When Samsung announced its next set of Galaxy phones at MWC in Barcelona, most of us were already convinced that the new Galaxy flagships will be pretty amazing and would score big time, while many were counting that the South Korean giant is losing at its own game. But if last five years are any reflections then, I wouldn’t bet that is true. For the better half of the last five years, the company has been the supreme player in the Android space. Right from the introduction of the Galaxy S2 and onwards, the brand has shown that it is capable to ride the wave of the smartphone industry. As well as is pretty impressive in adapting to the changes in the market, which we saw with Galaxy S6, while S6 was still the best phones to buy that year, few design changes weren’t quite welcoming; absence of microSD card, non-removable battery, and the waterproof rating.
For the past couple years company has managed to be on top, however, the competition has never been too far behind, and it is approaching fast. In regard to that, Samsung has taken the Galaxy S7 to whole new level; the S7 is an attempt to improve the Galaxy S6’s apprehended faults, while building upon its comprehended strengths. Let’s discuss in detail about what features are improved and what not.
We were used to seeing plastic non-unibody handsets from Samsung, until the Galaxy S6 came along last year. And building on that value, the Galaxy S7 is more of evolution to the revolution started by the S6. Of course, it wasn’t the perfect handset; learning from the mistakes Samsung has really outdone itself this time. The new Galaxy is noticeably thicker and heavier than its old iteration. However, it handles that by integrating the 3D curved glass that we saw on the Galaxy Note 5 design. What it resulted is that it feels arguably much better in the hand than the Galaxy S6. While I didn’t have many issues with aesthetics of the Galaxy S6, it does felt a bit blocky, thus not fitting in hand quite nicely. But those factors on the S7 are entirely different despite heavyweight and increase in thickness as we addressed. Although, the thickness does means that the camera hump is noticeably reduced, which is a good thing, considering those didn’t like it. Also, what matters is the camera lens isn’t contacting whatever surface you’re going to put it down. Thanks to the sapphire cover lenses that go a long way even if it comes in contact with the wild surface.
There is a noticeable change; re-introduction of 2.5D curved glass on the edges of the display. The company tends to remove and re-introduce this design element, we don’t know why they do that, but it does help in improving the feel of edge swipes. Not sure how much difference that would make, but it is quite noticeable, but removal of anther edge in design possibly makes it feel different in hand. Otherwise, the design seems pretty much familiar, almost unchanged, but we know it’s not. We have the Black Onyx variant, and it pretty much is a beauty, I mean not as shiny as a gold platinum model, but it will do the trick; attract its surrounding. For the past couple of months I have been using handsets sized 5.5-inch or more, but after shifting to Galaxy S7, it was a refreshing change, as not many handsets sized such as it is has wooed me. And trust me, there are a lot of handsets that pass through my hands since the Galaxy S6 was introduced last year. The new handset feels quite an upgrade in terms of build quality, comfortability, and durability.
Talking about the specifics now, on the front, you can see the almost bezel-less display, above that is the Samsung logo branding, earpiece, camera module and a set of sensors. While on the bottom front, you can see the physical button, which houses the fingerprint sensor and capacitive buttons; menu and back. They lit up when you press them, which is good when you operate the device in dark light conditions. Now coming to the rear side, you can notice the curved edges, which is the reason it fits in hands perfectly. On the top, there is a camera module alongside is the LED Flashlight and heart rate sensor, as well as other sensors to measure your health data. We will get into it in separate articles. Just below these modules, you can see the second Samsung logo branding, and that’s it. The company has tried to keep it clean and simple as much as possible, and they succeeded in doing so.
Moving on with the talk of the ports placement, I haven’t been fond of Samsung’s placement of volume rocker keys, but lately, they are making much more sense. With such compact design, I’m much comfortable this time to use volume rockers, but that doesn’t mean it’s an ideal position for right handed people. The right edge houses a power key while the volume rocker keys are on the left-hand side. The bottom edge has an audio jack, microUSB port, primary microphone and a loudspeaker. Whereas it conceals a hybrid SIM slot inside a tray, which can be pulled out via an SIM ejector pin, there is a secondary microphone as well. What is missing from the top edge is the IR Blaster, which was removed from Galaxy devices starting Note 5. Addressing the fact that company brought back the waterproof feature and this time around it’s rated IP68, which means it is waterproof over 1.5 meter and can survive in that for about 30 minutes. As well as its dustproof too, so you can take this handset in the wilderness, and it will come out as beautiful as it was when unpacked. Overall, we felt Samsung has finally perfected their design of the Samsung Galaxy S Series handset this year.
