Samsung Galaxy S7 review: The best phone you can buy
Samsung knows exactly how to make a top Android phone, and with the Galaxy S7 it's just pulled another marvel out of the bag. Read our Galaxy S7 review to find out why Samsung's S-series still offers the best phone money can buy. Also see: Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review and Samsung Galaxy S7 vs Samsung Galaxy S7 edge.
It’s early days to decide which is the best phone of 2016, of course, but right now the Galaxy S7 is unbeatable, and we struggle to see which phone might be able to take it on. Even the LG G5 (which goes on sale later this week) and the HTC 10 (to be announced next week) can't hold a candle to Samsung's flagship. We really think Samsung’s cracked it with the Galaxy S7.
It's worth pointing out the Galaxy S7 is a twin, and its sibling - the Galaxy S7 edge - is also a very capable Android phone with a unique dual-curved-edge screen. But it's not for everyone. Meanwhile the Galaxy S7 is a great all-rounder that has managed to improve on the already brilliant S6. Samsung has improved on its winning formula in the most important way: by listening to what consumers want. And, since it's Samsung, it's also piled on even more performance.
We’ve heard several critics slam the Galaxy S7 for not featuring a whole lot of new stuff. And while everyone is allowed their own opinion, we think they’re wrong - as you’ll read below. But the analogy of the Galaxy S7 being like an iPhone ’S’ upgrade is most certainly fair comment. Indeed, if you're looking to upgrade from the Galaxy S6, you're probably better off staying put until the Galaxy S8 is released in early 2017 - unless the new features we'll talk about below are especially important to you.
New in the Galaxy S7 is the headline always-on display. It shows you a bunch of useful information on screen in standby mode, such as the time, date, battery percentage and whether you have any missed calls or texts. But actually we don’t think this innovative feature is the most important change. Also see: Samsung Galaxy S6 review and Samsung Galaxy S5 review.
When Samsung announced the Galaxy S6 fans were divided. Finally the S series had the premium design it so rightly deserved, ditching that awful pimpled plastic and replacing it with a metal frame and gorgeous glass front and rear. But in doing so Samsung removed several features that helped make it such a great phone: waterproofing, expandable storage and a removable battery. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.
The first two return in the Samsung Galaxy S7, while battery life has improved no end with a higher-capacity cell inside. It’s easy to brush these off as old features removed from the Galaxy S5, but they are the three things fans cried out for in the Galaxy S6, and saw them threatening to go elsewhere. So their return is quite a big deal, to say the least.
As you would expect from Samsung it’s also upgraded the processor, and in our performance benchmarks the Galaxy S7 retakes its spot at the top of our charts - for raw processing power this is absolutely the fastest phone you can buy today.
The camera has improved, too, although it might not sound like it on paper, and is now better-suited to taking photos in challenging conditions such as low light. Samsung offers a ton of interesting shooting modes for photo and video - and that’s not the only software highlight. If you’re a mobile gamer you’ll appreciate the new Game Launcher, and all users will be able to find a use for its excellent multitasking- and privacy features, among others.
The Galaxy S7 is a great phone, but Samsung still has room to improve in its Galaxy S8 for 2017. Sound is strong, but not as good as it was in the Galaxy S6, for example. The latest connectivity standards USB-C and Quick Charge 3.0 are missing in action, as is the IR blaster. And there are some little niggles throughout, such as the ease with which it picks up fingerprints and the fact it still doesn’t feature a removable battery. Overall, though, the Galaxy S7 is a fantastic phone, which we’ll look at in much greater detail below.
Jump to: Samsung Galaxy S7 deals | Galaxy S7 design | Galaxy S7 always-on display | Galaxy S7 battery life | Galaxy S7 benchmarks - How fast is Galaxy S7? | Galaxy S7 audio performance | Galaxy S7 storage and connectivity | Galaxy S7 camera review | Galaxy S7 software | Our verdict on the Galaxy S7
The Samsung Galaxy S7 went on sale in the UK on 11 March, and those who preordered before March 5 received a free Gear VR headset with their order. Also see: Best VR headsets 2016.
