Hands-on review: Samsung Galaxy S7

Hands on: Samsung Galaxy S7 review

Update: More information added in about the display technology, and an explanation from Samsung as to why it got rid of the desirable ‘Adoptable Storage’ feature.

I sighed when I first saw the Samsung Galaxy S7 – it looks just like its predecessor, and yet again I was going to have to dig deep inside to find out whether the new features mean the new phone is worth the extra money it will cost if you choose it over 2015’s Galaxy S6.

I don’t know why phone manufacturers back themselves into a corner like this – giving the public a reason to criticise their new device when it actually does pack some decent upgrades.

If you look beyond the design similarities, Samsung has fixed nearly everything that was disappointing about the S6. The dropped waterproofing is back once again, with an IP68 rating. The battery has been boosted from 2550mAh to 3000mAh with little change in the dimensions. The microSD expandable memory is back.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review

And you know what? The Galaxy S7 feels like a completely different phone in the hand thanks to the subtle curve on the back, taken from the Note 5. Imagine the sides from the S6 Edge‘s screen used on the rear, and you’ll have an idea of what I mean.

However, there’s nothing that will stop people seeing the Galaxy S7 as a phone that’s nothing more than the Galaxy S6S, a handset with the same feature set that comes with a microSD slot – and to a degree, they’d be right.

It’s now waterproof – well, I say now, but in reality this was already added into the Galaxy S5 before being stripped off to allow for the redesigned Galaxy S6. It’s impressive to see a phone that’s this well-crafted being able to be dunked into a glass of water – it validates what Sony’s been doing for years.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review

Sadly there’s no USB-C connector on the bottom – well, sadly for the tech fan who would have liked to easily plug in their charger either way up and enjoyed the faster speeds on offer. Less of a sad day for those of us who have approximately 4.765 billion microUSB chargers around the house.

The microSD slot will have Samsung fans cheering around the world – the reason for its disappearance in the Galaxy S6 was performance, according to the South Korean brand, which now claims to have fixed that issue, so we should see no slowdown for phones imbued with the expandable memory.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review

However, the brand has confusingly chosen not to use Google’s Adoptable Storage feature, which was added into Android Marshmallow and enables users to ‘hard code’ microSD cards into the internal storage – meaning you can install massive apps onto them with ease.

Here’s the statement – sent to Ars Technica – about why the system wasn’t used:

“Samsung decided not to use the Android Marshmallow “adoptable storage” model. We believe that our users want a microSD card to transfer files between their phone and other devices (laptop, tablet, etc), especially the photos and videos they shoot with the camera.

“With adoptable storage, first of all the card may be erased the first time it is inserted into the device. This behavior may be unexpected by many users and we don’t want our users to lose their files.

“Second, once Marshmallow starts using a card for adoptable storage, it cannot be read by other devices, so it loses this ability to be used for file transfer. Adoptable Storage is also primarily targeted towards emerging markets where devices with only 4-8GB of onboard storage are common.

“We think that our model of using microSD for mass storage is more in-line with our owner’s desires and expectations for how microSD should behave.”

The argument isn’t invalid at all, but given the downside of Adoptable Storage is you can’t swap cards in and out without confusing the phone badly, very few of us ever do that anyway.

Having lots more internal storage for a low price (a decent microSD card is a lot cheaper than jumping up gigabyte sizes in phone models) would have been a great feature, but perhaps too many people would have tried to hot swap cards and been confused.


The 5.1-inch screen is back once again, without the rumored 3D Touch-style screen that would have been a direct nod to Apple. It’s the same QHD resolution that we’re seeing on multiple smartphones these days (thankfully, Samsung decided to resist the chance to join Sony’s insane 4K revolution) and it’s still the best-looking screen on the market.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review

The 5.1-inch screen is as pin-sharp as ever, and even without any dedicated QHD content to take advantage of the high-res screen, web browsing and watching video is still an impressive experience. The Super AMOLED technology used inside still offers huge benefits in terms of color reproduction and contrast, so everything looks stark and clear.

