Sunday, 10 April 2016 13:27

Samsung’s sublime Galaxy S7 Edge (review) Featured

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What does the best Android smartphone look like – simple its curvaceous, colourful, and big – it is out of this Galaxy.

Samsung’s new flagship S7 series, the 5.1” S7 and the curvaceous 5.5” S7 Edge are refinements on the S6/Edge – easily the best, most fully featured Android smartphones in 2015 – now even better in 2016.

There are a few key evolutions over the S6:

  • IP68 water and dust resistance – it will withstand an accidental drop in the toilet
  • The S7/Edge has a 5.1” 577ppi/5.5” 534ppi, AMOLED screen covered with extra-tough Gorilla Glass 4 – simply the best screen on any smartphone
  • Battery is 3000/3600mAh – a major upgrade that gives two days’ use
  • MicroSD card support up to 200GB – necessary and about time
  • 4GB [was 3GB] and comes standard with 32GB storage
  • Samsung’s Exynos 8890 eight-core – 4 x 2.6 GHz and 4 x 1.6 GHz Cortex-A53. Claimed performance increases over the S6 are 30% for CPU and 64% for graphics
  • LTE Cat 9 (450/50Mbps) and supports 17 bands for local and international 4G
  • Android Marshmallow 6.x [was 5.x]
  • Weight is slightly up – S7 is 152g [138] and the S7 Edge 157g [Edge+ 152]
  • Rear camera is 12MP, f/1.7, 1.4 µm pixel size [was 16MP, f/1.9, 1.12 µm]
  • Both have fast and wireless charge – the S7/Edge is under 100 minutes zero to full

I have been using it now for about three weeks and after having used the 5.7” S6 Edge+, BlackBerry PRIV, and Windows 10 Mobile 5.7” Lumia 950LX for much of the last few months – swapping as mood and use dictated. I admit to being was a little hesitant to go back to a slightly smaller 5.5” screen and a lower 12 MP camera after the 16 MP S6 and 21 MP Lumia 950XL. I was keen to see what a difference the Cat 9 LTE (450/50Mbps) made and if the bigger battery lived up to its claim of two days’ use.

First a backstory – Why this is the best Android smartphone, why iPhone 6s Plus is the best iOS smartphone, and why comparisons are odious.

Regular readers will know that I have been a very long-term, corporate user, of Windows Mobile/Phone – from early Pocket PC in 2000 to version 6.5 in 2010. I considered it a vastly superior OS to the then emerging iOS and Android – and at that time to ‘consumers’ it was still a three horse race.

Apple and Google became fierce competitors and in general, their OS functionality and size of app stores matched tit for tat. Windows Phone 7 and 8.x came on the scene but the consumer race was over – it was iOS or Android.

Windows lost serious ground mainly due to ‘Ballmerised’ management philosophies and the very late delivery of Windows 10 Mobile in late 2015. That does not mean Windows 10 Mobile cannot be used as a consumer device – it is just that it will never have the 1.5M plus apps found in Apple’s iOS or Google’s pay store.

It is clear to me now – and apologies that it took so long to get there – that Samsung is competing in the consumer space with a hoard of Android devices. In that respect it is undoubtedly currently the best handset.

Apple makes the best and only iOS devices. It has a strong consumer desirabilty and some enterprise appeal.

Windows 10 Mobile is back, and it is a pure enterprise OS based on secure access to corporate resources. It competes squarely with the new BlackBerry PRIV and to a lesser degree Samsung’s Knox on Galaxy devices, and the iPhone with suitable encryption.

Sorry for the diatribe – there is no such thing as a battle between Samsung, Apple, Microsoft or any other. The battle is to make a phone that sells well in the market it was designed for.

Out of the Box

Samsung has the packaging just right – phone, fast charger, a micro-USB cable, premium earbuds/mic and a new micro-USB/USB A female connector that allows you to hook up an older Android, iOS or BlackBerry phone to the new one and transfer everything using its Smart Switch software.

Smart Switch  uses the USB OTG feature and will transfer apps, photos, music, documents, mail, messages, and setup or any combination of your choosing. Alternatively, you can use NFC and Wi-Fi. Setup was painless and took a few minutes. Most Android phones including HTC, LG, Sony, Huawei, Lenovo and Motorola phones support OTG – as does Apple’s iOS.

