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Featured Review: Samsung Galaxy S7

March 29, 2016 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Samsung releases the newest in their Galaxy S line every Spring, and thus far in the history of modern smartphones Samsung has only released one size at a time.  This year they’re changing that up by releasing two Galaxy S7 devices at the same time, one with a larger curved screen and one with a smaller flat screen.  Both of these phones feature the same software, internal hardware and some overall design aspects, but in the end they’re still two different phones.  Keeping with much of the same design language as last year’s Galaxy S6, the Galaxy S7 is a beautiful device with a super high quality build, great looks and amazing performance.  As a bonus this year’s phones are cheaper than what the Galaxy S6 launched at too, in turn delivering more value than the previous generation.  How have these refinements enhanced the experience, and is this a worthy upgrade?  Let’s take a look!

Specs

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Depending on what country you’re located in you’re going to end up with one of two different configurations for the Galaxy S7.  In the US the Galaxy S7 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor made up of a 2.15GHz dual-core Kryo processor and another 1.6GHz dual-core Kryo processor.  This configuration has an Adreno 530 GPU and always has a Sony Exmor IMX260 sensor powering its rear camera.  Internationally you’re going to find that most models feature the Samsung Exynos 8890 Octa-core processor, which is made up of a 2.3GHz quad-core Mongoose processor and a 1.6GHz quad-core Cortex-A53 processor.  A Mali-T880 MP12 GPU powers the graphics side of this processing experience, and this one seems to randomly have either the aforementioned Sony sensor or a Samsung Brightcell sensor powering its rear camera.  Both of these camera sensors feature 12.2-megapixel resolution, 1.4 micron sized pixels and an f/1.7 lens.

Both models have the same specs on the rest of the unit, including a brilliant 5.1-inch Quad-HD Super AMOLED display covered in Gorilla Glass 4 for superior protection.  On the front you’ll also find a 5-megapixel Samsung S5K4E6XP camera sensor with an f/1.7 lens and 1.34 micron sized pixels for great low-light selfies.  4GB of LPDDR4 RAM powers the multi-tasking experience, while the internal storage size comes in either 32GB or 64GB flavors with up to 200GB supported expansion via microSD cards.  Behind that IP68-rated water and dustproof back is a non-removable 3,000mAh battery, and the unit itself measures in at 142.4mm high by 69.9mm wide by 7.9mm thick and weighs 152 grams.  There are both single and dual SIM versions of the phone, which has native support in the Android 6.0 Marshmallow OS that powers the phone.  The Galaxy S7 supports WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/a/ac and dual-band 2.4GHz or 5GHz WiFi, WiFi Direct and even Bluetooth 4.2 with APT-X high quality Bluetooth audio too.  Lastly you’ll be able to get the device in Onyx, Gold Platinum, Titanium and White Pearl, although in the US White Pearl doesn’t seem to be available quite yet.

In the Box

Inside the box is a pretty reasonable value over some other more barebones experiences.  Underneath the well placed phone sits a pair of manuals and carrier pamphlets as well as a SIM tray eject tool for adding SIM or MicroSD cards to the phone.  Beneath that you’ll find a microUSB to USB-A cable as well as a 9v 1.67a 15W QuickCharge 2.0 wall adapter.  In addition to this is a USB OTG adapter is included in the box for connecting other phones to your phone (for restoring or transferring data), or for popping a USB storage device if you’d like.  Lastly is a rather comfortable pair of earbuds that also happen to sound good, two things not always common in pack-in headphones.

Display

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Every generation of Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays bring about more improvements in color accuracy, saturation levels and brightness.  The panel on the Galaxy S7 follows this trend and produces some of the cleanest, most attractive images you’re bound to see on any display on the market.  Color accuracy and white balance are phenomenal, with deep colors that are punchy but not unrealistically over saturated, and a white balance that trends ever so slightly warm.  At the highest brightness level it’s easy to see this display in the sun, and if you’ve got auto brightness enabled it’ll automatically jump to an extra sunlight brightness setting as soon as it detects super bright light.  For ease on the eyes at night, the Galaxy S7’s screen enables a super dim mode that looks almost completely off in anything but a dark room.

