- Brilliant screen
- Gorgeous design
- Expandable storage
- Strong camera
- Top performance
- Feature fails
- Lacklustre quick charging
Samsung Galaxy S7 Review: Samsung’s latest flagship phone corrects the biggest problem with last year’s Galaxy S6, but is it an early contender for best mobile of 2016? Here’s our full S7 review.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 impressed us enough last year to win our Best Phone of 2015 award, thanks to its fresh new glass-and-metal design, world-class camera, impressive media chops and unbeatable performance. The only serious issue was the lack of expandable storage, and that's still the case, as you'll see from our Galaxy S6 re-review one year on.
This lack of expandable storage is something that Samsung has fixed in the all-new Galaxy S7, out now in UK stores. So, does this mean the Galaxy S7 is the perfect smartphone?
Read next: Galaxy S7 vs Xperia Z5 vs LG G4 vs iPhone 6s
Galaxy S7 Review: Design
Stick the Galaxy S7 next to the Galaxy S6 and you’d be hard-pressed to work out which is which. They’re both 5.1-inch blowers, of a pretty much identical size and weight.
It’s only when you look closer that you start to notice the subtle differences. Some of them are irrelevant; for instance, the S7’s fingerprint sensor isn’t quite as rounded, while the SIM card tray has moved to the top from the right edge. However, flip it over and you’ll see the S6’s reflective, smudgey glass surface has been replaced with a backing that hides fingerprints well. And now the back plate curves at the edges, making it a more natural fit in the hand, while the camera lens doesn’t jut so far out.
Check out our Samsung Galaxy S7 hub, where you'll find everything you need to know about the S7 and S7 Edge
One of the biggest, invisible changes with the S7 is its water resistance, something found on the Galaxy S5 that was dropped for the S6. The S7 will happily swim in a sink full of water for half an hour or so and still function, although we did find that some liquid invaded our S7’s media speaker and USB port during a very brief dunking, and even when water was merely poired over the phone. The S7’s audio was then hideously distorted and very weak, even on maximum volume, while the S7 refused to charge until we sat the S7 upright and left it alone for a couple of hours so the water could fully escape. Not even blowing into the grille or port seemed to help.
In other areas, it’s business as usual. You still can’t prise off the back, to remove the battery - if that’s a big deal for you, you’re best off waiting for the LG G5 instead. And the S7 is once again well-suited to one-handed use, thanks to its reasonably compact nature. Samsung has even thrown in a one-handed mode, which shrinks the desktops down for those with tiny nubs for fingers.
So the Galaxy S7’s design is far from evolution, but Samsung has at least made some solid tweaks to an already-admirable build. We had the ‘Gold Platinum’ model for review and it’s far from garish, sporting a sort of bronzey-silver finish rather than 80’s style in-your-face gold. You can also grab the S7 in a standard black finish.
Galaxy S7 Review: Screen and media
The big whup of the Galaxy S7 is Samsung’s merciful inclusion of microSD memory card support. This means you can finally carry a proper collection of music, movies and games, without compromise.
When it comes to visuals, the Galaxy S7 rocks much the same 5.1-inch screen as the Galaxy S6. They both boast a 2560x1440 pixel resolution, producing supremely crisp images, while Samsung’s Super AMOLED tech means colours really pop off the screen. It’s a pleasingly bright panel too, happily countering harsh sunlight (not that we see much of that these days anyway).
By default, the S7 uses Samsung’s ‘Adaptive Display’ tech. This optimises colour warmth and saturation on the fly, depending on what you’re up to. However, you can also dive into the S7’s settings and manually adjust the display mode if you’d rather have more subdued colours.
One of Samsung’s new screen features is the S7’s ‘Always On Display’, which is very similar to Microsoft’s Glance Screen. The idea is that the time and date are constantly displayed, along with any waiting notifications, so you don’t need to wake up the phone (and waste valuable battery life) unless something demands your attention.