Today will not be the day when Samsung offers a poor display on its flagship handset, the brand that has even manufactured display for millions of Apple’s iPhones for the past couple of years, isn’t going to offer a bad one on their own handset. You should have understood that by now if you have been following up on Samsung devices launched past years. And a display is very crucial part of the smartphone experience, especially if it’s a very pricey handset. You get a Quad HD (2560 x 1440) pixel resolution display that has a real estate of 5.1-inch, which is the same as the Galaxy S6, but it is more than likely to have some changes to the display driver IC in order to enable the ecstatic feature of it; the Always-On Display. The pixel density of 576 PPI (Pixel Per Inch) ensures that you don’t get pixilated content on the screen when you’re viewing High Definition content.
While talking about the brightness levels, it isn’t the brightest display out there, certainly less bright than the last iteration. When tested for maximum luminance, it was revealed that S7 offers slightly less brightness than S6. Though we tested them in the auto-brightness mode, so it’s important to note that the maximum luminance will be different in the manual mode. Whereas in terms of the grayscale accuracy, the screen on S7 was quite better than the S6. Another interesting thing that I liked about the display was its AMOLED panel while Samsung like to call them as Super AMOLED. They offer some interesting take when it comes to showing off the black colors, in comparison to the LCD panels out there. An AMOLED display is more effective in displaying inky deep black colors than the slightly grey and washed out blacks on an LCD. If you want to see the display to its full potential, then you can go ahead and select the AMOLED cinema/photo screen mode from the Settings app. While some may mention that AMOLED displays over saturate colors, well, in that case, the company has given an Adaptive display screen mode, which is a default screen mode, it optimizes the color range, sharpness and saturation levels to the best of intent. We would recommend you to use this screen mode and not shift to other modes.
The company has always been ahead of its generation in terms of offering smart features. Its service like Smart Stay has been around for quite a while now, which detects your face with front camera to keep it on while you’re looking at the screen. Wouldn’t you say that’s a nice thing! You can also keep your screen turned off when it is placed in dark places, such as pocket or bag. As well as you could also adjust the font size and change the font style all over the system default apps, which is something can be said was not available on the stock Android Marshmallow, but has been introduced on the Android N Preview Build. Having so many pixels jammed together into a relatively small real estate means spotting even one pixel from another would be a hard job you will not able to do. And why would you do that anyway. Such kind of sharpness makes gaming and watching YouTube an absolute pleasure. The vivid color reproduction and crisp details are the keys to offering stunning visual experience on any display devices. Though the Always-On display is the new USP of the screen, it’s a nice touch and conveniently offers faster way to check date and time when your phone is resting on your desk. Currently, it only offers notifications for a few default apps – Messages, Email, and Phone – and doesn’t have a support of third party apps, unlike the Motorola’s Active Display feature. But that is one or two updates away from being more useful than it is now.
Samsung has always liked to keep its software quite different from the stock Android and thus it has kept it likewise for the past couple years. Lately, the TouchWiz UI has been criticized less, the reason behind that is simple, and company has finally managed to optimize its custom interface. Last year when company announced the S6, it was running on the Android Lollipop based TouchWiz, now it has received the update to Marshmallow based UI. But the noticeable thing on the Lollipop OS based UX was that there were relatively less pre-installed apps than comparing it to the two-year-old iteration, the Galaxy S5. By removing most apps and keeping it bundled to download later in the Galaxy Apps store was a great idea. An idea that made bloatware goes away from the Samsung premium devices. It was then followed up on many Samsung handsets. What was lacking on the previous iterations of the UIs was the excessive usage of neon colors, which made it, feel off at the times. It has been improved quite a lot on the latest version of the interface.