There are two versions of the Galaxy S7: the standard Galaxy S7 reviewed here; and the Galaxy S7 edge, which features a dual-curved-edge screen for displaying notifications and providing access to your frequently used apps. The Galaxy S7 is the cheaper of the two, with its £569 RRP £70 lower than the S7 edge’s £639 RRP.
Do note before you buy that as with all Samsung phones before it, the Galaxy S7’s price will drop significantly over the next few months - some have estimated by as much as 21 percent in three months. If you really want the best deal and you’re prepared to wait a little while, don’t buy the Galaxy S7 until the summer.
If you are considering paying for the Galaxy S7 in full, rather than subscribing to a mobile operator’s tariff, also consider Samsung’s Upgrade Programme, which allows you to pay a monthly subscription from £24.58 and receive the latest Galaxy S-series flagship every 12 months.
Whether you buy the Galaxy S7 upfront or join Samsung’s Upgrade Programme, you’ll still need to pay for your texts, minutes and data. See our best SIM-only deals for advice on where to get the most for your money.
A third option is to get the Galaxy S7 from a UK mobile operator and pay a monthly fee that covers the phone itself, all your minutes, texts and data. We’ve rounded up all the best Galaxy S7 deals in this separate article, but be prepared to pay in the region of £50 a month if you don’t wish to pay an upfront charge for the phone. At the time of writing the lowest contract price we found for the S7 was £40 per month with unlimited texts and minutes, 2GB of 4G data and no upfront charge for the phone. That deal is from Vodafone, but via Carphone Warehouse.
Our sample came from Mobile Fun, which sells SIM-free versions of the S7 and S7 edge, as well as a great range of Samsung Galaxy S7 accessories, including cases - read our round-up of the best Galaxy S7 cases.
Update 20 April: A new pink gold colour option was made available in South Korea today, and is coming to selected markets soon. Also see: Best Samsung phones 2016: What is the difference between Galaxy Note, Galaxy S, Galaxy A and Galaxy J?
If you read some early reviews of the Galaxy S7, you might have been led to believe not much has changed in the S7’s design over the S6. But while the S7 still follows Samsung’s familiar design blueprint, the company has made several tweaks to the device’s appearance - and though the Galaxy S7 is still a stunner, not all its changes are aesthetic. Also see: Samsung Galaxy S7 vs Samsung Galaxy S6.
Most obviously, out of the box, is that the Galaxy S7 is thicker and heavier than its predecessor, which is primarily due to the fact it houses a higher-capacity but still non-removable 3,000mAh battery. It’s not a huge difference, with the S7 7.9mm thick and 152g and the S6 6.8mm thick and 138g, but enough for you to feel the change if you’re used to handling the Galaxy S6. We love the fact the rear camera no longer protrudes so far, which looks a lot nicer and stops the S7 rocking on the desk when your fingers prod at the far edges of the screen.
The Galaxy S7 has not only gained some weight but some beautiful curves, and now features curved glass at the front and tapered edges at the rear. The metal frame is thinner on the left- and right sides, without the S6’s chiselled edge, and the glass rear wraps around further toward the front. Samsung has tweaked the phone’s colouring too, and our black review sample seems to change with the lighting, rather than the flat black of before. (The S7 is also available in gold.)
Given that the Galaxy S6 was criticised for its slippery glass case, the tweaks Samsung has made in the Galaxy S7 add up to a phone that feels less easy to snap, more comfortable in the hand, and much easier to grip. The Galaxy S7’s contoured edges even make it easier to pick up in a hurry, and they do say it’s the little things that count. Also see: Best phones 2016.
Gone is the silver chrome trim around the home button/fingerprint sensor, speaker, camera, flash and heart-rate sensor, and even the back- and recents soft-button legends have been toned down so as to not detract from the Galaxy S7’s sleek new look. If you’re concerned that all this makes the S7 look boring, think again: the new customisable always-on display now heads up Samsung’s design roster, and is all the ‘something extra’ it needs. (See screen quality and always-on display for more detail.)