I’m well aware that’s something I’ve written for years about Samsung screens, but there’s nothing that I can see that outstrips it at the moment. Even the over-saturation problems that dogged AMOLED displays in the early days have been fixed by Samsung, enabling you to choose the color level you’re happy with.

Display Mate’s analysis, one of the most in-depth on the web, has already been conducted on the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, and it found that it had not only has the screen’s maximum brightness been raised significantly above last year’s model, meaning it’ll be easier to see in bright light, but it’s got the best auto-brightness seen on any phone.

The latter is particularly important, as it means the Galaxy S7 will be able to decide how to best manage your battery while still letting you see the screen as clearly as possible.

But Samsung might have pushed too far with the tech this year, banking on it too much to introduce another key feature: the always-on display. This means exactly what it suggests: when the Galaxy S7 is in standby mode it’ll show a clock, calendar or an ‘image’ (which is really just a weird pattern), so you won’t have to constantly turn on the display to see what time it is.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review

Samsung promises that this won’t take more than 1% of battery life per hour, thanks to being able to control every pixel of the Super AMOLED display – but that’s still around 15% of your phone’s juice gone per working day.

DisplayMate’s findings also found that this method was very low power, drawing very little from the battery each time. I also spoke to Samsung about the issue, and Kyle Brown, Head of Product Launch Programmes for the company, said that this power drain was offset by people checking their phones up to 150 times a day for the time or to see if they have any notifications – which does make sense as a move.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review

It definitely makes the phone look more fancy when sitting on the desk, but it’s not something that I felt was missing from my life particularly.


That said, maybe Samsung knows something that the rest of us can’t know yet: that it’s fixed the battery life issues that plagued its previous model.

It was one of TechRadar’s Biggest Mysteries Of 2015 (TM): why the Galaxy S6 would blitz every single one of our battery tests, head and shoulders above the rest of the market in terms of gaming, video watching, web browsing and standby time – and yet would be in the danger zone by 4PM in an average working day after a few months’ use.

It seems the phone would stay awake too often, apps chattering to the network and the accelerometer activating too easily. However, with the 3000mAh battery now inside we’ve got the biggest power pack Samsung’s ever stuffed into its flagship smartphone, and combined with the more efficient Android Marshmallow we could finally see a long-lasting battery life on a top Samsung phone.

The addition of Android Marshmallow means that the Touchwiz interface, so oft-maligned by the smartphone-buying public, is again stripped back and the ‘Googliness’ of the phone is allowed to shine through. There’s not a lot different from the S6 in reality, as the UI there was already much ‘flatter’ and closer to Google’s Material Design.

However, the stock icons look cleaner once more, the notifications shade is starker (and white, rather neon green and grey) and the overall operation seems closer to Google’s stock experience.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review

There are still reams of Samsung styling throughout the Galaxy S7, meaning the settings menu has loads of options to mess around with and double tapping the home button will open up the camera in a flash – overall, everything is much faster under the finger again, with a decent level of snappiness whenever you’re trying to do anything. Annoyingly the multi-tasking pane still takes a beat to open, which will only get worse as the phone gets older, but that’s the worst I could find.

The fingerprint scanner is present and correct once more, although I didn’t get a chance to code in my digit. However, the S6 had a brilliant biometric option, so this can only get better as time goes on.

The camera user interface still remains brilliantly / infuriatingly Samsung, locked in a world of options that confuse the finger as you try and work out some of the options on offer.

The camera itself is now much improved, despite the drop in megapixel rating from 16MP to 12MP, designed to help improve low light capabilities. We don’t need to have that many pixels in our smartphone cameras, and Samsung has thankfully realised that having that high a MP count in the S7 would have been pointless.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review

Instead, we’ve got 56% bigger pixels, which allow in 25% more light to get better pictures when you’re out and about snapping. The results are early, but all the pics I took in the low light scenarios came out very well indeed, and sharply too.

This time last year, Samsung was droning on about 0.7 seconds auto focus as the best ever, that we didn’t need anything else in the camera when trying to get a clear snap.

However, with the dual pixel sensor on board now, Samsung is NOW saying ‘well, last year’s phone simply wasn’t fast enough’, even showing side-by-side comparisons between the Galaxy S6 and S7 and the autofocus abilities.

