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, is the one that's taking the lion's share of early orders and sales 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. It might also mean that Samsung has to produce fewer models, as we don't anticipate there will be a yet larger Galaxy S7 edge+.
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
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 Apple's iPhone 6S 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, for the moment, unique. The big shift for the Galaxy S7 edge design, however, is around the sides and back.
Firstly, 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 like the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium. Sadly, the silver model isn't thought to be coming to the UK. These finishes are all well and good in principle, 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
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.
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 is an Android 6.0 Marshmallow device, 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.
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.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review: Battery life
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.
The power saver noticeably throttles performance and brightness, but you can set the level you want it to swing into action. 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.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review: Dazzling display
The real story of the Galaxy S7 edge is in the display. It supports the dual-edge curves 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 6 - 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.
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 offers a sumptuous experience.
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 that new - Motorola and Microsoft/Nokia have offered this feature. The always-on display can be customised to a degree, but only offers notifications from Samsung's own apps - unlike the LG G5, which shows third-party ones - which limits its use, but as it stops the need to turn on the display fully to view the time 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
The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge launches on Android Marshmallow, with Samsung's TouchWiz layered over the top. This version of TouchWiz follows the same lines as that on the SGS6 from 2015, so visually it's familiar in many places. There are additions, however, expanding the functionality of the software over the previous edition.
For one, Samsung changes just about every aspect of the stock Android visual experience. From the settings menu to the quick settings to how the homepages 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. There are some odd elements, like that access to the full settings menu vanishes when you open the full range of quick settings, sitting in contrast to the permanent offering to connect to external devices - something you'll have to root out and manually turn off to remove from the notifications tray.
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. But you can switch it off easily.
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.
One of the exceptions 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, plus one of the "games" Launcher identified was actually a parking app.
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. Equally, Samsung's S Planner app makes it difficult to see what's going on in your calendar, and is a poor alternative to the stock Android Calendar, which is visually far superior.
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.
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 Android Marshmallow. 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. If you're looking for a new flagship phone in 2016 then this Android champion absolutely has to be on your shortlist.
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