Our Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review unit has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor (dual-core 2.15GHz Kryo, dual-core 1.6GHz Kryo, Adreno 530 GPU) while some units overseas will have a Samsung Exynos 8890 Octa, both with 4GB of RAM. Users will notice no discernible difference between the two versions.
This combo makes the S7 edge one of the most powerful smartphones on the market at launch, along with the Galaxy S7. It handles Android Marshmallow (6.0.1) very well, as well as high-end apps. It’s swift, and we experienced no bugs or glitches in our day-to-day use.
The S7 edge scored well on the Geekbench 3 benchmarks, topping out at 2061 on the single-core test, and 5454 on the multi-core test. The previous best performers topped out around 1460 and 4600, respectively.
Ports, Sensors, and Connectivity
Here we have another smartphone with microUSB 2.0 for data and charging. This standard is so old we can’t recall the last non-Apple smartphone that didn’t have it, going all the way back to the days when BlackBerry and Palm dominated the market. Typically we’d complain that Samsung has yet to embrace USB Type-C, which is way overdue for widespread adoption, but there are plenty of Samsung Gear VR owners that are happy the S7 edge is compatible.
The S7 edge features a heart-rate sensor on the back panel, next to the camera lens, and the oblong home button doubles as a fingerprint sensor. The fingerprint sensor mostly hits, but sometimes takes a couple presses to recognize a fingerprint. This has been consistently been the case since Samsung first introduced it. Not having access to high-end medical equipment makes it impossible to tell if the heart-rate sensor is accurate, but its measurements jive with other devices, including various fitness trackers and professional gym equipment.
All major bands LTE are supported (Cat9), as are GSM and CDMA bands. The S7 edge is available for T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and U.S. Cellular. Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi is on board, as are Bluetooth 4.2 (A2DP, LE, and apt-X), and NFC.
Software and Features
The returning microSD card slot is the big news here, and it supports cards up to 200GB as of this writing. Samsung is only offering the S7 edge with 32GB capacity in the US.
A bit has been made about Samsung disabling adoptable storage, a feature in Android Marshmallow that enables users to mount microSD cards as internal storage for storing apps, app data, and media, but we think there’s good reason for Samsung’s decision.
First of all, formatting a microSD card as internal storage deletes anything and everything on it, and renders it useless for anything else. Once adopted, it’s part of the system, and removing it will cause all kinds of usability issues, to say nothing of the performance issues that can arise from using a slow card. This feature is ultimately best suited for fast microSD cards that are tucked away and difficult to remove. This simply isn’t the case with the S7 edge, because the S7 edge doubles up the SIM and microSD card on the same slot.
Beside all that, 32GB is more than enough space for apps and app data. On our Verizon review unit, 22.5GB were available out of the box with only a handful of Verizon bloatware apps taking up space (Samsung bloat is thankfully limited to five apps, including the default email client and file manager). Pictures and videos are the real space hogs (especially when the device has a great camera, like the S7 edge), and S7 edge’s microSD card support is perfect for it.
There’s also a workaround in the “Application manager” settings menu whereby you can shift individual apps to external storage. This won’t ruin the card for other devices, and when the card is removed, any apps stored on it simply sported greyed-out icons and are inaccessible. It also doesn’t move the entire app and its data from internal storage. We tested it with the large game Modern Combat 4 – Zero Hour Meltdown Update, which runs about 2GB. We were able to offload about .5GB.
Gaming is the focus of the S7 edge’s other new goodie, the Game Launcher. This is both a hub for games and a set of tools. There are options of turning off alerts while playing, locking the recent apps and back softkeys, recording gameplay, and snagging screenshots. There’s also a power-saving mode that throttles the framerate from 60 frames per second to 30, or does the same and lowers the display resolution.
We think Samsung is onto something here. Turning off the back and recent apps key is especially helpful considering accident presses are too common with smartphone gaming, and screen recording is a bit of fun, especially since you can turn on the mic to record commentary as well as game sounds. The power-saving mode still needs work as it drastically affects most games. We found it works great with 3D racers and shooters, where there’s only a slight discernible difference between 60 and 30fps, but it breaks more causal games like Downwell and Pac-Man CE DX by slowing them down to half speed.
There’s room for growth here. Despite Android playing nice with external controllers, too many games are touchscreen-only or work with a limited selection of controllers. The ability to easily map buttons to any controller would be great, especially since it’s a complex process otherwise that often requires a rooted smartphone.
Knox and Samsung Pay return, and Samsung Pay remains the best smartphone payment system thanks to NFC and MST. It still works just about anywhere credit cards are accepted with the exception of terminals that require physical card insertion, like gas pumps and parking garage payment kiosks.
Battery life is outstanding. The S7 edge’s 3600mAh battery is large for a device this size, and it will power the S7 edge for about two days of moderate to heavy use. We streamed Netflix over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness set to max, and the S7 edge lasted 10 hours and 48 minutes. That’s about the bare minimum a user can expect from it, and it’s the best result we’ve measured outside of the original Droid Turbo, which lasted 11 hours. Most flagships hit about seven or eight hours from the same test.
The S7 edge also charges quickly thanks to Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0, hitting about 60% after 30 minutes. It also quickly charges with a PMA wireless charger.
Samsung sets a new market standard with the S7 edge’s camera. Smartphone cameras have excelled to the point where resolution and color reproduction are great on most devices, while low-light performance and focus speed lag behind. Samsung addresses the latter with an f1.7 lens, larger individual image pixels, and a Dual-Pixel sensor, all of which combine to make this the best smartphone camera we’ve tested to date.
The 2015 smartphones featured lenses that hovered around f2 and f1.9. An f1.7 lens is basically open wider and able to let more light, which results in better low-light photos. This is aided by the fact that Samsung went with larger image pixels (1.4µm). These have more surface area and can capture more light.
Unfortunately, bigger image pixels means less of them, and the S7 edge camera shoots 12-megapixel images to the S6 edge and S6 edge+’s 16 megapixels. Considering the leap in low light image quality as shown below, it’s a worthy trade-off.
Both of these photos were shot under the same conditions, with the S7 edge on the left, and the S6 edge+ on the right. The S6 edge+ is no slouch, but notice how much more detail is present in the S7 edge photo.
The S7 edge auto focus is also whip fast. Each pixel doubles as a phase-detection pixel, providing 100% coverage. The S6 edge and edge+ had less than 1%. Samsung claims that it results in 2x to 3x faster focus, and we believe them.
There’s not much to say other than you should really try this phone’s camera. The fast focus alone makes it a worthy daily driver, particularly for those quick and in-the-moment shots. You’ll be able to capture them much more easily (and miss less of them) with the S7 edge than any other smartphone available as of this writing.
Looking at the sample photos, you’ll see excellent color saturation, balance, and details. The S7 edge also handles whites very well. Looking at the Riverside sign, a lesser camera would have blown out the white circle around the “T,” while this camera captures the cracking paint and shadows.