Samsung Galaxy S7 full review
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Samsung knows exactly how to make a top Android phone, and with the Galaxy S7 it's just pulled another marvel out of the bag. Read our Galaxy S7 review to find out why Samsung's S-series still offers the best phone money can buy. Also see: Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review and Samsung Galaxy S7 vs Samsung Galaxy S7 edge.
Update January 2017: According to Samsung its Android 7.0 Nougat beta programme for the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge is now complete, and the OTA update should begin rolling out to devices later this month. Keep in mind that the below Galaxy S7 review was written with it running Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
It’s early days to decide which is the best phone of 2016, of course, but right now the Galaxy S7 is unbeatable, and we struggle to see which phone might be able to take it on. Even the LG G5 (which goes on sale later this week) and the HTC 10 (to be announced next week) can't hold a candle to Samsung's flagship. We really think Samsung’s cracked it with the Galaxy S7.
It's worth pointing out the Galaxy S7 is a twin, and its sibling - the Galaxy S7 edge - is also a very capable Android phone with a unique dual-curved-edge screen. But it's not for everyone. Meanwhile the Galaxy S7 is a great all-rounder that has managed to improve on the already brilliant S6. Samsung has improved on its winning formula in the most important way: by listening to what consumers want. And, since it's Samsung, it's also piled on even more performance.
We’ve heard several critics slam the Galaxy S7 for not featuring a whole lot of new stuff. And while everyone is allowed their own opinion, we think they’re wrong - as you’ll read below. But the analogy of the Galaxy S7 being like an iPhone ’S’ upgrade is most certainly fair comment. Indeed, if you're looking to upgrade from the Galaxy S6, you're probably better off staying put until the Galaxy S8 is released in early 2017 - unless the new features we'll talk about below are especially important to you.
New in the Galaxy S7 is the headline always-on display. It shows you a bunch of useful information on screen in standby mode, such as the time, date, battery percentage and whether you have any missed calls or texts. But actually we don’t think this innovative feature is the most important change. Also see: Samsung Galaxy S6 review and Samsung Galaxy S5 review.
When Samsung announced the Galaxy S6 fans were divided. Finally the S series had the premium design it so rightly deserved, ditching that awful pimpled plastic and replacing it with a metal frame and gorgeous glass front and rear. But in doing so Samsung removed several features that helped make it such a great phone: waterproofing, expandable storage and a removable battery. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.
The first two return in the Samsung Galaxy S7, while battery life has improved no end with a higher-capacity cell inside. It’s easy to brush these off as old features removed from the Galaxy S5, but they are the three things fans cried out for in the Galaxy S6, and saw them threatening to go elsewhere. So their return is quite a big deal, to say the least.
As you would expect from Samsung it’s also upgraded the processor, and in our performance benchmarks the Galaxy S7 retakes its spot at the top of our charts - for raw processing power this is absolutely the fastest phone you can buy today.
The camera has improved, too, although it might not sound like it on paper, and is now better-suited to taking photos in challenging conditions such as low light. Samsung offers a ton of interesting shooting modes for photo and video - and that’s not the only software highlight. If you’re a mobile gamer you’ll appreciate the new Game Launcher, and all users will be able to find a use for its excellent multitasking- and privacy features, among others.
The Galaxy S7 is a great phone, but Samsung still has room to improve in its Galaxy S8 for 2017. Sound is strong, but not as good as it was in the Galaxy S6, for example. The latest connectivity standards USB-C and Quick Charge 3.0 are missing in action, as is the IR blaster. And there are some little niggles throughout, such as the ease with which it picks up fingerprints and the fact it still doesn’t feature a removable battery. Overall, though, the Galaxy S7 is a fantastic phone, which we’ll look at in much greater detail below.
Jump to: Samsung Galaxy S7 deals | Galaxy S7 design | Galaxy S7 always-on display | Galaxy S7 battery life | Galaxy S7 benchmarks - How fast is Galaxy S7? | Galaxy S7 audio performance | Galaxy S7 storage and connectivity | Galaxy S7 camera review | Galaxy S7 software | Our verdict on the Galaxy S7
The Samsung Galaxy S7 went on sale in the UK on 11 March, and those who preordered before March 5 received a free Gear VR headset with their order. Also see: Best VR headsets 2016.
There are two versions of the Galaxy S7: the standard Galaxy S7 reviewed here; and the Galaxy S7 edge, which features a dual-curved-edge screen for displaying notifications and providing access to your frequently used apps. The Galaxy S7 is the cheaper of the two, with its £569 RRP £70 lower than the S7 edge’s £639 RRP.
Do note before you buy that as with all Samsung phones before it, the Galaxy S7’s price will drop significantly over the next few months - some have estimated by as much as 21 percent in three months. If you really want the best deal and you’re prepared to wait a little while, don’t buy the Galaxy S7 until the summer.
If you are considering paying for the Galaxy S7 in full, rather than subscribing to a mobile operator’s tariff, also consider Samsung’s Upgrade Programme, which allows you to pay a monthly subscription from £24.58 and receive the latest Galaxy S-series flagship every 12 months.
Whether you buy the Galaxy S7 upfront or join Samsung’s Upgrade Programme, you’ll still need to pay for your texts, minutes and data. See our best SIM-only deals for advice on where to get the most for your money.
