, we didn’t really have to stretch our thumb across the screen to comfortably use the S7 Edge.
But the iPhone 6s Plus offers a pressure-sensitive screen; the S7 Edge does not. The ability to summon up quick commands or preview emails with a single hard press on the iPhone 6s Plus’s screen gives the Apple an edge over the Edge.
Battery life has been one area where the Galaxy line has enjoyed an advantage over the iPhones. In last year’s tests, in which we continuously surfed the Web over LTE, the Galaxy S6 lasted 7 hours and 37 minutes, and the S6 Edge Plus ran for 8:43. Both topped the 6:46 and 8:16 times turned in by the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, respectively. With Samsung adding beefier batteries to its new phones — the Galaxy S7 has a 3,000 mAh battery, while the S7 Edge runs on a 3,600 mAh battery — we expect that performance gap to grow.
Snapdragon 820 processors power both the S7 and S7 Edge; both phones also feature 4GB of RAM. We’ll see how that translates to performance when compared to the 64-bit A9 processor and (reported) 2GB of RAM inside the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
Apple continues to offer 16GB storage configurations for its phones, something that makes less sense in an age of 4K video and very demanding apps. The Galaxy and Galaxy S7 Edge will start with 32GB of storage built in. You’ll also be able to expand storage by up to 200GB by putting a microSD card into the hybrid SIM tray on Samsung’s phones. Apple phones don’t offer storage expansion.
As with previous Galaxy models, the S7 and S7 Edge both support Samsung Knox, the security feature that lets you toggle between a personal configuration and a version of the phone loaded with work-specific apps and information. Both new phones also support Samsung Pay, which supports both Near Field Communication and Magnetic Secure Transmission payments. Samsung Pay is accepted at more places than the NFC-based Apple Pay on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus — though with more than 1 million stores accepting Apple Pay, Apple’s payment system is hardly obscure.
The S7 and S7 Edge will ship with Android 6 Marshmallow and support some of latest operating system’s marquee features, including better power-management features and a version of Google Now with more search-friendly superpowers.
Besides the aforementioned Apple Pay, 3D Touch and Live Photos features, Apple’s phones continue to benefit from both the number and variety of the third-party apps developed for iOS, which continue to outpace those of Android apps.
We won’t truly know how the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge measure up to the iPhone until after March 11, when the new devices ship. But the early results look encouraging for Samsung’s phones. Curved displays, water resistance and a dual-pixel rear-camera sensor add capabilities to the S7 and S7 Edge that Apple’s current phones can’t match. It looks like Samsung has made the most of its opportunity to leapfrog Apple … at least until the next round of iPhones make its debut.