The SIM tray has moved from the Galaxy S6’s right edge to the top of the Galaxy S7, and there’s a good reason for the relocation: there’s more space up here, and Samsung has extended the tray to include a microSD slot. And that is probably one of the most exciting changes for Samsung Galaxy S-series fans - Samsung took heavy criticism for removing expandable storage from its Galaxy S6. Also see: Best Android phones 2016.
It’s a great sign when a company actually listens to what its customers want, and the other big change in the Galaxy S7 is another example of this (and, again, something that had been removed in the Galaxy S6). The Galaxy S7 carries IP68 certification, which means it is resistant to dust and water, and can survive a 1.5m dunk for up to 30 minutes. Pleasingly, Samsung has been able to achieve this by surrounding the inside of the Galaxy S7’s ports and connections with rubber and applying an anti-corrosive coating to the metalwork, which means it hasn’t needed to revert to the nasty port cover flaps we saw in the Galaxy S5. There’s also a short-circuit protection mechanism inside the Micro-USB port, which prevents any accidents happening when you mix water and electricity to charge the phone.
Yes, that’s right, we did say Micro-USB and not the new reversible USB-C connection standard. We have to admit the inclusion of Micro-USB came as a surprise, and Samsung’s reasoning at the time seemed weak: it told PC Advisor at MWC that people don’t have the accessories for it just yet. But having last week spent a good hour scrambling around for a USB-C cable to charge a phone, we're coming around to its way of thinking: USB-C is convenient, but until we have as many USB-C cables and accessories lying around as we do Micro-USB cables and accessories, it just isn’t as convenient as Micro-USB.
Something else that’s stayed the same is the speaker, which still sits on the Galaxy S7’s bottom edge (jump to audio performance). But you’ll notice that the phone’s dual-mics have been moved toward the phone’s screen and now sit closer to your face when making a call. And the IR sensor is gone.
We’re mentioning this last, since it’s not something we can ‘see’ (not with Mobile Fun expecting our handset back in any case), but the Galaxy S7 is said to feature liquid-cooling technology to help it to deal with the heat generated when gaming or using a lot of processing power. We still found the Galaxy S7 became warm, particularly during our benchmarks (jump to Galaxy S7 benchmarks) or wireless charging, but not as finger-burningly hot as does the Galaxy S6 on occasion. (We should mention that all metal-framed phones will get warm in use.) See all smartphone reviews.
Samsung introduced a Quad-HD (2560x1440) display in the Galaxy S6, and that hasn’t changed here. It’s still 5.1in on the diagonal, which is just the right size for a useful screen area for playing games and watching media without the handset being too unwieldy, and it still has that crazy 577ppi pixel density, which basically means images and text are super-sharp. While full-HD is sufficiently clear, Quad-HD offers an amazing experience - if you haven’t seen the difference for yourself we urge you to do so in-store.
Samsung is well known for its Super AMOLED displays, which in comparison to the more typical IPS panels offer rich, saturated colours and great contrast, with deep blacks and ‘Vanish’ whites. It’s also more energy-efficient, with no backlight required.
Even with the curved screen viewing angles are every bit as good as they are in the Galaxy S6 (which is pretty good), and it’s incredibly bright, which makes viewing even in direct sunlight easy. The Galaxy S7 handles auto-brightness with a new feature called Personalised Automatic Brightness Control. This remembers your preferences at various levels of ambient light, then ties those settings to the current reading from its ambient light sensor.
An addition to the screen tech is the always-on display. Apparently, whether or not we are aware of it, we each check our phones several hundred times a day. By displaying the information we need on the screen at all times we don't need to wake the screen to read it, which saves time and power. This could well be a handy addition for some people, but it's perhaps not worthy of the hype it’s received - it doesn't give enough information to stop you needing to wake the screen altogether.
