Samsung has drawn a line between its two flagship handsets for 2016, launching a 5.1-inch Samsung Galaxy S7, partnered with a 5.5-inch Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. The latter, more visually striking model with curved edges, has taken the lion's share of the glory because it's a showboaty smartphone that's piqued interest in the flagship market.
Some may mourn the loss of the more compact 5.1-inch edge model - as was the case with the original S6 edge, which we actually preferred over the massive 5.7-inch SGS6 edge+ - but for many people larger devices are becoming the norm, so this is Samsung finding the balance and giving people what they want.
While the Samsung Galaxy S7 is a fantastic smartphone in its own right, it's the S7 edge that turns heads; this is the smartphone that's calling for attention; this is the handset that's unique. And this is our Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review, with thanks to Carphone Warehouse for the loan of this handset.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review: Familiar design
- 150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7mm, 157g
- Dual curved display edges
- Glass back gives premium feel
- Blue coral, black, gold, white, silver, pink gold colours
It's easy to say not much has changed between the SGS6 and the SGS7 models. For the regular handset that's certainly true, and in some ways that's played out for the Galaxy S7 edge too. But this is Samsung finding the sweet spot in terms of size: measuring 150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7mm, weighing 157g, the S7 edge cuts between the size of the 5.1-inch SGS6 edge and the 5.7-inches of the S6 edge+.
The result is a phone that's competitively sized and let's not underestimate how well Samsung has crammed the display in: the footprint is smaller than the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, despite having the same screen real-estate.
There's a lot going right with Samsung's design too. Even though it's not a huge shift from 2015's devices, visually at least, it's still fresh enough and, still unique - despite some pretenders like the Huawei Mate 9 Pro attempting the same design.
The S7 edge is thicker than the S6 edge and S6 edge+, both of which sit around 7mm. But it doesn't feel thicker, because of the curve to the back edges. This avoids the "upside down" feeling of the previous handsets which were pretty much flat across the back. As a result the Galaxy S7 edge feels like less of a slab. Secondly, the camera is no longer so prominent on the rear, which means there's less wobble when you put the phone down flat on a table.
The quality of the build puts Samsung up there with the best of its rivals, which couldn't be said a few years ago. Gone is the plastic of Galaxy devices old, giving way to a now-familiar fusion of metal and glass.
Another addition for the SGS7 edge is an IP68 rating, giving protection against dust and splashes of water. But it's been achieved without adding bulk to the device, ensuring peace of mind when you're out in the rain, checking your directions or sending those messages.
Samsung isn't avoiding the bling either: with a glossy gold version and a silver version, the latter which carries a mirrored finish, with increasing colour options through the phone's life. These finishes are all well and good, but one thing is clear: the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge is a fingerprint magnet and you'll be spending most of your time cleaning this flagship handset to keep it looking its best.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review: Hardware and performance
- Exynos 8 Octa or Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, 4GB RAM
- 32GB storage + microSD
- Fingerprint scanner
The performance of the Galaxy S7 edge very much matches that of the regular SGS7. It's a slick, powerful and fast handset.
There are two hardware loadouts for the S7 family and this has attracted some attention. For the UK we have the Exynos 8 Octa, an eight-core chipset of Samsung's own development. Other territories will have it powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, said to be slightly more powerful - but in the real-world that's not something anyone is likely to notice.
Both carry 4GB of RAM, however, and whichever chipset your device has, you'll be rewarded with a great performance. This is one of the slickest handsets to arrive on Android so far, and importantly the company's TouchWiz software re-skin doesn't seem to stand in the way. There's an immediacy to actions, whether that's restarting the phone, switching apps, or getting into more intensive gaming. The power still holds true a year later, with the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge still performing well now it's a year old. Newer chipsets in the Galaxy S8 Plus will be more powerful, but that makes little different to daily tasks like crunching your email.
There's 32GB of internal storage on the Galaxy S7 edge, about 24GB of which is available for use - a pretty typical offering. A big step forward for the S7 over the S6, however, is the return of microSD card support. The microSD card sits in the same tray as the SIM card which is tidy from a design point of view and gives you the flexibility to easily expand the storage available to you. Although this launched as an Android 6.0 Marshmallow device (and subsequently updated to Nougat), it doesn't support the adoptable storage feature that Marshmallow introduced.
