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Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge review

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge review

KEY FEATURES

  • 5.5-inch, quad-HD display
  • 4GB RAM
  • 12MP camera with improved auto-focus
  • Always-on display
  • Fast and wireless charging
  • 3,600mAh battery
  • microSD expansion
  • Manufacturer: Samsung
  • Review Price: £639.00

WHAT IS THE SAMSUNG GALAXY S7 EDGE?

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is the brother to the regular Galaxy S7. It’s bigger, has a longer lasting battery and is probably the best looking phone I have ever held. In terms of design, it’s right up there with the HTC 10.

Samsung’s transformation in the mobile space is quite remarkable. To go from the very poor Galaxy S5 to this in just two years is exceptional. This is a real do it all phone. It’s water resistant, boasts wireless charging, an eye-catching curved display and top-of-the-line specs.

The result is a fantastic, so close to perfect device that will prove tough to beat. There’s big competition coming, I expect, from the Apple iPhone 7, but I’d stick my head out and say nothing this year will be quite as eye-catching as the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S7 EDGE – DESIGN

Metal and glass build, curved display, IP68 water resistant, available in black or gold

Design hasn’t always been Samsung’s strong suit. Just two years ago, Samsung released the Galaxy S5. The handset was the most powerful phone available at the time, but it wasn’t a looker. Last year’s Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge signalled a much needed change for Samsung, and the change is only more obvious with the S7 Edge.

 

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The Galaxy S7 Edge is downright gorgeous. In my eyes, it’s the best looking phone ever and makes the iPhone 6S Plus look blocky, boring and dated.

On the surface, the S7 Edge looks just like its predecessor. A metal rim is sandwiched between two slabs of Gorilla Glass 4, with a lock switch on one side and separated volume keys on the other. The back is almost completely clean, with a now flush camera sensor, heart rate monitor and a Samsung logo.

Along the top is the repositioned sim-tray, which now pops in a microSD slot too, plus a microphone. The bottom houses the headphone jack (this should always be on the bottom, can other manufacturers please take note), another microphone, a tiny and frankly disappointing speaker, plus a microUSB port for charging.

 

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Rumours suggested Samsung was going to make the switch to the new, reversible USB–C connector that’s already being used on the Nexus 6P, OnePlus 2 and LG G5, but it hasn’t panned out that way. This isn’t really a bad thing, in fact USB–C is more of a hindrance than a help at the minute. Especially as it means getting rid of all those microUSB cables you’ve accumulated over the years.

The front is almost as clean as the back, and features an elongated home button set under the display, plus another Samsung logo – does it really need two?. Unlike the HTC One A9, the front control is a physical button, not a capacitive pad. The front button houses the Galaxy S7 Edge’s fingerprint sensor, which is just as fast as all the others on the market now.

Samsung has once again decided not to use on-screen buttons, so glowing ‘back’ and ‘multitasking’ keys light up when needed. Ditching virtual buttons gives you more screen space, but this phone could be even more compact if Samsung went down that route.

Samsung’s also redesigned the Galaxy S7 Edge’s camera module. Unlike the S6’s, the S7 Edge’s module sits flat on the phone’s back. This might sound like a small change, but it makes a big difference. I can now tap out a text with the phone flat on my desk without it jumping and rocking from side to side.

 

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But, the biggest change between the S6 Edge from last year and the Galaxy S7 Edge is the size. Instead of simply keeping both the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge the same, with just the Edge sides to differentiate them, Samsung has positioned the Edge as the ‘higher-end’ device, pushing up the screen size from 5.1-inches to 5.5-inches.

When I first heard Samsung made this changed, I was a little annoyed. There was something unique about having a fully-powered phone with a screen that was on the small and compact side. It’s a rarity these days. Pick up the S7 Edge though, and you might have to double to check the spec-sheet, surely this phone doesn’t have the same size screen as the iPhone 6S Plus?

Yet it does. Somehow Samsung has managed to cram a large screen into the body of a much smaller phone. Next to the iPhone 6S Plus, the S7 Edge is narrower, shorter and much lighter. I can even use it comfortably in one hand, stretching my thumb from one corner to the other without too much trouble.