The always-on display can be switched on or off in the Settings, but don’t turn it off because you’re concerned about battery life - it uses an incredibly small amount. When turned on by default it places the clock, date and battery percentage on the screen in standby mode. Also here you’ll receive notifications of missed calls and texts but, oddly, not emails (even when you’re using Samsung’s own Email app) or social media notifications. We hope that’s coming in a later update.
In the Settings you can tweak the always-on display to choose a different clock face or apply a background wallpaper for a splash of colour. Or you can opt to see a calendar or an image rather than the clock, neither of which we’d really want to do. See all Android phone reviews.
One problem with the always-on display is that it is bright enough to draw attention to fingerprints, but not bright enough to make them disappear. Conversely, the rear glass panel shows fewer fingerprints than did the Galaxy S6’s mirror-finish rear.
We also find the way the clock face randomly moves across the screen irritating. We realise there’s probably a very good reason for this, such as to prevent screen burn, but when the clock sits a few millimetres off-centre our OCD is at breaking point.
There are some useful software tweaks that can be applied to the screen itself, such as reducing its size for easier one-handed operation, applying themes or letting Adaptive display tweak the screen colours to suit the current task (jump to Software).
The Galaxy S7 features Gorilla Glass 4 protective glass, but even so it’s far from unbreakable. As we were writing this review, gadget-protection specialist Squaretrade announced that it had run the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge past its new TumbleBot robot, which continually drops devices in an enclosed chamber at a rotational speed of 50 revolutions per minute for 30 seconds to mimic the repeated tumbles that smartphones often take.
“Dropped on their corners from six feet high, the S7 cracked after four falls, while the S7 edge was completely unusable after seven. Dropped face down, the S7 shattered on the first fall, while the S7 edge shattered on the second. In our bend test, the S7 edge performed the same as its S6 edge predecessor. Not only did the phone crack at 110 pounds of pressure, but it also reached catastrophic failure at less than 170 pounds. The S7 withstood 170 pounds of pressure - the same as the iPhone 6s,” reports Squaretrade, whose testing can be seen in the video below.
Samsung’s Galaxy S7 is an absolute beast when it comes to performance, but so is the Galaxy S6. So, actually, we’re going to start with something arguably much more important to users: battery life.
Samsung may not have returned the removable battery to its Galaxy S-series flagship, but it has made fans something of a peace offering with a higher-capacity 3,000mAh battery (previously 2,550mAh in the Galaxy S6). We were disappointed to learn it didn’t support the latest Quick Charge 3.0 fast-charging standard, but it made sense when we discovered the UK was getting the Exynos version of the Galaxy S7 rather than the Snapdragon 820 equivalent. (To clarify, the Snapdragon version doesn’t support Quick Charge 3.0 either, since Samsung thinks Quick Charge 2.0 is fast enough, it told us at MWC.)
However, the Samsung Galaxy S7 does support Adaptive Fast Charging over its Micro-USB port, and it extends this fast charging to the wireless-charging feature, too. Do note that you will need to buy a wireless charger that supports the faster charge if you want to take advantage, rather than use an older one that worked at the slower rate with your Galaxy S6.
In real-world usage we found battery life to be excellent. As an example, we took the Galaxy S7 to the funfair on Saturday afternoon and used it to take around 30 photos. When we returned several hours later the battery was at 96 percent. Following an overnight charge, by 10.30pm the battery still had 73 percent remaining.
With heavy usage of course your results will vary, but with light- to moderate use we could easily see this battery lasting two days. As with the Galaxy S6 there’s an Ultra power saving mode that turns off the screen colours, mobile data, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and restricts application usage to eke out every last bit of juice when you really can’t charge the phone or access a power bank, but it does make the Galaxy S7 virtually unusable.
