Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
The Samsung Galaxy S7 is an accomplished flagship smartphone and one that is undeniably a Samsung creation from top to bottom.
Samsung’s latest flagship is a confluence of cutting edge technology, innovative features and a response to user requests. This is undeniably the company’s most ambitious smartphone yet.
The Galaxy S7 is also one of the most expensive Android handsets to come to market (CAD $900, off contract), and one of the most premium phones available. For Samsung, it is the right product coming out at just the right time, and a huge play for them to reclaim the throne as leading smartphone manufacturer as well as put forward the features that separate them from the herd.
The Galaxy S7 is notable for a number of reasons. Samsung used to redesign their Galaxy line almost every year, with each succeeding model looking unrecognizable from the previous one and by introducing brave new features that sometimes disappeared after one year. This time, they’ve refined the general design of the S6, while bringing back a lot of the functionality offered by the S5. This includes water resistance and microSD expansion.
The Galaxy S7 also beats out rival Apple’s iPhone by being the first to reach the lucky number 7. Of course, Apple floats out “S” devices every other year, so they have already released the 7th generation iPhone last year with the iPhone 6S.
Still, coming to market with their 7th release first, sort of gives Samsung home court advantage and a bit of an edge in terms of timing until the iPhone 7 is launched in June for a fall release.
This doesn’t take away from Samsung’s ability to usher in a new blueprint for smartphone dominance and put all their weight behind what is shaping up the be their most magnificent seventh release.
Design and Materials
There’s nothing substandard or chintzy about the Galaxy S7 or its larger brother, the S7 Edge. The level of construction, the melding of glass and aluminum, and the nuanced strokes of design and build are impressive in every aspect. This is something you don't only see but can immediately feel once you get your hands on the Galaxy S7.
Reeling from declining smartphone sales in the past year has forced Samsung to reflect and simplify, which is a good thing.
Consumers this year will get two models to choose from(the 5.i-inch S7 and the larger 5.5-inch S7 Edge), all the phones come with 32GB storage across the board, a wise choice given that storage can now be easily and cheaply increased by a microSD slot. The S7 Edge, for those who like em' big, will cost $100 more.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 is very well put together and is so cohesive and seamless that you can almost forgive Samsung for the questionable design choices they flung around in their earlier models. All of a sudden, that all feels like a long time ago, and the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge feel very much like devices for the present and the future.
Edge to edge glass and metal sandwich design is very difficult to pull off. Both Apple and LG tried it on a few models (the iPhone 4/4S, the LG Optimus/Nexus 4) and soon decided that the body count of shattered backplates wasn’t worth the sleek look and feel.
Samsung’s invented a process to make glass meet metal. “Using a proprietary process called 3D Thermoforming, we melded 3D glass to curve with such precision that it meets the curved metal alloy to create an exquisitely seamless and strong unibody,” the company explains.
The result is that the Galaxy S7 feels great in the hand. While it is undoubtedly glass, the rounded corners and reassuring metal border make it feel every bit as premium and solid as any metal backed or unibody smartphone, while making it feel more organic and pleasing to the touch. I would still get a nice case for any of these new Galaxy devices.
The Titanium Silver colour is particularly striking. The way the shiny colour plays with the glass gives it a sublime and glossy look that is unlike anything I have seen in consumer electronics.
So, design wise, it looks like Samsung has made a great decision, which is to refine what it started with the Galaxy S6 line, yet shave and taper off what it could to make the total package sleeker.
The camera bump, which generated a lot of dismay with the previous model, is now barely discernible. Even the fingerprint reader/home buttons seems to be almost flush with the rest of the body.
The big surprise is that the Galaxy S7 now brings back the dust and water resistance first seen in the Galaxy S5 two years ago. Samsung’s not only managed to make this work with their glass and metal design, they’ve gone whole hog and offer an impressive IP68 rating which means that it can be immersed in 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes.
This puts an end to accidental water damage dealing with spills, drops into pools, toilets, puddles and snowbanks and gives the new Galaxy S7 line inherent protection that few accessory cases can provide.
The Quad HD 5.1-inch display is simply breathtaking and Samsung seems to have found a size that’s great to hold for most users while being able to showcase their stellar display technology (557 pixels per inch on this panel).
The addition of a 3,000 mAh battery with Quick Charge 2.0 technology makes the S7 one of the longest lasting flagships out there today.
Software and Performance
The new focus on simplification has extended to Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay which is now running on top of Android Marshmallow.
TouchWiz was once the poster child for adding unwanted features and applications. Bloatware and crapware on the new S7 devices are still there thanks to the carriers and they are still impossible to remove, which goes to show how insidious some of these carriers are. The good news is that they’re nicely boxed away in folders.
Samsung’s pared down their own applications substantially, and the Galaxy S7 looks and feels cleaner out of the box now than many of its rival devices. Samsung does add many of the staples (i.e. Instagram Facebook, Microsoft apps) but these are placeholders and links to real apps that need to be downloaded from Google Play.
An interesting addition is the Samsung Member app which serves to assist users when they run into trouble or issues with their phone. Think of it as having a service specialist in your phone. I tried the app and it offered FAQ’s, the option to diagnose hardware, ask questions and give feedback.
Performance is impressive despite running TouchWiz, the Galaxy S7 uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 and is packing 4GB of RAM, plus has paid special attention to the needs of gamers with support for the Vulkan API and a whole new Game Launcher app which siloes gaming experiences on the device and even allows you to record video of games you are playing.
The rear camera is a big deal this year. While it offers fewer megapixels, with 12 coming down from last year’s 16-megapixel shooter. Yet, it seems to be more capable in almost every way.
We now have improved low-light performance thanks to a dual-pixel sensor which boasts faster focusing and, more importantly, an F1.7 lens and larger 1.4µm pixels on the image sensor.
Shooting around the city during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was a great way to test the powers of this new camera. I found that most photos were tack sharp, videos were generally accurate and vibration free and that sound was captured well.
Zooming in on the details on some of my photos showed clarity and cohesiveness with very little distortion and graininess.
The camera on the Samsung Galaxy S7 is the real deal, a multifunctional and fast shooter that, given the right lighting, can create some truly stunning photos that could be mistaken for shots coming from a standalone point-and-shoot.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Samsung product if it didn’t offer similar features to what the latest iPhones showcase. So, the S7 has Motion Photo which is similar to Live Photos, Hyperlapse, wide selfie mode and the ability to use the display as a giant flash or lightbox for selfies.
Phone call quality was consistently good, the Samsung Galaxy S7 managed 4G LTE data consistently on my review unit’s included Bell SIM card. Speakerphone loudness was surprisingly good as was audio playback on the device’s bottom firing speaker.
While it is great that Samsung’s responded to user’s outcry and returned microSD storage and water resistance, it failed to resurrect the IR Blaster which enabled older devices to serve as universal remote controls for TVs, cable boxes and other appliances. I use this feature on my LG G4 and Galaxy Note 4 devices.
There’s a lot more to like than just the superficial features. This S7 has made water and dust resistance a must-have for all devices moving forwards. The camera technology is well thought out, and delivers the one-two punch of ease of use and a range of photography controls.
Performance is likewise top notch as expected from a flagship with high specs but more than this, the Samsung Galaxy S7 delivers on most of the features that users love and have demanded, while pushing the boundaries on design and function.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 is an accomplished flagship smartphone and one that is undeniably a Samsung creation from top to bottom. The smaller 5.1-inch S7 has the winning combination of great size, long battery life, quick charge capability, as well as great build and feel. This should be on anyone’s 2016 flagship smartphone shortlist.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5