Samsung Galaxy S7 review: not so much a 7 as a 9

The S6 was superb. This is superber.

and dups

Written in accordance with our Reddit-inspired review policy.

We were pretty excited about the S7 line from the get-go. For starters, the S6 – and our pet Galaxy, the S6 Edge Plus – were tremendous phones that truly earned Samsung their reputation for being the Apple of Android (in a good way). So the S7 had a lot to live up to, but first impressions from our hands-on were very positive. So did the S7 live up to the hype? Well, it’s been our daily driver for the last few weeks, and we’re ready to call it.

Here’s our Samsung Galaxy S7 review.

1. The handset

As with the Galaxy S6, this is a very premium-looking handset. However, the main reason for that is that it basically is the S6. It’s always a tricky job persuading people who bought your last flagship to upgrade to the new one, and humans are shallow, so aesthetics really help (think rose gold iPhone). This, in our opinion, isn’t different enough.

There are two main changes to the handset: the camera ‘hump’ on the back’s been thinned down so it doesn’t stick out so much (good move) and the blue-black main colourway has changed to just plain black (bad move). The petrol blue, iridescent Sapphire Black option was one of the nicer things about the vanilla S6.

Colours aside, the handset’s actually a little thicker and heavier than the previous version. It’s now 7.9mm thick instead of 6.8, and 152g instead of 138. That’s not a bad thing, though. It makes it a little nicer to hold, and the extra weight adds to the premium feeling. However, it’s still slippery as heck. You’ll most likely want a case if you don’t want to keep dropping it – the metal-and-glass slightly-curved back panel is beautiful, but fingerprinty and tough to grip.

At the moment, the Galaxy S7 is only available in black and gold in the UK, but we’re likely to see more colours later in the year as with the S6. Here’s hoping the gorgeous Emerald Green or Blue Topaz we saw on the S6 make a comeback.

Speaking of comebacks, the water resistance from the Galaxy S5 has resurfaced here, and we couldn’t be happier about that. It’s had an upgrade to IP68 specification, meaning it’s dust-tight and can handle immersion in water (for up to half an hour in up to a metre of water, say Samsung). Recent tests have shown it’s not 100% waterproof, hence the “water resistant” label, but we were pretty mean to ours and had no problems at all. It’s always reassuring to know you can take your phone out in the rain or drop it in a puddle and not have to cry. However, as always we’d recommend not intentionally trying to drown your phone. Nothing’s foolproof, and you’ll feel like a right plank if you break it.

The power button is situated on the right edge of the handset, and the two volume buttons on the left. There’s a physical home key beneath the screen with the fingerprint sensor built in as before, though the design’s been altered a bit to integrate better with the body of the phone. Taking screenshots is easy enough with this button placement, though we find Samsung’s proprietary screenshot-taking mechanism even easier: just swipe the edge of your palm leftwards across the screen to capture it.

2. The speakers

Another thing that hasn’t changed from the S6. Sadly, there’s still only one speaker, and it’s still on the bottom edge. Compared to the front-facing speakers on competitor phones like those from HTC, this placement is poor. With just one set of drilled speaker holes on the bottom right of the handset, it’s very easy to accidentally muffle the sound while holding your phone. In fact, it happened to us quite a bit with this phone. We’d like to see dual bottom-edge speakers, or even better, move them to the front panel.

Still, could be worse – they could have been on the back, categorically the worst possible placement for phone speakers.

When unobstructed, the lone speaker puts out loud, clear, high-quality sound. So no complaints there.

3. The screen

  •  5.1″
  • Quad-HD super AMOLED, 1440 x 2560 (576 pixels per inch)
  • Gorilla Glass 4

Unsurprisingly for a Samsung, this is a beauty of a display. Stunningly clear and bright, it’s no wonder Google and Huawei chose a Samsung panel for the Nexus 6P (and those were a less good version of the ones Samsung uses on its own phones).

Of course, the flat S7’s screen is nowhere near as cool as the double-curved display its sibling the S7 Edge offers, but it’s also a fair bit cheaper. Suffice to say if you plump for the normal S7, you’ll never be disappointed by how your photos, films and selfies look on its super-beautiful screen.

New to the S7 is the option to have an always-on display. This uses the AMOLED screen’s ability to light individual pixels to display things like the time, calendar or a really snazzy space pattern without lighting up the whole screen and decimating your battery. Samsung say the AOD uses less than 1% of battery power per hour, but while that sounds low, it’s not inconsiderable: if you get up at 8am and go to bed at 11, you’ll lose 15% of your day’s power to it. However, if you frequently switch your screen on to see the time, the power saving from lighting just the clock rather than the whole panel is probably worth it. The space pattern less so.

