Samsung introduced the Galaxy S7 Edge less than a month ago during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and, believe it or not, it's already here. In fact, we've been testing one for the past week and we're ready to present our full findings on the device.
The Galaxy S7 Edge is the successor to the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, which launched just six months ago, which means it technically has bigger shoes to fill than the Galaxy S7, which is hitting the market about one year after the Galaxy S6.
Can it fill those shoes? Is the Galaxy S7 Edge really a big jump over last year's model? Should you buy it if you own last year's phone, or only if you own something older? We'll walk through those questions and more in our full Galaxy S7 Edge Review, which starts now.
The untrained eye might not notice the difference between the Galaxy S7 Edge and the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus at first glance, but there is one. The Galaxy S7 Edge has much more rounded corners that feel a lot less sharp in the hand. That makes it much easier to hold with a single hand – though it's still not as simple as holding the smaller Galaxy S7 – without sacrificing too much on screen size.
That's good news, actually. The Galaxy S7 Edge packs a 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440-pixel display compared to the 5-.7-inch Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, which means you have a higher pixel density of 534ppi versus 515ppi on last year's model.
In terms of cosmetics, you still get the gorgeous glass and aluminum design that easily makes the galaxy S7 Edge one of the best-looking smartphones on the market. Better looking than the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think so.
Moving quickly around the phone, you'll find the nanoSIM/microSD card slot on the top, a power button within easy reach on the right-hand side, a microUSB port on the bottom flanked on the left by a 3.5mm headphone jack and on the right with a single speaker. Metal volume buttons live on the left-side of the device. There's a 5MP front-facing camera just above the display, across from a single LED notification light, and a fingerprint reader below the screen. The back of the phone is home to a 12MP camera and a single LED flash.
Wondering about that microUSB port? Samsung says it kept it around instead of moving to USB-C because it didn't want to complicate things with the Gear VR headset, which uses microUSB. I'm OK with that explanation; Samsung knows what it's doing in this regard and, in fact, jumped to USB 3.0 before anyone else did and, ultimately, went back to USB 2.0 since it was still more widely used.
It's the Inside that Counts
As the saying goes, it's the inside that counts, and that's especially true for the Galaxy S7 Edge Plus. Samsung updated most everything inside of the phone to deliver some of the most powerful components on the market today. We're talking about a Snapdragon 820 processor (in the U.S. and in the model we tested), 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and a 3,600mAh battery, up from the 3,000mah battery in last year's model.
The three biggest changes, the ones I care about most, are the return of expandable storage – you can add up to a 200GB microSD card using the nanoSIM/microSD tray that slides out of the top of the phone – new water resistance, and an improved camera. Sure, the faster processor is great, but we still need new games and apps that actually take full advantage of what it can deliver.
That new microSD card support is a big deal. Folks, including myself, were disappointed in the lack of one in last year's Samsung flagship. Sure, most people might simply rely on cloud storage these days, but I prefer having the option to add in additional storage and save on the up-front cost of a smartphone. The only issue I have with Samsung's microSD implementation in the Galaxy S7 Edge is that it isn't using Google's new "Adoptable Storage" support in Marshmallow, which means it doesn't format as internal storage. Samsung said it believes this is best for consumers, who probably prefer to take the storage out, using it mainly to carry photos, videos and music. I prefer the Adoptable Storage method, but I digress.
Most folks probably don't care about the IP68 water/dust resistance rating, and I don't suggest you go jumping into every pool on purpose just to test this, but you can if you want to – and your phone should survive just fine if you get pushed into the pool this summer. That's a big deal for a lot of folks, and it doesn't cost extra. It's just built right in. The Galaxy S7 Edge survived just fine after I ran it under the sink.
The improved camera, which we'll get to in the camera section, offers much faster auto-focus and improved low-light photography, though at a lower resolution. There's a 12MP camera in the Galaxy S7 Edge as opposed to the 16MP shooter in the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus.
Alright, so a faster processor, an upgraded camera, more storage, 4GB of RAM… This much is clear: the hardware foundation is better than anything else on the market right now, so the Galaxy S7 Edge is already top-notch.
What else do we need? Well, good software, for one.
TouchWiz, as I'm going to continue to call it, is still alive and well on the Galaxy S7 Edge. That might sound unfortunate, but Samsung is definitely making progress and lightening the load without removing too many of the customization options that customers actually enjoy.
