Review: Samsung Galaxy S7 for Verizon Wireless
Samsung Galaxy S7
Samsung's 2016 flagship represents the company's best effort in the fight for smartphone dominance. This beautifully crafted phone stands tall among its competitors, and justly so. Samsung packed a lot of capability into an easy-to-use, attractive handset that claims to have it all. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth review of the Galaxy S7.
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Is It Your Type?
The Samsung Galaxy S7 is for those seeking the finest Android handset money can buy — and nothing less. This phone represents the pinnacle of hardware design, engineering, and manufacturing from the company often considered to be Apple's most formidable rival. As long as you don't mind spending a pretty penny, the Galaxy S7 delivers refined performance across the board.
The Galaxy S7 and its brother, the S7 Edge, are works of art disguised as pieces of technology. They represent Samsung at its best. The S7 and GS7 Edge are not perfect, but they're getting close.
Samsung's flagship phones made a big jump between 2014 and 2015 when the company ditched plastic in favor of metal and glass. The improvement in quality was enormous. Samsung largely recycled the S6's design for the S7, but smoothed out all the rough spots. For example, the glass face now has curved edges to meet the frame of the phone, giving it a more rounded look and feel. The joints between glass and aluminum are more seamless all the way around. The metal frame is rather thick along the bottom and top edges, and is somewhat thinner as it runs up the sides; the rear glass bends and curves accordingly. The S7 feels like a more complete device, as though it were designed by a single person with a clear vision rather than a team or committee.
The S7 is surprisingly compact, all things considered. Its chief competitors in the metal-and-glass category are the iPhone 6s and HTC One A9 (although the latter is not quite a flagship). The S7 has a bigger screen than both the 6s and A9, but its overall footprint falls in between the two; it's smaller than the A9 and larger than the 6s. It is the heaviest and thickest of these three phones at 7.9mm and 5.36 ounces. Even so, I found the S7 very comfortable to use one-handed and believe most people will enjoy the size and shape of the S7.
Samsung used top-notch materials to assemble the S7. The aluminum frame is strong, and the glass panels are fitted into the frame precisely. You simply can't ask for a more refined and thoughtfully crafted handset. Samsung was sure to assemble the S7 as tightly as possible. It's a dense piece of hardware, and you can tell by its heft. The phone slips into pockets with ease, and is just as easy to retrieve. It is mostly glass, though, so if you drop the S7 onto a hard surface, well, good luck with that. Some may feel compelled to protect the S7 with a case, which of course detracts from its aesthetic appeal.
The phone's front face is classic Samsung and in lockstep with the company's recent designs. The metal frame has a matte finish that I prefer to chrome. The glass on our review unit is black onyx, but the phone also comes in gold, silver, and white. A color-matched grille covers the earpiece speaker. Several sensors and the user facing camera are plainly visible, even on the black model. An oval-shaped home button (that doubles as the fingerprint sensor) rests below the display. It has a raised profile to make it easier to find and use. Unlike previous designs, the button's rim is not chrome and instead blends in with the black onyx glass. Travel and feedback are excellent. Two capacitive controls sit on either side of the home button, with multitasking on the left and back on the right. The capacitive buttons work fine, though the placement is counter-intuitive (the back button would make more sense on the left.) The 5.1-inch display fills the bulk of the phone's face.
Samsung placed the volume buttons on the left side of the phone. They are positioned close to the top edge. Samsung nailed the profiles, action, and feedback of these keys. I really like these buttons. The screen lock button is positioned closer to the middle of the right edge. It's well-placed, easy to find, and pleasing to use. You'll find no chintzy components here.
The combo SIM/memory card tray is buried in the S7's top edge. Samsung is offering only a 32 GB variant of the S7 to US consumers, but the memory card slot supports microSD cards up to 200 GB. The tray is a little janky. It's plastic, not metal, and it takes some coordination to properly inside it with a SIM card and memory card. (Bringing back the memory card slot rights one of the wrongs Samsung made with the GS6.) Like last year's Galaxy S, the bottom of the phone is a busy place: it holds the headphone jack, micro USB port, microphone, and speaker. Everything looks precisely machined and works as intended/expected.
Since it's made of glass, the S7's rear panel cannot be removed. That means, too, that the battery is sealed tightly inside. The S7 is slightly thicker than the S6. This helps it do a few things, one of which is to bury the camera module deeper into the body. The S7's camera module has a rim that sits just a little bit above the surface of the rear panel. The S6's camera module protruded much more. We've gained a more seamless rear surface and larger battery at the expense of a thicker phone. The S7 keeps the LED flash and heart rate monitor close to the camera. The only other design elements on the back are the Verizon logo and Galaxy S7 branding, painted in shiny chrome.