When the brightness is high the refresh rate is incredible and has zero perceivable ghosting whatsoever.  Once the brightness gets below about 30%, however, moving from completely black to gray creates a very slight purple effect that’s been present on most AMOLED panels for years now.  This is being pretty nitpicky as it’s only noticeable in very specific situations, and it’s entirely likely that you may never even run across such a scenario in your use more than a few times at the most.  Being an AMOLED panel you might expect those black levels and ultra-high contrast ratios to be present, and you’d certainly be very happy about being right.  The digitizer is phenomenal as you might expect from a Samsung device, and any kind of swipes, multi-touch gestures or fast typing are perfect and without any sort of ghost touch or other flaws.  There’s no glove mode here though, which means people who live in cooler climates where gloves are needed will either need to get special capacitive touch gloves or bare-hand the phone.

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Always on display

 

A new idea with this generation of phones is always on display, which is an evolution of the Ambient Display that Motorola has been running for years now.  This keeps a clock, calendar or other image on the screen at all times, letting you know the time and any notifications waiting for your viewing.  This is super handy because it allows you to see what’s going on with your phone or conversations without having to turn on the entire screen, and since this is an AMOLED display it only lights up the pixels used by the text, meaning less than 1% battery drain even with using the always on display throughout the entire day.  There are a number of built-in options for customization of the look of this display, and it’s even themable using Samsung’s theme market too.

Hardware and Build

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While the Galaxy S7 is more of a refresh product than a revolutionary one, that doesn’t mean its hardware isn’t downright gorgeous.  Utilizing the same base design as the Galaxy S6, the Galaxy S7 is actually slightly thicker than last year’s model.  This is for a number of reasons, but the largest is of course that new larger battery inside.  In addition to allowing a larger battery the thicker phone takes away the camera hump completely, and Samsung has made a more utilitarian edge around the lens to keep it from getting scratched when placed on a flat surface.  There’s also a really pleasant curve on both left and right sides of the phone on the back, allowing it to fit better in the palm.  Overall these changes make the phone more attractive, easier to hold and most importantly working better in a number of ways.

The metal frame and glass front and back design is here and both looks and feels fantastic.  People looking for a beautiful phone are certainly going to be happy here, but as you may know metal and glass aren’t exactly the most friction-heavy materials in the world.  As such this is no less slippery than last year’s Galaxy S6, or any of Samsung’s previous generation glossy plastic phones either.  This really is a shame because the phone looks so good, but is begging to be dropped if there’s not a case or skin on it to enhance the grip.  Gorilla Glass 4 surfaces will certainly keep it from getting scratched more than previous generation glass, but the home button on my main review unit already got scuffed during the past week of use.  Below the screen sits a physical home button, which only juts out from the top of the frame by a fraction of a millimeter, and is flanked by a back button on the right and an overview recents button on the left.

Samsung is using metal buttons that feature a satisfying click when pressed, with the separated volume up and down buttons on the left side of the device located near the top of the phone, while the power button is on the right and situated just above the midpoint.  On the top you’ll find the combined SIM card and microSD card tray and a noise-cancelling microphone (no IR blaster), while the bottom holds the 3.5mm headset jack on the left, microUSB port in the middle and single speaker on the right.  The metal trim around all four sides as a pleasant downward-facing D shape on the left and right side, while the top and bottoms are a more rounded off square design.  The phone feels absolutely phenomenal in the hand despite being slippery, and it’s clear Samsung’s design has been retained for a number of reasons through this generation.

Lastly is the return of water and dust proofing, as the Galaxy S7 is rated at IP68 water and dust resistance.  This rating means that it’s completely dustproof and sealed against small particles, as well as being waterproof in depths of over 1 meter.  Generally speaking 30 minutes is the length of time that these types of devices are rated to be submerged, but it’s always possible that it could last longer.  We put our units in a bathtub filled with cold water for 30 minutes, and the unit hasn’t faltered in any way, shape or form.  The device is also not intended to be submerged in hot water, and it’s entirely likely such a practice could break the seals on the unit.  While it is able to withstand a good long bath, the phone still isn’t usable underwater thanks to the capacitive display technology which utilizes small electrical transfers to detect touch.

