The Samsung Galaxy S7 finds itself in a slightly tricky situation. Samsung needed a big win from the Galaxy S6 in 2015, which it got after reinventing the design of its flagship smartphone, but you’re not going to get the same degree of evolution again just a year later.
This means the Galaxy S7 falls firmly into the iterative camp, building on the solid foundations laid by its predecessor without fiddling with the winning formula too much.
Some will argue this phone should be called the Galaxy S6S, but are they right? I’ve put the Samsung Galaxy S7 through its paces to see if it’s a worthy seventh-generation flagship, or a just cheeky six-point-five instalment.
There’s initial good news in the fact that the S7 isn’t competing as closely with the Galaxy S7 Edge as the S6 was with the S6 Edge last year, with the curved display variant getting a bump in screen size this time round, taking it more into phablet territory.
Check out our Samsung Galaxy S7 video review:
That leaves the way clear for the 5.1-inch Galaxy S7 to make its mark as the core flagship handset, and it commands a price tag which places it at the top of the mobile tree. Yet, unlike its predecessor it only comes in one variant (32GB of storage), making pricing more straightforward.
In the UK you’re looking at £569 SIM-free, while those in the US will have to part with $199 upfront as part of a two-year contract. In Australia the SIM-free price is set at AU$1,149.
Those prices pretty much match up with the 32GB Galaxy S6, so at least Samsung isn’t trying to short-change us, but it’s still a considerable amount to part with for a device which isn’t exactly reinventing the smartphone wheel.
That said, it’s hard not to like the Samsung Galaxy S7. It takes the much-improved, premium design from the Galaxy S6 and reinstates a few features from the Galaxy S5 which were shockingly missing from its successor.
The package is an enticing one, but 2016 is a tough year for flagship phones. The LG G5 has launched with a unique modular pull, the HTC 10 is looking to rekindle some of the Taiwanese firm’s former glories and the Huawei P9 offers up a slightly more affordable, yet still premium experience straight out of China.
Samsung may have been first out of the flagship blocks, but it needs to make the most of its strong start to stay ahead of the pack.
At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking the Samsung Galaxy S7 looks almost identical to the Galaxy S6. And that’s because it is.
Samsung has reused the premium glass and metal finished it employed on the S6, which finally saw the manufacturer move away from its reliance on plastic to materials which better reflected the flagship price tag it was slapping on its top phones.
On closer inspection though, you’ll begin to notice the subtle differences that make the Samsung Galaxy S7 the best looking, and feeling, Galaxy ever.
Samsung has dropped the metallic rim around its iconic physical home key, enabling it to blend a little more seamlessly into the overall aesthetic of the S7, almost masking its existence.
I’m a fan. It makes for a cleaner look, and that look is further improved with the color-coded earpiece grille, which was also metallic on the S6.
The corners are more rounded, and the aluminum frame that’s sandwiched between the front and rear glass is less obtrusive, with less of an overhang than its predecessor. That means there is less metal against your skin, which initially makes the S7 feel a little less premium than the S6, but once you’ve got used to it you’ll find it’s still a stylish presence in the hand.
While the Galaxy S7 sports the same size 5.1-inch display as the S6, Samsung has managed to shave off a fraction of the bezel around the screen, reducing the handset’s height and width slightly.
That gives you dimensions of 142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9mm – and it’s that last number which is the most interesting. At 7.9mm thick the Galaxy S7 is fatter than the S6 by 1.1mm, but holding it in your hand you won’t know.
That’s because of the gently sloping edges on the rear of the handset. The finish, which is mirrored on the rear of the Galaxy S7 Edge, is borrowed from the Galaxy Note 5, and enables the phones to sit more snugly in the palm for a firmer, more comfortable hold.
The Galaxy S7 is a phone you can grip confidently – unlike the iPhone 6S and LG G5, with their flat backs resulting in a slightly awkward position in the hand. The metal and glass doesn’t offer much in the way of grip, but because the phone is better positioned in the hand I felt like I was less likely to let it slip compared with the iPhone or S6.
The size, shape and general design of the Galaxy S7 means it’s easier to hold and operate one-handed too. I could reach the other side of the screen with my thumb with far less strain, and it required little to no shuffling in the hand to move around the whole display.
The power/lock key on the right and volume keys on the left also fall nicely under thumb and finger, although you’ll still have to juggle the S7 a bit to reach the fingerprint scanner, which is embedded under the physical home key.
Returning to the rear of the Galaxy S7, the square camera bulge is still there, but this time around it’s less protruding. Samsung has managed to flatten its snapper considerably since the Galaxy S6 – it’s now down to just 0.46mm, and while it’s still not flush with the body of the S7, it’s far less volcanic.
It’s not totally flat, which is something Huawei CEO Richard Yu was more than happy to tell us about at the launch of the P9 – a phone which has, as Yu put it, “no bump, no bump!”
Alongside it you’ll find the LED flash and heart rate monitor – a feature Samsung insists on putting on its top-tier handsets, even though a smartwatch or fitness tracker is much better placed for this tech. It also measures stress and O2 saturation levels, although it’s unclear just how accurate these sensors are.
It’s there if you want it – just head to the S Health app – but I can’t see it getting much use.
What I noticed almost immediately, however, was just how much of a fingerprint magnet the Galaxy S7 is. The glass looks great, but I found myself frequently reaching for my microfiber cloth to smarten up the appearance of the S7.
It’s exactly the same issue the Galaxy S6 had, and it’s surprising that Samsung hasn’t tried to address this with the S7.
There was hope Samsung would address the single speaker setup it placed on the Galaxy S6, but alas it hasn’t. It’s kept the single speaker on the base of the Galaxy S7, rather than opting for dual front-facing offerings like HTC and Sony.
It’s not a huge issue, but the result is sound from your movies, games and music can end up being muffled by your hand.
Samsung has resurrected two features from the Galaxy S5 though, with a microSD slot and dust and water resistance both appearing on the Galaxy S7. The microSD port shares a tray with your nanoSIM, which can be slid out of the top of the handset.
This lets you build on the 32GB of internal storage by up to a further 200GB, giving you plenty of space.
Meanwhile, the IP68 water resistance has improved from the S5, allowing submersion of up to five feet for 30 minutes, plus there’s no annoying flap covering the charging port.
The microUSB port has been waterproofed, but the S7 won’t charge if it detects water in its hole. If you’ve taken the phone for a plunge in the bath, you’ll need to dry the charging port before plugging in.
Samsung hasn’t reinvented the wheel with the design of the Galaxy S7, but it didn’t need to. The Galaxy S6 was an excellently styled device, and the S7 has managed to improve on that.