The idea is nice but on the S7 the feature is absolutely useless. Notifications are only displayed for Samsung’s own apps, so you’ll receive text notifications and missed calls just fine, but messages from the likes of Gmail, WhatsApp and other third-party devs won’t appear.
Galaxy S7 Review: Features
Security is a big deal for Samsung, so you once again get a solid fingerprint sensor built into the home button, which unlocks your phone immediately after you press your chosen digit to the surface. Samsung also includes lots of bonus security features, such as the ability to auto-wipe if your PIN is incorrectly entered 15 times, on top of the usual tools like Find My Phone and data encryption.
And if that isn’t enough, Samsung’s Knox software is also available to download for free, offering an extra layer of protection for your apps and data.
Android Marshmallow is the OS of choice and Samsung has tweaked it to make the interface a little more colourful, complete with a feature-packed notifications bar. This time you can drag the notifications tab down twice, the second time exposing a large selection of toggles and shortcuts that can be reordered at will.
And if you swipe right from your home page, Samsung’s own ‘Upday’ news widget appears to deliver the latest headlines (replacing Flipboard from the Galaxy S6). You can tweak it to suit your own personal interests, but we found that it was a stuttery experience, often shuddering its way onto the screen. Occasionally images failed to load inside stories and you get all the pleasure of pop-up ads filling your display, so we swiftly disabled Upday and pretended it never happened.
One feature that Samsung has added that we really like is the new Game Launcher, which gives gamers lots of useful tools such as Do Not Disturb and the ability to record commentary-led videos. Check out our full Game Launcher review for more info.
You also get full Samsung Pay support, for whenever that actually rolls out in the UK (predictions point to later this year).
Galaxy S7 Review: Performance and battery life
The Galaxy S7 is one of the best-performing smartphones out there right now, ranking just behind the iPhone 6s in benchmarking tests. Everyday performance is supremely smooth while the latest games run with perfect frame rates. You can also work on two apps simultaneously using split-screen multitasking, without any kind of struggle.
However, we did see a couple of serious crashes in our week with the Galaxy S7, where the phone completely locked up and wouldn't respond. The only solution was to hold down the power and volume down buttons until the handset reset itself. That's something we haven't seen on a smartphone for some time now, and hopefully just a temporary glitch that will be quickly resolved.
As for battery life, we managed to make it through a full 24 hours consistently, even with a fair bit of media streaming and camera use. And when watching video non-stop, the S7 performs better than most other flagships, boasting an impressive nine hours of non-stop playback.
Unfortunately the S7’s Adaptive Fast Charging isn’t a match for Quick Charge 3.0, which is also strangely absent on the Snapdragon 820 model. Check out our full S7 Quick Charge feature to see our test results and for more info. There's also no support for the latest Type-C USB, so you're stuck with the slower and non-reversible USB 2.0.
Galaxy S7 Review: Cameras
We’ve thoroughly tested the Galaxy S7’s 12-megapixel rear camera and 5-megapixel front-facer in our in-depth S7 camera review, so check that out for photo and video samples. We’ve also extensively tested the different S7 camera modes, such as Motion Photo and Selective Focus - check out our S7 camera modes guide.
Galaxy S7 Review: Verdict
Samsung’s Galaxy S7 fixes the main problem of the excellent Galaxy S6, namely the lack of expandable storage, while tweaking other elements such as the gorgeous design to make them even better. The result is a very good flagship phone, although not quite perfect. The S7 will swiftly be beaten when it comes to quick charging, for instance, while many of Samsung’s bolt-on features such as Upday and the Always On Display are badly implemented. Still, if you can afford that hefty asking price, there’s plenty to love here.
Big thanks to Carphone Warehouse for our Galaxy S7 review sample. You can grab the S7 from Carphone now, from £36 per month or £569 SIM-free.
- Android Marshmallow
- Exynos 8890
- 32GB + microSD
- Always On Display, Game Launcher, fingerprint sensor, Upday