I prefer to start with a ‘clean’ phone, and manual setup was very straightforward as long as you know all your passwords for mail, etc.

Apart from screen size, bigger battery, and the curved edge the S7 and Edge are identical in every respect. Some prefer the Edge, and some prefer the flat S7 screen.

If ‘pocketability’ is an issue, you may be pleasantly surprised at how svelte the S7 Edge is.

  • The 5.5” Edge is 150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7mm and weighs 157g and has a 76.1% screen to body ratio.
  • The 5.5” iPhone 6s Plus is 158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 and weighs 192g and has 67.7% screen to body ratio.
  • The 5.7” Lumia 950XL is 151.9 x 78.4 x 8.1 mm and weighs 165g and has a 74.3% screen to body ratio.

IP68 water and dust resistance is a nice feature for a $1000+ smartphone.

Wi-Fi is AC, dual band, MIMO, 2.4 and 5GHz. Bluetooth 4.2 supports the widest range of protocols - A2DP, AVRCP, DI, HFP, HID, HOGP, HSP, MAP, OPP, PAN, PBAP, SAP. NFC is standard and supports Samsung Pay as does the fingerprint reader.

The screen - the absolute best of all current smartphones

On paper, the screen has the same resolution as the S6 – which had the best screen by far in 2015. It is a 5.5”, 2560 x 1440, 534 pixels per inch, with a very high 76.1% screen to body ratio – the side bezels have almost been eliminated.

Side by side with the S6, however, it becomes apparent that this is a next generation AMOLED screen. The S6 had a 540nits (max contrast), and the S7 has 610nits. It also uses a new Diamond Pentile RRBGG matrix layout versus a the S6 RGBG matrix. Traditional LCD screens still use RBG, and that is why they cannot achieve the levels of colour, contrast or gamma that OLED can.

Samsung is pushing VR, and the increased pixel density and contrast is perfect for its Gear VR headset.

Being AMOLED the screen can be ‘always on’ and use a very small amount of power to display the date, time and selected notifications.

The screen also supports split screen mode – two apps showing. You can flip the phone for mute, swipe your palm for the screenshot, double-tap the Home key for quick camera access, quick call, and more.

Battery - it has long legs

I was happy with the S6 Edge+, but I admit that took some time and tuning to turn off unnecessary apps and background updates. Out of the box - with my typical reference use - I am getting about two days’ use. The endurance rating is 98 hours compared to the S6 Edge+ at 83 hours.

The 3600mAh battery is non-removable, but it is service replaceable. Quick charge (supplied) is from zero to 100% in 90 minutes, and traditional charging (using a 1A charger) is about 5 hours.

It also supports fast Wireless Qi and PMA charging that charges a tad slower than the USB fast charger.

Phone - exceptional

The Exynos chipset has 17 LTE bands and can achieve Cat 9 data rates – 450/50Mbps. Cat 9 aggregates two LTE bands and in most circumstances around Sydney, I achieved 100-150/20-30Mbps download/upload which is pretty good.

The best news for rural dwellers is the Telstra Blue Tick that guarantees the best reception in remote areas. LTE Cat 9 data speeds will make the best of whatever is on offer. Undoubtedly the best smartphone for 2016.

This is a world phone! LTE bands on the Australian model SM-G935F are:

B1(2100), B2(1900), B3(1800), B4(AWS), B5(850), B7(2600), B8(900), B12(700), B17(700), B18(800), B19(800), B26(800), B28(700), B38(2600), B39(1900), B40(2300), B41(2500)

The in-call volume is great, and the speakerphone is loud without distortion. I have been playing with Microsoft Outlook and Exchange on this, and it appears that the caller ID will now come from Outlook Contacts.

Camera - amazing

One of the boldest moves was to go from a 16MP camera in the S6 to a DSLR-grade, dual pixel 12MP camera. The new camera uses ‘larger’ 1.4 µm pixels and a faster f/1.7 lens that lets in more light. The results are an improvement over the S6 in low light and flash and faster focus in daylight shots.

I used four phones to take a series of identical shots in daylight, low-light without a flash, low-light with flash, and in all cases using full auto defaults.