Two versions of the Samsung Galaxy S7 exist: one comes with the Snapdragon 820 processor, but the version we have here in the UK runs Samsung’s own Exynos 8890 chip, which is a 64-bit octa-core chip with four cores clocked at 2.3GHz and four at 1.6GHz. It’s paired with 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM (up from 3GB in the Galaxy S6), and features the ARM Mali-T880 MP12 GPU.
This phone is incredibly fast, with everything from launching apps to navigating menus done in a split-second. Games and videos play great (we especially like the new Game Launcher (jump to Software), and the only sign of lag we found was a side swipe to the left from the home screen, which brings up the Upday magazine feed and takes a few seconds to load. We’d probably switch this off in any case.
As we noted earlier, regardless of any liquid cooling that may be inside the case, the Galaxy S7 does get warm under stress. That’s not unusual for a metal phone, however, and it doesn’t appear to affect performance.
We ran the Galaxy S7 through our standard benchmarks to confirm our first impressions, and it did a fantastic job. Also see: Samsung Galaxy S7 vs LG G5.
First we look at processing performance using Geekbench 3’s multi-core test. The Galaxy S7 scored a fantastic 6466 points, which is faster than absolutely everything we’ve seen to date. By comparison the Galaxy Note 5 scored 5149 points, and the Galaxy S6 4438 points. The S7 blew its rivals out the water, with the Huawei Mate 8 scoring 6193 points in the same test, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 4597 points, the iPhone 6s Plus 4407 points, the Nexus 6P 4211 points and the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium 4112 points.
AnTuTu is another benchmark that looks at processing performance, as well as the RAM, 3D performance and the UX. The Samsung Galaxy S7 scored 129,077 points, which AnTuTu says is higher than the Huawei Mate 8 (92,746), Note 5 (83,944), OnePlus 2 (80,090), Sony Xperia Z5 (76,862) and LG G4 (65,507).
Next up is GFXBench, a graphics test. In the T-Rex component of the test the Galaxy S7 recorded 53fps, and in Manhattan we saw 27fps - two excellent scores that show a huge improvement over the Galaxy S6, which managed 30- and 14fps in the same two tests.
In graphics the S7 is beaten, however, and an exact match for the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium in performance - that’s no surprise, given that both are fitted with Quad-HD displays. In T-Rex it has competition from the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus (60- and 59fps respectively), but it matched the 53fps of the Sony Xperia Z5. Last year’s HTC One M9 (soon to be superceded with the HTC One M10) is a close competitor at 50fps. It’s a similar story in Manhattan, with the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus scoring 52- and 38fps respectively, and the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact scoring 49fps.
We also recorded the Galaxy S7’s results in Car Chase (7.9fps) and Manhattan 3.1 (15fps). Also see: Samsung Galaxy S7 vs iPhone 6s.
You can compare the Galaxy S7’s performance to all phones we’ve recently tested in our article What’s the fastest phone 2016?
(This part by Christopher Minasians.)
The Galaxy S7 is bundled with a pair of earphones with nice ergonomics and a flat-cable design with an in-line mic. As basic earphones they do the job, but we found them extremely recessed in their mids and warm-sounding, while lows are uncontrolled and lacking extension, and highs heavily rolled off and lacking sparkle.
The S7’s built-in speaker sits in the same position as on the Galaxy S6, but it’s a touch louder (we rated it 8/10 against the S6’s 7.5/10 for loudness). Sound is mid-orientated, and slightly unnatural-sounding as a result of artificial boosting. Lows are cut-off, unable to extend into the sub-bass regions. Mid-bass, meanwhile, is controlled, yet lacks conviction and impact. Highs roll off at the top end, but provide enough sharpness to music and movies for us to enjoy listening to the speaker.
When testing the phone’s internal audio quality, which utlises Cirrus Logic's CS47L91 Audio Codec, we found the S7 to be mediocre in its ability to drive an audio signal when tested at 80-85 percent of the maximum volume. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S6 needed only 55-60 percent of its total volume to output the same sound. We also found it odd that Samsung has spaced out the volume increments so much in the Galaxy S7, with volume increasing in eight percent and not the default five percent increments.