For those who don't know, adoptable storage allows the handset to use an external microSD card as internal storage, managing data and files across both internal and external as one. It's convenient, but Samsung has opted not to use the feature, instead leaving you to manage your own external storage.
The good news is that you can move apps to microSD, but it's a bit of a fiddly process. If nothing else, you'll be able to hotswap storage cards to move photos or movies around, for example. However, if you're really keen on adoptable storage and you're a little more tech savvy, there is a way to switch it back on again (this might not work following the Nougat update).
There's also a fingerprint scanner on the front of the Galaxy S7 edge, built into the home button. This is slick and fast to operate and we've found it very reliable. This button also offers double-tap camera launch, fires up Google Now on Tap, houses a magnetic stripe reader for payment, as well as being a home button. We're expecting Google Assistant to arrive on the SGS7 edge soon, but at the time of updating this review, that hasn't yet happened.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review: Battery life
- 3600mAh battery
- Fast charging
- Micro-USB connection
One of the areas where the Galaxy S7 edge beats its regular S7 sibling is in battery life. There's a more capacious 3,600mAh battery onboard (compared to the S7's 3,000mAh) and this results in better endurance. Although the smaller S7 is good enough to get you through a day without issue, the edge is the better choice for power users: you'll be able to drive this phone a little harder, for longer.
The expanded body allows for that capacity and happily the larger display isn't too much of a drain, meaning it's the better performer overall. Expect on average days to be finishing with 50 per cent of the life left; we've given the SGS7 edge a really hard day's work and still found it lasted until 5pm before begging for a recharge.
There's a lot going on to reduce battery drain too. Not only do you have more efficient hardware, but the software appears to be well optimised and there are a number of software options to help. You can, for example, turn off background access to data. It's designed as a data-saving method primarily, but it's a useful tool for battery saving too. Then there's a battery-saving mode proper. In the new Nougat update, this is all bundled together in the "device maintenance" section.
The power saver noticeably throttles performance and brightness, but you can set the level you want it to swing into action and you can choose the actions you want it to take - brightness, resolution, CPU throttle, background network and always-on display are all available to reduce the power drain. We set it to 50 per cent, but in reality, it's only on the longest busy days that it gets used.
There's a regular Micro-USB on the base of the handset and fast charging is supported. Plug into a QuickCharge charger and you'll find the SGS7 edge powered up in little over 2-hours. There's also support for both common formats of wireless charging too, meaning Starbucks or your car can top up the battery.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review: Dazzling display
- 5.5-inch, 2560 x 1440 pixels, 534ppi
- Dual curved AMOLED
The real story of the Galaxy S7 edge is in the display. It sports the dual curved edges that are now iconic, giving a look that's sort-of endless. Rather than hitting the bezel like a flat phone, the S7 edge's display flows over, a little like it hits the horizon and vanishes into eternity.
Much of this is just design and in reality the edge doesn't add a huge amount beyond the visual. We think it looks stunning, but for apps where you might need to interact right at the edges, you might find it slightly less practical than a flat display. This has only been an issue for us when editing text that spreads right to the edges; for the vast majority of apps and games the edge makes the experience look like something from the future.
There's also that seamless feel that the design lends. Many smartphones - like the iPhone 7 - use 2.5D glass for that rounded edge, but the Galaxy S7 edge takes that to a higher degree.
And so to the display's finer details. The SGS7 edge offers a 5.5-inch AMOLED display with a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution (534ppi). It's lovely and sharp, with rich saturated colours typical of AMOLED, supported by deep blacks. One of the interesting detail is that although the display offers that Quad HD resolution, Samsung suggests you set it to 1920 x 1080 - Full HD - during normal use, with the full resolution reserved for a max power mode. However, you do get to choose.
In bright conditions the phone automatically responds, boosting the brightness so you're not left looking at reflections, with the option to manually tweak the brightness just a swipe away. It can boost things a little too far, but we'll forgive that considering the richness on offer. You don't quite get the cleanest whites, but again, it's a trade-off for richer colours. It's worth bearing in mind that photos will look richer and more contrasty on this phone than on other devices that don't have the same sort of display.