A third option is to get the Galaxy S7 from a UK mobile operator and pay a monthly fee that covers the phone itself, all your minutes, texts and data. We’ve rounded up all the best Galaxy S7 deals in this separate article, but be prepared to pay in the region of £50 a month if you don’t wish to pay an upfront charge for the phone. At the time of writing the lowest contract price we found for the S7 was £40 per month with unlimited texts and minutes, 2GB of 4G data and no upfront charge for the phone. That deal is from Vodafone, but via Carphone Warehouse.
Our sample came from Mobile Fun, which sells SIM-free versions of the S7 and S7 edge, as well as a great range of Samsung Galaxy S7 accessories, including cases - read our round-up of the best Galaxy S7 cases.
Update 20 April: A new pink gold colour option was made available in South Korea today, and is coming to selected markets soon. Also see: Best Samsung phones 2016: What is the difference between Galaxy Note, Galaxy S, Galaxy A and Galaxy J?
If you read some early reviews of the Galaxy S7, you might have been led to believe not much has changed in the S7’s design over the S6. But while the S7 still follows Samsung’s familiar design blueprint, the company has made several tweaks to the device’s appearance - and though the Galaxy S7 is still a stunner, not all its changes are aesthetic. Also see: Samsung Galaxy S7 vs Samsung Galaxy S6.
Most obviously, out of the box, is that the Galaxy S7 is thicker and heavier than its predecessor, which is primarily due to the fact it houses a higher-capacity but still non-removable 3,000mAh battery. It’s not a huge difference, with the S7 7.9mm thick and 152g and the S6 6.8mm thick and 138g, but enough for you to feel the change if you’re used to handling the Galaxy S6. We love the fact the rear camera no longer protrudes so far, which looks a lot nicer and stops the S7 rocking on the desk when your fingers prod at the far edges of the screen.
The Galaxy S7 has not only gained some weight but some beautiful curves, and now features curved glass at the front and tapered edges at the rear. The metal frame is thinner on the left- and right sides, without the S6’s chiselled edge, and the glass rear wraps around further toward the front. Samsung has tweaked the phone’s colouring too, and our black review sample seems to change with the lighting, rather than the flat black of before. (The S7 is also available in gold.)
Given that the Galaxy S6 was criticised for its slippery glass case, the tweaks Samsung has made in the Galaxy S7 add up to a phone that feels less easy to snap, more comfortable in the hand, and much easier to grip. The Galaxy S7’s contoured edges even make it easier to pick up in a hurry, and they do say it’s the little things that count. Also see: Best phones 2016.
Gone is the silver chrome trim around the home button/fingerprint sensor, speaker, camera, flash and heart-rate sensor, and even the back- and recents soft-button legends have been toned down so as to not detract from the Galaxy S7’s sleek new look. If you’re concerned that all this makes the S7 look boring, think again: the new customisable always-on display now heads up Samsung’s design roster, and is all the ‘something extra’ it needs. (See screen quality and always-on display for more detail.)
The SIM tray has moved from the Galaxy S6’s right edge to the top of the Galaxy S7, and there’s a good reason for the relocation: there’s more space up here, and Samsung has extended the tray to include a microSD slot. And that is probably one of the most exciting changes for Samsung Galaxy S-series fans - Samsung took heavy criticism for removing expandable storage from its Galaxy S6. Also see: Best Android phones 2016.
It’s a great sign when a company actually listens to what its customers want, and the other big change in the Galaxy S7 is another example of this (and, again, something that had been removed in the Galaxy S6). The Galaxy S7 carries IP68 certification, which means it is resistant to dust and water, and can survive a 1.5m dunk for up to 30 minutes. Pleasingly, Samsung has been able to achieve this by surrounding the inside of the Galaxy S7’s ports and connections with rubber and applying an anti-corrosive coating to the metalwork, which means it hasn’t needed to revert to the nasty port cover flaps we saw in the Galaxy S5. There’s also a short-circuit protection mechanism inside the Micro-USB port, which prevents any accidents happening when you mix water and electricity to charge the phone.
Also see: Galaxy S7 in pictures
Yes, that’s right, we did say Micro-USB and not the new reversible USB-C connection standard. We have to admit the inclusion of Micro-USB came as a surprise, and Samsung’s reasoning at the time seemed weak: it told PC Advisor at MWC that people don’t have the accessories for it just yet. But having last week spent a good hour scrambling around for a USB-C cable to charge a phone, we're coming around to its way of thinking: USB-C is convenient, but until we have as many USB-C cables and accessories lying around as we do Micro-USB cables and accessories, it just isn’t as convenient as Micro-USB.
Something else that’s stayed the same is the speaker, which still sits on the Galaxy S7’s bottom edge (jump to audio performance). But you’ll notice that the phone’s dual-mics have been moved toward the phone’s screen and now sit closer to your face when making a call. And the IR sensor is gone.
We’re mentioning this last, since it’s not something we can ‘see’ (not with Mobile Fun expecting our handset back in any case), but the Galaxy S7 is said to feature liquid-cooling technology to help it to deal with the heat generated when gaming or using a lot of processing power. We still found the Galaxy S7 became warm, particularly during our benchmarks (jump to Galaxy S7 benchmarks) or wireless charging, but not as finger-burningly hot as does the Galaxy S6 on occasion. (We should mention that all metal-framed phones will get warm in use.) See all smartphone reviews.
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.