Wednesday, 09 March 2016 08:01

Samsung S7 is sublime – first looks

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

It is too early to do a full review – Australian journalists only received the phone on 3 March and any articles were embargoed until today (9 March) so take this as a first looks – and first impressions are important.

Samsung has stuck with the typical Galaxy shape – it is slightly thinner, the metal edges are slightly smaller, the back is slightly curved, the camera sticks out less, and it is a tad more elegant but it is still instantly recognisable as a Galaxy class phone.

What is different to the S6?

  • It is IP68 water and dust resistant– it will withstand a dunk on the pool or accidental drop in the toilet without worry. When you pay a grand for a phone that is a good thing.
  • The camera does not stick out as much (not that this was really an issue on the S6)
  • The S7 has a 5.1” 577ppi screen and the Edge a 5.5” 534ppi AMOLED screen. The S6 had the same size/ppi and the Edge was 5.1”. It later introduced an Edge+ at 5.7”. All have Gorilla Glass 4.
  • Battery is 3000/3600mAh – it was 2550/2600/3000 – major upgrade
  • The S7 has up to 200GB microSD support – necessary and about time
  • The S7 has 4GB [was 3GB] and comes standard with 32GB
  • The Australian version has a Samsung Exynos 8890 eight core – 4 x 2.6 GHz and 4 x 1.6 GHz Cortex-A53 [Exynos 7420 eight core, 4 x 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57 and 4 x 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53]. The claimed performance increases over the S6 are 30% for CPU and 64% for GPU
  • Android Marshmallow 6.x [was 5.x]
  • Weight is up – S7 is 152g [138] and the S7 Edge 157g [Edge+ 152]
  • Rear camera is 12MP, f/1.7, 1.4 µm pixel size [16MP, f/1.9, 1.12 µm]
  • Both have fast and wireless charge – the S7/Edge is under 100 minutes

In summary it uses later technology, it has a bigger battery, and its IP68 rated. Not a revolution but an evolution.

Please don’t think I am in any way underwhelmed by the S7 series – it is just that the improvements over the S6 do not provide a compelling reason to upgrade. If you have an S5 that’s a whole different story.

Read on for more impressions of the Samsung Galaxy S7 series.

Screen

The first impression is the amazing AMOLED screen – deep blacks, pure whites, daylight readable, and wonderful colour gamut. Although similar to the S6 it has a very subtle colour and brightness improvements – this is, if not the best, one of the world’s best smartphone screens.

Camera

Samsung claim its new Dual Pixel 12MP is superior to the 16MP on the S6. I needed to see how a lower MP camera could do a better job than the S6.

I armed myself with:

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

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

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).

The new panorama mode is nice. It also has motion photos (like Apple and Lumia) that capture a few seconds either side of the shot. A hyper-lapse mode gives a time lapse effect.

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.

I need to spend more time playing with the camera and app settings but for the present I will say that it produces better shots than the already excellent S6.

I do not do ‘selfies’ (I am told I have a great face for radio) but in tests the selfie fill flash and wide selfie were useful.

Gaming and VR

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 expect gaming to be important and have 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 game play.

Edge and Always on screen

I like the Edge – it is sexy, curved and looks unlike any other smartphone. The edge is more useful now as you can slide over more icons and tools from the edge – this needs more exploration.

Both versions have an AOD (Always on Display) which is like Lumia’s glance screen. It is customisable to show a range of information like time, new emails, calendar etc. It draws very little power as the AMOLED screen is by definition, off when showing black.

LTE Bands

The Australian model is S7, SM-G930F or S7 Edge, SM-GF935F and should support the following LTE bands.

LTE2100 (B1), LTE700 (B17), LTE850 (B5), LTE1700/2100 (B4), LTE1800 (B3), LTE2600 (B7), LTE1900 (B2), LTE800 (B18), LTE900 (B8), LTE800 (B20), LTE700 (B12), LTE800 (B26), LTE800 (B19), LTE700 (B28).

It also supports LTE Cat 9 (450/50Mbps) where available on Telstra.

And the future is add-ons and accessories

Samsung make a range of accessories including cases and a keyboard cover that gives you a QWERTY keyboard – nice.

It has fast chargers, fast wireless charger, and fast charger battery packs (the main battery is not removable) as well as a Backpack case option to extend battery life.

But it is also the hub of the Samsung ecosystem so it will control its Smart TVs, the new Gear 360 camera, Gear 2 smartwatch, Bluetooth Level On headphones. and more.

Initial conclusions

All the marketing material says ‘It's not just a new phone. It brings a new way of thinking about what a phone can do. You defined the possibilities and we redefined the phone. The Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. Rethink what a phone can do.’

Sorry but they have not reinvented this design nor the category. Overall it is a flagship class phone that is an improvement over its predecessor – but not so much that it will break the upgrade cycle and have S6 users flocking to the S7.

It is technically well ahead of the iPhone 6s/Plus now but a new model 7 may change that (we do not know by how much. And you either want to use iOS and stay in the Apple ecosystem or not.

Perhaps the most outstanding feature is that everything works as it should – something I seldom see when reviewing many other phones. The Samsung User Experience (UX) is polished and flawless.

But also remember that the S7 costs A$1148.95 and the Edge $1249.05 – so it should be better!

If ordered before 10 March you receive a free Samsung VR headset from Samsung, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone and free delivery to most metro areas.

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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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