  • S6 Edge+ (16MP, f/1.9, 1.12µm)
  • S7 Edge (12MP, f/1.7, 1.4µm pixels)
  • iPhone 6s Plus (12MP, f/2.2, 1.22µm pixels)
  • Lumia 950XL (20MP, f/1.9, 1.12µm pixels)

In daylight shots, the best thing I can say was that I could not see any difference between the S6 and S7 cameras – and that is good as Samsung has a reputation to uphold in the Smartphone camera stakes.

In low-light, no flash, I noticed a significant improvement – the f/1.7 lens lets in about 25% more light. The larger pixels are supposed to be 56% more efficient.

In low-light with flash, I noticed little improvement - flash is flash.

I noticed a slightly faster focus time due to the Dual Pixel focus (when you are talking about fractions of a second that’s hard to measure).

In comparison to the iPhone – in all tests it was markedly better especially in low light.

In comparison to the Lumia, 950XL daylight shots were close, but Lumia’s extra MP really make a difference when enlarging an image and editing of JPEG and RAW shots. The Lumia has a triple LED flash, and that made a big difference in low-light when needed.

The software is important, and the camera app is the most advanced of any Android device. The motion photo feature allows you to capture living photographs – a few seconds before and after the shot and a motion panorama captures sweeping movements. Its Hyperlapse feature stitches time lapse images together. The front camera has a f/1.7 lens, selfie flash, and wide angle to include your friends.

So after having used the camera for a couple of weeks, I can say it is slightly better all-around than the S6 but in daylight, the Lumia 950XL still rules. Apple users will notice much more of a difference!

Software and skin - a light touch

This may be Samsung’s lightest TouchWiz User Experience overlaid on Android yet. I think it is important to point out that its apps – file manager, email/contacts/calendar, recorder, clock, messages, phone, camera, gallery, and browser are superior to Android stock offerings.

Having said that it comes with the usual Google apps – Gmail, Maps, Chrome, Drive, Photo’s – all neatly tucked out of the way in a folder. It also has Microsoft apps – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive and Skype, which are all useful.

But that is the nature of Android – 1.5M marginally useful apps Google Play.

The Edge - if you like curves

The Edge is more comes with the Apps Edge, Tasks Edge, People Edge, Edge Lighting and Edge Feeds.

Swipe over from the right side reveals highly customisable translucent panels which make one-handed use easier. It is like having all your favourites at your thumbs beck and call.

The people Edge is probably most useful where you can place five frequently called people, allocate them a colour and when they call the edge lights up. It is also easier to call than going via contacts.

The Edge is not a gimmick anymore, and I can see more use being made of it.

VR and Samsung Gear VR - games rule

The overwhelming comment I hear is that if you buy a Galaxy S6, Note 5, or S7 you can buy the Samsung VR Oculus headset for $150 more. This headset has a lot of VR smarts and uses the high resolution 2560 x 1440 AMOLED screen to produce realistic 360° photos and VR.

Samsung expects gaming to be important and has built a game launcher and gaming tools into the operating system to stop alerts during the game, lock recent and back keys, take screen shots and record gameplay.

I did not use the VR headset for this review.

Knox - as in Fort!

You can implement Knox security that protects the phone and OS from hacking and scan for malware. KNOX app lets you separate work and corporate apps and access by creating a secure, isolated space on the phone, which becomes inaccessible as soon as KNOX detects an unauthorized change in the OS.

For the review, I did not use the feature, but it is a serious attempt to secure the device.

Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy S7 and Edge are the best Android-based smartphones you can buy. They are evolutions over the S6 or Note 5 and offer few compelling reasons to upgrade from them.

But let’s get this into perspective. Flagship phones – say $1000 or so – represent less than 10% of the market. They are almost proof of concept – what can you build if money is no object. That is why the earlier S4, S5, S6 and now the S7 aced the best smartphone title.

What I see in the S7 is a refinement over a very good S6 - always on display, better battery life, and better camera. Whether the new LG G5 – Samsung’s Korean sibling and its fiercest competitor – is better will depend on detailed reviews.

Nothing will convince dyed-in-the-wool iPhone users to change. Let me say that this handset technically is vastly superior in camera, fast charge and wireless charging options, microSD support, and more. Let’ see what the iPhone 7 brings.

Specifications

The review would not be complete without the iTWire paradigm – but you can stop reading here if you all want is the best. It exceeds all flagship specifications

The second column represents typical specifications, the third is for the S7 Edge, and the last is a rating out of 5. Where is exceeds typical specs it gets a + and vice versa.

