Remember when the Samsung Galaxy S7 was that hot topic everyone was talking about? Well, those days are behind us - the phone-making machine has rolled forward and the Galaxy S8 is the new talk of the town. But is the Galaxy S8 really worth the upgrade? Does it do anything better than its Galaxy S7 forebear?
For starters, the Galaxy S8 looks quite a bit different this time around. Samsung has gone all bezel-less, just like with LG's recent G6. The entire phone is, essentially, one massive display - and it's positively gorgeous. Aside from that, its rear is much the same, with a camera in the middle but with the fingerprint reader now at the back.
READ NEXT: Samsung Galaxy S8 vs Samsung Galaxy S7
Internally, this year's Galaxy S8 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, or an Exynos 8895 processor if you're a fellow European. What does this mean? Well, that Samsung Galaxy S8 is quite a bit faster, of course. The camera remains all but unchanged, aside from a fancy system that merges three shots taken in quick succession to create the best picture possible.
The S8 is impressive then, but there's that all-too-important price point to consider. As it stands, the S8 is priced at £679 - that's a trifle more expensive than the Galaxy S7's current going rate. If you've got the money (lucky you), the Galaxy S8 is a worthy upgrade, but the S7 should still serve you well for the months to come.
If you'd like a fuller look at the Samsung Galaxy S7, you can find our original review below.
Samsung Galaxy S7 review
The Galaxy S6 was one of the best smartphones of 2015, but there were a few things that even the most diehard Samsung fans didn't quite agree with - the lack of microSD card slot and no user-replaceable battery. 2017's entry, the Galaxy S7, still doesn't have an interchangable battery, sadly, but it does, at least, bring back the microSD slot.
It's a small change, but it's important all the same. For starters, it means you now don't have to pay extra upfront for a larger capacity smartphone, a la Apple. Instead, you can simply buy a microSD card (it supports cards up to 200GB) and slot it in whenever you like, allowing you to upgrade your storage cheaply rather than being hamstrung by your original purchase decision. The S7 is available in 32GB or 64GB models by default, so you still have the option of having more storage if you need it, but at least you now have a choice.
Samsung's also brought back its waterproofing protection, which was strangely absent on the S6 after making such a splash (pardon the pun) on the Galaxy S5. With an IP68 certificate, the S7 can survive being submerged in up to 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes, meaning it's now fully capable of surviving a heavy rain storm, or a drop down the toilet.
Of course, the same applies to the S7's curvy sibling, the Galaxy S7 Edge, as well. However, rather than have two S7 phones that are the same size, the S7 Edge is now much bigger, coming in at a 5.5in while the S7 remains at 5.1in. As a result, those after the fanciest Android phone around should probably check out the S7 Edge.
Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Design
Admittedly, my first impressions of the Galaxy S7 weren't great, as my review sample had fine scratches in numerous places on the display and the fingerprint sensor. The back was in better condition, but its glass-plated rear is an absolute magnet for fingerprints, so it never looks quite as new and pristine as you'd ideally want it to be. As a result, you'll probably want to invest in a case, particularly when the S7's rounded back and edges feel like they're constantly about to slip out of your hand.
Otherwise, the rest of the S7's design improvements are all relatively minor. The S7's metal frame is now slightly smoother and less angular, but it's also a fraction fatter and heavier than the S6's, measuring 7.9mm thick compared to the S6's 6.8mm and weighing 152g rather than 132g. However, it's not something you'd notice in everyday use.
More obvious is the S7's newly streamlined camera bump, as it now protrudes by just 0.46mm, making it far less prominent and the phone far more stable to use when sat on a flat surface. The phone still rocks from side to side a bit when tapping the top half of the screen at the side, but it's a huge improvement on the unstable S6, especially if you're using a wireless charging pad.
Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Fingerprint sensor
The only major quibble I have with the S7's design – apart from its overall slipperiness – is its fingerprint sensor. Having grown used to rear-facing fingerprint sensors, such as the one on the Nexus 6P, the S7's seems positively old-fashioned by comparison.
For starters, it's not in a very sensible place, as it's much lower down than where I'm used to reaching on my phone. However, my main problem is that it will only unlock the phone once you've pressed the home button or woken it up with the power button. This is nowhere near as useful as simply touching your finger to the back of the Nexus 6P, which wakes and unlocks automatically without the need to press anything, and I found the S7 didn't always recognise my fingerprint successfully, either. I ended up simply turning it off in favour of a more traditional swipe pattern.
Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Display
Samsung's Super AMOLED displays have always been one of the highlights of its S-series smartphones, and the S7's screen is no exception. It might not have the curved sides of the S7 Edge, but this 5.1in 2,560x1,440 resolution display has a super sharp pixel density of 577ppi and its quality is top notch. Covering a full 100% of the sRGB colour gamut, it can produce pitch perfect 0.00cd/m2 blacks and a super-high contrast ratio makes it lovely to look at, regardless of whether you're watching a video or scrolling through web pages.
