Samsung Galaxy S7 review: A mild improvement, but it's still the best phone around

Body, brains, and brawn: This is still the Android flagship that does it all.

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I am facing a predicament here that I’m sure many of my iPhone-reviewing brethren have experienced before: The Samsung Galaxy S7 is merely an incremental update over its predecessor, which makes it hard to justify the upgrade considering the Galaxy S6 was the top contender for 2015’s phone of the year. Is this what it feels like to review the “s” models of the iPhone?

If it were an iPhone, the Galaxy S7 would be called the Galaxy S6s. It offers minor improvements, including slightly better battery life, a marginally better rear-facing camera, and a somewhat more refined metal-and-glass chassis. It also marks the return of the microSD expansion slot to Samsung’s devices, as well as dust and water resistance. Despite all these marketable features, however, I don’t think the Galaxy S7 offers enough of that “wow” factor to convince the Android-using population that it’s worth springing for—especially if you’re already wielding any of the major flagships announced in the last six months.

Real phones have curves

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The Galaxy S7 fits nicely in any hand.

If you thought last year’s Galaxy S6 was a fingerprint magnet, wait until you get your hands on the Galaxy S7. This year’s model has all the same glass-and-metal trimmings as last year’s marquee device, so it’s an absolute magnet for finger grease. Regardless, it’s an exceptionally attractive phone, albeit one you’ll have to wipe down with antibacterial solution from time to time.

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The Galaxy S7.

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Siblings: the Galaxy S7 on the left and the Galaxy S6 on the right.

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Stacked on top of one another, the Galaxy S6 (bottom) and Galaxy S7 (top) are virtually indistinguishable. 

The Galaxy S7 looks and feels like an evolved, refined version of the Galaxy S6. Samsung shaved a few millimeters off the edges—almost exactly a millimeter off each edge—and implemented the same curved back as found on the Note 5. You’ll also notice a subtle “bubble” effect made by the glass placed on top of the display as it sinks into the edges of the chassis. It shows incredible attention to detail on Samsung’s end.

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The sloped curve of the glass on top of the display is ever-so-subtle, but it’s a nice touch.

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Sorry, kids. No USB Type-C on this year’s Galaxy S7.

The Galaxy S7 has all the same buttons and sensors as its predecessor: a power button on the right-hand side, volume rockers on the left, a heart-rate monitor built-in to the LED flash on the back, and a slightly raised Home button with a built-in fingerprint scanner. But after using the rear-facing fingerprint scanner on the Nexus 6P, Samsung’s implementation hardly compares. With the Galaxy S7, you’ll have to press the Home button and then scan in your thumb, which is just too much. I don’t like any scanner that doesn’t immediately launch to the Home screen. (It may also be time for Samsung to consider dropping physical navigation buttons altogether.)

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Hooray! The expansion slot is back, and it rests alongside the Nano SIM tray.

Samsung heard your gripes. It brought back the expansion slot, which rests comfortably next to the Nano SIM tray, and it made the Galaxy S7 both water- and dust-resistant. The only caveat is that after you rescue your device from a pool of water, you’ll have to give it some time before plugging it in to the charger. It’s a safety precaution, and it brings home the idea that Samsung paid great attention to detail when designing the device. This doesn’t look like a phone that would be able to stand a dip in the water, but it is. I’m also glad to see that Samsung didn’t just go the Sony route and put flaps over every port. It’s better for my manicure.

A brighter display

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The display brightness level between the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S6 is subtle, though it’s especially obvious in dark environments.

Samsung improved the Galaxy S7’s 5.1-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display by making it a bit brighter. It’s especially obvious when it’s side-by-side with the Galaxy S6, though I first noticed the extra brightness as I was using the phone before bed. There’s also a personalized auto brightness feature, which remembers at which setting you like the screen for different lighting environments. This only works if you have auto brightness selected.

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You can choose an image for the always-on display, like this galaxy scene.

The Galaxy S7 also comes with the ability to enable an always-on display mode. This makes it so you don’t have to fumble with the buttons on your phone just to check on the time or notifications, and it’s similar to the feature already offered on the Moto X and Nexus 6P, only those phones will only light up the display when you pick it up or wave your hand over it. When enabled, the Galaxy S7 shows its always-on display all the time.

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The always-on display is a neat feature that won’t use up much battery life, but it’s limited to what Samsung offers you.

There are a few customization options for the always-on display, but you’re limited to what Samsung provides. You can’t import your own images for the background, for instance, nor will you see a preview of your notifications like on the Nexus 6P. I like the implementation on the Nexus devices the best.

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