In a quest for regaining the popularity it once had, Samsung has spent the last two years trying to re-invent itself. Internally dubbed as “Project Zero,” last year’s Galaxy S6 was all about starting again from scratch. The company was clearly paying attention to customer complaints over its choices of cheap plastic in hardware, the overbearing and clunky experience in its software, and the subpar results from its camera when compared to the likes of its major competitor, the iPhone.
The main problem with the Galaxy S6 was that it became too much of an iPhone in the things we like the least about it. Yes, it had a better camera than last year’s iPhone 6, and yes, it also had better build quality. Where things got ugly was in the death of features that made a Galaxy a “Galaxy,” like the doing away with expandable storage and a replaceable battery. Android has always been about possibilities and not limitations, and it’s clear that adopting iPhone limitations was not the key to success either. At a time when even Nexus smartphones had lost their way into a moire of giving visuals more of a priority over features, it was sad to see Samsung lose its balance as well.
Fast forward to 2016 and today we are faced with a new breed of Galaxy flagships. Samsung spent a great deal of its Unpacked presentation in Barcelona explaining just how different the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge are when compared to their respective predecessors. As we sat in the audience, I’ll admit it was hard to not start listening to all the same promises and take them with a grain of salt. At first it was the same rhetoric that we had heard every year, up until we started noticing that a lot of what was being announced was actually making common sense. It actually took me a few minutes to notice that this time, the claps actually came from the whole audience with some of these announcements. It was clear that this was a different Samsung, with different leadership, and a new focus that seemed on spot to what customers truly want from a smartphone.
The only thing left to do was to actually put all those words to a test, and over our seven-day review period with the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, it’s great to see only what was broken got fixed.
Specs & Hardware
The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge may visually follow on the footsteps of its predecessor, but notice I just said “visually.” Holding one and using it for the first time is enough to give you a clear hint as to how far Samsung has gone into refining its Project Zero over the last twelve months, and the feeling only extended as we kept using it. Last year the Galaxy S6 edge was merely a Galaxy S6 with a curved display and meager improvements. Today, the Galaxy S7 edge has now grown up in both aesthetics and specifications.
At 150.9 mm in height, 72.6 mm in width and 7.7 mm in thickness, the new “edge” is much more than just a curved Galaxy S7. We’ve always felt that Samsung’s curved devices felt smaller in the hand than they really were, so it makes all the sense in the world for the company to take advantage of this by making it larger. This allowed Samsung to house a larger 5.5-inch Quad HD display with 16:9 aspect ratio and 534 pixels every inch. As with every single AMOLED display we’ve reviewed from Samsung over the past three years, this one is just as gorgeous. Deep blacks and saturated color come standard, and we even notice that the greenish tint on the borders of its predecessor are now gone. To make matters even more surreal, at 157 grams, the edge is actually just a fraction of an ounce heavier than the Galaxy S7, something we find hard to believe given its internals. The only problem with these design choices is that triggering that edge display continues to be a problem depending on how you hold the phone, as the metal trim on the sides is rather thin when compared to the likes of the Galaxy S6 edge+.
Buried inside our AT&T review unit is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, an Adreno 530 GPU, 4 GB of LPDDR4 RAM and 32 GB of storage. Samsung finally decided to address one of our biggest complaints with last year’s line of Galaxy smartphones, and has now decided to include microSDXC expansion. The company is capping it to just 200 GB, a smart move to ensure that users stick to faster storage cards while these continue to expand. Other cool features like the one-touch fingerprint scanner continue to live with the Galaxy S7 edge, and yes, it feels just as fast as last year. No, the battery is sadly not replaceable, but this time it’s for all the right reasons. The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge is now IP68 water and dust resistant up to 30 minutes under a meter of water, and there are no flimsy flaps or fine text on the warranty card since there are no measures required to ensure protection by the user. Water resistance is a big deal in today’s world, and it’s great that there is no room for compromise in the design. To compliment for the non-replaceable battery, we have a much larger 3600 mAh power pack that continues to be capable of fast and wireless charging. We’ll dig deeper into how it performs further in our review, in addition to also covering specs from the camera.
Our unit is the Black Onyx variant that I was first reluctant to adopt. I’ve never been a fan of dark phones when these are as prone to fingerprints as the Galaxy S7 edge. Still, the color grew on me rapidly. The blend between light-colored aluminum and the darker curved glass just reminds me of the 2016 Dodge Challenger, and for a fan of muscle cars, this means a lot. The baddass look is then complimented by the inhand feel, which is nothing short of awesome given the use of 7000 series aluminum on the trim, and Gorilla Glass 4 on the front and back. There’s even a curved 2.5D glass element on the new line of Galaxy smartphones that wasn’t present last year, and which just adds to the feeling of a premium product from border to border. I could spend the whole day trying to describe it in text, but I highly suggest you walk into a store and try it for yourself.
