Don’t be disappointed when you look at Samsung’s newest phone.
At first glance, the Galaxy S7 looks almost exactly like the phone Samsung gave us last year, except for the rounded back and slightly larger display on the curved-screen “Edge” model.
Here’s the real story with the Galaxy S7.
Samsung made huge, significant improvements to all the stuff you really care about. It’s water resistant. It has a bigger battery that charges quickly. It has a memory card slot so you can expand the storage. A lot of the clunkiness has been stripped out of the software. It has the best camera ever put on a smartphone.
And, like last year, the Galaxy S7 is more beautiful and unique looking than the iPhone.
What else could you want from a phone?
Aside from the qualms I have with Android phones in general (more on that later), the Galaxy S7 is about as perfect as a phone can get. It starts around $690 and the curved-screen Edge model starts around $790, but pricing will vary depending on your carrier. You can pre-order it now and it will be in stores on March 11.
Design and hardware
It’s an amazing feat of engineering that Samsung was able to build a phone this beautiful, yet this functional. Even though it has an all metal and glass design, Samsung figured out how to make the Galaxy S7 waterproof for up to 30 minutes under a meter of water, without needing to seal the charging port with a plug like on other water resistant phones. If you’re scratching your head over how Samsung out-engineered Apple on that one, you’re not alone. But it works. It’s the kind of feature that should be standard on all premium phones.
I tested the Edge version of the S7, which has a larger, 5.5-inch screen than the standard version. That’s the same size as the screen on the iPhone 6s Plus (the phone I normally use), but Samsung’s design is much more svelte and easier to hold than Apple’s unwieldy phone. When I carry my iPhone 6s Plus in my pocket, it feels like I have a slab of metal stabbing into my hip. The S7 Edge is barely noticeable.
The curved screen doesn’t do much more than look pretty and give you the illusion there aren’t any borders around the display. Samsung did include a slide-over menu that has shortcuts to your favourite apps, contacts, and news bulletins, but I never found that feature very useful. It’s best to just switch it off.
If you’re going to get the Galaxy S7, you might as well spend the extra $100 and get the Edge. It’s that good.
The battery is impressive too. While last year’s Galaxy model could barely make it a day on a charge, the S7’s battery lasted well over a day for me. Plus, you can charge the phone using a standard wireless charger, which is handy if you want to keep one at your desk and top up during the day. It also has a wired quick-charging feature, which charges your battery a few times faster than normal.
The latter feature is probably the most important. I woke up the other day and realised I forgot to charge my phone overnight and I was at a dangerously low 35%. So I plugged the S7 into the quick charger while I got ready. I was at 85% by the time I left for work less than an hour later. Perfect.
The best camera
Samsung has leapfrogged the competition with the Galaxy S7 camera. Simply put, it’s the best camera ever put on a smartphone.
It has the widest aperture of any smartphone camera, which means it can pull in more light for better shots in dark settings. But my favourite feature is the quick auto-focus, which lets you take photos faster without having to worry about missing a shot. By comparison, my iPhone feels like it takes an eternity to auto-focus, or I have to deliberately double-tap the screen to get it to focus on what I want. With the Galaxy S7, I just point and shoot without waiting.
Tech Insider’s camera expert Rafi Letzter put the S7 camera through its paces, and it beat the iPhone 6s (our previous choice for best smartphone camera) in just about every way. Check out his camera comparison for even more details.
Over the years, my problem with Samsung phones has been that they usually come packed with far too many complicated features and quirks in the software that make it difficult to find what you want to do.
Almost all of that has been stripped out of the Galaxy S7. The software is clean and easy to navigate, and Samsung did a good job at making sure a lot of the junk has either been hidden or removed entirely.
There is one handy feature Samsung did add though. The lock screen stays on with basic information like the time, date, and incoming notifications, so you don’t need to constantly switch on your phone to see what’s happening. Only part of the screen lights up, so it uses almost none of the battery.
Other than that, the Galaxy S7 feels like any other Android phone. The Galaxy S7 isn’t going to revolutionise the way you use a smartphone, but that’s OK. By now, smartphone innovation has matured to the point where we only see incremental improvements every year, and the Galaxy S7 made significant improvements to all the features that matter.
Ever since I tried an early version of the Oculus Rift in 2012, I’ve had a tough time explaining just how amazing and transformative VR is as a computing platform. While the high-end VR headsets from Oculus and HTC will cost several hundred dollars, Samsung teamed up with Oculus to give you a similar experience for just 99 bucks.
The Gear VR headset turns the S7 into a virtual reality machine, and it’s the most important distinguishing feature Samsung’s Galaxy phones have over other devices. Although the resolution isn’t as crisp as high-end VR headsets, Gear VR is more than worth the extra $99. (You can get one for free if you pre-order the S7 now.)
There are already a handful of interesting games and VR videos in the Oculus app store, but many of them are in the experimental phases. VR is a very new platform, and developers are still experimenting.
But boy is it a blast to use. As crazy as it sounds, my favourite VR app so far is Netflix. It puts you in a virtual living room in a snowy cabin in the woods. In front of you is a big-screen TV that runs the standard Netflix app you see on smart TVs or streaming boxes like Apple TV or Roku. You really do get the sense that you’re binge-watching the latest season of “House of Cards” in someone’s exclusive vacation home. Incredible.
Words don’t do the VR experience justice, and Samsung has the best, most accessible VR platform available today. It’s your entry into a whole new world of computing and entertainment. Try it.
The problem with Android phones
I just said a bunch of nice things about the Galaxy S7, and I mean every single one of them. The phone is incredible.
But there’s still one thing that keeps me from recommending it over the iPhone, and that’s Apple’s key advantage to the iPhone’s roaring success over the years: iOS. iOS is simply the best smartphone platform. It has the best apps. The best developer support, and the most consistent updates throughout the lifespan of your device.
You can’t say that about Samsung phones. Since Samsung makes a lot of modifications to Android, it can take months to get the latest updates, assuming you get them at all. The newest version of Android came out last fall, and only a small fraction of Samsung phones started getting it this month. (Only Google’s own Nexus phones get updates as soon as they’re available.)
For a lot of people, that may seem like an insignificant complaint, but when security flaws like last year’s major “Stagefright” scare hit Android, or when a hot new app launches only on the iPhone, I can’t feel confident using a smartphone platform that’s always a step or two behind iOS.
The Galaxy S7 is Samsung’s best phone yet, and easily a strong contender for the best phone available today. If you want an Android phone and don’t mind spending a lot of cash (you can get a lot of great Android phones for about half the price of the S7), this is the first device you should look at.