One of the key changes in the Galaxy S7 over the Galaxy S6 is that Samsung has replaced the 16Mp camera (that came joint-top in our last phone camera round-up) with a 12Mp model with LED flash. It sounds like a strange move, but actually Samsung says this new ‘Dual Pixel’ camera has a faster autofocus, an f/1.7 aperture and larger 1.4um pixels, allowing it to take in 95 percent more light for improved low-light photography. It can also shoot 4K UHD (3840x2160), slow-motion and time-lapse video.
At its full 12Mp the camera shoots in 4:3 ratio; if you want a 16:9 shot it maxes out at 9.1Mp. HDR can be switched to on, off or automatic, while a range of real-time effects cover everything from Retro to Film and Nostalgia to Gold and Delicious. With an effect selected you can play with sliders for Strength and Vignette to adjust the results.
Samsung’s Camera app features a range of useful shooting modes. You can shoot in Auto mode or select Pro in order to manually adjust such things as exposure value, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, white balance, focal length and colour tone. Selective focus lets you mess around with the focus point of an image after it’s been shot, while Food lets you take vivid shots of your dinner (your Facebook friends will love you for it). Virtual shot lets you create multi-directional pictures of objects, while Panorama stitches together shots to recreate a landscape that won’t fit into a single photo.
Video modes are well covered too, and as well as the aforementioned slow-motion (high-framerate - 240fps at 1280x720) and Hyperlapse (varying framerate) videos, there’s a Live broadcast mode that lets you broadcast to YouTube in real time, and Video Collage, which lets you quickly and easily make clips without editing tools.
The selfie camera is rated at 5Mp, and has the same f/1.7 aperture as the main camera. An interesting feature is the ability to capture a selfie by touching the heart-rate sensor on the rear, but this doesn’t work when the phone is in Samsung’s flip case.
Here's an example of a selfie, which shows how good is the quality of the front camera, and how wide is the field of view - you can easily fit in three people at arm's length:
Something we really like about the Galaxy S7’s camera is the speed with which you can launch it and take a shot. With a double-tap of the Home button the camera launches instantly, and thanks to its fast autofocus you’ll never miss a moment.
We were really impressed with our test shots, which show a huge amount of detail. On our shot of St Pancras, for example, when zoomed into actual size you can make out individual bricks and street names, despite the photo being captured from our seventh-floor roof terrace.
And since we took the initial photos below, we've compared it side-by-side with all of its main rivals, and it came out ahead of the HTC 10, Huawei P9, LG G5 and iPhone 6S overall. You can see all the test photos and videos from these and more phones. While the S7 lacks a 1080p at 120fps slo-mo mode, the 240fps footage is just as good as the iPhone's. Many of the S7's rivals can only shoot 720p at 120fps.
Below you’ll see our usual test shots of St Pancras Renaissance Hotel with HDR off and on, as well as some other images we took in various conditions. We'll update this article with more test shots and video footage soon.
In our photos shot at the funfair you can see the Galaxy S7 can capture really saturated, rich colours, and its fast autofocus enabled it to do so even while we were spinning round and round on the Waltzer.
In low light, the S7 excels. It captures more sharp detail than most of its rivals and only starts to struggle when it's really dark and there's little ambient light.
Here's a video clip shot in 4K:
Overall, the S7 has the best cameras on any phone at the moment, and it's also one of the best to use thanks to the quick-launch app, all the options and also because the phone is waterproof so you get take those more risky shots where you'd be too worried about non-waterproof phones getting damaged. If you're brave enough, you can even take photos, videos and selfies underwater.
The Galaxy S7 runs Android Marshmallow out of the box (by the end of January 2017 the OTA Nougat update should be rolling out), but it has several of Samsung’s own customisations as part of its TouchWiz UI. As TouchWiz was once the stuff of nightmares, significantly slowing down Galaxy smartphones, it’s an important things to consider before buying a Samsung phone - especially when you consider that it means only 24GB of the 32GB storage is available out of the box.
Actually, these days TouchWiz is much more user-friendly, and Samsung preinstalls a little less software in general. When you open the apps tray - or should we say if you open the apps tray, since you can set up the Galaxy S7 like an iPhone using a Galaxy Labs feature that places all app shortcuts on the home screen - you’ll find all fit on a single screen. Admittedly the Samsung, Google and Microsoft apps are grouped into folders, but it’s still an improvement.