Software is about the only thing broken that got both fixed and improved at the same time, and that’s great since the biggest way to differentiate this phone is through the unique user interface. Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow is now doing the leg work bellow Samsung’s costumed skin. Samsung may not publicly use the name TouchWiz any more, but once you dig into the settings, you’ll notice that this is still called like it was before. Yes, we do know this is probably one of the most controversial aspects of using a Galaxy phone given the legacy of panned gimmicks and clunky experience, but for this review to be unbiased, we decided that the right thing to do was to give the launcher another chance.
The user interface follows on Samsung’s legacy of visuals, and includes the same customization options through the company’s theme store. Theming digs deep into the UI. It doesn’t just change your wallpaper, but instead changes everything to a very different look and feel.
If color is your thing, there’s a theme for that. If stock Android is your thing, there’s also a theme for that.
Most of our comments in each and every Galaxy review continue to criticize Samsung for drifting away from stock Android so much, but after testing it for a week, I clearly understand the reason why. Samsung’s UI is the only way to take full advantage of this phone, and it also improves on a few things that even Google could do better. It continues to be the UI with most apps supporting split-window multi tasking at a time when the rest of the Android ecosystem is waiting for Android N. It also continues to be one of the few that allows screen grid customizations for more icons on your home screen, making it worth adopting a Quad HD display. It’s also the only way the edge will be more than just a curve on the display.
The edge user interface has now matured to what it should have always been. It continues the simplistic legacy of last year’s Galaxy S6 edge, but brings some maturity to the “separate launcher” concept that died with the Galaxy Note Edge. Sliding on it reveals a customizable list of panes that range from app short cuts, to contact shortcuts, to tools, and even to immediate tasks. You can be watching a YouTube video while keeping an eye on your Twitter feed and then calling on the calculator when in need, and the phone does this in such a natural way that you just want to continue taking advantage of it. The edge UI has also follows on the steps of the Note Edge in allowing third party developers to build more experiences for it. It currently starts with the ones that were left more than a year ago, but we’ll report on additions on our After The Buzz segment, if any.
Samsung’s “Always On Display” mode finally takes advantage its AMOLED technology, and stands out by allowing color wallpapers, and different clock and calendar options. At a glance it looks extremely elegant, and it’s smart enough to know when the phone is covered by your pocket, or when you’ve called it a night and want it to dim out. Some of the new themes even take advantage of this feature, and allow you to customize the Always On screen in a unique way as well. The only short fall is that it isn’t really built around notifications, like you currently enjoy with a Motorola or Nexus smartphone. At most you’ll get a missed call and messaging icon, which is rather sad.
Samsung was also nice enough to port famous features from the Galaxy Note 5 to the Galaxy S7 edge. One of our favorites is scroll capture, which is available if you take screen shots with the power and the home button instead of the palm swipe.
My favorite software feature so far is Game Launcher. Samsung really built this from the ground up, and has clearly addressed many complaints. You now have the option to mute all alerts while gaming, lock the soft keys to avoid pulling you out of your game by accident, minimize it for a quick return when you’re done with something else, and even take a screen shot or record a video of your game play.
Samsung’s camera combo is also one of the best we’ve tested so far. Many complained about the reduction in megapixels from 16 in the Galaxy S6 to 12 in this year’s Galaxy S7 edge, but this has allowed for a brighter f1.7 aperture on a wider 27 mm lens. It has also allowed for 30% larger pixels, now at 1.4 µm, and a new focus pixel technology that really helps this camera shine in low light by using two diodes on every pixel in a way that mimics how the human eye focuses on subjects.
The results are simply breath taking. Color and saturation are top notch even in gloomy New York City. If you’re not a fan of this saturation there’s also a manual modes, and a ton of additional camera options to choose from. About my only complaint is that this phone hung and reset it self twice when using the camera during our review period, though I haven’t been able to replicate what caused it. Samsung pushed a software update during that period of time as well, so we do assume it probably fixed the issues
I’m personally not a fan of selfies, but the Galaxy S7 edge sports a 5 megapixel selfie shooter that also provides f/1.7 aperture. There’s a ton of beautifying modes for those in need, but I highly suggest you avoid using them if you don’t want the camera to completely overexpose what’s behind you.