Did I mention that the S7 is water resistant? It is. In fact, it can sit in 1.5 meters of water for 30 minutes and emerge unscathed. This is a big deal. So many people drop their phones in the toilet (gross), pool, or sink and ruin it. The S7 is slim, attractive, waterproof and doesn't have any ugly hatches protecting the ports. Samsung's engineering team did a great job. This is another reason the S7 is a bit thicker — the extra girth helps the interior accommodate the needed elements to prevent water from seeping in. I tested the S7 in the shower, in the sink, and even dropped it in my morning cereal. The phone is as waterproof as the bulky rugged phones made by the likes of Kyocera, CAT, and Sonim. That's impressive.
The Galaxy S7 is a state-of-the-art handset in every sense. I'm smitten. You will be, too.
Samsung somehow crammed a quad HD screen into the S7's tight, 5.1-inch frame. Samsung favors Super AMOLED displays, and the S7's is lovely. The resolution density is about as high as it gets, with 3.67 million pixels adorning the display at 576ppi. The S7 is one of the sharpest displays available. I found it to be nice and bright, without the overly garish color representation that's typical of Samsung phones. That means it's more accurate. I didn't have any trouble using it outside, but viewing angles weren't as good as I was expecting. Still, overall, no complaints.
You probably don't need a quad-HD display in your phone for normal use, but it makes a big difference for VR.
The S7 of course runs on Verizon's LTE network. Tested around the NYC metro area, it performed on par with other Verizon devices but it didn't bowl me over. Calls connected on the first dial without fail and the phone didn't drop any calls, even in a moving car. However, the S7 did miss a few calls that went straight to voicemail. I was able to connect calls in all coverage conditions, weak and strong. On the data side of the equation, the S7 was quick to download apps, load web pages, and scroll through image-heavy apps such as Facebook and Instagram. I've seen faster peak download speeds from other devices, but I can't rule out that I ran into network/location issues, rather than a problem with the S7. My guess is most people will be pleased with the S7's performance.
Voice calls sound great via the Verizon S7. I was very pleased with the phone as far as its actual phone functions are concerned. Voices in the earpiece were plenty loud, enough so to overcome most typical spaces in which you might find yourself (home, office, car). Voices sounded clear to my ears. There was no distortion or breakup, even when the volume was set up all the way. I wish calls sounded a bit warmer, but volume and clarity are more important than timbre. Those I spoke to through the S7 said I was loud and clear.
The speakerphone maintains a good volume level, and clarity drops just a little bit. I was able to hear calls via speakerphone in the car, outdoors, in my home, and so on. The speakerphone was a bit more prone to distortion than the earpiece, but not overly so.
Ringers and alerts reach klaxon levels and will jolt you from the deepest slumber. The vibrate alert is just barely good enough.
Another reason the S7 is thicker than the S6 is to accommodate the larger battery. Samsung increased the power source from 2,600 mAh to 3,000 mAh. The difference is palpable. Where the S6 just barely eked out a full day of use — and sometimes didn't — the S7 is more consistently able to provide usable uptime between breakfast and bedtime. I was not able to drain the battery fully, not once, despite repeated attempts over several days of testing. I was sure to stream YouTube videos, stream Pandora playlists, browse the web, page through Instagram, and spend plenty of time perusing Facebook. The S7 managed to end each day with at least 20% left, if not more. That's good news.
The S7 includes the typical set of Samsung power management tools. Samsung's Power Saver mode and Ultra Power Saver mode each offer distinct benefits. The former tones down the screens, notifications, and the processor to drum up a bit more life from the battery. The latter puts the phone into ultra basics mode with a greyscale screen and severely limits apps to push through hours of basic communications.
The S7 supports Quick Charge 3.0 and rapid wireless charging. When plugged into the included charger, I found the S7 charged from 20% to 100% in 90 minutes. Wireless charging took a bit longer at 2.5 hours, but that's still pretty good.
Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi
Samsung was sure to endow the S7 with the usual set of radios for secondary communications. The S7 supports Bluetooth 4.2 and the typical set of profiles for connecting to accessories, computers, and vehicles. The phone pairs easily with everything. Phone calls sent to mono headsets and my car's hands-free system were very good. I was impressed with the clarity of calls through a headset, in particular. Music pushed to my favorite Bluetooth speaker was also very good, but I've heard better.