But in terms of sound quality the lows extend reasonably well into the sub-bass regions, while mid-bass has a good slam and doesn’t overpower the mids. These are a little recessed and produce a slightly warm, V-shaped sound signature, but alongside the low mid-bass slam they make a good combination. The S7’s highs roll off a little at the top end, but add sparkle to music.
The soundstage is good in terms of its instrument separation and depth, but we feel it lacks width. On the plus side, through the sound settings you can enable the UHQ Upscaler, which tinkers with the sound and delivers a slightly better width to the S7’s rather closed soundstage.
In the audio settings you’ll also be able to find the Tube Amp Pro option, which adds bass tones and softens the mids and further rolls off the highs, and the Surround and Concert Hall options try to recreate a more open sound, but we feel it ruins the overall sound quality. Also see: Best sounding phones 2016.
Whereas the Galaxy S6 came in 32-, 64- and 128GB versions and you had to try to work out which you would need before you bought it, the Galaxy S7 comes with 32GB of storage as standard, which you can add to if you wish using a microSD card up to 200GB in capacity. (Here are some other ways to add storage to Android.) However, while you can move apps to the SD card, the Galaxy S7 doesn’t support adoptable storage, which is a Marshmallow feature that lets the phone see the microSD card as internal storage. If you want to get that working you can follow this guide.
For many people 32GB of storage will suffice, however, especially given that Google Photos now lets you upload as many standard-resolution photos as you like over a Wi-Fi connection. This is also a great way to back up your Android device and ensure all your photos and videos stay safe should you lose it.
We mentioned earlier that the Galaxy S7 had lost its IR blaster, and that Samsung hadn’t updated it with USB-C. Other than these ommissions, connectivity is very good.
In the UK the Samsung Galaxy S7 is a single-SIM phone that accepts a nano SIM, with support for 450Mbps Cat.9 4G. There’s also Bluetooth 4.2, NFC (Samsung Pay will come to the UK sometime in 2016 while Android Pay will be here next month), dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO (which you can combine with 4G to download large files using Download Booster), GPS, USB OTG (with an adaptor supplied in the box) and the usual array of sensors.
Chief among those are the heart-rate sensor and the fingerprint scanner. We still think the heart-rate sensor is a bit of a gimmick, though handy for its ability to trigger a selfie, but the fingerprint scanner is excellent and will become more important as mobile payments take off. For now, it quickly recognises and unlocks the device every time, and that’s all we can ask for.
One of the key changes in the Galaxy S7 over the Galaxy S6 is that Samsung has replaced the 16Mp camera (that came joint-top in our last phone camera round-up) with a 12Mp model with LED flash. It sounds like a strange move, but actually Samsung says this new ‘Dual Pixel’ camera has a faster autofocus, an f/1.7 aperture and larger 1.4um pixels, allowing it to take in 95 percent more light for improved low-light photography. It can also shoot 4K UHD (3840x2160), slow-motion and time-lapse video.
At its full 12Mp the camera shoots in 4:3 ratio; if you want a 16:9 shot it maxes out at 9.1Mp. HDR can be switched to on, off or automatic, while a range of real-time effects cover everything from Retro to Film and Nostalgia to Gold and Delicious. With an effect selected you can play with sliders for Strength and Vignette to adjust the results.
Samsung’s Camera app features a range of useful shooting modes. You can shoot in Auto mode or select Pro in order to manually adjust such things as exposure value, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, white balance, focal length and colour tone. Selective focus lets you mess around with the focus point of an image after it’s been shot, while Food lets you take vivid shots of your dinner (your Facebook friends will love you for it). Virtual shot lets you create multi-directional pictures of objects, while Panorama stitches together shots to recreate a landscape that won’t fit into a single photo.
Video modes are well covered too, and as well as the aforementioned slow-motion (high-framerate - 240fps at 1280x720) and Hyperlapse (varying framerate) videos, there’s a Live broadcast mode that lets you broadcast to YouTube in real time, and Video Collage, which lets you quickly and easily make clips without editing tools.