On the whole, though, the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge offers a sumptuous experience and one that other phones struggle to match.
With the Galaxy S7 edge there are number of additions too. The first is an always-on display, which will show you some information when the display is in standby. It got a lot of attention prior to launch, but it's nothing new - Motorola has been doing it for ages and it's now standard in Android, and in the updated Nougat, much of the always-on display looks pretty common. The always-on display can be customised to a degree and it removes the need to turn on the display fully to view the time or see what apps have notifications for you, so it's worth keeping it active.
There's a full range of edge display functions too. If you want the edge to do more than just look pretty, you can have swipe-in features such as shortcuts or feeds. Some might like that convenience, but we can't help feeling it's never that useful: the phone is fast enough to flip to full apps, so you might as well take the bigger scale experience.
You can access some functions from the lock screen with a quick swipe up and down the edge. However, if you've got notifications set to hide content you still have to unlock the phone to really get to anything. It might be more appealing if apps were better integrated - for example being able to swipe open Citymapper directions while walking would be a great use case.
There's one element to the edge we do like, however, and that's the night display. This will show you a simple clock and battery status during night hours (that you can define), which is ideal for the bedside. We also like that when you're travelling it will show you local time and home time.
You can have the edges glow when the phone is face down and someone calls, as well as setup a quick reject message with a tap on the back of the phone. Again, useful if you're ever in that meeting situation, but not something we've really found cause to use.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review: Software
- Launched on Android Marshmallow
- Updated to Android Nougat in early 2017
The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge launched on Android Marshmallow, with Samsung's TouchWiz layered over the top. This original version of TouchWiz followed the same lines as that on the SGS6 from 2015, so visually was familiar in many places. Samsung has now pushed the Android Nougat update to the S7 edge and with that comes a range of design tweaks and features, some lifted from the now-defunct Galaxy Note 7, giving the S7 edge a refreshed feeling.
There are additions expanding the functionality of the software over the previous editions. Samsung changes just about every aspect of the stock Android visual experience. From the settings menu to the quick settings to how the home pages are managed, not much of Android's material design remains. Much of the functionality is retained, so there's good work under the skin from features like Doze (preserving battery when your phone is not being used), as well as the full working of Android's "do not disturb" notifications system.
There's some complexity to the Galaxy S7 edge, but you can't want for features. Many of the "smart" gesture controls you might never use, but at least there's an explanation attached to most of them so you know what they do. Then there's the apps tray that needs to be manually alphabetised, and the switching of the old Flipboard-based news feed to a new service called Upday that's a little too information dense to make it pleasurable to use.
The Nougat update brings a change in the default colour scheme for much of the phone, generally making things lighter, whereas a lot of people are going dark to preserve battery.
We like being able to change the screen grid, and that the app bloat has been reduced from devices of old - there's a folder of pre-installed Samsung apps and Microsoft apps, but not too much else. Still, in the world of a refreshed Nokia that's going to be stock Android, HTC, Moto and OnePlus that are all fairly bloat free, Samsung sits alongside the likes of LG and Huawei in trying to own the software experience.
One of Samsung's additions is Game Launcher. This will pull your games together for easy access, as well as giving some in-game options, like taking a screenshot or blocking notifications. We've not found it particularly useful as we just go to individual games apps and skipping out of a game is as quick as hitting the home button.
You'll find that the Samsung keyboard is ok, but it's not as good as the stock Android keyboard or SwiftKey, which are easy replacements. Although the keyboard offers trace and predictive suggestions and so on, it's so stubborn: you type in a word and it changes it to something else; you hit delete and it changes back, you shit space and it's the wrong word again. The latest version of Gboard is just a lot slicker these days.
Equally, Samsung's S Planner app - now just called Calendar - is a poor alternative to the stock Android Calendar, which is visually far superior. Samsung has improved its calendar in this update, but it still doesn't feel as well optimised and Google's version.
We've been through the Samsung Galaxy S7 software with a fine toothcomb and pulled together a detailed guide of tips and tricks to manage the device. We feel that the SGS7 experience is much better once you take it in hand and work through all these things.