The S7's NFC radio was instrumental in helping pair the device with several of these Bluetooth accessories. In other words, it works as intended. The NFC radio may also be used with Android Pay, which is preloaded on the phone, and Samsung Pay, which is available as a separate download from the Google Play Store.
Google Maps pinpointed my location on the S7 faster than it has with any other device. We're talking 2 or 3 seconds. Accuracy was down to 20 feet, which is about as good as it gets. Not only is the S7 quick and accurate with respect to location, but it worked flawlessly with Google Maps to serve as a powerful navigation tool.
The WiFi radio was impressively quick.
Samsung is (finally) taking a page from some of its competitors when it comes to the lock screen. The biggest and most important change is the inclusion of an "always on" screen that shows the date, time, battery level, and core notifications from email, messaging, and the phone. This way you can snag a quick status update without pressing any buttons or waking the phone up. It's truly helpful. Like the Lumia Glance Screen, the S7's status tool floats around the display sort of like an old-school screen saver. Nostalgia!
Other than this change, the lock screen works mostly as it does on every other Android smartphone. Pressing the home button or screen lock button will fully wake the display and you'll see the time, date, notifications, and several app shortcuts. I like that you can customize how much detail is revealed by the individual notifications. (If you care to burrow deep into the settings menu you can tweak exactly how each app is allowed to notify you.) The lock screen includes shortcuts to the phone app and camera. You can't customize the app shortcuts, which is a bit of a shame.
The physical home button doubles as a fingerprint reader. That means you can use your fingerprint to secure the phone. I trained several prints and found it to be mostly reliable. It's not quite as quick as the print readers on the iPhone 6s or One A9, but it is quick enough for daily use. Other security options include patterns, PINs, and passwords, which can be set to switch on immediately or after a specified interval. Choose wisely.
The Galaxy S7 runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow. That means it includes some of the core new features from Google, such as Doze and Now On Tap. As expected, however, Samsung once again plastered its TouchWiz UI on top of the base platform. The results are mixed, but not all that different from any other phone Samsung has released in recent memory.
There are just two home screen panels active out of the box and they are filled with an assortment of Samsung and Verizon apps and services. It takes some effort, but you can clear away the junk and customize the home screen panels with the apps, shortcuts, and widgets of your choosing. I like that Samsung allows you to assign which panel is the home panel, such as the middle screen or left-most screen, etc. You can activate the Briefing panel (which is Flipboard) if you want, or ignore it. If activated, Flipboard automatically becomes the left-most panel.
One thing I dislike: the button to access the app drawer is anchored to the far right of the home screen dock. I prefer the button to be in the middle, but Samsung won't let you move it around. Worse, the dock only fits four buttons across where many phones fit five buttons. Oddly, you can adjust the size of the home screen panel grid between 4x4, 4x5, or 5x5 icons, depending on how many apps you want on each screen. Doing this, however, doesn't change the 4-icon limit in the dock. C'mon, Samsung!
As for the app drawer, Samsung organizes it into horizontal panels. Out of the box, there is a single panel that has a handful of folders jammed with Verizon, Samsung, and Google apps. Samsung normally allows users to choose between alphabetical order, custom order, or order based on frequency. Typically, if you choose alphabetical order, which is what I prefer, all of the apps are pulled out of folders and listed individually. On the S7, choosing the alphabetical arrangement doesn't pull the folder-bound apps out. This is really annoying to me. You can take the time to individually remove the folders. These are small complaints, I suppose, but the S7 is harder to tweak in this regard than the GS6 or other Samsung phones.
There is no change to how Samsung treats the settings screens. You can choose to add some of your most-used settings tools to the top of the screen; otherwise, all the settings are arranged into the usual clumps (radios, personalization, accounts, system, and so on.) The same goes for the Quick Settings panel and notification shade. Samsung changed up the fonts, colors, and icons, but the underlying functionality of the Quick Settings panel is unchanged. That means you can tweak where the toggles land for controlling various radios, and such.
When it comes to personalization, the S7 includes an expanded set of themes. Themes override everything: fonts, colors, icons, graphics, wallpapers, and more. There are just two alternate themes preinstalled on the phone. If you want more, you'll have to create a Samsung account to download them. That's annoying and pretty much guarantees I won't be downloading more themes. Creating a Samsung account is free, and most of the themes are free, too. The usual tweaks are all available, such as ringers, alerts, yadda yadda yadda.