Performance and Memory

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Last year Samsung rebirthed TouchWiz, its infamous Android skin that had become overly bloated and fairly ugly.  With this rebirth came a significantly pared down version of the skin, which often bogged down even the latest in processing tech, and is now essentially just as smooth as stock Android.  Everyday performance is nearly completely hitch free, with only a few times here and there where the UI got bogged down doing something else or was too busy to address the foreground’s apps needs the second I demanded something.  This sort of thing happens with every phone on the market though, no matter how optimized, and is a tradeoff to a true multi-tasking OS.  There’s definitely a bit of thermal throttling happening when the device is doing a lot, something that’s more tangibly measured via benchmarks than everyday performance.  Outside of these little anomalies I found the Galaxy S7 to be the smoothest Samsung phone ever, and it’s any wonder given the incredibly powerful set of processors found inside either version of the phone.

Gaming performance is also at the peak of the mobile world, and it makes sense given Samsung’s status as the premier player in the mobile virtual reality space.  As a pack-in for pre-orders and likely plenty of other situations, the Galaxy Gear has become a staple in Samsung’s business model and as a primary way to differentiate between it and the rest of the players in the Android space.  Gaming on the Galaxy S7 is as good as it gets right now in the mobile world, with an incredibly fluid framerate that ends up in the 60FPS range more often than not, even on the most graphically demanding titles.

Multi-tasking performance is equally as good, especially since Samsung is using the overview/recents button in place of the antiquated menu button, which brings up the multi-tasking interface with a single press.  That nasty RAM bug from the Galaxy S6 appears to be gone too, and apps always opened instantly so long as I had opened them at least once before since the last boot, no silly reloading of tabs or apps constantly like we saw last generation.  Multi-window from the Note series has become a staple on all Samsung phones, regardless of the size, and while it makes less sense on a display of this size it’s still a useful feature in some ways.  Being able to minimize a compatible app to a floating bubble, only to pop it back up in a floating window is a thing of beauty.  If all apps were compatible with this feature it would make it invaluable, but until Android N’s official launch that’s only available via modding your phone.

Benchmarks

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As we’ve seen from the Galaxy S7 Edge, the Galaxy S7 is at the top of the charts in performance in benchmarks as well.  Being the exact same hardware with the same screen resolution, all the benchmarks are within the normal range of error between scores, and any differences can likely be chalked up to the phone doing something extra in the background during the benchmark.  There’s definitely thermal throttling as mentioned earlier, and we saw AnTuTu scores, for example, drop from around 130k to 90k during this period.  Even at this throttling level it’s still a good 10% faster than even the fastest phone released in 2015, and well more than double the score of anything powered by the Snapdragon 810 processor.

Phone Calls and Network

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The Galaxy S7 is available basically anywhere in the world you need to find it, and as such the phone is built with a worldwide spectrum view in mind.  US carriers, and likely other carriers in the world, do SIM lock the phones to their network and likely have character branding on the back of the device, but unlocking the phone should grant access to just about any network out there.  This is because of the broad compatibility on both Qualcomm and Exynos powered chipsets and the radios inside.  In addition to a wide range of compatibility the actual signal strength is phenomenal as well, and I found I got more bars of LTE connectivity in places that I would normally have issues.  For the review we tested out Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon’s networks, all of which worked flawlessly on the phone.  In addition to this there’s WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/a/ac as well as dual-band 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz capabilities, and the Galaxy S7 family seems to be the first pair of phones on the market that can run a WiFi hotspot at the same time as it’s connected to a WiFi for data.  Bluetooth 4.2 is here with APT-X support as well for great high-quality audio and compatibility with the latest low-power Bluetooth gadgets.  Check out the full list of supported spectrum for the phone below:

2G bands: 850/900/1800/1900MHz

3G Bands: 850/900/1900/2100MHz

4G LTE Bands: 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/18/19/20/25/26/28/38/39/40/41/42

Battery Life

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Despite adding a 17% larger battery than the Galaxy S6, an additional 450mAh to be exact, battery life still isn’t stellar.  On average I got around 3 or so hours of screen on time in a day, no matter which carrier version of the phone I used, which in my experience is completely average battery life for an Android phone.  My particular usage is going to be different than yours, so rather than judging on raw numbers just know that this is what I get out of any phone that doesn’t have an insanely massive battery strapped to it.  Maybe it’s the multiple accounts I have syncing, maybe it’s my background data usage or the Android Wear watches I always have on, but either way the Galaxy S7 just didn’t impress in this regard.  Even trying out different carriers like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon didn’t yield different results, so we can’t chalk it up to poor signal or something along those lines.

