BARCELONA—The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are the biggest new flagship phones announced at Mobile World Congress, but you might not realize it at first glance. They look an awful lot like last year's Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, with the same metal frames, glass backs, and overall design language. But closer inspection reveals some key differences. We got to spend some time with both new phones ahead of the show.
The 5.1-inch Galaxy S7 has the same size screen as last year's model, while the 5.5-inch S7 Edge has been bumped up a notch (the S6 Edge measures 5.1 inches). Both new phones feature contoured backs to better conform to your grip, and make one-handed use a bit easier. Holding either new Galaxy feels notably better than trying to keep your grip on the slippery iPhone 6s or the squarish Nextbit Robin.
While both phones share nearly the exact same specs, there are a few notable differences. In addition to being slightly larger, the S7 Edge has a gentle curve on either side of its display. You can use these edges for quick access to apps, contacts, preset options, contextual menus, and widgets, just like last year's model. The S7 Edge also has a bigger 3,600mAh battery, compared with the 3,000mAh in the Galaxy S7.
The phones have a number of other modest design improvements. The bezel is even thinner than last year, the camera bump is smaller, and the fingerprint scanner is smoother. For the S7 Edge, the curved sides are a bit wider (550 pixels), allowing you to have a double row of icons at your fingertips.
In addition, both phones carry the highest possible Ingress Protection rating of IP68 for water resistance, allowing you to submerge them in up to five feet of water for 30 minutes. Samsung ditched waterproofing in the Galaxy S6 after including it in the Galaxy S5, so it's nice to see it back.
Expandable storage has also made a triumphant return. Both the S7 and S7 Edge have microSD card slots integrated with their SIM trays, which allow you to expand memory up to an additional 200GB. Unfortunately, a removable battery has not come back, though both phones use bigger cells than last year's models. Fast charging (both wired and wireless) is supported with Samsung chargers.
The Quad HD displays look gorgeous, with bright, super-saturated colors—no surprise here, as Samsung's flagships always include top-notch panels. But this time around the display is always on, showing you the time, date, calendar, and notifications. You can even choose your own personalized design. The display only lights up select pixels, and the phone goes to sleep in your pocket, so battery drain shouldn't be too big of an issue. Overall, the feature reminds me more of the ambient display on the Google Nexus 6P than the secondary display on the LG V10. I wasn't sold on the idea at first, but it's actually pretty nifty after seeing it in person.
A Focus on Camera Performance
This might surprise you. Samsung has redesigned the rear camera for both the S7 and S7 Edge, shaving the resolution down to 12 megapixels (from 16 megapixels on the S6 and S6 Edge). This increases the photosite size to 1.4 microns, meaning slightly larger pixels, which should provide an improvement in low-light image and video quality. And the camera now features f/1.7 aperture, which captures about 25 percent more light than the f/1.9 lens used previously.
Low-light performance is important, but I'm even more interested in the improved focus system. Like the Dual Pixel AF system used by the Canon EOS 70D, Samsung's new image sensor features dual photodiode pixels that are used to lock focus. The company claims this allows the S7 to focus three times more quickly than the S6. The focus box has even been removed from the camera app, because the camera often focuses before you get a chance to tap it.
In a side-by-side comparison between the S7 and the iPhone 6s Plus, the S7 was usually faster to focus and captured images with better clarity in low light. Of course, this was just a quick test during a controlled demo; we'll have to put the camera through its paces in our test lab to truly evaluate its performance.
U.S. Models vs. Global
U.S. models of the S7 and the S7 Edge will be powered by the new Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB of RAM, while international models will use Samsung's own Exynos chip. I didn't get a chance to run any benchmarks, but in terms of overall performance, both phones feel very fast.
Samsung has also made some software tweaks designed to improve gaming performance. If you're planning on an extended gaming session, you can enable a power-saving mode for gaming that will keep frame rates in check to save power. You can also stop calls and notifications from interrupting gameplay, and record in-game footage.
Naturally, both phones run Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with a heavy layer of TouchWiz on top. Yes, I noticed some of the ever-present Samsung bloatware on the phone I saw for the demo, along with a suite of various pre-installed apps. Fortunately, I didn't notice any instances of sluggishness while swiping through screens or launching apps, which isn't surprising given the processor pedigree.
Impressions and Availability
If you're already a Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge owner and you're considering an upgrade, I'd wait for the reviews. You'll definitely see improvements in performance all-around, but there's really nothing truly revolutionary about these new devices. The best way to think about the Galaxy S7 and the S7 Edge is that they are to last year's models what the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus are the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. There's no big shake-up in design, just a lot of small upgrades and tweaks that polish what was already our Editors' Choice-winning Android phone.
Samsung hasn't yet confirmed an availability date or pricing. But I wouldn't be surprised to see the S7 and the S7 Edge sell for the same price as last year's models, with availability on all the same carriers. Check back soon for more info, as well as a full review when both phones are available.