Samsung introduced a Quad-HD (2560x1440) display in the Galaxy S6, and that hasn’t changed here. It’s still 5.1in on the diagonal, which is just the right size for a useful screen area for playing games and watching media without the handset being too unwieldy, and it still has that crazy 577ppi pixel density, which basically means images and text are super-sharp. While full-HD is sufficiently clear, Quad-HD offers an amazing experience - if you haven’t seen the difference for yourself we urge you to do so in-store.
Samsung is well known for its Super AMOLED displays, which in comparison to the more typical IPS panels offer rich, saturated colours and great contrast, with deep blacks and ‘Vanish’ whites. It’s also more energy-efficient, with no backlight required.
Even with the curved screen viewing angles are every bit as good as they are in the Galaxy S6 (which is pretty good), and it’s incredibly bright, which makes viewing even in direct sunlight easy. The Galaxy S7 handles auto-brightness with a new feature called Personalised Automatic Brightness Control. This remembers your preferences at various levels of ambient light, then ties those settings to the current reading from its ambient light sensor.
An addition to the screen tech is the always-on display. Apparently, whether or not we are aware of it, we each check our phones several hundred times a day. By displaying the information we need on the screen at all times we don't need to wake the screen to read it, which saves time and power. This could well be a handy addition for some people, but it's perhaps not worthy of the hype it’s received - it doesn't give enough information to stop you needing to wake the screen altogether.
The always-on display can be switched on or off in the Settings, but don’t turn it off because you’re concerned about battery life - it uses an incredibly small amount. When turned on by default it places the clock, date and battery percentage on the screen in standby mode. Also here you’ll receive notifications of missed calls and texts but, oddly, not emails (even when you’re using Samsung’s own Email app) or social media notifications. We hope that’s coming in a later update.
In the Settings you can tweak the always-on display to choose a different clock face or apply a background wallpaper for a splash of colour. Or you can opt to see a calendar or an image rather than the clock, neither of which we’d really want to do. See all Android phone reviews.
One problem with the always-on display is that it is bright enough to draw attention to fingerprints, but not bright enough to make them disappear. Conversely, the rear glass panel shows fewer fingerprints than did the Galaxy S6’s mirror-finish rear.
We also find the way the clock face randomly moves across the screen irritating. We realise there’s probably a very good reason for this, such as to prevent screen burn, but when the clock sits a few millimetres off-centre our OCD is at breaking point.
Update October 2016: Samsung is rolling out an update to the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge that includes the new features introduced by the Note 7’s always-on display (before it was discontinued). These include a new calendar option, a new digital clock to which you can add a custom text signature, the ability to show the current music track, and some enhancements to battery usage that see the always-on display consume just 1% per hour. You can update to version 1.4.02 of the Always on Display in the Galaxy Apps store, or by tapping Settings, Display, Always On Display, About Always on Display, Update.
There are some useful software tweaks that can be applied to the screen itself, such as reducing its size for easier one-handed operation, applying themes or letting Adaptive display tweak the screen colours to suit the current task (jump to Software).
The Galaxy S7 features Gorilla Glass 4 protective glass, but even so it’s far from unbreakable. As we were writing this review, gadget-protection specialist Squaretrade announced that it had run the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge past its new TumbleBot robot, which continually drops devices in an enclosed chamber at a rotational speed of 50 revolutions per minute for 30 seconds to mimic the repeated tumbles that smartphones often take.
“Dropped on their corners from six feet high, the S7 cracked after four falls, while the S7 edge was completely unusable after seven. Dropped face down, the S7 shattered on the first fall, while the S7 edge shattered on the second. In our bend test, the S7 edge performed the same as its S6 edge predecessor. Not only did the phone crack at 110 pounds of pressure, but it also reached catastrophic failure at less than 170 pounds. The S7 withstood 170 pounds of pressure - the same as the iPhone 6s,” reports Squaretrade, whose testing can be seen in the video below.
Samsung’s Galaxy S7 is an absolute beast when it comes to performance, but so is the Galaxy S6. So, actually, we’re going to start with something arguably much more important to users: battery life.
Samsung may not have returned the removable battery to its Galaxy S-series flagship, but it has made fans something of a peace offering with a higher-capacity 3,000mAh battery (previously 2,550mAh in the Galaxy S6). We were disappointed to learn it didn’t support the latest Quick Charge 3.0 fast-charging standard, but it made sense when we discovered the UK was getting the Exynos version of the Galaxy S7 rather than the Snapdragon 820 equivalent. (To clarify, the Snapdragon version doesn’t support Quick Charge 3.0 either, since Samsung thinks Quick Charge 2.0 is fast enough, it told us at MWC.)
However, the Samsung Galaxy S7 does support Adaptive Fast Charging over its Micro-USB port, and it extends this fast charging to the wireless-charging feature, too. Do note that you will need to buy a wireless charger that supports the faster charge if you want to take advantage, rather than use an older one that worked at the slower rate with your Galaxy S6.
In real-world usage we found battery life to be excellent. As an example, we took the Galaxy S7 to the funfair on Saturday afternoon and used it to take around 30 photos. When we returned several hours later the battery was at 96 percent. Following an overnight charge, by 10.30pm the battery still had 73 percent remaining.
With heavy usage of course your results will vary, but with light- to moderate use we could easily see this battery lasting two days. As with the Galaxy S6 there’s an Ultra power saving mode that turns off the screen colours, mobile data, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and restricts application usage to eke out every last bit of juice when you really can’t charge the phone or access a power bank, but it does make the Galaxy S7 virtually unusable.
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