Regardless of these numbers it was normal to get just shy of a full day’s worth of charge on the Galaxy S7 for me, and while that’s irritating in some situations I find it hard to not be in a place at some point in my day where I can top up the battery for a few minutes to give a boost.  In this regard the microUSB port will certainly help save the phone’s battery life for many users, as just about everyone likely has a microUSB charger lying around somewhere that they can use, either in their home, office, car or even a portable battery pack.  In addition to this support for the widely used Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 specification means 30 minutes worth of charge on a compatible charger will charge the battery from 0-60%, a life saver when your phone is nearly dead.  It’s a slower charge above 60%, but I found a full charge from 0-100% took about 1 hour and 10 minutes total.  There are also a number of advanced power savings modes that have made a return from previous Galaxy S devices that’ll disable many features to save battery life if you really need the phone to last in an emergency.

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For those that love wireless charging and dropping it on a Qi-compatible pad, fast 10W wireless charging is available out of the box without modifications or extra cases.  On the downside even fast wireless charging took about 2 hours to fully charge the phone, meaning that even though it’s faster than previous generation wireless charging technologies it’s still slower than a good old cable.  In addition to this the phone gets scorching hot after being fast charged wirelessly, and it was literally too hot to handle for a few minutes after letting it charge for even just 20 minutes.  Wireless charging is awesome and ultra convenient, but it still has its drawbacks for sure.

Sound

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One of the many pillars Samsung has prided itself on over the years is audio output quality.  Consistently among the highest ranked phones in terms of audio quality, the DACs and DSPs that Samsung uses are almost always among the best on the market.  While they’ve used Wolfson and a number of other big name players on the market in many models for years, this time around Samsung has opted for the built-in DSP on the Snapdragon 820.  This DSP utilizes the Qualcomm WCD9335 audio codec, which is capable of Hi-Fi 24bit/192kHz FLAC playback.  In addition APT-X Bluetooth audio is available, although it’s only 16-bit audio instead of the 24-bit that’s available through the 3.5mm headset jack.  The audio itself is easily some of the best-equalized audio I’ve ever heard come from any smartphone, and I found that even little nuances that many phones seem to take away from songs are present in the playback here.

There’s also a number of options in the built-in equalizer to help equalize the audio if it doesn’t sound just right on your audio system or headphones.  Upscaling to 24-bit audio is a single checkbox away, virtual surround mode, concert hall reverb and even tube amp simulation is available here too.  There’s so many options here you’ll likely find what sounds the best on any kind of audio setup you’ve got.  The sound out of the speaker on the bottom of the phone is unfortunately pretty poor in quality though, and leaves quite a bit to be desired.  While the volume of the speaker is more than adequate, there’s simply no fullness or depth to the sound here.  Everything sounds hollow and empty, and even though Samsung boasts a high-powered 1.5W speaker you’d never know it was supposed to be higher quality.  The design of the metal chassis keeps the audio from being spread more into the room and only sounds like it’s coming out of the bottom of the phone.  It’s likely the waterproofing and sealing of the phone has degraded the audio quality, because the specs of the speaker should be delivering much higher quality audio than this.

Software

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This latest iteration of Samsung’s TouchWiz UI is a refinement over last year’s rebirth, and is built upon Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, the latest version of Android available as of the launch of the Galaxy S7.  This refinement continues Samsung’s simplifying of TouchWiz on both the front and back ends of the software and represents the best looking and feeling version of the skin yet.  It’s refreshing to see something as big as TouchWiz, a skin once considered too bloated and convoluted to be fixed, actually get such a serious and substantial makeover such as this.  That’s not to say that everyone’s favorite features are gone though, they just don’t take up as much background processing and generally seem to be better made as a whole.

TouchWiz has taken a turn for the better in the looks department, switching from the turquoise blue and lime green color scheme of the previous generation Samsung phones to a more attractive sky blue and white color palette.  This is much easier on the eyes in many ways, not just because it flat out looks better, but it’s actually easier to read things like settings menus, quick toggles and more.  Carrier modifications in the US are rather odd this time around and your experience with things like the settings menu, battery stats and some other sections of the system options are going to be different depending on the carrier you buy the phone from.  Out of the box AT&T’s settings menu is paginated, with categories that you scroll through for organization.  Conversely Verizon, Sprint and likely every other version uses a more normal vertical scrolling type of settings menu with quick settings up top in bubble icon format.