Whatever the underlying technology, the S7 takes very quick and very sharp pictures – if you’re not whirling the phone around – pause for even a millisecond, the results are impressive. It’s not game-changing, but a decent refinement.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review

Speaking of changing games, the new Game Launcher widget on the S7 (and S7 Edge) is designed to take that experience up a notch.

You add games to the folder, and from there you’re able to use Game Tools – a small icon at the side flings up an on-screen menu to let you lock the buttons, disable alerts, record your game play (with your own face in the mix) and even minimise the game so you can pop off and answer a message.

It’s a nice idea and one that adds an air of legitimacy to smartphone gaming, buying into the shareable nature of how people are playing nowadays. You can even drop the resolution and framerate of games to save battery life, meaning if you’re not playing something with insane graphical prowess this tool promises to save you battery.

It’s not a huge element in the story of the new Galaxy, but it does add something for those that love to use their phone as an on-the-go console.

Early verdict

For all the new features above, I can’t help but feel two things: the Galaxy S7 is the phone that Samsung should have made last year, and it looks just too similar to the S6.

I can’t decide what it is that irks me about a phone that doesn’t change in design overtly from one iteration to the next. Most people will skip generations and upgrade from a model two years ago, and if a design is popular, why step away from it?

Then again, as the ‘S’ models of the iPhone show, there’s a definite apathy when a phone looks the same as the previous year, despite packing a load of new features in.

Samsung’s fixed a lot of the problems of the S6 (in theory) here. The battery is now seemingly big enough, and should be optimised for better power management.

The camera has been tooled in the right direction – lower MP count, better pictures – and people like to look at those pics on the high res screen offered here.

The design might look the same, but the rear feels massively different in the hand, and that matters when you’re holding it all the time.

But why couldn’t Samsung, a brand famed for putting millions into R&D every day, have added waterproofing, a larger battery and a microSD slot to its phone last year? All these things existed in the market, so why did we have to wait a year to get them?

Samsung Galaxy S7 review

It could be that Samsung pushed for the minimum viable product for the price point to get the biggest profit, or it just couldn’t pack all these ideas into a phone that DESPERATELY needed a design reboot – and in fairness it was one that worked.

So while this is the phone that would have crushed all in its path in 2015, there’s no denying that the Samsung S7 is a welcome upgrade in the right key areas – but with the cheaper S6 on the shelves next to it, there will be many now facing a tricky choice.

Here’s hoping the full review throws up some nice surprises that push the S7 further ahead in the Galaxy race Samsung is running.

Source: techradar.com

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  1. Reply Oren Bode February 26, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    If it was that it's a standard for android devices. Can't see how it's a negative point as it is supposed to work like that. You can't actually have that in a filesystem without partitioning… This reviewers suck. I wanted real negative points…

  2. Reply Miss Frederique Gulgowski February 26, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    Very true, though I don't know anyone who runs there phone at 100% brightness anymore, unless they just despise battery life. Another factor that I failed to mention that goes along with my response above is Screen On Time (SOT). In my typical day, I usually run between 1-1/2 to 2 hours SOT. My friend that I referred to above has more idle time during the day and typically runs 3+ hours SOT. If you are on your phone a lot, and you don't want to change things up every once in a while, you'd be better served by an LCD screened phone.

  3. Reply Kailee Reynolds Jr. February 26, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    With the Gear VR consumer edition out just a few months ago I expected this year's model to be compatible with the USB 2.0 adapter. The quick charge makes up for the lack of USB-C.

  4. Reply Sonia Breitenberg III February 26, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    The iPhone has had the same design for two years running since the iPhone 3G, so people expect a new look every two years. This is the first time Samsung has tried this, every other year their phones have change shape.

    It's the same for the storage, EVERY other samsung phone had expandable storage and a removable battery. No iPhone has ever had expandable storage or a removable battery, so we wouldn't expect the next one to have it.

    USB C is seen as the future of USB, why would you not expect the latest phone to support it? Oh except if they have always used their own proprietary connecter like the iPhone.