Options like the "Flipboard Briefing," for example, are still useless to me, but they don't seem to bog down the experience and can be turned off easily. And if it's the icons you don't like, then you have company: I don't like them either and opted for one of many free (and paid) themes available in the custom theme market. For what it's worth: I don't apply custom launchers during a review, but I plan to use the Google Now Launcher as soon as this review goes live.
The "Edge" software is much more useful on the Galaxy S7 Edge though I suspect those changes are also coming to the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. The software now jumps out a full 550-pixels, which means you have more room to see things like recent stock prices, news headlines with pictures and even more contacts. It's more useful than the much skinnier "Edge" software Samsung used to have.
One big change you'll see on the Galaxy S7 Edge is support for a new "Always on Display" or AOD for short. It's useful in theory: Samsung lets you put a calendar, a clock or just a picture on the display, and the pixels stay lit showing you that at-a-glance-information whenever the phone knows it's not hiding in your pocket.
The idea behind AOD is that you don't need to turn your phone's display completely on just to check the time, ultimately saving you battery life. It's less useful in practice for me, since I'm one of the few lost souls who still wears a watch, but I dig the pretty cartoon space picture that was included in a custom theme back. Ultimately, however, AOD isn't as useful as Active Display from Motorola or similar options from other OEMs.
The core of the software, of course, is Android 6.0 Marshmallow. That means new features like Daze should be working in the background to help keep battery life as efficient as possible. Also, Google Now on Tap is built right in, and you can access it quickly by holding the home button. I love that Samsung kept core features like that intact.
Ultimately, the software was fine. Verizon, of course, preloaded a bunch of its bloatware on the Galaxy S7 Edge, which is a pain but nothing I can blame Samsung for. TouchWiz continues to improve and I think most folks are going to like what they see here. For those who don't, there's always the theme store and custom launchers, which is why we all love Android anyway.
I do want to just bring up one issue I had with a bug that my colleague also noted, though only briefly. I had two instances where the power button and volume down button completely stopped responding until I soft rebooted the phone. My colleague, Ron Parida, who also tested and filmed the video above, saw a similar issue that only lasted a few seconds and didn't require a restart. It's very likely this was just a software issue I had, perhaps related to some app or game I installed, but worth noting in case it becomes more widespread.
Samsung ditched the higher-resolution 16MP camera in exchange for a new 12MP f/1.7 camera sensor, which seems like it was a good move. The camera's unique in a few ways.
First, the aperture alone lets in 25 percent more light than last year's camera. Second, the camera module takes advantage of larger pixels (instead of more, ultimately leading to the reason why we have 12MP instead of 16MP). Combine the larger pixels with the f/1.7 aperture and you're getting 95 percent more light than the 16MP sensor in the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus.
The pictures speak for themselves. I was able to take a clearer shot in darker situations than I was with the iPhone 6s Plus I also use. Roy Choi,our managing editor, has a post that we'll run shortly comparing the Galaxy S7 sensor (same as in this phone) direct with the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. You'll see just how much it has improved, but it's remarkable.
My favorite feature – aside from the fantastic photos I snapped everywhere, especially on a sunny day where the blue sky looks gorgeous – is the insanely fast auto-focus. The camera focuses in a split second as you move it around to different objects spaced at different distances. This is thanks to technology previously only used in DSLR cameras that allows every single pixel to focus on a target, instead of just a select number.
In the gallery below, you'll see some of my samples as well as a bunch we shot with the Galaxy S7. The phones pack the same sensor, so this will give you a better idea of the performance.
To be fair, it can be easy to trick the focus at times. I tripped it up by throwing my finger close to the lens, where it didn't notice I was rapidly trying to switch it to macro mode. And the camera missed a shot on my dog, Mabel, focusing on her eyes instead of the nose right at the front of the camera, when she jumped into a shot quickly. These are just small nitpicks, though, and really were just the result of me trying to get the camera to mess up. That means, ultimately, you're going to get awesome shots almost all of the time.
For the most part, most of the flagship phones you buy right now are going to perform pretty darn well. I imagine it's pretty hard to mess things up when you pair a Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB of RAM. So my experience on the Galaxy S7 Edge was pretty predictable: everything was quick, I didn't have long load times and gaming was flawless.