There’s something else the size increase helps too: those gorgeous, sloping curved edges. The Galaxy S7 Edge is the fourth Samsung phone to use this design trait, but it’s the best implementation I’ve seen yet.

 

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The S6 Edge was difficult to hold for an extended period, while the Galaxy S6 Edge+ was simply too big. The Galaxy S7 Edge, though, is just right. There’s enough space between where the curved screens stops and the back starts to grip, while the newly curved back – reminiscent of the Galaxy Note 5 – slips nicely into my palms. In short, it feels great to hold and it’s an impressive feat by the Samsung design team that these slight changes have made such a big overall difference.

Just like the microSD slot, Samsung has brought back another fan favourite from the Galaxy S5; an IP68 rating for water-resistance. While this is by no means a vital feature, it’s admirable that it has been added without any noticeable loss to the design. There are no flaps covering the ports, no added thickness and no extra space between the display and glass.

Well, you’ll be able to dunk the Galaxy S7 Edge into one meter of water for up to 30 minutes without damaging the phone. Basically, you can use it in the rain without issue and even watch some YouTube in the bath without worrying about an accidental slip. Not that I did that, honest.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S7 EDGE – SCREEN

5.5-inch quad-HD panel, dual curved edges

If the design of the S7 Edge is stunning, then the same word can be used to describe the display. Not a whole lot has changed from the outgoing flagships, but this still holds up as the best screen on a smartphone for a number of reasons.

First up is the sheer amount of detail here. Samsung didn’t try and go all-out with a 4K display, but really when quad-HD (that’s 2560 x 1440) looks this good I don’t think there’s much of a need for more pixels. Maybe it would help make VR even better with the Gear VR headset, but that’ll probably come next year.

 

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Everything from images to films to games look beautiful, with pixels completely invisible to the naked eye. The 534ppi (pixels per inch) density beats the iPhone 6S Plus and means the S7 Edge easily outmuscles Apple’s phablet in the display department.

Samsung has stuck with its Super AMOLED tech for the Galaxy S7 Edge and that’s not really a surprise. AMOLED screens are much more vibrant than the LCD counterparts. Oversaturation isn’t as much of a problem as it was on older Samsung phones, and personally I like a bit more ‘oomph’ to my colours. But for those that like a cooler look there are options to tone things down.

AMOLED displays are also much better at showing off blacks than LCDs. Instead of looking slightly grey, the blacks here are inky deep. You’ll easily notice this when watching media and it’s hard going back to an LCD afterwards.

Now, there are a few niggles I have with the display on the Galaxy S7 Edge. There’s a really strong blue tinge on the two edge sides, especially when viewing content with white background. In both Twitter and Gmail I can pick this out and while it won’t come across in pictures, it’s annoying.

Viewing angles also aren’t the best. But, that’s really one of the sacrifices you get when you don’t use an IPS LCD panel. Tilt the phone to an angle and the sides become bright white, but the rest of it looks like it’s masked in a grey fog.

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The new ‘Always-on Display’ mode, is also cool but needs some work. The Always-on tech takes advantage of the fact AMOLED screens don’t need to light up the whole display all the time and can instead select individual pixels to charge. This means the S7 Edge can still show the time, date and a couple of bits of other information on the lock-screen when the phone is off without eating through too much battery.

Samsung says having the ‘Always-on display’ switched on will only use up an extra 1% of battery per hour and those claims stand true during my testing. Samsung also says you should save battery because you don’t unlock the phone as much with Always-on activated, but I disagree with this.

Yes, the Always-on mode shows the time, but it will only alert you to notifications from Samsung’s default apps like Messages, Mail and Phone. Use WhatsApp? Or Gmail? Tough, these won’t show up.

I’d also like a bit more control over the mode. You can’t alter the brightness, which causes some problems when you’re in a darker room, and aside from choosing whether or not you want a calendar showing, there isn’t much customisation allowed.