Sadly, the always-on display hasn’t been designed as cleverly as it could have been. The S7 has an ambient light sensor that tells it how well-lit the room is, which is used for the Adaptive Brightness setting (the thing that ratchets the screen brightness up or down according to how much light there is where you are). Bizarrely, Samsung haven’t tied this to the always-on display, so when you go to bed and turn your lights out, the AOD is still there. A brightly glowing clock in a black room makes it somewhat difficult to sleep. I asked another S7 owner what they do about this, to which they replied “turn the phone upside down” – not a great solution. BlackBerry’s AMOLED charging indicator on the Priv used the light sensor to know when to turn itself off, so it’s surprising Samsung haven’t followed suit.

Still, we’re expecting upgrades to the AOD in future software, because while it can show certain notifications, many are missing – you can see missed calls and text messages, but not new emails, for instance. Social notifications don’t work yet either, but we’d imagine that’s on the way (ten thousand WhatsApp addicts will be tweeting Samsung about it as we speak).

Depending on where you buy it from, you might also get Samsung’s Gear VR virtual reality headset with your S7, and man are they a perfect pairing. It might only be 5.1 inches, but strapping your S7’s screen into the Gear VR headset gives you a responsive, immersive mobile virtual reality experience that in our opinion can’t be beaten. OK, so it’s not at the level of the pro headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but considering the headset costs ÂŁ90 (or comes free with the phone) and uses a smartphone as its brains, this is impressive. We recommend Baobab Studios‘ ‘Invasion!’ as a fun and adorable intro to the headset.

Image: Baobab Studios

4. The hardware

  • Exynos 8890 octa-core processor (4 x 2.3GHz & 4 x 1.6GHz)
  • 4GB RAM

Hardware performance on the S7 is superb. In daily use, I had next to no problems, even when I was really pushing the phone with intensive activity. App-switching is quick and smooth (though I still think the Back and Apps buttons are the wrong way round </brokenrecord>), the built-in water-cooling tech ensures the phone doesn’t noticeably warm up, and big apps launch quickly even when the phone is under water (!). The improved RAM from the S6 (3GB > 4GB) shows, but to be fair, this is an area where Samsung rarely disappoints.

Switching to this phone from the similarly-priced BlackBerry Priv goes to show the kind of hardware performance you should get at this price point. Smooth, swift, crash and lag-free. Lovely.

5. The software

  • Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Samsung overlay
Left: Galaxy S7. Right: Nexus 6P.

Speak to any disgruntled former owner of a Galaxy S3, S4 or to some extent S5, and you’ll hear the same thing: “I’ll never buy a Samsung again, the software is terrible.” I get it, I really do, but times have changed. Yes, people were burnt by the abundant bloatware, the pointless OS changes, the random apps – but it’s not like that anymore. The S7 by no means runs stock Android (see the photo above for differences in the notification shade) but the changes, for the most part, don’t make it worse. And in some cases they’re really useful, like the swipe-to-screenshot gesture we mentioned earlier.

There are still preinstalled apps, but you can remove them, and the software experience is generally good and Android-ish. People seem to switch from Samsung to Samsung more often than from/to other manufacturers, so giving a consistent experience across handsets makes sense. There are other brands offering a more stock-like experience, but they have to make money somewhere, and if it’s including a removable app on your box-fresh phone, I say so be it. If you disagree, stop complaining about “bloody Touchwiz” and buy a Motorola.

6. The storage

  • 32GB (in the UK)
  • MicroSD slot, expandable to 200GB

Hallelujah.

Samsung have seen sense and brought microSD expandable storage back to the Galaxy flagships. This is a very good move and makes us very happy. It means you can expand the onboard 32GB storage (we don’t currently have any higher options in the UK, sadly) by up to 200GB, helping to future-proof the phone for several years’ use.

MicroSD has always seemed like a no-brainer to us, especially when it’s found in super-budget phones like the Honor 5X, but some flagships last year – including the Galaxy S6 – left it by the wayside. We’re very glad to see its return this time round, and here’s hoping it never goes away again. Everyone likes the option to upgrade their phone if and when they want to.

7. The selfie camera

  • 5MP
  • F1.7
  • QHD video

The selfie camera on the S7 is good, but not amazing. It offers the same 5MP as the S6, and while it’s very quick to capture and gives colourful, shareable photos, it can tend towards the soft-focus (probably intentionally, to flatter faces.) While you can see on both examples that bright light overwhelms it a little, the overall result is better than on many front-facing cameras, and colour and clarity are very satisfactory. After the disaster that was the BlackBerry Priv selfie cam, this is a revelation.