Overall the software puts a lot on offer, in many cases more than you'll ever want or need. For those coming from the simplicity of a stock Android device, it does feel as though Samsung is doing a little too much, but importantly this doesn't seem to impede on the device's performance or stability. It's slick, it's fast, it's refined and, even more importantly, you can turn an awful lot of it off.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review: Camera performance
One of the things that was most impressive about the Galaxy S6 was the camera performance - an area that follows suit in the Galaxy S7 edge. There's been a change of hardware, by introducing a new larger-pixel-size 12-megapixel rear camera and increasing the lens' aperture to f/1.7.
The aim is to retain the good skills of the previous camera but boost the low-light performance. That's been achieved too, with good performance in a wide range of conditions. The important thing about the SGS7 edge's camera isn't just about how it might perform at extremes, but that it's a consistent camera in various conditions, whether that's an ad hoc low-light shot, or in a high-contrast situation.
That's what smartphone cameras need to be: versatile. The vast majority of people who just point-and-shoot will get a usable result with little effort here. Features like auto HDR (high dynamic range) certainly help that, but beyond the auto mode, there's a full range of manual controls that will let you control the shutter speed and ISO as well as other settings, for more deliberate shots.
If we have one criticism is might be that the depth of field could be getting a little narrow, so in something like macro shots you might find you can't get a lot in focus. It's not a huge issue, but perhaps a by-product of increasing apertures.
There's also raw capture, so if you don't want a Samsung-processed JPEG as your only option, you can take control of the raw camera data yourself. There's no editor installed, but you can download an app like Adobe's Lightroom from Google Play to take care of things.
It's worth bearing in mind, however, that you can't really make accurate calls on colour when editing on the SGS7, because of the saturation of the display. If you really want to edit raw images, you'd be better doing it on a computer.
There's also support for 4K video and lots of options for different speeds of capture, all with equally impressive results.
The front camera is 5-megapixels and is generally good, with the display able to act as a flash in lower-light conditions. It's not the best selfie camera around, but we suspect it won't give you cause for complaint. There's a full range of face smearing and distorting effects if you want them too.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge is one of the most exciting smartphones of 2016. It offers strong design and a quality of build that's top tier and that quality still stands strong in 2017.
Sure, it might look similar to last year's SGS6 edge+, but the S7 edge's new 5.5-inch size finds the sweet spot and adds some battery capacity for greater practically. And while we think the edge element of that saturated AMOLED display is mostly for show, we love those looks - it's one stunning phone.
There's a great pairing of cameras too, packed full of features and performing strongly. About the only real hardware weakness is the speaker performance on the bottom.
Software-wise, Samsung's TouchWiz is a little over-the-top, adding options and complexity you might never need compared to the strong offering from updated Android Nougat. It's stable and slick, though, and well optimised for great performance without destroying battery life.
Make no doubt, the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge is a star performer. It won plenty of awards in 2016 and in 2017 is still a very valid handset.
Alternatives to consider...
Google Pixel XL
If you want a big-screen phone with plenty of power, then the Pixel XL is the mac-daddy of phones. It's pure, enhanced Android with all of Google's latest tricks packed in to a fast, powerful device with a brilliant camera and exemplary battery life. It might not have the gloss of the Galaxy S7 edge's design, but it's fully-packed.
Read the full review: Google Pixel XL review: Android's new heavyweight champion
The latest phone from LG holds a lot of promise. It ditches the modular gimmicks and gives you a solid phone, with a great build, plenty of power and that 18:9 display. That might sound odd, but leads to a slimmer device that's manageable one-handed, will working surprisingly well with a range of different content. Stranger Things on Netflix never looked so good. Oh, it's HDR and supports Dolby Vision too. It launches in (probably) April 2016.
Read the full review: LG G6 review: The first truly great flagship phone for 2017
iPhone 7 Plus
If you want all of what the Pixel XL offers, but without the Android part, the 7 Plus is your best bet. iPhones have long offered a consistently good experience. It's excellently built, has a great dual camera system, last more than a day on one charge and looks stunning in Jet Black. Add that to the best apps available anywhere and software update support for years, and you get a compelling all-round package.
Read the full review: Apple iPhone 7 Plus review: Big changes from the big iPhone