Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge review: Next-level low-light photography and so much more
We can't decide if the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are incredibly easy or incredibly hard to review. They get so many things right that it's easy to sing their praises, but because they're so good and polished, lacking the kinds of gimmicks that used to define Samsung phones, they almost make for a boring review (after all, problems and conflict are the root of all storytelling). We'll do our best to keep things interesting, despite the lack of drama in these two near-perfect flagships.
Display quality, build quality, performance and camera quality ... the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are so good in these respects that there isn't much to say about them (okay, we will say something about them in a minute, but you get the gist). Expect the very best among today's smartphones in all of these categories.
The phones are a lot like Samsung's 2015 flagships, only with some subtle external and not quite as subtle internal tweaks. You get the same general glass back with aluminum-frame build – our pick for the best-looking smartphone design to date – only now with a curved glass back that makes them slide more naturally into your palm (that is, if you aren't just going to slap a bulky plastic case onto it). And of course the S7 edge also has that curved glass on its front.
One of the biggest differences between these two and Samsung's early 2015 phones is that the standard flagship (S7) and curved flagship (S7 edge) are no longer the same size. The Edge is now a phablet – not quite as big as Samsung's end-of-year 5.7-inch phablets, but still standing tall with a 5.5-inch screen. The smaller S7 has a 5.1-incher, just like last year's S6.
Samsung may be taking a cue here from Apple, releasing standard- and phablet-sized flagships at the same time, but it's a good idea no matter where it came from. Regular-sized flagships early in the year and big flagships late in the year doesn't make much sense, but regular and large side-by-side gives customers a wider and better variety of the very latest tech.
There are two key features onboard that aren't exactly new per se, but that we didn't see in last year's Samsung flagships. Samsung wisely brought water resistance (rated IP68, or "continuous immersion") and expandable storage, both last seen in the Galaxy S5, back from the dead. Both help to further differentiate the Galaxies from Apple's latest iPhones, which have neither.
This is the first time Samsung has married water resistance to a premium build. If you remember the GS5, it was plastic all around, with a port flap that you needed to close to protect its microUSB port. This time Samsung made the water resistance internal so you get the best of both worlds.
Storage has become a major perk for Galaxy buyers over the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, which each start at 16 GB with no way to expand that once you bring it home. For similar prices, these Galaxies start at double that (32 GB internal) along with those microSD slots. As app, photo and video file sizes have grown, Samsung's approach is better adapted to today's digital world – not to mention friendlier to customers' wallets.
Display quality is incredible – Samsung has been a leader in this category for the last few years. The smaller S7 has the slightly higher pixel density, but both look terrific. And, for the first time, they now have always-on displays, so you can leave your phone sitting on your desk and see this white on black view, showing you the time, date, battery life and number of recent messages.
Both phones are incredibly fast, with both benchmarks and real-world performance that are as good as any phones we've tested.
The Galaxy S7 and S7 edge have awesome cameras with amazing low-light photography. You hear that kind of hyperbole too often among today's sycophantic tech news, but in this case there's no better way to describe them.
Just look at this extremely low-lit shot taken with the iPhone 6s:
... and now the exact same shot taken seconds later with the Galaxy S7 edge:
That isn't a minor difference. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus had one of the best smartphone cameras of 2015, but Samsung's 2016 flagships beat them here by a wide margin. This is outstanding low-light photography that raises the bar for all smartphone cameras (and yes, Samsung's handsets are tops in less extreme settings as well).
... and with the microSD slot, you can pop in a card and shoot to your heart's content, with no worries about running out of internal storage.
Battery life is also outstanding. In our test, streaming video over Wi-Fi with an absolute brightness measured at 25 lux in a dark room (the same level we set for all phones we battery-test), it only dropped 9 percent per hour. For some perspective, the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 edge+ (our top scores from 2015) all dropped 13 percent per hour under the exact same conditions. Extending that hourly average out, that's more than four extra hours of video streaming for the S7.
You also still get fast charging (now ubiquitous on Android flagships) and wireless charging.
Add all of this up and you have two smartphones that are as close to perfect as you can get today. The biggest remaining question, then, is who wouldn't we recommend these phones to over rivals like the iPhone 6s?
Well, Samsung's software can be a sticky point for some people. We don't have a problem at all with today's TouchWiz (Samsung's custom UI that sits on top of Android Marshmallow), as it's much more slimmed-down and closer to stock than the TouchWiz from a few years ago. Still, some people will prefer either stock Android (on devices like the Nexus 6P) or Apple's iOS. That's one condition under which another phone might be better.
Apart from that, these are easily the top two phones we'd recommend today. We haven't yet reviewed its biggest 2016 Android-based rivals, the LG G5 and HTC 10 (or whatever it's called), but they're going to have a tough act to follow. Right now this GS7 pair is sitting on the throne all by their lonesome.
The Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are available now, starting at (roughly) $670 full retail for the standard S7 and around $790 full retail for the S7 edge.
Product page: Samsung