For some time now, Samsung has been the dominant player in the Android space, especially at the high end of the market. From the Galaxy S2 onwards, Samsung has been able to ride the wave of the smartphone industry’s growth without much disruption. Samsung has also shown a pretty impressive ability to adapt to changes in the market as seen by their dramatic departure in materials from the Galaxy S5 generation to the Galaxy S6 generation. While the Galaxy S6 was ultimately one of the best phones you could get that year, at least a few design decisions like the loss of removable battery and microSD slot were generally considered to be a step back relative to previous devices.

Throughout their reign of dominance Samsung has always been able to stay on top, however their competition is never too far behind. To that end, it’s probably obvious now that the Galaxy S7 family represents an attempt to improve on the Galaxy S6’s perceived faults, while building upon its perceived strengths. In order to start discussing these changes, we can start by looking at the basic specs and design of the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge.

Samsung Galaxy S Family
  Samsung Galaxy S7 Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Samsung Galaxy S6 Samsung Galaxy S6 edge
SoC Snapdragon 820 (US, China, Japan)
2x Kryo @ 2.15GHz
2x Kryo @ 1.6GHz
Adreno 530

Exynos 8890 (Rest of World)
4x A53 @ 1.58GHz
4x Exynos M1 @ 2.28-2.60GHz
Mali T880MP12 @ 650MHz
Exynos 7420
4x Cortex-A57 @ 2.1GHz
4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.5GHz
Mali T760MP8
RAM 4GB LPDDR4-3600 3GB LPDDR4-3100
NAND 32/64GB NAND (UFS)
+ microSD
32/64/128GB NAND (UFS)
Display 5.1” 1440p
SAMOLED
5.5" 1440p
SAMOLED
Dual Edge
5.1” 1440p
SAMOLED
5.1” 1440p
SAMOLED
Dual Edge
Network S820: Qualcomm X12 Integrated
2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 12/13)
2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 6)
Dimensions 142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9 mm, 152 grams 150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7 mm, 157 grams 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8mm max, 138 grams 142.1 x 70.1 x 7.0mm max, 132 grams
Camera Rear Camera w/OIS
12MP (4032 x 3024)
Sony IMX260
f/1.7, object tracking AF
Rear Camera w/OIS
16MP (5132 x 2988)
Sony IMX240 / Samsung S5K2P2
f/1.9, object tracking AF
Front Facing
5MP, f/1.7
Front Facing
5MP , f/1.9
Battery 3000mAh (11.55 WHr) 3600mAh (13.86 WHr) 2550 mAh (9.81 WHr) 2600 mAh (10.01 WHr)
Launch OS Android 6 w/TouchWiz Android 5 w/TouchWiz
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2x2 MU-MIMO +
BT 4.2,
USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, NFC
2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac +
BT 4.1 (BCM4358),
USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, NFC
Wireless Charging Yes, Fast Charging WPC 1.1 (4.6W) &
PMA 1.0 (4.2W)
Fingerprint Sensor Touch Touch
SIM Size NanoSIM NanoSIM
Launch Price
(No Contract)
$650+ USD $750+ USD $650+ USD

$750+ USD

One of the other major changes in terms of design this time around is electing to go with a significantly larger battery than before. Compared to most other aspects of smartphone technology, battery technology is a more mature field and improves as a slower pace, so the tradeoffs made here result in a thicker device and increased weight relative to the Galaxy S6. However, as we’ll soon see Samsung has made a number of changes in the industrial design which help to mitigate these issues.

Meanwhile, with the Galaxy S7 generation, Samsung has further blurred the line between the Galaxy S lineup and the Galaxy note. The Galaxy S7 edge is a 5.5-inch device - fully into the phablet territory - and only 0.2 inches smaller than the 5.7" Galaxy Note5. This means that the two Galaxy S7 phones are now more significantly differentiated than with the Galaxy S6 generation, where the difference amounted to the dual-edge display and a slightly larger battery. Now the Galaxy S7 edge is larger, ever so slightly heavier, and contains a battery with 20% more capacity than it's base Galaxy S7 brethren.

The final change of note in the Galaxy S7/S7 edge is the camera. With the Galaxy S6 review it was hard to avoid wondering why Samsung didn’t bother to integrate a camera with larger pixel size to improve low light performance, especially when camera was such a significant part of the Galaxy S6 design story with the noticeable camera hump. For the Galaxy S7, Samsung has gone ahead and done just this: the pixel size is now 1.4 micron which should significantly increase the number of situations where the image quality is limited by shot noise rather than image sensor noise. And to top things off the camera hump has now been almost entirely eliminated.

On a quick housekeeping note before we dive in, as we've had less than a week to look at the Galaxy S7, we're dividing up our review into two parts. Today we'll focus on the basics: performance, battery life, design, and the display. Part 2 will go deeper, looking into the Snapdragon 820 SoC in fuller detail, and coupling that with Wi-Fi performance, camera performance, and more.