It’s a nice start and a feature that has potential to be very useful, but it needs work.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S7 EDGE – BATTERY LIFE

3,600 mAh battery, fast charging, Qi/PMA wireless charging

The Galaxy S7 Edge packs a 3,600 mAh battery that’s much larger than the disappointing 2,600 mAh cell sat inside the Galaxy S6 Edge and it performs so much better for it.

Battery life still isn’t perfect though. The iPhone 6S Plus can go a few hours longer and the Moto X Force will last an extra half a day, but even if you’re a heavy user you shouldn’t have to reach for the charger until bedtime.

With moderate to high daily use the S7 Edge tends to leave me with around 25-35% battery life at the end of the day. It drops much more suddenly during intensive tasks – 30 minutes of Hitman Sniper took it down 15% – but it has exceptional standby time. Leaving it unplugged overnight only ate through 2% thanks to Android Marshmallow’s excellent Doze feature.

 

battery chart

A chart of the battery life over a day

One hour of Spotify streaming over a 4G connection uses up 5% and an episode of House of Cards on Netflix 10%. They’re both good, if far from amazing, results.

If you want to squeeze even more out of the battery then there’s a few power saving modes to choose from. The regular ‘Power saving modes’ gives you about an extra hour, while the ‘Ultra power saving mode’, which turns the whole device into something more akin to Nokia 3310 than a modern day superphone, doubles the time you can keep on going for.

There’s still no removable battery, but the S7 Edge does benefit from adaptive fast charging. You can get up to four hours of use from a 10-minute juice up and it’ll fully recharging in about 90 minutes. You’ll have to use the bundled cable and power block though, not just any charger you have about the house. It is also compatible with wireless chargers, both Qi and PMA standards.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S7 EDGE – ANDROID 6.0.1 MARSHMALLOW, TOUCHWIZ AND SOFTWARE

Game Launcher, Microsoft Office Suite, S-Health

Once a thorn in the side of the Galaxy series, TouchWiz has slowly gotten cleaner, smoother and better. With the Galaxy S7 Edge, the skin has finally reached the point where it’s no longer a serious negative against the phone.

Granted, it’s not as sleek as vanilla Android Marshmallow, but it’s starting to come mightily close. There are fewer useless bundled apps, fewer ‘bleeps’ and ‘blops’ and fewer childish icons. The theming engine from the S6 is still around, so you can do a pretty good job of making Android look just the way Google intended.

 

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TouchWhiz is much cleaner on the Galaxy S7 Edge

Most of Samsung’s default apps have been cleaned up, to the point where they’re *gasp* attractive. The Phone dialler has some nice animations, S-Health is very capable for tracking how much you move and eat and even the once hideous S-Planner (basically a calendar app) is surprisingly feature rich.

One really nice new addition to TouchWiz is the Game Launcher. This is best described as a super-charged folder for your games, with a few nifty added features. Aside from organising everything, it lets you ‘go-all-Twitch’ and stream your latest round of Clash of Clans, quickly save a screenshot of your latest highscore and pause notifications while you’re in a game.

Game Launcher can also be completely disabled, so if you don’t like the feature, it’s not forced upon you. Something that probably wouldn’t have been included a few years ago.

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Game Launcher has some handy features, like recording your gameplay and locking the capacitive buttons

There are still quite a few apps that you’ll wish could be removed. Microsoft’s suite of Office and Skype apps come pre installed, and if you don’t plan on using them the best you can do is disable them, which doesn’t delete them from the system memory. Plan on using Chrome instead of Samsung’s default browser? You can’t even disable that so it doesn’t show up.

Even though it has been severely stripped back, TouchWiz is still one of the heavier Android skins. 7.14GB out of the 32GB of internal storage is already eaten up when you switch on the phone, add to that the pre-installed apps and you’ve only about 20GB free to you to use. Comparing a clean 32GB Nexus 6P with the S7 Edge, you’ve got an extra 1GB of storage on the Google handset.

Marshmallow’s adoptable storage has also been disabled, which makes Touchwiz’ hefty footprint all the more annoying. Adoptable storage lets you combine the S7 Edge’s internal storage with a microSD card’s. It’s great, and lets you use install all your apps to the expandable storage.