The selfie camera is rated at 5Mp, and has the same f/1.7 aperture as the main camera. An interesting feature is the ability to capture a selfie by touching the heart-rate sensor on the rear, but this doesn’t work when the phone is in Samsung’s flip case.
Here's an example of a selfie, which shows how good is the quality of the front camera, and how wide is the field of view - you can easily fit in three people at arm's length:
Something we really like about the Galaxy S7’s camera is the speed with which you can launch it and take a shot. With a double-tap of the Home button the camera launches instantly, and thanks to its fast autofocus you’ll never miss a moment.
We were really impressed with our test shots, which show a huge amount of detail. On our shot of St Pancras, for example, when zoomed into actual size you can make out individual bricks and street names, despite the photo being captured from our seventh-floor roof terrace.
And since we took the initial photos below, we've compared it side-by-side with all of its main rivals, and it came out ahead of the HTC 10, Huawei P9, LG G5 and iPhone 6S overall. You can see all the test photos and videos from these and more phones. While the S7 lacks a 1080p at 120fps slo-mo mode, the 240fps footage is just as good as the iPhone's. Many of the S7's rivals can only shoot 720p at 120fps.
Below you’ll see our usual test shots of St Pancras Renaissance Hotel with HDR off and on, as well as some other images we took in various conditions. We'll update this article with more test shots and video footage soon.
In our photos shot at the funfair you can see the Galaxy S7 can capture really saturated, rich colours, and its fast autofocus enabled it to do so even while we were spinning round and round on the Waltzer.
In low light, the S7 excels. It captures more sharp detail than most of its rivals and only starts to struggle when it's really dark and there's little ambient light.
Here's a video clip shot in 4K:
Overall, the S7 has the best cameras on any phone at the moment, and it's also one of the best to use thanks to the quick-launch app, all the options and also because the phone is waterproof so you get take those more risky shots where you'd be too worried about non-waterproof phones getting damaged. If you're brave enough, you can even take photos, videos and selfies underwater.
The Galaxy S7 runs Android Marshmallow out of the box, but it has several of Samsung’s own customisations as part of its TouchWiz UI. As TouchWiz was once the stuff of nightmares, significantly slowing down Galaxy smartphones, it’s an important things to consider before buying a Samsung phone - especially when you consider that it means only 24GB of the 32GB storage is available out of the box.
Actually, these days TouchWiz is much more user-friendly, and Samsung preinstalls a little less software in general. When you open the apps tray - or should we say if you open the apps tray, since you can set up the Galaxy S7 like an iPhone using a Galaxy Labs feature that places all app shortcuts on the home screen - you’ll find all fit on a single screen. Admittedly the Samsung, Google and Microsoft apps are grouped into folders, but it’s still an improvement.
You’ll find Samsung’s own S Health, which ties in with the heart-rate scanner, is preinstalled, along with S Voice (See: Funny things to ask S-Voice) and Samsung’s own Email app, a voice recorder, file manager, a web browser and the Galaxy Apps store.
One thing we’re not so keen on is the inability to delete these preinstalled apps - especially the Microsoft ones, which are useful for some but others will have no need for them. It’s worth noting that you get 100GB free OneDrive storage with the S7.
Upday is the other software customisation we weren’t overly enamoured with, slow to load but easy to remove - at least from the home screen, if not entirely from the smartphone. Upday is a Blinkfeed-style magazine feed that brings together news stories on subjects in which you’re interested, and is always a swipe away from the home screen (until you decide to banish it, anyway).
Everything else on the software front is much better to have than not to have. Some things we’ve seen before include the customised notifications bar with quick access to common settings and a link to Quick connect plus a brightness slider. Pull down again from the top of the screen and more common settings appear, and tapping Edit lets you choose which appear on the main notification bar and re-arrange their order.