The performance of the UX has improved a lot, now if that is because of the most powerful chipset incorporated on the new Galaxy; it is hard to establish that. But one thing is clear; it’s quite faster in opening up apps, multitasking and boot time as well. Couple days ago, we did a full frontal speed up test with some recent as well as a year old flagship and Galaxy S7 turned up as the top contender. Wasn’t surprising was it, I thought so. Though, at times, we did experience some frame drops and unexpected app crashes, mostly the Camera and Settings app. At any rate, it isn’t the perfect custom interface out there in the market, but it sure is the best you’ll see in terms of overall experience. When no apps are running in the recent window, then you would see around 1.6GB of RAM free, and around 1.9GB being used by the background applications, which we counted at 7. They were not the third party apps, but system process, which means the system assigns a big part of RAM to itself. And that may be the reason for such swift performance. But does that affect battery life? Well to know that you have to wait until the battery section.
There are still a number of apps pre-installed on the device, and most of them are quite helpful. But let me first address some new features that I came across in the Settings app. They can be found in the Advanced features option, while you might be familiar with some of the features listed in this window, the chances are that you’re reading about the “Galaxy Labs” first time. When you scroll down the list you’ll see that option, tapping on it would lead you to open two experimental functions. First, one allows you to show simply all the apps on home screen. Say goodbye to the app drawer if you didn’t want it at all. Whereas the second feature, Quick Dial, allows you to press the home key and simply call a contact by saying their name correctly. We tried using this feature, but it was hit & miss for most of the times. They are experimental features, so we didn’t have much expectation from them, although, we would definitely like to see more features in action. Samsung seemed quite open natured this time with its software functionality.
The apps that you will see on the Galaxy S7 includes default apps for gallery, camera, file manager, S Health, S Planner, S Voice and an app to access Galaxy Apps. Last year Samsung made a deal with Microsoft to pre-install a set of apps like Skype, MS Office, OneDrive, and OneNote, so you’ll be seeing those apps on this handset as well. This time around in My Galaxy Apps you will see an assistant feature where you can talk to a person and ask certain things. After all these pre-installed apps and the OS itself, you get around 24.46GB of internal storage space for yourself. And if that is not enough, then you don’t have to worry about the storage space, as you can expand the storage space via microSD card slot. Yes, if you didn’t know, Samsung has brought back the expansion slot, which was absent from the last iteration. On top of that, the device supports OTG functionality, which means you can carry your data on the tiny USB OTG and access where and whenever you want.
Hardware & Performance
This year we are going to see a whole lot of devices powered by powerful chipset from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 820 while there would be some in-house processor from mobile manufacturers like Kirin & Exynos that would give competition to the chipset giant. Things are going to be interesting in the coming months. But for the comparison of this handset’s performance, the best of 2015 would have to do. The latest flagship from Samsung comes powered by two different chipsets depending on regions while Qualcomm SD 820 variant is meant for the United States, the international variant will have Exynos 8890 and thus the Indian variant sports an in-house processor from Samsung. You might be wondering which processor is more powerful and how much difference is noticeable between the performances of these two models. Well, we personally don’t have any answer for you, but what we gathered from the research is that Exynos 8890 seems to be beating the Qualcomm’s latest flagship chipset in Benchmark scores. Leaving those questions aside, we thought the performance on this handset was beastly. We practically tore it apart with unnecessary multitasking, and it didn’t sweat much. But that is not the way to test a phone’s real performance. So, we did gaming.
But first let’s shed some light into the specification of the processor, it packs eight cores with four running at 2.6GHz and other four at 1.59GHz, which is paired with Mali T880 GPU. And you know it has a 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage for support as we have mentioned that in the software section above. There is a new feature for gaming; it can be enabled from the Settings app in the Advanced features. Two options, Game Launcher and Game Tools can be enabled to get the best gaming experience. Once you turn ON the launcher, it will arrange all your games in one folder automatically. As well as allow you to take screenshots, record a video and do lots of other interesting things while you’re still in the gaming window. Or if you’re worried about the battery life during gameplay, then you can turn ON the save power button, which will switch ON only when you play games. If you don’t like to receive alerts for your notifications during gaming, then it can be done as well in this launcher. Only the incoming calls will be displayed during a game is being played. Since this is relatively small handset, locking recent and back keys is quite a brilliant thing this Game launcher can do.