You’ll find Samsung’s own S Health, which ties in with the heart-rate scanner, is preinstalled, along with S Voice (See: Funny things to ask S-Voice) and Samsung’s own Email app, a voice recorder, file manager, a web browser and the Galaxy Apps store.
One thing we’re not so keen on is the inability to delete these preinstalled apps - especially the Microsoft ones, which are useful for some but others will have no need for them. It’s worth noting that you get 100GB free OneDrive storage with the S7.
Upday is the other software customisation we weren’t overly enamoured with, slow to load but easy to remove - at least from the home screen, if not entirely from the smartphone. Upday is a Blinkfeed-style magazine feed that brings together news stories on subjects in which you’re interested, and is always a swipe away from the home screen (until you decide to banish it, anyway).
Everything else on the software front is much better to have than not to have. Some things we’ve seen before include the customised notifications bar with quick access to common settings and a link to Quick connect plus a brightness slider. Pull down again from the top of the screen and more common settings appear, and tapping Edit lets you choose which appear on the main notification bar and re-arrange their order.
We’ve seen Easy mode before, too, which puts essential apps on the home screen with larger icons and removes the bloat. You can even add your most frequently called contacts to the home screen, which entirely removes the need to delve into settings menus or dig through options and will be a godsend for non-technical users.
There’s also the ability to add themes, which you can download from the Themes store as you could with the Galaxy S6. A good selection is free, although we couldn’t find a way to see free themes only within the store. Nevertheless, once you’ve found one you like it can give you what looks like a brand-new phone in a couple of seconds. You can change the theme to match your mood, your phone case, your underwear… whatever you like. We quite like this cute free dinosaur theme (but it doesn't match our underwear).
There’s a Galaxy Apps store, too, supposedly optimised to help you get more from your Galaxy device, although we’re quite happy using only Google Play.
Multi-window is still part of TouchWiz, and allows you to view and work with two apps onscreen at once. You trigger it by pressing and holding the recents key with one app open, then selecting a second app from the section below. By default apps consume 50:50 of the screen area, but you can resize them however you like.
And, as before, you can place any app in a pop-up window, then resize it and move it anywhere onscreen you like. Both this and multi-window make multi-tasking on the Galaxy S7 so much easier.
An alternative to resizing individual apps if you have little hands is to resize the entire display. Using one-handed operation settings you can do exactly this, plus reduce the size of the keyboard and display it on the left or right of the screen to suit your needs. Samsung is assuming that if you have little hands you have little fingers too, though, because the buttons are tiny. Switch to landscape mode, though, and they will enlarge to fill the usual area.
The Galaxy S7 still features Smart stay, which prevents the screen turning off while you’re looking at it (such as when watching a video), and it will call a contact shown on screen as you lift it to your ear. Smart alert vibrates to warn you of notifications as you pick up the phone, and Easy mute lets you place a hand over the screen or turn over the S7 to mute an incoming call or alarm. A double-press of the home button will launch the camera, too.
Some of our favourite features are to do with screenshots, though. As before you can swipe the screen with your palm to take a screenshot, or use the more traditional power-and-home method. What’s interesting is once you’ve taken the screenshot you get new options to extend the screenshot - for example when you are taking a screenshot of a web page that is longer than the screen - crop it and share it.
We touched on the Game Launcher in the Performance section, and it’s really very useful if, like me, you play a lot of mobile games. Each time you install a new game it will automatically be added to Game Launcher, which lets you access controls to save power during a game, turn off notifications as you play, and turn on game tools. Game tools is a floating button that appears over the game that lets you take screenshots or record gameplay, lock the recents and back keys and more.
We like the Private mode, which lets you hide photos and videos, files and voice recordings in a PIN-protected section of the phone that is visible only when Private mode is activated. The broswer also has a Secret mode. And if security is your thing you also get Samsung Knox, which is protection for enterprise email, contacts and calendars.
Also see: Best new phones
Samsung Galaxy S7: Specs
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- 5.1in Quad HD IPS (1440x2560)
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB storage
- Micro-SD card slot (up to 200GB)
- 12Mp rear camera with f/1.7
- 5Mp front camera
- 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi with MU-MIMO
- Bluetooth 4.2
- Heart rate monitor
- Fingerprint scanner
- 4G LTE
- 3000mAh non-removable battery