There’s also some other carrier modifications worth noting that we found between different Galaxy S7 models, like Sprint’s use of Clean Master tools integrated into TouchWiz to help you manage battery life, RAM usage and free space, while other carriers don’t have this integration with TouchWiz.  The usual carrier bloat is here too, including NFL apps preloaded on the Verizon version, DirectTV apps loaded on the AT&T version, and about half a dozen other carrier service-related apps installed as well.  Thankfully 32GB won’t fill up quickly, and if you need more space you can always drop in a microSD card too, but having apps that you can’t ever get rid of is still annoying.  Thankfully most of these can be disabled if you don’t like them.

Under advanced features you’ll find all the usual Samsung gestures.  This includes things like one-hand operation, which allows users to shrink the screen with a simple gesture to make one-handed use easier for some people.  The new games tools are found here too and include both the game launcher and the new game tools feature.  This feature is rather robust and offers an easy way for users to lock the capacitive overview and back buttons on the front of the phone, as well as disable any notifications while playing a game.  In addition to this you can minimize a game to keep it running completely in the background instead of possibly closing it by pressing the home button, take a screenshot and even record video of gameplay.  All this is accessed via a floating red icon that can be moved to the best location on the screen.  Of course all the other features like Smart Stay, Smart Alert, Direct Call and others from previous Galaxy S phones are all in this advanced features section too if you so choose to enable them.

User Experience (UX)

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There’s so many little nuances that Samsung has created here with animations, transitions and pleasantries all around.  It’s a far cry from previous generations of TouchWiz and again is a further refinement of what we saw in last year’s Galaxy S6.  Being built upon Android 6.0 Marshmallow means that it’s got a better base, and Google’s refinement of Android over the years is really showing through even the TouchWiz skin.  Samsung has also kept more of the Google design this time around too, and is noticeable in places like the volume panel, which allows sliding the bars between sound and vibration, as well as some nice animations when expanding the panel to show all volume levels.

This even expands to the notifications panel, which now features the double pull-down to see all quick toggles at the top.  These types of interactions create a more natural feeling UI, and all around Samsung has made adjustments that just make more sense from a user experience standpoint.  There’s even swiping between tabs on some Samsung apps now, something that was never done in the past because of swipe gestures on many panels.  These are still present in places like the Dialer though, where swiping to the right calls a contact and swiping left messages them instead of just sliding between the tabs up top.  While it’s nice to see Samsung moving to sliding tabs in some apps they need to do it in everything, as it creates a disjointed UI that’s confusing, and there’s no telling what to expect from one app to the next.

It’s amazing just how much a simple color change and nice animations can completely alter an experience for the better, but that’s absolutely what Samsung has done here.  If you don’t care for the default color scheme or icons you can always change it up in the themes store, found by long-pressing on the TouchWiz launcher’s home screen and clicking themes.  From here you can apply system-wide themes that change everything from the icons to the menus, various apps and everything in between.  There’s tons of options here and new themes are being added every week, both free and paid, and themes apply in seconds without requiring a reboot too.  It’s all done very well and helps really complete the excellent UX that Samsung has built.

Fingerprint and Security

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Fingerprint scanning is nothing new at this point, however it’s always refreshing to see a fingerprint scanner that’s both as fast and as accurate as the one Samsung has put on the Galaxy S7.  Positioned in the larger, more square home button is the one-touch fingerprint scanner, which recognizes fingerprints from any angle in fractions of a second.  Because of its placement on the front it’s actually usable when sitting on a desk, although it’s a little more awkward than a back-placed fingerprint scanner because you have to reach your thumb down to use it.  You also have to actually press the home button to wake the phone up before it will scan your fingerprint, which means an extra step over phones like the latest Nexus devices which unlock with a single touch and no press.  I also found that the lockscreen could be a bit persnickety at times and would still ask me to swipe up even after fingerprint authentication, but I’m assuming this is a bug that’ll be corrected in a software update, as it only happened once in a blue moon.

Fingerprints can be used for mobile payments, such as with Samsung Pay or Android Pay, or for other system-wide functions.  Of course unlocking the phone is one of these, but you can also fill out forms on the Internet using Samsung’s browser if the option is enabled, and a number of other things as well.  Both the new fingerprint development language that Google introduced with Android 6.0 Marshmallow and the one Samsung has been using since the Galaxy S5 are here and able to be used at the same time.  This opens up the Galaxy S7 for more compatibility with various apps out there that might support one technology over the other, and it’s nothing short of fantastic to see this sort of parallel support on a feature this big.

