A more useful smartphone is a better smartphone. Samsung realizes this, and that smartphone utility goes as far to defining “premium” as does a polished design, knock-out display, and fun features.
Look at the new Samsung Galaxy S7 as evidence. Samsung’s latest, launched alongside the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, embraces elements Samsung ditched in previous generations, notably microSD expansion (up to 200GB) and waterproofing.
Samsung is thankfully bucking the recent trend of offering multiple storage options, but including more RAM with the larger capacities. Huawei recently did this with the Mate 8, shipping a 32GB version with 3GB RAM, and a more expensive 64GB with 4GB. A 32GB external microSD card costs less than $10, but OEMs charge upwards of $100 for the same internal upgrade. Added RAM is a sly means of getting customers to buy the more expensive device.
Kudos to Samsung for not doing this.
(Update 2/23: This article previously stated the microSD card could be formatted as internal storage for apps thanks to an Android Marshmallow feature. It appears Samsung has disabled this Marshmallow feature on the S7 given the confusion it could cause customers. This is disappointing, but understandable. For most users, 32GB is enough for apps, and the option, often referred to as “adpotable storage” renders the card inoperable for other devices. On top of that, the S7 microSD card is inserted via the SIM card tray. Taking out the SIM, removes the microSD card, and that could result in performance issues should users try using the S7 with a different card, or no card at all.)
Looks like a Galaxy
The Samsung Galaxy S7 doesn’t diverge stylistically from recent Samsung handsets. It sports a glass and metal build, with a contoured back similar to the Note5. That’s a good thing, as it slightly aids grip and one-handed usage. Samsung’s oblong home button returns, doubling as a fingerprint sensor, and it sits between the capacitive back and all apps keys under the display.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 offers IP68 certified for dust and water resistance, meaning that it can technically survive being five feet underwater for up to 30 minutes. Users will find it more useful for preventing spill damage, or when caught in the rain. Hopefully, this won’t mean the end for the excellent “active” Galaxy variants we’ve seen in the past, as those offer a removable battery and physical buttons in a more rugged build.
Also returning is the microUSB 2.0 charging and data port. By now we’d like to see all flagship smartphones ship with USB Type-C, but there’s a good reason the S7 doesn’t have one. Just like the S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, Note5, and new S7 edge, the Galaxy S7 supports the latest Samsung Gear VR headset, which connects via microUSB. Considering we claimed the Gear VR is the second accessory Samsung smartphone owners should buy after a protective case, we won’t complain too loudly about the old port.
Samsung is also launching a small and round VR camera dubbed the Samsung Gear 360, with aims to bring VR content creation to every-day users. No word on cost, or when the portable rig will ship (Q2 2016 is the official date), but Samsung stressed that users would be able to easily create 360-degree VR video and stills for sharing on Facebook and YouTube.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 measures 5.6 x 2.74 x .31 inches, and weighs 5.36 ounces, making it slightly thicker and heavier than the Galaxy S6. Users will be hard pressed to tell the differences, though, and it’s the tradeoff for a microSD card slot and bigger battery. The S7 sports a 3,000mAh non-replaceable battery, about 450mAh larger than the S6’s. The S7 supports quick charging that provides 50% battery in 30 minutes, both wired and wirelessly.
Same Display, But Different
The 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display packs 2560 x 1440 pixels (577 pixels per inch), which is identical to the S6. New to the S7 is an “always on” feature that delivers basic information, alerts, and notifications. It’s important to note that these will not be the same as standard Android alerts given the security concern present. For instance, instead of displaying a sender’s name or subject line in an email alert, the always-on display will simply notify an email has arrived.
The always-on display can be toggled off in the settings, and Samsung reps claimed it only affects the battery by approximately 1%. Unlike some smartwatch always-on displays that have a motion component and turn on with a flick of the wrist upward as the user looks at the watch, the S7’s is based around the light sensor. It will dim bedside in a dark room, and it will turn off when it senses it’s in a pocket. Of course, users can also just flip the smartphone over display-side down if they want to avoid a distraction.