  5. Reply Lelah Rolfson February 26, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    No 64GB version, no reason to get it for me. I dislike using MicroSD because it's so easily corrupted, lost thousands of pictures because of issues with the format. Well, looks like I'm sticking with my S6 another year until they get their act back together.

  6. Reply Davin Kozey February 26, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    "It was one of TechRadar's Biggest Mysteries Of 2015 (TM): why the Galaxy
    S6 would blitz every single one of our battery tests, head and
    shoulders above the rest of the market in terms of gaming, video
    watching, web browsing and standby time – and yet would be in the danger
    zone by 4PM in an average working day after a few months' use."

    Exactly my issue with my S6. It is an amazing phone (esp with the IR blaster to replace all my remotes) but the battery life is driving me insane. Luckily I have a work iPhone as a backup, but both are nearly dead by home time.

  7. Reply Jaida Nicolas February 27, 2016 at 12:34 am

    iPhones look very similar each year yet no criticism.

    Everyone knows how Samsung operate, the even number phone model comes out e.g. the S6 and the design has changed, the odd number comes out and it is an improvement on the previous but with little change in looks.

    Guarantee we'll see much bigger design changes with the S8.

  8. Reply Alberta Ortiz I February 27, 2016 at 1:25 am

    why do you say you loved the design of the S6, but find it a negative that Samsung chose to refine that already amazing design instead of doing something else?

  9. Reply Kendrick Adams February 27, 2016 at 1:37 am

    With AMOLED screens I think it's also vitally important not to keep the brightness on FULL BLAST all the time. I had an S3 for 2.5 years and it never had a hint of burn-in, but I always kept my brightness at 50-60%. The phone was passed on to my mother-in-law who cranked the brightness to max and left it there. Less than a year later, there is burn-in on the screen.

  10. Reply Amara Fisher February 27, 2016 at 1:37 am

    hilarious…you reckon samsung are able to steal a design, manufacture and distribute a handset in the time between september (iphone launch) to galaxy release feb/march? 4 months to create millions of devices…

    they must have some crazy samsung time machine also….they'd need it given what you're suggesting…

    what a joke.

  11. Reply Mrs. Jackeline Rutherford DVM February 27, 2016 at 6:27 am

    When it's Android techradar journos actively look for negatives, even if they're tiny and wouldn't be worth mentioning.

    When it's Apple every android negative is a positive.

    Guess it explains why better tech writers don't write for techradar, they don't want to with all this bias floating around.

  12. Reply Cruz Green February 27, 2016 at 9:26 am

    so basically, you are never able to criticise apple over not having a feature if they have never had that feature?

    are you kidding?

    by that reasoning, you should never buy a new iphone EVER…why do i need the 'new' features, my iphone has never had these features before…

    you are the epitome of the isheep…

    i hope, they can shear another 1200$ from you this year for the same garbage.

  13. Reply Dawn Gislason February 27, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Honestly, it depends on the individual user. My last 3 phones all had AMOLED screens and I've never had burn-in. My best friends phones were also all AMOLED and every single one gets burn in within 6 months, most notably with the keyboard. He's a huge texter/messager and I'm not. He usually keeps the stock keyboard, I play around with Swiftkey's different keyboards and themes. I change up my wallpapers and icons every couple of months and he usually keeps the same look for long stretches of time. It's all in how you use it.

  14. Reply Dr. Aglae Fadel February 27, 2016 at 10:47 am

    All big Masonic companies do their customers over, but I think you are slightly wrong regarding the reasons the S6 was missing features. The waterproofing under the old methods added thickness to the phone, and so in trying to make the S6 thin like the iPhone, they removed it. It's the same with the battery, it shrank in order to make the phone thinner. Regarding expandable storage, we have already had a fair explanation relating to UFS 2.0, so it shouldn't need explaining again.

    The reviewer is doing his best to find reasons to big up Apple and put people off buying this phone. It makes you wonder whether bungs are thrown their way.

  15. Reply Sammy Konopelski February 27, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Fear of being ostracized by Apple. This site has really gone over-the-top in drinking the Apple Kool-Aid.