Moving on to the benchmarking, we took the device for spin to test out the potential of the Exynos 8890 chipset. The first test was done on the popular Antutu app, where the device practically through every other 2015 flagship handset under the bus with a score of 126816. The score can be broken down into four aspects; 3D, UX, CPU and RAM, they each scored, 36828, 42313, 37655 and 10020, respectively. While talking about the ranking, the second handset in the list is Huawei Mate 8, which score 92746. And remember company logs the highest scores that individual handset has ever achieved. Meaning there could be a Samsung Galaxy S7 with Exynos chipset out there that could score more than what my unit was able to achieve. It’s logically possible. Now do you understand the power Galaxy S7 holds, just for the comparison, Galaxy Note 5 scored 83944, it was the highest score among the Galaxy devices launched last year. Now talking about the second benchmarking app, Vellamo, which is Qualcomm’s app to test the processor performance on various aspects. It doesn’t merge all the scores from different aspects but rather states in an individual manner. The aspects are Multicore, Metal, and Chrome Browser, they scored 3507, 3542 and 6227, respectively. Again, it topped all the three categories leaving other flagships far behind. We did the real-life usage on the chrome browser to feel the experience, well, despite its small real estate it feels quite comfortable to browse; the zoom-in and zoom-out response is quite smooth.
The fingerprint sensor has always been placed on the front side, specifically integrated into the physical home key, on the Samsung’s premium handset. And I have liked the biometric sensor on the front size; there are very few manufacturers that understand that it is the right place for the sensor, but not the rear side. But unfortunately, I would have to say that it wasn’t the best experience on the fingerprint sensor compared to other premium Samsung devices. I don’t know how company managed to degrade this experience, but it’s quite true. Out of 10 times unlocking with fingerprint sensor, there were at least 3-4 failure attempts. I hope it’s a software issue which should be fixed in the near future. But if company has changed the module itself then it would be whole other story. Moreover, I don’t understand why company hasn’t introduced the app unlocking; it is a perfect way to secure our app accounts. Many companies have done that in their mid-range handset, one example is the Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 3.
The new shiny metal bodied glass protection handset from Samsung sports the 12-megapixel resolution camera, which appears to be downsized from the 16-megapixel resolution present on the Galaxy S6. But well, that is what interesting here, by going back to the drawing board, company figured out that more than module resolution, what matters is that the pixel size must be large. The larger the pixel size, the more light each pixel can collect. The Samsung device in question here sports a 1.4-micron pixel size, which is quite higher than last year’s iteration that stood at 1.12 micron. While at it, I want to point out that it’s larger than even the iPhone 6s, which is at 1.22 micron. And it’s that’s why the module performed so well in low-light conditions.
Usually, companies offer dedicated camera modes to deal with the low-light conditions, but Samsung was rather busy perfecting the hardware, instead of software part. But don’t take for granted that the camera UI lacks modes, the app comes with six modes while you can download more from the company’s separate apps store dedicated for Galaxy Apps. Though, what you won’t find on that list is the night mode. Talking about the camera UI experience, just like the TouchWiz, it offers seamless performance. Haven’t crashed even for once. There are five icons on the right side and six icons on the left side, assuming you have held the device in horizontal direction, not the vertical. On the right side, you’ll find options to access modes, switch camera, shutter button, video button and gallery app. While on the left side, you see options to access settings, change ratio, turn ON flash, timer, HDR, and effect.
What other technologies are used to perfect the camera function? Well, we established that pixel size is an important part of photography. Thus, Samsung decided to use Dual Pixel setup, which allows module to collect larger light when compared to the single pixel setup. Moreover, the aperture that company has used this time is of f/1.7, which is 0.2 higher than what was used on the Galaxy S6. For those who don’t know their way around these terms, in short explanation, f-number is a ratio between the focal length size of the hole and tells how much light can be passed through the sensor. The lower the number is, the wider the aperture and thus, more light can pass through. Around two years back, smartphones would typically use apertures ranging from f/2.0 to f/2.4, although, it’s true for many handsets these days as well. But every year the trend is changing, and Samsung would be the one leading them.