Video recording also lends to a very beautiful outcome with some of the best stabilization features we’ve seen on a smartphone. The camera is also capable of 4K video recording at 30 fps, 1080p at up to 60 fps, and 720p at up to 240 fps. Stabilization on these modes isn’t as good as on standard 1080p at 30 fps though, so pick your poison wisely.
Our own Juan Carlos Bagnell just published a full camera review of the Galaxy S7 in a separate video. His trained eye is able to give you a more in-depth look at what this camera can do, so make sure you also catch this video for more information.
The result of all this premium hardware and mature software blends into a very pleasant experience in using this phone. The Galaxy S6 launched with a ton of RAM management issues that mainly had Lollipop to blame. With the Galaxy S7 edge now running on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, navigating through menus is very fluid, save for that flipboard menu that you can always turn off. App load times are quick, and so far I’ve been able to load a total of 14 apps on RAM before the phone decides to send one to sleep. That’s kind of a record on my book, and has allowed me to seamlessly multi-task between apps without noticing a refresh.
This experience extends to game play. Heat dissipation provided by the new liquid cooling is top notch, resulting in fluid game play with little to no stutter. The reason I mention little is because Juan Bagnell’s experience with certain games on the Galaxy S7 didn’t go so well. We assume that most of that has to do with certain games that are still not optimized for Vulkan. Samsung made a big deal about Vulkan during their presentation as the new version of Open GL. It’s based on multi-core performance, where OpenGL was not. It’s also OS agnostic, allowing developers to port games between platforms. We assume that the experience playing games with more intense graphics will get better as more developers continue to adopt it in the future.
Storage management was also better than on rumors. Many claimed that this phone would eat up half your storage in bloat, but after loading all my apps, games and music, I still have half the storage to play with, and microSD support for added peace of mind.
We’ve tested this Galaxy S7 edge from AT&T for 7 days in gloomy New York City. During that time call quality has been rather deep through the ear peace, with callers also praising the audio quality and noise cancellation. The Speaker placement continues to be one of my pet peeves, as muting it with a finger is as simple as holding the phone the wrong way, but its loudness is welcome for regular media consumption. Data speeds over the AT&T network were also great even in when filming deep within a park in the suburbs.
The biggest shocker of them all is finally in the hands of the achilese heal of all Galaxy smartphones – the battery life. This is the first time that any Galaxy smartphone we’ve tested has reached a crazy 5 hours of screen on time. That amounts to at least two hours more than its predecessor, and an hour above phones that have shined in this department before. The compliment of fast and wireless charging takes over later, though we’re sad to see the lack of USB Type-C, or even faster charging protocols provided by Qualcomm. Still, even with Samsung’s decision to retain certain elements of the hardware for another year, it’s always great to relax and just enjoy the experience of using a phone without having to worry about its battery.
Pricing & Availability
The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge is obviously at the opposite end of cheap in features, experience, and price tag. In the United States it can be found on all major carriers for $299 on a two-year contract for the companies that still offer this option, or $26.50 a month on 30 month installments if you don’t choose the full retail price of $795 before taxes. This is for the 32GB variant, as it seems that added internal storage is only available outside the US in a few markets here and there.
The purchase does entitle you to a few freebies like a Samsung Gear VR, and some carriers are even offering a 64GB microSD card for your purchase. There’s a catch with this deal though, as it doesn’t apply unless you upgrade an existing contract, or get a new one. If you simply have the cash to buy the new phone out right and all you want to do is swap the SIM, you’ll have to do so without the freebies. Trust me, I tried.
It’s only logical for us to tell you that this is the best Galaxy ever, and we’d be right if we just left it in that simple conclusion. That wouldn’t be doing this phone any justice though. This is the first time that I can actually say that Samsung’s Unpacked presentation was about more than the usual rhetoric. It’s as if the company actually decided to live up to all the marketing hype, and has finally delivered a very well-rounded and thoughtful experience for its new flagship.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge delivers on the promise of being a great smartphone, without compromise. It includes outstanding design and build quality without falling short on important features like water resistance and battery life. It brings speedy performance without the excuse that your microSD card is to blame for sluggishness. A great software experience that leaves has matured the gimmicks into useful features that you can actually count on. It also delivers on providing users with one of the best camera experiences we’ve tested this year.
Obviously there’s no such thing as the perfect smartphone, and I’m sure all of you have one or more things you’d like to see here in there. On my book, the only challenge left still doesn’t apply to this phone. Samsung is infamous for its terrible speed at software updates, and if the company would just take the time to delight customers in this department, I know a lot of people would run out of reasons to not take the jump for a new Galaxy.
All being said, if you’re in the market for a new smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge is one I’d highly recommend.