Feature

Flagship

Minimum acceptable specification

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

http://www.samsung.com/au/consumer/mobile-phone/smartphone/smartphone/galaxy-s7/

SM-G935F (Australia)

Rating
+/- given for exceeding rating or vice versa

Screen

5”+

5.5”

5+

Screen type and quality

AMOLED or IPS

Super AMOLED

5+

Pixel per Inch

500+

534

5+

Glass (equiv)

Gorilla 4

Gorilla 4 front and back

5

Res

HD to QHD (2/4K)

2560 x 1440, QHD, 2K

5+

CPU

64-bit, 8 Core

Samsung Exynos 8890, 64-bit, octa-core. Quad-core 2.3 GHz Mongoose & Quad-core 1.6 GHz Cortex-A53
Mali-T880 MP12 GPU

5+

Memory RAM

3GB

4GB

5+

Storage

32GB

32GB

5

MicroSD

up to 128GB

up to 200GB microSD

5+

LTE

Global bands. Cat 4+

B1(2100), B2(1900), B3(1800), B4(AWS), B5(850), B7(2600), B8(900), B12(700), B17(700), B18(800), B19(800), B26(800), B28(700), B38(2600), B39(1900), B40(2300), B41(2500)

Cat 9 LTE speed support if carrier provides same

5++

Dual SIM

If available provides 2 x 4G slots

No

N/A

Telstra Blue tick rural

Desirable

Yes

5

Wi-Fi

AC dual antenna

Wi-Fi 802.11 AC, dual-band, MIMO, Wi-Di, hotspot

5

NFC

Yes

Yes

GPS

GPS

GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou

5

Mapping software and maps

At least one free

Google Maps or down load HERE

 

5

Bluetooth

4.1+LE

4.2 LE A2DP, EDR, LE, ANT+

5+

Sensors

G-shock

Gyroscope

Ambient light

Compass

Proximity

Accelerator

All plus things like
heart rate
barometer

 

Accelerometer, Barometer, Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, HR Sensor, Light Sensor, Proximity Sensor, RGB Sensor, heart rate, SpO2 (blood oxygen)

5++

Battery

(Assumes Micro USB or Lightning)

2500mAh+

At least a day

Removable

Non-removable
3600 mAh. Endurance rating 98hrs.
Two days – longer on Power Saving and even longer on Ultra Power Saving mode
USB 2.0 charge

5+

Fast charge and/or Qi

Yes/Option

Fast Charge USB
Fast charge Wireless (Qi and PMA standard)

5+

Camera Rear

16MP+ <f/2.2, OIS, A/F, Twin flash, BSI sensor, 4K record

  • 12 MP, f/1.7, 1.4 µm pixel size, optical and digital image stabilization, autofocus, LED flash
  • Dual Shot, Simultaneous HD video and image recording, 4K recording, geo-tagging, touch focus, face/smile detection, Panorama, Auto HDR
  • Very fast and responsive

5++

Camera Front

>4MP+ HD

fill flash

5MP, f/1.7, HD record, Auto HDR

5

Screen to body ratio

70%+

76.1%

5+

Thinness

7-8mm

7.7mm

5

Looks – highly subjective

Premium build and finishes

Absolutely first rate quality build and premium finish

5

Weight

>150g (or 30g per inch of screen size)

157g

5+

Operating system

Latest version with upgrades for at least 2 years e.g. 5.x and 6.x updates

Android 6.0.1
Full support for Marshmallow 6.x
Knox 2.6 (security)

5+

User Interface (UI) Bloatware

Does the UI add value, ability to customise

Touch Wiz is not intrusive, yet it is a complete and full Samsung environment.

5

Video, Audio codecs

Full suite

  • Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, WEBM
  • Photo/video editor
  • Document editor

5+

Options

Premium head buds and mic

Premium buds and mic

5

Innovations

something different

  • S-Voice natural language commands and dictation
  • Fingerprint security
  • The Edge curved screen and software
  • Smart Switch software and cable

5++

IP or ruggedized

Option

No, but bumper cases are available

5

Warranty

Two years+

At least one year

5

Service in Australia

Yes very important

Yes

5

Price

A$800-1200+

A$1148.95 for S7

$1249.05 for S7 Edge

5

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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