Moving on with the talk of the outputs, the camera outputs are pretty much similar in HDR, HDR Auto or HDR OFF mode, though; you’ll see a slight hint of white balance change when capturing in HDR against the Normal mode. And I would recommend keeping HDR always ON, why so? Because unlike any other handsets, HDR on this handset doesn’t take time to process, so you don’t need to cling to the same position much longer. The focusing is incredibly fast, all thanks to the implementation of the fancy PDAF (phase detection auto focus) technology. With every pixel being used in partnership with the PDAF technology, you get lightning fast focus. This time Samsung has done an excellent job to keep grains out of the low-light captures by not relying on the ISO Sensitivity. While talking about the captures in the natural and artificial light, they look pretty impressive; the color reproduction, white balance and exposure level, all look balanced out. You can even see the minute details in the macro shots.
Coming to the video capability of the module, this time, around we feel that the video recording is also improved quite a lot. It can shoot up to 4K Video, which is named as the Ultra HD, while you can opt for QHD, the 2K resolution as well. The Full HD video has two options; either shoots in 30fps or 60fps, but do make a note that in 60fps mode, you can’t take pictures while shooting. You can even Live Broadcast the videos to your YouTube Channel straight from the app. The front-facing camera on this thing is of 5-megapixel resolution, which is just enough to fight against competition. Because what matters is that the outputs are quite real to life when compared to any other premium flagships selfie camera. There is also a wide-angle lens, which allows you to cram more faces into your selfies. Great pictures, fantastic app, quick autofocus and impressive low-light performance make it the best camera you can get on a phone.
The biggest issue that we had with Galaxy S6 was the battery life, with small 2600mAh capacity; it was quite hard for device to manage even average battery life. But this time around company has added a 3000mAh capacity battery, which offers more than generous battery life one can expect from a handset with mind blowing horsepower, Quad HD display and a camera package that would make you not put down your phone and just release the Kraken of Photography on the world.
We have been using the Galaxy S7 as our primary handset since about a week now, and the device went through more than seven charge cycles. The first day didn’t yield any good results; the device took the first day to understand my usage behavior. To go with the flow from second day onwards I tried to log the similar amount of hours of usage for at least two days just to know whether the Screen-on-Time (SoT) would vary or not, well, it did, but not with large gap. I got the maximum when no games were played, but still a heavy usage had been done that included hours of YouTube viewing, Camera shooting, and Social Media apps usage.
Overall, I would like to say that battery life on the latest Galaxy has been improved from the last iteration. The average SoT that we got during the heavy usage was around 4 and half hours, while the last cycle before publishing this review yield a SoT of around 6 hours 42 minutes. That is some incredible result we didn’t expect from the handset. On top of that, the device supports fast charging, which charges your device from 10% to 100% in just 90 minutes. So, when your battery is dead, you can get approximately 50% battery life within just 30 minutes of charging time. Moreover, there are power saving modes that’ll help you in further optimization of battery life. And don’t forget the Qi/PMA wireless charging support; it’s not a vital feature, but who doesn’t like to get rid of hassling through wires, right.
Other than removing IR Blaster, the company has offered everything there is in terms of connectivity that can be provided on a smartphone. You get a hybrid SIM slot, where you can either use two SIMs at a time or one SIM and a microSD card. There is 4G connectivity, which leads to faster downloads on mobile data than any other network support like 3G, HSPA+, etc. Although company hasn’t specified whether or not it will support VoLTE, that is, Voice over LTE network, as many telecom providers in the country are going to launch their VoLTE services, sooner or later. We did not have issues regarding voice calls, though, if you were wondering, the earpiece is loud enough as well. While talking about the wireless mobile payments, the device is equipped with NFC, so if in future mobile payments starts in India, then your device would be capable of doing that, until then you can have fun by keeping NFC tags in different places, as you can program them via third-party apps for various functionalities. We are not going into deeper for this. Other usual connectivity options include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and microUSB port.
You know what I think? I think Galaxy S7 is looking to be one of the better devices of this year. We might not have explored everything on this handset, as it has a lot to offer, but what I will conclude is that if you absolutely want this handset now, then I don’t think there is any major deal-breaker present in this device. However, if you’re looking to buy the best phone available this year, then I think you have to restrain yourself to purchase this handset for now. As Samsung’s competitors had their own flagships, such as LG G5 and supposed HTC One M10 would be launching sooner than later.