  16. Reply Dominic Roberts February 27, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Oh God, yeah, I despise biased reviews and fanboy/fangirl comments no matter which side they're on. Engadget's review of the iPhone 5C was the most blatant with pandering, while the whole "no expandable storage or removable battery, no buy from me" comment got old years ago. Though fanboys and fangirls on here who treat something as the second coming of Christ and refuse to accept or understand flaws and drawbacks while endlessly defending them are the absolute worst; granted, it's to be expected nowadays, but it's still no less obnoxious than when it first started.

  17. Reply Dr. Rigoberto Metz February 27, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    way too expensive

  18. Reply Miss Noemi Rogahn February 27, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    This. This point. The S6 looked great and so does this phone!

    First line of this review:

    "I sighed when I first saw the Samsung Galaxy S7 – it looks just like its predecessor"

    From the second paragraph of the iPhone 6S review:

    "It makes sense that Apple would try its hardest to show that, despite the handset looking identical to last year's model, there have been loads of changes under the hood that make this an attractive phone in its own right."

    It's pathetic!

  19. Reply Ellis Kassulke February 27, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Samsung would have been crazy to walk away from the design language of the Edge. I got a S6 Edge just for the looks didn't care if the first features were gimmicky. I think it blends in with how most Android app settings slide in and out from the side. There is something just so slick about seing these panel glide off and disappear off the edge.

  20. Reply Concepcion Lueilwitz February 27, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Think it has something to do with how the memory card is shown in the operating system. Rather than including expandable memory cards into the 'internal' memory (the default install location for apps) it might appear as 'external'

    Someone correct me if I am wrong!

  21. Reply Augusta Rosenbaum February 27, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    what is there to "get away" with? It's not like only overhauling the design every two years has any negative effect on users, at least ones who don't act like children because they don't have something completely new-looking to show off.

  22. Reply Birdie Yundt PhD February 27, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    Hmhm, pretty much, though we'd have thought Samsung knew what they were doing with the S6 and knew what made their phones so popular to begin with, especially after five releases. Samsung just didn't learn their lessons or back up their statements they claimed to aim for; instead of trimming the software bloat to free up more space for the phone, the S6 had even more space taken up than the S4. While they did reduce the crazy number of phone models they produced and released, there's still several versions of the S6. Standard S6, S6 Active, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ and while the Note 5 shouldn't count, it is still essentially a just a bigger version of the standard S6 and a flat version of the S6 Edge+, except with the S-Pen.

    I don't hate Samsung, but like Sony, they've really done quite a bit of damage to themselves and overdone their range compared to say Motorola that went for a pretty streamlined approach.

  23. Reply Mr. Geovanny Hegmann IV February 27, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    My problem isn't even photo storage anymore either, it's apps. It was back when I had a Blackberry and my Note 2, before I knew about cloud storage, but even still I wouldn't trust it for my music. However, now I've also got about 20GB of apps and that's going up every day, a 32GB model couldn't sustain me with that and my music. Apparently there is a 64GB version coming out somewhere in Asia (I'm not sure off the top of my head where, probably Korea knowing Samsung), but unfortunately not in the Canadian or US markets. I already use Google Photos for my pictures, have for a long time, but my music and apps are vital to me and if they're going to eliminate the option for me to store everything I'm going to have to start looking into other manufacturers for my next phone.

  24. Reply Phyllis Armstrong February 27, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    It's possible 64GB may be added as a mid-cycle upgrade if there's enough demand, but I wouldn't bet my lunch on it. Sammy assumes adding MicroSD will suffice for the great unwashed.
    As far as photos go, I haven't stored them on removable storage for years since Google Photos auto backup came along. Still shocks me that people don't take advantage of that free service, especially since you have a full resolution backup option. Shoot your butt off all day, go home and all your photos are there and available anywhere on anything you can log into with your Google account.
    The only thing I use removable storage for now is if I'm shooting lots of video with the phone or I want to add a couple of movies to it for a long flight.

  25. Reply Christy Littel V February 27, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    A phone is simply a screen in a case……if the case design has evolved to the point where it's 100% practical and comfortable to use, then why change it? There are of course those that like to wave a new shape about and show that they have the latest and greatest! I guess the author of this article is one :-)

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