Samsung smartphones have some of the best camera output on the market, and Samsung is pushing things further with the S7, with improvements to low-light performance and focus speed. The lens goes from F1.9 aperture on the S6 to F1.7 on both the front and rear shooters. The front cameras remains at 5 megapixels, but the rear goes from 16 megapixels on the S6, to 12 megapixels. Here’s why. Samsung has increased the individual pixel size 56%, making them more sensitive to light and better able to perform in low-light situations. So while the images will have a lower resolution, low-light shots will look much better with less noise and more detail and color.
The camera will focus faster as well, based on what we witnessed in demos. Samsung claims it will be two to three times faster than the S6 thanks to the S7’s “Dual Pixel sensor” in which each and every pixel doubles as a focus pixel. By comparison, less than 1% of the S6 pixels were focus pixels.
Other specs will be familiar to Samsung smartphone owners. Both Knox and Samsung Pay are on board, and the S7 supports NFC and MST for payments, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth v4.2 LE, and LTE. Samsung has yet to announce which specific bands it supports, if it’s Cat. 6 or Cat. 9 LTE, in addition to any details regarding unlocked versions with CDMA and GSM support. The camera also has optical image stabilization.
Depending on the region, it sports either a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 or Samsung Exynos 8 Octa. The US will be seeing the Snapdragon, and Samsung claims each provide a 37% speed boost over the S6.
In terms of the GPU, Samsung states it will provide a 64% boost over the S6. While mobile gaming will certainly benefit, it’s more likely Samsung was thinking of the Gear VR, as those VR titles are much more demanding than most Google Play Store titles.
Gaming is also the focus of new S7 features, including a game launcher with power savings mode that toggles game framerate down from 60 frames per second to 30 in order to conserve battery. The S7 will record gameplay in real time for services like YouTube Gaming and Twitch, introduces a gaming “do not disturb” mode, and it will support Vulkan API for game developers, a first in smartphones.
Price and Availability
The Samsung Galaxy S7 will be available in Black Onyx and Gold Platinum on March 11 from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular, as well as Best Buy, Car Toys, Sam’s Club, Staples, Target and Walmart. Preorders begin February 23.
Samsung is offering a great deal for those that preorder the Galaxy S7: a free Gear VR headset. It costs $100 otherwise, and this is in addition to whatever incentives the carriers are offering. Samsung is also including six free games with the Gear VR, which isn’t cheap considering they typically run up to and exceeding $10 each.
The AT&T Samsung Galaxy S7 costs $695, which works out to $23.17 for 30 months.
Sprint’s pricing is a bit more complicated. It’s charging $27.09 per month for 24 months, which works out to $650.16. However, Sprint is also offering a Galaxy Forever deal, which costs $25.99 per month for 24 months with the option to upgrade after 12 months to what will likely be the Galaxy S8. Also, Sprint is offering a buy-one-get-one-one-half-off deal, and extending its Cut Your Bill in Half promotion to March 31. In addition Sprint will pay up to $650 in termination fees for those breaking contracts with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
T-Mobile is charging $670, and including a free year of Netflix for those that preorder. T-Mobile will also pick up any fees for those looking to switch from another carrier. For customers going the installment route, it’s $27.92 per month for 24 months.
Verizon still has not announced pricing, but it’s offering two bundles for the S7: a case (up to $39.99), screen protector (up to $34.99), and 32GB microSD card, all for $79.99; or a wireless charging stand, fast-charging car charger, and fast charging portable battery back for $100. Like Sprint, Verizon will cover up to $650 in fees for those switching carriers to Verizon, and is offering an additional 2GB of data to customers on plans up to and exceeding Verizon Plan XL.
US Cellular is charging $672 for the S7, which works out to $28 per month for 24 months. US Cellular is also offering a contract plan, with the S7 costing $199 with a two-year agreement.
Best Buy is also offering contract plans for Sprint and Verizon, also for $199 for two years, and offering preorders a 64GB microSD card.
Comparing the two, the S7 edge is approximately $100 more expensive than the S7 overall.
Overall, it looks like an impressive return to form for what is arguably the premier Android flagship. We are encouraged Samsung is improving overall utility, and not focused on unnecessary TouchWiz tweaks and flashy features. Brief hands-on time suggests that this is a smartphone built as much for work as it is for play. NotebookReview will have a full review of the new Android-powered Samsung Galaxy S7 soon.