You can multitask on the S7 by running two apps at the same time in separate windows. Not all apps are supported, but those that are have a distinct icon (two rectangles on top of one another) to indicate their compatibility with the tool. It works fine and takes maybe 60 seconds to master.
The S7 includes TouchWiz Easy Mode, which gets rid of the complicated home screen panels and app drawer in favor of larger icons and fewer screens through which to navigate. This tool is meant for people who may be new to smartphones, or those who have seriously bad eyes.
You can use a number of different hand gestures to control the phone. For example, you can capture a screenshot by swiping the edge of your hand across the display, or call the contact whose call log, message, or contact details are on the screen by bringing the phone to your ear. Incoming calls can be muted by placing your hand on the screen or turning the phone over.
On the performance front, the S7 has a Snapdragon 820 processor with 4 GB of RAM. The 820 is Qualcomm's top-of-the-line chip, and 4 GB is a whole lot of RAM for a phone. In fact, Qualcomm has been yammering about the 820 for nearly 9 months. The 820 is a SoC that bundles together blazing quick processor cores with a GPU, ISP, and LTE radios. The S7 is one of the first — if not the very first — devices to ship with the 820 inside. (Some international models of the S7 use Samsung's Exynos Octa chip, but all US variants run the 820.) Um, yeah, it's fast. The phone does everything lickety split. You won't see any staggering, slowness, or lagging with the S7. It performed every task I set before it without hesitation.
The camera app is a carry-over from older Samsung phones, but has a wider array of shooting modes and tools than most. The best way to launch the camera is to double tap the home button. You can do this when the phone is locked. The camera jumps to life quickly so you can capture a shot.
The S7's camera includes shutter controls and access to the shooting modes and recent photos on the right side of the viewfinder. There are two shutter buttons, one for pictures and one for video, and the shooting modes include auto, pro, selective focus (bokeh), panorama, video collage, live broadcast, slow motion, virtual shot, food, and hyperlapse. None of these modes is really new. I'd recommend most people stuck with the auto settings, as it is the easiest to use, and takes great photos.
The "pro" mode is a manual mode that adds control over white balance, exposure, and ISO, which are not available on the auto mode. You can choose your own shutter speed, too, up to 10 seconds for creative night shots, as well as fiddle with metering and color correction. Select focus allows you to alter which subject is in focus after you've taken the photo. The video collage tool automatically assembles a handful of photos and videos (based on time, location) to create shareable moments. Live broadcast lets you push live video directly to YouTube. The Food tool lets you take close ups of your fancy food and makes the colors look more vivid. Slow motion and hyperlapse do what you expect them to. The virtual shot tool lets you take 360-degree images of stationary objects. For example, you can use it to walk around Michelangelo's statue of David and then see the statue from all sides on your phone. It's tricky to use and takes practice. The rest of these shooting modes are a snap to figure out, and Samsung provides a tutorial if you need it.
An arrow on the left side of the camera UI will drop down a set of icons that let you access effects (sepia, etc.), the timer, flash, HDR, and full settings. You can play with the resolution, location tags, grid lines, and so on, but there are a few more-advanced settings. For example, you can turn on the Motion Photo capture mode, which captures video and images at the same time (like HTC's Zoe and Apple's Live Photos). It works well. The S7 also has a tracking auto-focus feature that lets you select a subject and keep it in focus even if it moves around.
The user-facing camera includes several imaging tools. The basic selfie mode includes a beautification tool that's rather extensive. For example, you can make your face slimmer, make your eyes bigger. add a heavenly shine to your face, as well as play with your skin tone. The selfie came includes a wide-angle mode to fit more people into that group shot, and you can use the live broadcast function when taking selfies, too.
The camera app is very fast. The Snapdragon 820 — along with its dedicated image signal processors and Samsung's software — provide flawless performance of the app itself. You can keep it simple for basic photography if you want, or take advantage of the wide number of features to more creative. It's got something for everyone.
Samsung took a different approach to the camera sensor this year. For a while it seemed as though Samsung might fall victim to the megapixel wars, amping up the number of pixels indefinitely in order to appear more powerful. But photo pros know that megapixels aren't everything, and that has apparently sunk in with the folks over at Samsung. That's why the S7 trades the 16-megapixel sensor from the S6 for a higher-quality 12-megapixel sensor. Samsung says the pixels are larger to improve low-light capture, among other advantages.