Design

Now that we’ve gone over the high level changes of the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, we can start talking about the design of the device. While the Galaxy S6 was an enormous departure from what we were used to seeing from Samsung, the Galaxy S7 is really more an evolution of the Galaxy S6 design. As previously mentioned, it is noticeably thicker and heavier than the Galaxy S6. However, to offset this increase in thickness Samsung has integrated the curved 3D glass of the Galaxy Note5 into the design of the Galaxy S7.

The result of this change is that the Galaxy S7 arguably feels much better in the hand than the Galaxy S6. While I didn’t really have huge issues with the ergonomics of the Galaxy S6, it definitely felt a bit blocky relative to something like the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro and didn’t quite fit in the hand as nicely. The weight increase is noticeable, but not really the end of the world.

The thickness does result in a noticeably reduced camera hump, but on a personal level I never really cared about the camera hump in the Galaxy S6, so I’m not sure I care about the reduction in the camera hump here. I would actually argue that a camera hump is preferable to a camera cover lens that is perfectly coplanar to the back of the phone, as it means that the camera lens isn’t contacting whatever surface I’ve set it down on. While sapphire cover lenses go a very long way to eliminating the potential for scratching a cover lens, there’s also the potential for oil to smear on the camera’s cover lens so I would actually prefer having a camera hump.

The other noticeable change here is the re-introduction of 2.5D curved glass on the edges of the display. I’m not quite sure why Samsung tends to remove and re-introduce this design element seemingly on and off, but it does help with improving the feel of edge swipes at the cost of complicating some things like screen protectors and glass lens durability. Honestly speaking, I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes either way, but it does remove another edge present in the design.

Other than these changes, the design is almost unchanged. The power button remains on the right side of the device and is well-positioned ergonomically. The volume buttons are pretty much in the same place on the left side as well. The 3.5mm jack, micro-USB port, and single speaker are all on the bottom of the device. The only notable deletion in terms of design elements here would be the loss of the IR port on top of the device, which was removed from Galaxy devices starting with the Note5.

Battery Life
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  • ah06 - Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - link

    Samsung's core is already done I think, its the Mongoose core in the 8890, the one in the international variants. It's a slightly weaker core than Kryo Reply
  • Speedfriend - Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - link

    A7 to A8 tock was 15%, and that was partly higher clock speed in a bigger body. Will be interesting to see what this tock brings. Reply
  • lilmoe - Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - link

    Unlike what most reviewers want to believe, when designing application processor cores, companies like ARM, Qualcomm and Samsung aim for a "sweet spot" of load-to-efficiency ratios, not MAX single threaded performance.

    Their benchmark is common Android workloads (which btw, rarely saturates a Cortex A57 at 1.8GHz), since it's what makes the vast majority of the mobile application processor market. They measure the average/mean workload needs and optimize efficiency for that.

    Android isn't as efficient as iOS and Windows Phone/10 Mobile in hardware acceleration and GPU compositing; it's much more CPU bound. It doesn't benefit as much from race to sleep in mobile devices. CPU cores remain significantly more active when rendering various aspects of the UI and scrolling.
    Reply
  • tuxRoller - Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - link

    Can you explain how you measure the relative "efficiencies" of the "hardware acceleration and GPU compositing"? Reply
  • lilmoe - Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - link

    By measuring CPU and RAM utilization when performing said tasks. More efficient implementations would offload more of the work to dedicated co-processors, (in this case, the GPU) and would use less RAM.

    Generally, the more CPU utilization you need for these tasks, the less efficient the implementation. Android uses more CPU power and more RAM for basic UI rendering than iOS and WP/10M.
    Reply
  • tuxRoller - Saturday, March 12, 2016 - link

    How do you measure this so that you can ignore differences in the system (like textures chosen)? Then you'd have to make sure they're running on the same hardware.
    The best you can do is probably test Android and Windows on the same phone (this will put Windows at a bit of a disadvantage as Android allows very close coupling of drivers as their HAL is pretty permissive). Then you run a native game on each.
    If you've found a way to do this I, and Google, would love to see the results.
    Other than for 2d (which NOBODY, including directdraw/2d or quartz, fully accelerates), Google really hammers the GPU through use of shared memory, overlays and whatever else may be of use. There's obviously more optimization for them to do as they still overdraw WAY too much on certain apps, and they've obviously got a serious issue with their input latency, but it's a modern system. Probably the most modern as its been developed from scratch most recently.
    Reply
  • Dobson123 - Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - link

    In the 2016 web browsing battery life test, the S6 Edge is 20% worse than the S6, and the LG G4's number is also way too low. Reply
  • lilmoe - Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - link

    I also thought the difference in battery life between the S6 and S6 Edge was off. They either posted wrong data, or something wrong happened while testing. Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - link

    I'd agree. When one of the phones goes from being upper middle of the pack on the old benchmark to being dead last--and woefully so--then I would have to wonder if something is really wrong with the new test. I've used the G4 for 6 months and have rarely had battery concerns over a day of "regular" use. I've owned several phones, and the G4 is a trooper. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - link

    We're re-checking the S6 Edge. We've had issues before with that specific phone. Reply

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