I did run into a weird situation where performance dropped, though: the phone gets sluggish when I enter in my PIN at the lock screen. I have no idea why, and it seems like something that could be easily fixed with a future software patch. Speaking of the fingerprint reader, it performed good enough though didn't seem as fast as the Nexus 6P. It's solid, though.
For the folks who need raw data, here's a look at the AnTuTu benchmark score. The Galaxy S7 Edge notched up a score of 105,998, blasting everything else out of the water. The Huawei Mate 8 was the closest to it, with a score of 92,7746. For Galaxy Note 5 owners, that phone earned a score of 83,944. So you're looking at a nice bump if you care about numbers.
I ran into a pretty funny issue with battery life on the Galaxy S7 Edge that, quite frankly, I haven't had since I used a feature phone.
The device was so good at getting me through a full day of usage that I'd leave it off the charger at night. Right now, for example, I have 17 percent of battery life left. It's almost 4 p.m. and I didn't charge it when I hit the bed last night. My iPhone 6s Plus isn't capable of that.
Even better, when I do have to charge it, it juices up super quickly. Samsung includes its latest Adaptive Fast Charging tech, the same in the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. It's remarkable, however, that it can charge the Galaxy S7 Edge Plus and its larger battery almost as quickly. The phone also supports Samsung's latest fast wireless charging tech, which was introduced with those two aforementioned phones, too.
Spec geeks might be a bit bummed to learn that the phone doesn't support Quick Charge 3.0 even though the phone runs on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 chipset. Adaptive Fast Charging is plenty quick for me, though, and complaining about not having one or the other seems like a waste of time.
The Galaxy S7 Edge is the best Android smartphone on the market.
I wrote an article before Mobile World Congress wondering whether or not Samsung even needed to launch a Galaxy S7 (or Galaxy S7 Edge, for that matter.) I ultimately landed on the conclusion that, sure, Samsung has to, because it needs to keep up with the proverbial Jones's: Apple, of course, but even smaller competitors that really don't even take a huge slice out of the global smartphone market share, such as LG, HTC, and the other firms that doing every darn thing they can to spit out something better or more unique than what Samsung can bring to the table.
So there are a few ways that I had to look at the Galaxy S7 Edge: Is it worth the upgrade over last year's model? Is it better than the competition? Is it the best Samsung could do – in other words, did Samsung execute well on what it set out to accomplish?
Let's start with the first question.
No, for most people there's no need to upgrade from the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. Own a Galaxy S6? Sure, the battery life alone is worth the bump. But the camera, the water resistance, the microSD card slot – while all of this was enough of a reason for me to actually buy the phone (yes, it should be arriving today as a matter of fact), I wouldn't be doing you a service if I said you need this over your Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. In fact, if the price on that phone drops, go buy one.
Second question: Is this better than the competition? Yes. It's the best Android phone I've used in a long time, and I've sung praises for the Nexus 6P, the BlackBerry Priv and a variety of other rockin' phones out there right now. It's expensive, though, way more than you'd pay for the Nexus 6P. So it comes down to your budget – if you can afford the Galaxy S7 Edge Plus, go for it. Better than an iPhone 6s Plus? Totally different operating systems, and I know better than to start that firefight.
Third: Did Samsung execute well on what it set out to do? Definitely, I think so. The camera rocks, battery life rules, the fingerprint reader works well, the screen is probably the best you'll find out there. I can't think of any complaints I've had with the phone other than that I still don't like TouchWiz – which is a moot argument since I can use something else – and the bug that Samsung says it hasn't run into before.
But the reason I ultimately recommend this phone isn't because it passed most of the questions above. It's because Samsung already proved that the Galaxy S6, a year later, is still a phone to be reckoned with (though software updates are slow.) So I know, and really believe, that a year from now this phone is probably only going to be bested by the Galaxy Note 6 and a couple of other devices. That's something I can live with.
The Galaxy S7 Edge is the best Android smartphone on the market. There. I said it.
- Great battery life
- Excellent camera
- Incredible screen
- TouchWiz still not the best
Disclaimer: Ron used the Galaxy S7 for about 5 days before filming his review. Todd used the device for 5 days before writing his review. Samsung sent both review units for Verizon.