Android 6.0 Marshmallow brought per-app permissions along with it, an option that’s available and of course enabled here by default.  This pops up a small dialog box asking to allow or deny a permission, such as camera or call log access, when an app is run for the first time.  Any additional permissions that need to be granted should be asked for when the app requests them for the first time, and just in case you want to change these options it’s easy to do so from a few different locations.  In an individual app’s app info page you can find all the permissions that the app is requesting and the status of each.  If you’ve rather see a more system-wide view the app permissions found under the security section of the system menu breaks down individual permissions and how many apps are allowed them.  This gives you a better look at what apps are doing without having to through every single app, and is a brilliant design for simplicity.

Camera

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As you might have deduced from the Galaxy S6’s camera last year, the camera on the Galaxy S7 is mostly a stellar experience.  While there are still some issues that are downright annoying, Samsung has cleaned up many of the problems that plagued their cameras for years.  Still what they’ve been doing well over the years, video quality, exposure levels and light balance, are all still phenomenal, and overall the camera is rather impressive in many ways.  This is thanks in part of course to the new sensors Samsung is using for the Galaxy S7, which will either be the Sony Exmor IMX260 or the new Samsung Brightcell sensor.  Both of these sensors feature 12.2-megapixel resolution, 1.4 micron sized pixels and an f/1.7 lens.  All of these features come together to bring out more light in dark situations, and the results mostly speak for themselves.  In addition to this Samsung has utilized 100% of the pixels on the sensor for focusing instead of the normal 5% or so that most sensors use.  That means much quicker focusing because the full sensor is used for the task rather than a small portion.

Camera Software

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Samsung’s camera software has long been some of the absolute best in the industry, and that’s in part to having both a great interface and tons of useful features.  While Samsung went through a gimmick phase for a while with its camera software, most of those features have been taken off the stock software but are available as an additional download through the interface.  Default include modes are Auto, Pro, Selective Focus, Panorama, Video Collage, Live Broadcast, Slow Motion, Virtual Shot, Food and Hyperlapse.  Each of these modes is super simple to use and easy to understand thanks to Samsung’s clear labeling of options and buttons.

The Pro mode would be the only one that’s not going to be obvious for anyone who doesn’t know much about photography, as it’s the mode that allows altering of elements like exposure, white balance, ISO, shutter speed and manual focus.  In fact manual focus on this camera is absolutely brilliant because the software zooms in 100% to give you a good look at what pixels are being focused on.  This is an alternative to focus peaking but is much easier to use thanks to the design of a smartphone’s screen.  Oddly enough Samsung has restricted the ISO max to 800 in manual mode, and only 1250 in auto mode.  We’ll get into what the does below but it’s not a great idea, especially given the size of the sensor.

The overall interface is a really well designed one and looks essentially identical to what we saw on the Galaxy S6 last year.  Dedicated shutter and record buttons are on the interface and don’t require switching modes just to take a picture or record video.  This means you’re guaranteed more of a chance of catching those quick moments when you need to simply because you won’t have to switch modes and wait to take the shot while the software loads.  Speaking of launching quickly, the Galaxy S7’s camera launches in just over a second in most cases and provides some of the fastest startup among any smartphone on the market.  By default double pressing the home button brings up the camera interface from anywhere on the phone, even with the screen off.  This is a better design than the latest Nexus phones, for example, where double tapping the power button locks the phone and then brings the camera interface up.  The camera launches at about the same speed regardless of method, but not having the phone locked means quicker sharing of pictures.

Camera Performance and Results

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For the most part Samsung has really knocked it out of the park with the camera performance on the Galaxy S7.  Taking pictures is instant, regardless of whether or not you have HDR on or off, and there’s no recognizable shutter lag or processing time after pressing the shutter button.  In addition to this it takes fractions of a second to focus on objects, no matter how fast they are moving, and it’s nothing short of impressive to see just how quickly and accurately the Galaxy S7 focuses on objects thanks to the new camera sensor and focusing mode.  All this adds up to quite possibly the very fastest picture taking on the market, and given the general quality of the photos coming from the camera that might be even more impressive than if it were just speed by itself.