Samsung Galaxy S7 selfie camera samples:

8. The main camera

  • 12MP
  • F1.7, OIS, LED flash
  • 4K video recording

While the S7’s main camera technically has fewer megapixels than the S6’s (16 > 12), those pixels are larger and are combined with a wider aperture to take in more light and provide superior performance in darker settings – and it absolutely does that.

As ever with Samsung, the double-tap camera launch is near-instant, as is focusing. We can’t honestly say this camera is leagues ahead of the S6’s, but then the S6’s was excellent. So this is excellent plus one.

Samsung Galaxy S7 camera samples:

9. Battery life

  • 3,000mAh
  • Non-removable
  • Fast charging
  • Wireless charging

As with the S6, battery power is the weakest point of this phone. If you don’t have a lot of opportunities to charge during the day and you rely heavily on your phone, you will need a portable power pack for the S7. But that’s not the end of the world, and it seems to be the case on most flagships lately.

The S7 still includes wireless and fast charging, which means for most people, topping up the battery is pretty hassle-free. Samsung say people tend to “snack on charge,” so if you can see yourself popping the phone on a wireless pad on your desk or giving it a quick power-up from the fast charge cable every so often, the base stamina of the phone shouldn’t trouble you too much. The S7 has both Qi and PMA-standard wireless charging, so it’s compatible with most pads and mats, including the wireless charging furniture from Ikea and Fonesalesman.

An hour’s screen-on time at max brightness will cost you 12% of your battery. Unsurprisingly, that’s lower than the 5.7-inch S6 Edge Plus (20%) and the 5.5-inch OnePlus Two (20%). The 5.7-inch Nexus 6P – which also uses a Samsung screen – lost the same 12% in this test, but then it has an extra 450 mAh to play with. So we’d say the S7’s battery life is average for a flagship, though we were hoping for a bigger improvement from the S6.

That’s not to say battery life hasn’t improved at all since the S6, because it has: the S7 has a higher capacity (2550 > 3000 mAh) and better stamina, which is at least partly due to Marshmallow’s power improvements over Lollipop. This is still the least impressive area of the S7, but it’s no worse than other flagships, and wireless and fast charging really help. So this wouldn’t put us off the phone.

10. Gadgette’s verdict

A fairly reliable measure of how much we like a handset is how we feel when it goes back to the PR company. In the case of the S7 (after three extensions because we couldn’t let go), it was like handing over a puppy you’ve been fostering. You always knew the time was going to come, but you sort of hoped it never would. And you half-suspect the people it’s going to won’t love it as much as you did.

While I’m a big advocate for the Edge line over the vanilla Galaxy phones, it has to be said that the base S7 is a superb piece of kit. In fact, if the S6 hadn’t existed, it’d be getting “best phone of all time” accolades left, right and centre. In some ways it’s a victim of its own success, in the sense that the S6 primed us so much for excellence that we weren’t as delighted as we could have been. If another manufacturer had released this phone, people would be floored, but it’s the successor to a near-perfect handset, so nearer-perfect isn’t so impressive. Essentially, it’s the second single off your favourite band’s best album.

That said, this phone is more an S6.5 than an S7. It’s had all the right upgrades, but they don’t feel substantial enough to declare this a new generation of Galaxy. The difference between the S6 and S8 will feel more significant, but this is a halfway point. If it were an Apple phone, it’d be the S6S.

Overall, though, S7 and S7 Edge are – as we suspected – the best Android phones on the market right now. Judging by the incremental improvements this time, the S8 line is going to be Peak Galaxy. And where do you go from there? Samsung Universe? We’ll find out.

UK price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S7 is out now. You can buy it directly from Samsung for ÂŁ569 SIM-free, or Carphone Warehouse have it for ÂŁ569.99 SIM-free or ÂŁ36+ a month with ÂŁ79.99 upfront. It’s also available from all the big networks: Three, Vodafone, O2, GiffGaff, EE.

Alternatively, Samsung offer a contract-like Upgrade Programme to buy the phone SIM-free but pay it off monthly. You sign up for 2 years and get the next Galaxy phone 12 months in, which is a pretty sweet deal, but bear in mind that it’s a form of credit and you’ll end up paying more than the base price of the phone. Still, if you prefer to buy your phones outright and would rather have a SIM-only contract, it might be a better option for you than a standard mobile contract with included phone.

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 289 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.