In 2015, Samsung changed its approach to smartphones. Instead of just packing in the most powerful components in to a hideous plastic shell, the company actually gave a damn about design for once. It delivered the stunning glass and metal S6 and S6 Edge, but compromised maybe a little too much on some aspects. Most notably, the battery and lack of external storage.
This year, the manufacturer took what was great about last year’s phones and improved upon the compromises. What that means is that this year, the S7 Edge is easily one of the best phones on the market.
When it comes to aesthetics, sensibly designed products or even following the standards of the symmetry-obsessed critics, Samsung has been an easy target in the past. Not this year. Especially not with the Galaxy S7 Edge. There are glass curves from the sides, all the way up to the top and down to the bottom. The front glass panel looks like one seamless, gleaming rounded rectangle. It’s stunning.
Add this to the curves on the back panel, and you have a phone which looks fantastic and feels great in hand. And thanks to those curves, the phone is ridiculously narrow for a device with a 5.5-inch screen. It can comfortably hide under a number of 5-inch smartphones and makes the iPhone 6/6s Plus look like an overweight Brontosaurus.
Perhaps what I like most is Samsung’s restraint this year with coloring. Last year we saw a number of brightly colored, brash phones with hideous shiny trim and pearlescent glimmer. This year, the black model has a much less ostentatious finish. The silver chrome is replaced by a smokey glimmer and the pearlescent look is toned down. Other color options don’t include bright blues or greens, but rather, a more subtle silver and gold.
More importantly, and despite its elegant design, Samsung equipped with the S7 Edge with IP67 water and dust resistance by cleverly sealing up all the ports (without horrible flaps) and by using a strong adhesive to completely seal the body. Every button, port, tray, loudspeaker, microphone or potential entry point is sealed, and gives users the peace of mind that if they’re caught in some rain, the phone will survive. Don’t take it diving though, it probably won’t like you very much if you do.
With its vivid colors and high pixel density, the 5.5-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED panel on the S7 Edge is eye catching to say the least. With its curved edges on both sides, and the visual effect of watching content curl around them, it’s one of the most visually appealing phones I’ve had the pleasure of using.
While it is impressive, the display isn’t perfect. As you’d expect, color does seem to change a little when looking at the phone from an angle, especially on the rounded parts on either side. Whites turn a little blue-ish on the edges. Another issue caused by the curved edges is that content wraps around them, and means you don’t see the entire shot perfectly when watching movies, or gaming. Most of the time, the ‘trimmed’ content isn’t important, but it is noticeable.
In a non-Samsung-like move, Sammy opted to drop the pixel count on the main camera this year (from 16MP to 12MP) in favor of better optics, and the result is fantastic. Still images are crisp and sharp in daylight, and automatic mode does a great job of adjusting for light conditions to deliver well-balanced photos. For those who want a bit more control, there’s also a ‘Pro’ mode which lets you manually adjust the focus, ISO sensitivity, shutter speed and white balance. That means it can also take great lowlight shots, and can even capture stars in the sky at night.
Setting up the phone on a tripod and adjusting the shutter speed means you can take long exposure shots in the dead of night and still get decent results. Obviously, it comes with some visible noise, but it really isn’t terrible for a small smartphone camera.
What’s more, optical image stabilisation means the camera module moves inside the chassis to compensate for movement and ensure that your movements don’t result in excessive motion blur.
PERFORMANCE AND BATTERY
It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve never had an Android smartphone without at least one performance quirk. Whether that’s barely perceptible stuttering, or frame-dropping in transition animations or gaming. With the S7 Edge, I’ve experienced none whatsoever. It’s fast and smooth. Benchmarks performed using AnTuTu reveal that this is easily one of the most powerful devices around, and that performance translates well to real-life use.
Being in Europe, I have the Exynos 8890-equipped S7 Edge, and not the Snapdragon 820 version. That means I have 8 cores and 4GB of RAM to play with. It deals with all kinds of tasks with consummate ease, copes as well with mundane app-switching as it does with graphically intense gaming.
While I’d be foolish to claim the S7 Edge has the best battery performance around, it still does really well in day-to-day use. Thanks to the capacious 3,600mAh cell and Android Marshmallow‘s Doze mode, I’ve managed to get the phone through two full days with medium/light usage. Even on days where I know I’ve used the device more often and for more strenuous tasks than normal, the phone still made it to the end of a day with more than 20% charge left.
Quick-Charge 2.0 means I can charge it up fairly quickly, but I’m still left wondering why Samsung didn’t opt for the newer, much faster, Quick-Charge 3.0 standard. With a battery this size, the 45% faster charging performance would be a very welcome addition.
Thankfully, Samsung has been toning down its TouchWiz UI to make it far more bearable, but it’s still not amazing. Of course, when it comes down to the way it looks, my opinions are completely subjective and, fortunately, can be mostly hidden by downloadable themes or third-party launchers like Google Now launcher or Nova Launcher.
TouchWiz still has the usual childish, brightly colored default app icons, settings menu and unattractive stock apps, but the app drawer and drop-down quick settings menu are actually nice to look at.
There is one genuinely useful feature on the Samsung-software-side: Always-on display. When locked, the phone can still show the time, date, calendar, battery level and notification icons on the screen without draining much power. What’s more, you can customize the format and visible options as well as downloading third-party clocks from Samsung’s app store. You can switch it off in the settings if you want to, but I’ve found that it uses so little battery, there’s no real benefit to doing so, unless you really hate it.
Of course, there’s also the bonus Edge panel built-in to the software on the Galaxy S7 Edge. You customize this and have panels for quick access to favorite contacts, apps and actions. There’s also a panel for weather, and a tool kit featuring a ruler, compass and torch with brightness controls.
As an overall package, the S7 Edge offers everything. It’s a stunning phone, which feels great, is waterproof, has an almost 2-day battery, probably the best camera on the market, great display and fast performance. Any shortcomings are negligible.
SIDE NOTE: CONSUMER EXPERIENCE
My experience with the S7 Edge wasn’t perfect. Oddly, my issue wasn’t really anything to do with the device (not much), but more to do with Samsung’s seeming ineptness when it comes to customer service. I’ll unpack this experience more in depth later on, but let’s just say that Sammy could learn a thing or two from Apple.