Being fair, Samsung isn’t the only company to turn the feature off. LG has done the same thing with the LG G5, claiming people wouldn’t be able to quickly change out and swap microSD cards if it was enabled. You can still moves certain apps and your media to a card, but it’s nowhere near as seamless as it should be.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S7 EDGE – PERFORMANCE AND BENCHMARKS

Exynos 8890 CPU, Mali T880, 4GB RAM, 32GB internal storage, water cooling

With the Galaxy S6, Samsung made a big change. It switched from Qualcomm’s massively popular Snapdragon series to its own Exynos chips.

This move proved to be a complete success as the then Snapdragon flagship – the 810 – had a rocky start with bouts of overheating woes. The Exynos 7420 soared to the top of our performance tables by comparison.

For the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, Samsung has gone back to Qualcomm in certain territories, but stuck with the latest Exynos 8890 in others. My review unit is running the Exynos and it’s certainly a strong performer.

 

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Samsung’s latest high-end CPU consists of eight-cores, four running at 2.6GHz and the other four at 1.59GHz. It’s paired with a Mali T880 GPU.

During my time with the Galaxy S7 Edge the performance has been exactly what I expect from a 2016 flagship phone. It’s fast in general use, with all that power barely put to the test when you’re knocking out emails, messages, browsing Chrome or even playing bouts of Candy Crush or Monument Valley.

The 4GB RAM helps multitasking stay smooth even with multiple apps open and I’m yet to find a game that lags even slightly. Hitman Sniper, Lara Croft Go, Asphalt 8 and Real Racing 3 all play with ease. But, to be completely honest, I would be very disappointed if the Galaxy S7 Edge struggled with any of these tasks.

Yet, there’s still niggling little bits of lag littered throughout TouchWiz. There’s an odd pause when opening up an app and navigating through Samsung’s own often leads to lengthy loading times.

In our usual suite of benchmarking tests, the Galaxy S7 Edge leaves the competition trailing in its wake. I’ll update this once I have used all the Snapdragon 820 phones as that will give a better comparison, but for the time being Samsung’s latest flagship sits atop the pile.

It picks up a score of 6,669 in the Geekbench multi-core test, putting it ahead of its closest rival, the Huawei Mate 8, by about 300. The difference is much bigger when compared to a Snapdragon 810 device like the Nexus 6P which has a score of 4,245.

There’s an even wider gulf when it comes to AnTuTu. Here, the Galaxy S7 Edges scores 129,468 a big improvement over its closest rival which again is the Huawei Mate 8 (92,746).

 

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Samsung has added in a futuristic sounding ‘water-cooling element’ inside the S7 Edge to try and halt any accusations of overheating. It seems to work, for the most part anyway. The phone does get hot when installing lots of apps and when it’s fast charging, but aside from that it manages to stay mostly cool.

Aside from the small niggles I mentioned earlier, the Galaxy S7 is currently the fastest phone around. There’s enough raw power here to handle pretty much everything Android is currently capable of doing.

Call quality is excellent, on Three’s UK network, and the microphones do a really good job shutting out any pesky background noise.

The bottom facing speaker is less successful. While competing phones like Google’s Nexus 6P and Motorola’s Moto X Style have impressive, loud and great sounding speakers, the ones on the Galaxy S7 Edge are tinny and distorted. They’re loud enough though, which is something at least.

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SAMSUNG GALAXY S7 EDGE – SAMSUNG PAY, EDGE APPS, UPDAY AND GEAR VR

One major negative I still hold against Samsung’s phone is that it doesn’t yet have an Apple Pay rival set-up and available in the UK. Samsung Pay is alive and kicking in the USA and South Korea, and I am told it’ll hit the UK in 2016, but it would have been nice to have it along with the launch of the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.

To make those ‘Edges’ – the curved portion of the display – seem more than just something to lust over, Samsung has Edge apps that aim to put the curves to use. They were limited last time around, but they’re a little more useful here.

