Hands on with the evolutionary Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge

Samsung's flagship devices incrementally improve on last year's devices with a beefed-up camera, faster processor, and curvier design.

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After throwing every conceivable feature into the Galaxy S6, there couldn’t possibly be anything left to impress us with the Galaxy S7, right?

Fortunately for Samsung, that’s not the case. The Galaxy S7 isn’t particularly revolutionary, but it does improve upon what made the Galaxy S6 so great. You can expect features like a bigger battery, a faster processor, and better low-light performance from both rear- and front-facing cameras.

Samsung also appears to have finally resolved how big to make its Edge line of smartphones. The Galaxy S7 Edge is now a phablet device, and it’s especially geared towards those looking for a productivity device with a chassis design that stands out from all the other flat, black rectamgles making the rounds.

More curves than you bargained for

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The Galaxy S7’s design doesn’t stray far from its predecessor’s. 

They say if It ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Samsung reprised the Galaxy S6’s metal and glass design for the Galaxy S7, though it shaved a few millimeters off the edges and dramatically rounded the corners so that the phone is almost an oblong shape. The company also implemented the same curved back glass featured on the Note 5 and the end result is a phone that feels slightly thicker in the hand. And perhaps it is: there’s a bigger battery inside and less of a bulge around the camera, after all.

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The back of the Galaxy S7 implements the same curved-edge design as the Note 5.

That’s not to say it isn’t a beautiful device. I like holding the Galaxy S7, and its 5.1 inch screen size reminds me of why I like wielding smaller phones. They’re easier to use with one hand and fit into a variety of pockets and purses. However, unlike last year’s design, I don’t find the Galaxy S7’s curves and rounded edges to be particularly striking. If anything, it feels like Samsung is attempting to differentiate itself from Apple in the design department, especially since last year’s Galaxy S6 looked too much like the iPhone.

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The Galaxy S7 Edge is a tad larger, but its slanted front edges work well with the curvier design.

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The new Galaxy S7 Edge feels so much better in the hand than its smaller predecessor.

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Sorry, kids. Samsung’s still stuck on capacitive navigation buttons. The Home button still functions as a fingerprint reader, though it’s further recessed this time around.

The Galaxy S7 Edge has officially gone full-blown phablet. It comes with a 5.5-inch display and all the same curves as the Galaxy S7, in addition to a curved panel on the front. Samsung mentioned that it paid particular attention to ergonomics with this year’s devices, and as a result the S7 Edge is seriously comfortable to hold. Also, while I typically prefer smaller devices, I am reminded of how much more productive I am with a larger screen.

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The flat Galaxy S7 and curved Galaxy S7 Edge, side-by-side.

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This year’s Galaxy S7 is water resistant, so you can give it a bath if you like.

Speaking of productivity, you can bring the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge everywhere you go. Both phones are IP68 certified, which means they’re both water and dust resistant. The expansion slot also makes a glorious return, and Samsung future-proofed the devices, allowing them to take MicroSD cards up to 2TB in size. For now, you’ll have to settle for up to 200GB, in addition to the 32GB or 64GB of storage space that comes with the device.

Qualcomm’s back in the fold

The Exynos was fun while it lasted, but Samsung’s back to using Qualcomm’s chipset in its devices. The Galaxy S7 runs on the Snapdragon 820, which I’m expecting will blow its predecessor out of the water in our benchmarks. The system-on-a-chip is built on a 14nm process and uses four custom Kryo CPU cores, along with a new GPU and image processor. Samsung says this year’s phones are 30 percent faster in CPU performance compared to the Galaxy S6, and 64 percent faster in GPU performance.

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I hope you kept your MicroUSB chargers, because Samsung apparently isn’t ready to commit to USB Type-C just yet.

We can also expect better battery life. The Galaxy S7 sports a larger 3000 mAh battery pack, up from a 2550 mAh, while the Galaxy S7 Edge takes the biggest leap to 3600 mAh, up from 2600 mAh. Annoyingly, Samsung did not spring for a USB Type-C port on the Galaxy S7, though it does offer both Quick Charge 3.0 and fast wireless charging.