The phone takes darned good pictures. It's probably the best camera available from a modern smartphone, and it definitely goes toe-to-toe with the iPhone 6s.
Focus is sharp, exposure is dead-on, and colors are accurate. I was very pleased with the results I saw from the camera. The phone does well in bright and dark environments. Shots taken in darker spots were free of grain and noise. The f/1.7 aperture and optical image stabilization help a lot here. It's a fine, fine camera.
The front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor and an f/1.7 aperture and it produces excellent selfies. I find many phones take grainy selfies that look soft and drab. The S7 takes highly accurate selfies (warts and all!) that are crisp, clean, and properly exposed. You're going to be able to take your selfie game to a whole new level with the S7.
The phone captures video up to 4K, but as always I recommend you stick with the 1080p HD settings. Full HD provides all the pixels you need and the S7 does a great job at delivering sharp, accurate video.
Going on vacation? Leave the dSLR at home. The S7 can handle most of your photography and video needs.
Samsung / Verizon Stuff
The Verizon S7 has 43 apps pre-installed. That's 15 to 20 fewer than past iterations of Samsung's flagship devices. The issue isn't so much volume as it is how aggressive Verizon's apps are. They assault you during the device setup process and, even when dismissed, come back later with reminders to sign up, download this, install that, sync here, and push there. It's way over the top. Verizon's apps border on malware, they're that intrusive.
Verizon also has an app deal with Amazon, which means all Verizon's phones come preloaded with a number of Amazon apps that people may or may not want.
Samsung toned down the presence of its own apps, but they are still there hidden in a folder. (S Health, S Voice, Milk Music, and so on.)
My biggest gripe with all these is that hardly any of the unwanted apps can be uninstalled. Only six of the total can be stripped from the phone, cleaning out space for more. By the way, the phone ships with 32 GB of storage, but only 20.5 GB of that is available out of the box. The system image and preloaded apps consume 11.5 GB. That's kind of absurd. Thank goodness the phone supports 200 GB microSD cards.
Samsung is offering the first wave of S7 buyers the Gear VR headset for free. Don't dismiss this offer, as the headset normally costs $99. In order to get the S7 and Gear VR to play nicely together, you have to download the Oculus Android app, create an announce, and all that nonsense. Once you do, you can insert the S7 into the Gear VR headset and explore virtual worlds.
Part of the reason the S7 has a quad HD is to improve the VR experience. VR needs all the pixels it can get. The Gear VR effectively separates what you're seeing so each eye gets its own full HD screen. The Gear VR has a microUSB port on one side, so you can't just toss the phone in any way you like; it has to be inserted correctly. Once you've got the phone inside, replace the outer cover, sit in a chair, and put the headset on.
The Oculus software will walk you through the basics of navigating through the user interface and selecting different content.
A couple of things to note: 1. Virtual Reality will beat the crap out of your battery. The Gear VR includes a microUSB port. Find the longest USB cable you can and plug it in so you still have some battery life left after losing yourself to the void. 2. VR pushes the processor a bit and the phone will get hot. 3. Make sure you're sitting. Spinning chairs are best so you can get the full 360-degree experience.
I recommend the Samsung Galaxy S7 to anyone who can afford it. It's that good. The hardware borders on perfection with its design, materials, and build quality. Toss in extras like waterproofing and that's just icing on the cake. The GS7 has a fantastic screen, provides good voice calls and decent data speeds, and delivers excellent battery life for a handset in this class.
On the software front, TouchWiz is still a bit heavy-handed for my tastes, but the GS7 offers an incredible numbers of tools to personalize the handset. You can make things simple or go for the advanced. The Snapdragon 820 processor provides plenty of power and the phone is lightning quick.
The camera is the Galaxy S7's stand-out feature. It ranks among the best in the market, and offers plenty of flexibility when capturing photos.
The Galaxy S7 is a pricey phone at $670, but it's worth every penny.
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S7 Curved Edge
IF I COULD
What Frankenstein version of this phone did they send you for review? Nowhere on any U.S. carrier have I seen a silver and black combo and certainly not on Verizon either. In fact you can't even get an all silver version (only the Edge) or a white one at all (only in Europe). So thus far at launch the only thing available in the U.S. is just two colors to pick from: platinum gold and all black. So I don't know how you came about the info on other colors or that interesting sporty two tone model you are showing, but I'm interested in finding out!
The GS7 review
The truth Samsung is going to eat Apples lunch with this phone and the Note 6 in a few months.