We’ve seen Easy mode before, too, which puts essential apps on the home screen with larger icons and removes the bloat. You can even add your most frequently called contacts to the home screen, which entirely removes the need to delve into settings menus or dig through options and will be a godsend for non-technical users.
There’s also the ability to add themes, which you can download from the Themes store as you could with the Galaxy S6. A good selection is free, although we couldn’t find a way to see free themes only within the store. Nevertheless, once you’ve found one you like it can give you what looks like a brand-new phone in a couple of seconds. You can change the theme to match your mood, your phone case, your underwear… whatever you like. We quite like this cute free dinosaur theme (but it doesn't match our underwear).
There’s a Galaxy Apps store, too, supposedly optimised to help you get more from your Galaxy device, although we’re quite happy using only Google Play.
Multi-window is still part of TouchWiz, and allows you to view and work with two apps onscreen at once. You trigger it by pressing and holding the recents key with one app open, then selecting a second app from the section below. By default apps consume 50:50 of the screen area, but you can resize them however you like.
And, as before, you can place any app in a pop-up window, then resize it and move it anywhere onscreen you like. Both this and multi-window make multi-tasking on the Galaxy S7 so much easier.
An alternative to resizing individual apps if you have little hands is to resize the entire display. Using one-handed operation settings you can do exactly this, plus reduce the size of the keyboard and display it on the left or right of the screen to suit your needs. Samsung is assuming that if you have little hands you have little fingers too, though, because the buttons are tiny. Switch to landscape mode, though, and they will enlarge to fill the usual area.
The Galaxy S7 still features Smart stay, which prevents the screen turning off while you’re looking at it (such as when watching a video), and it will call a contact shown on screen as you lift it to your ear. Smart alert vibrates to warn you of notifications as you pick up the phone, and Easy mute lets you place a hand over the screen or turn over the S7 to mute an incoming call or alarm. A double-press of the home button will launch the camera, too.
Some of our favourite features are to do with screenshots, though. As before you can swipe the screen with your palm to take a screenshot, or use the more traditional power-and-home method. What’s interesting is once you’ve taken the screenshot you get new options to extend the screenshot - for example when you are taking a screenshot of a web page that is longer than the screen - crop it and share it.
We touched on the Game Launcher in the Performance section, and it’s really very useful if, like me, you play a lot of mobile games. Each time you install a new game it will automatically be added to Game Launcher, which lets you access controls to save power during a game, turn off notifications as you play, and turn on game tools. Game tools is a floating button that appears over the game that lets you take screenshots or record gameplay, lock the recents and back keys and more.
We like the Private mode, which lets you hide photos and videos, files and voice recordings in a PIN-protected section of the phone that is visible only when Private mode is activated. The broswer also has a Secret mode. And if security is your thing you also get Samsung Knox, which is protection for enterprise email, contacts and calendars.
Also see: Best new phones coming in 2016.
Samsung Galaxy S7: Specs
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- 5.1in Quad HD IPS (1440x2560)
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB storage
- Micro-SD card slot (up to 200GB)
- 12Mp rear camera with f/1.7
- 5Mp front camera
- 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi with MU-MIMO
- Bluetooth 4.2
- Heart rate monitor
- Fingerprint scanner
- 4G LTE
- 3000mAh non-removable battery
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- 5.1in Quad HD IPS (1440x2560)
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB storage
- Micro-SD card slot (up to 200GB)
- 12Mp rear camera with f/1.7
- 5Mp front camera
- 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi with MU-MIMO
- Bluetooth 4.2
- Heart rate monitor
- Fingerprint scanner
- 4G LTE
- 3000mAh non-removable battery
The Samsung Galaxy S6 was the best phone of 2015 and, although it’s still early days, the Galaxy S7 is a serious contender for best phone of 2016. Samsung has taken into account what its fans want, addressing the three main areas of concern: removable storage, waterproofing and battery life. It’s also upgraded the core hardware and photography gear, added an always-on display and some useful software. Right now the Galaxy S7 is simply unbeatable.