Bigger pixels and better low-light performance

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Samsung set up a camera comparison demonstration at its briefing against the iPhone 6S. 

I was thoroughly impressed with the Galaxy S6’s camera performance and didn’t think Samsung could outdo itself, but lo and behold: The Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge both feature 12-megapixel camera sensors  with Duo Pixel technology, which is similar to the dual-photodiode sensors that some DSLRs use. It’s said to great improve the speed and quality of phase-detect autofocus, so you can quickly shoot a photo in any kind of setting. Also, both the front-facing and rear-facing cameras feature a wide, f/1.7 aperture, which helps immensely in low-light environments. That’s the widest aperture we’ve seen on a smartphone.

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I wish this photo was more in focus, but you can see in the final results that the Nexus 6P’s low-light abilities pale in comparison to the Galaxy S7. 

Samsung even provided a demo comparing the low-light capability of the Galaxy S7 compared to the iPhone 6S. I took advantage of this setup and swapped out the iPhone for the Nexus 6P, which also boasts a 12-megapixel sensor with relatively capable camera in low light.. I took a test shot with the Nexus 6P for comparison purposes and, based on the results shown above, the Nexus 6P’s f/2.0 aperture simply isn’t enough. 

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The Galaxy S7 offers a few new camera modes I didn’t have time use. 

The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge’s rear-facing camera is still deliriously fast. Both phones offer the ability to quickly launch the camera by double-pressing the Home button, and there’s even a few new camera modes to choose from. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to dive into the manual features on the Galaxy S7, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it shoots photos in the real world.

Software for the niche

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay, but at least the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge run on Android Marshmallow. You’ll have access to the granular application permissions featured on stock Android, as well as Doze mode, improved copy and paste, and Now on Tap.

At the very least, TouchWiz’s notifications shade has been renovated. It’s now a transparent white with blue accents, rather than a stark blue with yellow accents. Samsung’s applications haven’t changed since their revamp for Lollipop, however, and each phone still comes bundled with Microsoft’s mobile Office applications.

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The Game Launcher bundles together any games you have installed so you can easily locate them when you’re ready to play.

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Then you can choose to shut off notifications or lower the frame rate to fine tune your mobile gaming experience.

Samsung also took some of the features from several of its standalone applications, like its Game Tuner, and implemented them directly into the operating system. When you start playing a game, there’s a little pop up that indicates your phone is in a “game mode” of sorts. You can choose to do things like shut off notifications so they don’t interrupt your game, adjust the frame rate so that the app isn’t using up too much power, or even record your game play to upload to Twitch or YouTube later. These are definitely features catered toward the gaming crowd, though you don’t have to use them if you don’t want to.

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I’m looking forward to seeing how much I can customize the Galaxy S7’s always-on capabilities.

Android’s glance notifications are certainly helpful, but the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge’s always-on notifications are even better. You can customize what shows up when the screen is off, and you can even select a design to the background for a bit of added flair. 

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The Galaxy S7 Edge now does more than just display contacts or add an extra overlay for icons. You can even use it as a news ticker if you please.

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A look at the Edge settings panel for the Galaxy S7 Edge.

Like its predecessor, the Galaxy S7 Edge comes with a helping of new and improved Edge panels. To access them, you simply swipe in from the right or left side of the display to reveal a launcher overlay. From there, you can swipe again for Tasks Edge, which offers up quick shortcuts to commonly-used functions, or swipe again for quick access to your most frequented contacts. You can add up to nine Edge panels in all, including a Yahoo News ticker and My Places, which displays your most frequently used apps based on your location.

When can I buy it?

The Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge are both expected to go on sale March 11. When they do, we’ll have a full-blown review of each device, complete with benchmarks, beauty shots, and a lab test with the Galaxy S7’s newly refined 12-megapixel rear-facing camera, as well as more details on the software features of both devices.

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