The actual photos produced by the Galaxy S7 generally range among the highest quality you’ll find on any smartphone too, but that doesn’t mean it’s without faults.  It absolutely nails automatic exposure, white balance, color accuracy and the overall look of the photo.  Lighting is almost always correctly chosen, and you’ll almost never see a time where the photo has a weird warm or cool tint to it.  Exposure is done right almost every time as well, and photos with blown out highlights or overly dark shadows are few and far between.  Auto HDR mode helps this out a lot, as it chooses when to intelligently use HDR to help balance out a scene better.  HDR can be used in most situations though and generally helps the picture quality quite a bit, though on super fast moving objects you may find a very slight hint of double imaging that exposure bracketing style HDR normally produces.  Even the shadow balance on most picture is incredible, and offers some of the brightest, most well-balanced photos ever seen on any smartphone out there.

What’s still disappointing is the actual level of detail on objects when fully zoomed in.  While you’re likely to never notice this if all you’re doing is viewing the photos on the phone’s screen or on social networks, anyone who appreciates zooming all the way in to see detail or making large prints will find that things turn watercolor when zooming in.  This is due to Samsung’s overly aggressive denoise filters, which attempt to take all the digital noise out of an image and produce a clean image.  While this sounds nice in theory, in practice it ends up blurring out details that otherwise would be there, even in broad daylight.  Thankfully the extra sharpening that was done on previous Samsung cameras isn’t quite as aggressive here, although that’s still present too.  If  you take a look at the examples below where we compare the Nexus 6p with the Galaxy S7 you’ll see what we’re talking about regarding the lost detail.  We chose the Nexus 6p because it features a similarly specced image sensor, the Sony IMX377, which features 12.2-megapixel resolution and 1.55 micron pixels and is rated in the absolute top smartphone cameras on the market.

Low light photography is better than ever on the Galaxy S7, although this part of the phone has some actual serious issues.  While the larger pixel size and lower f-stop lens help bring in more light to the sensor than in previous generations of Samsung cameras, Samsung’s reluctance to push the ISO levels high hurts the picture quality a lot.  While pushing ISO higher will produce more noise, the only other option to get more light into the sensor is by holding the shutter open longer.  This produces blurry images, and even with optical and digital image stabilization there are plenty of times that I’ve found the camera holds the shutter open far too long to keep the image from being blurry.  1250 is not a high ISO level at all and Samsung really needs to consider changing this, as it will help remove the number of blurry images in general in any lighting condition, not just lower light ones.  The shutter speed goes as slow as 1/4 of a second in far too many situations, and gives blurry images even in what should be considered adequate lighting for taking sharp pictures.  See the gallery below for examples, as there are plenty of them.

Lastly is video, where Samsung has consistently lead the pack in performance and quality for years.  As the first major OEM to push 4K video with the Note 3, people have come to expect high-quality video from Samsung, and that’s exactly what you’re going to get here.  Gone are the harsh processing algorithms that the photo portion of the software can sometimes apply and in are a more raw, crisp looking images instead.  Samsung’s hybrid optical and digital image stabilization keep things ultra smooth too, and even when recording video in a moving vehicle you’ll find the camera smoothly moves around while the vehicle bounces over the bumpy road.  Walking and filming with one hand could hardly look better, and for the same exact reasons too.  Lower light video gets a bit on the noisy side, but it’s better than we’ve seen with previous camera generations from Samsung and plenty of other OEMs out there.  Check out our full gallery of pictures and videos below and see for yourself just how good the overall quality is.

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The Good

Ultra classy build

Amazing screen

Quality, high-resolution sound output

Phenomenal camera and software

TouchWiz is simply a joy to use anymore, and it’s packed full of features to boot

Instantaneous fingerprint recognition

Best overall performance on the market

Water and dust proof

The Bad

Speaker on the body is pretty mediocre

Battery life is less than stellar

Insanely slippery

It’s all glass, you don’t want to drop it

Conclusion

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The Galaxy S7 is easily among the best phones Samsung has ever made, and absolutely among the top tier of what you should consider buying on the high-end market right now, the Galaxy S7 is nothing but a great choice all around.  As with anything that doesn’t mean there aren’t faults, but they are few and far between, and the positives far, far outweigh the negatives.  I never thought I’d personally say TouchWiz delivered a truly great experience, after so many years of dealing with bloated, overly heavy features and bogged down performance, but we’re finally at a point where Samsung has nearly perfected its software.  Everything feels great all around and it’s hard not to recommend this phone, just so long as you’re willing to shell out the money though.  That’s of course the biggest negative, but to get an experience this good you sometimes have to pay a little extra.