Samsung’s Galaxy S6 launched back in early 2015 to reasonable critical acclaim.
The Korean electronics giant had finally dealt with the now years-old complaint that their premium smartphones all felt “plasticky”, switching to a metal-and-glass unibody design that made the new devices both look and feel classy. Finally, the phones’ bodies matched their unbeatable, Samsung-made AMOLED screens.
In some ways, though, the Galaxy S6 (and its S6 Edge sidekick) were a stereotypical case of a product taking one step forward but two steps back.
Because while they were now undeniably ‘premium-feeling’ devices, Samsung dropped three key features that had, arguably, helped it get to the top of the Android heap.
Galaxy fans and reviewers alike lamented the fact that the S6 had ditched the series’ removable battery, microSD card slot and waterproofing — features that’d all been present in the Galaxy S5.
It’s arguable as to whether it was because of those complaints or just from a general sense of fatigue from smartphone buyers, but in either case, Samsung’s 2015 smartphone sales didn’t perform to anywhere near the company’s expectations.
Fixing what’s broke
It’s brought back two of the three missing features — there’s still no removable battery, though — while maintaining the overall build-quality improvements it introduced last year.
In fact, Samsung hasn’t messed with last year’s design formula much at all. Compare the S7 to its forebear front-on and the two 5.1-inch phones are difficult to tell apart — it’s only the slightly different placement of ports and a different-shaped Home button that are real giveaways.
Flip the phones over and the difference is a bit more obvious — the S7 has co-opted the curved left and right edges found on the back of the Galaxy Note 5, a positive change that makes it a bit more comfortable and secure to hold in the hand.
Under the hood, the S7 has seen significant hardware upgrades — the Australian versions have Samsung’s own eight-core Exynos 8890 CPU alongside 4GB of memory, a Mali-T880 graphics chip and 32GB of onboard storage.
That’s all top-shelf kit that, from a performance perspective, you can’t really complain about. (Some markets have a version of the S7 that uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip, but Samsung’s new Exynos is so close that you’ll only really see the difference in synthetic benchmarks, not real-world situations.)
The only performance-related issue we found was a tendency for the back of the phone to get uncomfortably warm if you’ve been gaming intensively or for long periods on the device — if that’s something you do, you might want to consider a case to help dampen that heat.
A more mature experience
Otherwise, though, the S7 is definitively Samsung’s smoothest and fastest phone yet. There’s essentially no delay in turning the phone on, the fingerprint sensor registering your print and the device unlocking, for example, although Google’s own Nexus 5X and 6P are a little more seamless in this area and the iPhone 6S is an almost imperceptibly-bit faster to unlock.
Running Android 6.0.2 with Samsung’s TouchWiz skin over the top, the S7 feels a little more slick and grown-up and less like the brightly coloured ‘Fischer Price’ devices of yore.
Samsung’s even a little more laid-back when it comes to pushing its own apps and services at you — for the most part, they’re now all tucked away in their own ‘Samsung’ folder… the two exceptions being Samsung Pay and a widget pointing you to Samsung’s Galaxy Apps store.
It’s a surprisingly mature and user-friendly approach — and perhaps, again, a response to the company’s less-than-stellar sales in 2015.
The S7’s AMOLED screen is, once again, a star attraction of the device: it really is best-in-class, with the most vibrant colours, dazzling brightness and deep contrast we’ve seen on a smartphone display.
At 1440p resolution (the same as the S6), there’s zero pixellation, and Samsung has further refined its AMOLED tech since last year, so this is also the cleanest-looking OLED screens we’ve tested. There’s virtually none of the ‘grain’ that some AMOLEDs can suffer from.
Also class-leading is the 12MP camera. Independent camera testing outfit DxOMark recently rated the S7 Edge’s snapper the best of any smartphone, and the S7’s is identical; both have f/1.7 lenses and optical image stabilisation and their colour reproduction and low-light performance are frankly excellent, although to be honest, only photo fanatics will be able to spy big improvements between this and Sony and Apple’s current flagships.
That all adds up to a Galaxy that’s better than ever — and this year, there’s basically no ‘buts’ to add that we have to tack on to that statement. So, where does that leave the S7 Edge?
Living on the edge
Don’t tell the smartphone makers, though. While there are definitely fans of the S6 Edge’s curved screen out there, we were under the impression that the Edge design would be partisan to the same, single-cycle fate as the concave television.
If anything, though, Samsung has actually put even more energy towards distinguishing the S7 Edge from the S7 and has arguably angled the designs of each to make the Edge the more prominent face of Samsung’s flagship new smartphone range.
The most notable upgrades of the S7 Edge are the reinstatement of a microSD card slot and IP68 waterproofing, which doesn’t rely on frustrating rubber flaps.
The new curved back panel feels much nicer in the hand, but can also make the S7 Edge feel a bit less solid at times.
What’s perhaps most intriguing about the S7 Edge is that the curved screen is no longer just a cosmetic feature.
There’s a new and improved ‘Edge Drawer’ that can be expanded from the lockscreen or opened within an app, offering an exceptionally quick access point to anything from a favourite contact to a smart light.
This suite of shortcuts and swipeable interactions offer what’s arguably an even better interactive shortcut and notification system than on iOS.
The edge of reason
The curved back-panel and the slippery material it’s made from make this bigger 5.5-inch device a little tricky to grip, and your fingers and palms do have a tendency to curl around the device’s thin bezel and metal sides, creeping onto the edge of the screen and then rendering the rest of the touchscreen unresponsive.
And besides that, the S7 Edge’s hardware buttons mean there’s nowhere to conveniently hold the phone at the base without unintentionally engaging the back or app-switching buttons, and while we’re on hardware gripes, the single downward facing speaker could really use more grunt.
The Edge includes a 3,600mAh battery (the S7’s is 3,000mAh). We expected this extra battery capacity to be largely consumed by the S7 Edge’s bigger screen, but interestingly almost all of it went into extending the lifespan of the S7’s already-excellent longevity; both phones will easily endure an average working-day’s use.
Considering you can also fully charge both phones in around 95 minutes using the bundled quick-charger, the battery life of both devices is outstanding.
Edging out the competition
There’s a lot to offer in this exceptionally well-groomed flagship and, like the regular S7, there aren’t many ways to fault it.
The increased size-difference and the $100 price bump between the two phones should certainly make choosing between them a bit easier — but whichever tickles your fancy, you’ll end up with a bloody great phone.
Price: $1,149 (32GB)