The Samsung Galaxy S7 is finally official, and while we’d gleaned a fair amount of information about it in the lead-up to the launch, there are still a few surprises on offer.
Cut to the chase
What is it? The new flagship phone in Samsung’s Galaxy S line.
When is it out? Launch: February 21 (with pre-orders live), release date: March 11
What will it cost? We’re still waiting for full pricing info, but we expect it to be the most expensive mainstream Samsung phone ever.
As you’ll have noticed above, the Samsung Galaxy S7 release date has been set for March 11, with pre-orders kicking off the second the new phone was announced.
Some retailers are promising to deliver the phone a little earlier if you pre-order, so it’s worth sticking your name on the list if you’re going to be buying it early doors anyway.
Check out our hands-on and first impressions Galaxy S7 video:
Pricing information for the Samsung Galaxy S7 is all over the place, but we’re here to help. In the US, it’ll cost $199 on a two-year contract, but since carriers are phasing out these subsidized agreements, expect to pay about $27 a month for the handset over the course of 24 months.
AT&T has the Galaxy S7 for $23.17, but keep in mind that’s for 30 months. Verizon, the other top network in the US, hasn’t announced its pricing plan yet, but expect it to hover around the same monthly fee.
In the UK, the Samsung Galaxy S7 SIM-free price is £569. Carriers defray this through monthly fees, so EE is asking for £44.49 a month with just £49.99 up front, while Three wants £35 a month with £99 up front.
Australia is the one region that sees a price bump. Samsung announced the price as AU$1,149 unlocked. That’s the same premium people paid for Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge in Australia a year ago.
The design of the Galaxy S7 looks pretty much like that of the Galaxy S6 – or so you’d think when you first lay eyes on it.
The phone, from the front, does have a very similar look, with the metal edges and rounded corners.
But the rear of the phone has been rounded away (think the S6 Edge’s front used on the back) in the same manner as on the Galaxy Note 5, and it feels completely different.
On top of that, Samsung’s brought back the IP68 rating (meaning you can dunk it in 1.5 meters of water for 30 minutes) that we last saw on the Galaxy S5 – but this time, with the more premium design of glass and metal.
It’s still a touch chunkier than other phones on the market, but it feels good in the hand, and the mix of glass and metal makes it feel like a phone worth spending a decent amount of cash on.
Samsung’s stuck with the same 5.1-inch QHD Super AMOLED display on the Galaxy S7 as on the S6. It’s usually a bad thing when a brand doesn’t add anything to the mix for its phone from one year to the next (we’re talking to you, Apple…) but in this case, last year’s screen was so nifty that it couldn’t have been improved on much this year.
Super AMOLED tech means you’re already getting great color reproduction and brilliant differences between the light and dark elements of the screen – and the results always seem to impress friends.
The QHD resolution is pin-sharp too – at 1,440 x 2,560 pixels it’s closing in on a resolution that’s so sharp the eye can’t ever see the pixels.
It makes pictures and web pages, in particular, look smooth and clear, and as OLED technology is self-emitting, the display sits closer to the glass too. Side by side the two do actually look a little different, with the Galaxy S7 showing up as a little brighter – Samsung’s clearly optimised the tech while not changing the resolution.
Always on display
While the display technology in the Samsung Galaxy S7 hasn’t altered much, the way it’s being used has.
Samsung’s decided that it needs another headline feature, and the Always On Display seems to be it. You can pretty much guess what this is from the name: when the phone is in standby it’ll either show a clock, your calendar or some weird pattern.
In fairness to Samsung it does add a level of gloss to the look of the phone, but it does also draw power. The claim is that it’s less than 1% per hour, but that still adds up over the course of a day.
The claim here is that some users check their phones 150 times a day, mostly to check the time, and in doing so wake up the phone and start munching down on power. Whether many people look at the clock that many times a day is, well, less certain – but Samsung thinks this is a key way to actually save power by leaving the display on.
The screen API is also open for developers, meaning you’ll be seeing new display choices in the near future – imagine a WhatsApp message that stays on the front screen,for example.
We’re still waiting for conformation on the internal storage sizes Samsung will offer in the S7, but it seems that you’ll be looking at 32GB in most territories.
Considering that Samsung offered 64GB and 128GB variants in the past, that doesn’t seem like much of an offer. But in reality it’s more than enough, thanks to the addition of a microSD card slot in the SIM tray – something Samsung fans have been crying out for over the last 12 months.
However, while Samsung is claiming that the performance of this card will be good (in the Galaxy S5 it really slowed down the gallery when you had loads of photos on it, for instance) there’s a slight surprise here: it’s not adoptable.
What does that mean? Well, with Android Marshmallow on board the Galaxy S7, in theory Samsung could have used the new Adoptable Storage feature to take that card, encrypt it and make it part of the internal storage, enabling you to install apps and such on it as you would on the built-in storage – essentially giving you a 288GB phone for not a lot more cash.
This is an area where Samsung’s going to have to do a lot of work in terms of spending its marketing dollars: the Galaxy S7 has a 12MP camera, down from the 16MP in the Galaxy S6.
While that sounds like a downgrade, in reality it’s a big change for the better, thanks to the fact it’ll be letting in more light – 25% more, thanks to the 56% large pixels being used.
There’s also less strain on the processor, as it doesn’t have as large file sizes to work with – so taking pictures is faster, and images are sharper.
The autofocus has also been hugely improved, with Samsung’s new dual-pixel sensor technology offering lightning quick focusing – it seems to be on a par with what Sony’s put together in the Xperia range, so should result in clearer pics even with a shaky hand.
Power-hungry users will be pleased to learn that Samsung seems to have put a lot more effort into the battery pack with the Galaxy S7 – boosting it up from 2550mAh in the S6 (which was actually a reduction from the S5) to 3000mAh.
While Samsung doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to power management in its phones, the combination of the improved power management in Android 6 Marshmallow and more mAh to work with could mean we’ve finally got a long-lasting Galaxy flagship.
OS and power
The Galaxy S7 is one of the first Samsung phones to jump to Android 6, which comes pre-installed on the handset.
That’s running on top of two different chipsets: the Qualcomm 820 CPU and Samsung’s own Exynos unit plus 4GB of RAM, which means the S7 is able to handle really meaty tasks like stitching together 360-degree video on the fly from the new Gear 360 camera.
Both engines offer a huge amount of power and graphical grunt to make the stuff on the phone’s display shine – with the Exynos nipping ahead in the benchmarks. Samsung has told techradar that the intention is to use the Snapdragon 820 in US markets, and the Exynos for Europe and most other parts of the world.
Is it too much power? Probably – and here’s hoping the new Qualcomm chipset doesn’t suffer from the same thermal issues as its predecessor.
The other big feature on show here is the Game Launcher, a sandboxed area where you can store the latest gaming titles you’ve downloaded, and access a suite of tools to improve your gaming experience.
For the lower-power games you can shed framerate and processing to save battery, and while in-game you can lock the buttons, disable alerts and even record footage of your gaming experience.
It’s a neat idea and one that, combined with the Vulkan API under the surface should yield a really powerful gaming experience, although just chucking in all that power doesn’t mean gaming will instantly get better – that’s going to be a good test.
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