You can add favourite contacts, shortcuts to apps and handy tools like a compass and a, erm, ruler. At £639, this is easily the most expensive ruler you can buy.

Developers can now build extensions for the Edge. Yahoo, for instance, has made one for quickly swiping in and checking the news and to see if Leicester are still riding high at the top of the Premier League. It’s more of a novelty than something you’ll actually use everyday, but it’s nice to see Samsung is at least trying to do something different here.

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Finally, upday (I haven’t yet worked out why it’s called that) is the replacement to the Flipboard Briefing screen that used to sit on the screen left of your homepage. It’s a slick looking news aggregator and rival to Apple News that’s easily accessible, but it’s highly curated and you can’t add in any extra sources. Still, it can be turned off completely and never touched.

If you’ve pre-ordered a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge from Samsung or another supported retailer, you’ll also be getting a Gear VR in the package too. This is Samsung’s entry-level virtual headset, but it’s surprisingly full-featured and a great little freebie.

Stick your phone in the top – it also works with older the older S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge+ – and you can play a selection of VR games, watch videos and even stream Netflix.

Our full Gear VR review goes into more depth about just how this handy accessory works, but it’s certainly an impressive first taste of virtual reality.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S7 EDGE – CAMERA

12MP Dual Pixel sensor, f/1.7 aperture, LED flash, 5MP selfie sensor, OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation)

Megapixels no longer matter, there are more important factors in making a great mobile camera.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge actually has fewer megapixels (12-megapixels as opposed to 16) than the Galaxy S6, but you wouldn’t think that looking at the results. While the actual amount of pixels in the sensor is less, there’s a load of improvements here.

 

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The biggest update is geared towards improving low-light performance, something most phones really suffer with. Samsung’s employing a new-fangled tech called Dual Pixels here, and it helps the auto-focus work fantastically well. Instead of just one, each pixel in the sensor has two ‘photobodies’ and this basically means the camera can focus much quicker, and more accurately, than before.

Marketing speak is one thing, but it actually lives up to the billing. This is the best autofocus I’ve ever seen on a phone. It’s fast, almost instantaneous, and moving from one focus point to another doesn’t stump the sensor and cause jarring like on so many competing devices.

The other big improvement is low-light performance. And again the changes make a big difference.

 

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The aperture now sits at f.1/7, brighter than before and this makes your night-time shots look less murky and much more visible. There’s less graininess in the results too and you can pick out details that you wouldn’t have been able to before.

I wouldn’t say there’s a huge improvement in general daylight picture quality from the Galaxy S6 Edge to the S7 Edge, but considering it was already one of the best cameras on any Android phone that isn’t so much of an issue.

 

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The detail here in the flowers show the megapixel drop doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.

 

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The colours here are accurate and shows how well the sensor deals with macro shots

 

Pictures still look absolutely fantastic. They’re packed full of detail, colours are vibrant yet accurate and you can get lovely blurry background when taking macro shots.

 

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It captures skin tones well and there’s plenty of light coming into the sensor

 

The sheer speed of the camera also makes taking photos a pleasure and the fact you can quickly access the app with a double tap of the home key is inspired.

 

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Low-light shots are excellent, you can still pick out subtle details even though the only light source in the room is the small light

 

This almost pitch-black room looks bright, when most phones would have turned it into a grainy mess

While there are plenty of options, settings and modes the camera app is still easy to navigate and far from overwhelming. A ‘Pro’ mode lets you alter the focus points, ISO, white balance and so on while the ‘Live Broadcast’ option lets you beam videos straight to YouTube.

UHD (that’s 4K) video recording is an option too, but picking this higher resolution does restrict your use of some of the cooler video features. If you go for 1080p there’s HDR, video effects and tracking auto-focus that makes a real difference for quick moving footage.

Not much has changed with the front-facing camera, but it still gets the job done. It’s a 5-megapixel sensor, just like the majority of the competition, but the key here is that it’s a wide-angle lens. This lets you cram more faces into your selfies and won’t leave any left out. There’s no front-facing flash, but, just like the iPhone 6S, it can use the display as a makeshift flash.