With a peak brightness of 353.74cd.m2, it's not as bright as most LCD-based smartphones, but switch to Auto brightness and shine a torch on its adaptive light sensor and the brightness will shoot up to around 470cd/m2. It's the same thing Samsung did with the S6, and it makes using the S7 in bright sunshine much easier than some of its other Super AMOLED handsets.
It also has the added benefit of Samsung's Always on Display technology, which can be used to display information such as the date, time and the phone's battery status when the screen is turned off. It's a similar idea to Motorola's Moto Display, which displays the time and any notifications when you pick up the phone or give it a jolt, but, as its name implies, the S7 displays this information permanently, which is more useful when you just want to glance down at your phone on the table to check the time.
The Always on Display can also show calendar information, but it's a shame this widget isn't actionable like traditional Android Marshmallow notifications. It's also not particularly useful for anything other than just looking at the date, as it doesn't pull in any events from Samsung's S Planner app, which is in turn linked to your Google Calendar, or highlight upcoming appointments.
Samsung's promised that the Always on Display won't detract much from the phone's battery life, using less than 1% of battery consumption per hour when it's enabled. This is because its Super AMOLED screen will only illuminate the pixels it needs in order to show the information. As a result, only a fraction of the display is being used at any one time. We didn't see any significant battery drain in our time with the handset to date.
Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Battery life
Either way, you needn't worry about the S7's battery life on a day-to-day basis, as its 3,000mAh battery managed an incredible 17h 48m in our continuous video playback test with the screen brightness set to a standard 170cd/m2. That represents just over half brightness on the S7, and it puts the S6 to shame, as it only managed 13h 37m under the same conditions.
Last year's S6 had a smaller battery, so I'd expect the S7 to last longer anyway, but this is easily the best battery performance I've seen from a Samsung phone yet, so it should definitely last well into the next day for the vast majority of users. Samsung's also improved its fast charging support as well, allowing you to get up to 50% charge in just 10 minutes, making it extremely convenient to top up during the day if you run out of juice. It also supports wireless charging as well, via the usual Qi and PMA standards.
Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Performance and gaming
There's been a lot of hype and hoo-hah about which processor Samsung would decide to put in the S7, as early rumours hinted that it might return to using Qualcomm's chips. And it has in some territories, opting for the brand-new Snapdragon 820, but the UK and Europe have got Samsung's own octa-core Exynos 8890 processors instead.
This is made up of two quad-core chips running at 2.3GHz and 1.6GHz respectively, the former handles more intensive tasks while the latter provides superior power efficiency. In my initial testing, it seemed like we'd drawn the short straw in this regard, as my Geekbench 3 scores only reached 1,353 in the single core test and 4,794 in the multicore test, which isn't really that much better than the S6's respective scores of 1,427 and 4,501.
However, when I re-ran the tests later in the day, these scores shot up to 2,115 and 6,437, putting its multicore score way out in front of the Snapdragon 820 results I recorded at a special benchmarking event earlier in the year. Here, the Snapdragon 820 scored 2,356 and 5,450, placing it in roughly the same ballpark as Samsung's Exynos chip.
Regardless of which way you look at it, though, the S7 is easily one of the slickest and most responsive phones I've ever used. Samsung's Marshmallow version of its TouchWiz interface simply flew underneath my fingers, and apps loaded almost instantly. Web browsing was similarly quick, reaching an impressive 1,882 in Peacekeeper. Media-heavy websites like the Guardian were lovely and smooth, and it coped with scrolling images, ads and comments sections beautifully.
The Exynos 8890's graphics capabilities are equally impressive, although here the Snapdragon 820 seems to pull ahead. In the offscreen Manhattan test of GFX Bench GL 3.0, for instance, the S7 managed a 2,336 frames (around 38fps), but the Snapdragon 820 dev kit I tested produced an even smoother 2,860 frames (around 46fps). The S7 also couldn't quite match the Snapdragon 820 on more intensive graphics tests either, as GFX Bench's offscreen Car Chase test finished in 886 frames on the S7 (15fps) but 1,049 (18fps) on the Snapdragon 820.
In practice, though, there aren't many apps which require this much graphical horsepower, so you're unlikely to notice any discernible difference in speed in your average gaming session. Even demanding games like Hearthstone ran perfectly fine during our testing, so simpler games like Threes and Candy Crush should prove no problem at all.
Being able to disable notification pop-ups during games is pretty handy, but the ever-present Game Launcher menu icon is almost equally distracting
On top of that, Samsung has a new Game Launcher, which lets you disable all notification prompts for interruption-free gaming, and makes it easier to take screenshots and record gameplay footage. You can even use it to lock the Back and Recents button.
Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Camera
The camera is one of the most important parts of any smartphone, with less-and-less of us choosing to carry a seperate snapper. The Galaxy S6 had an excellent camera, but with the S7, Samsung's actually taken a risk in order to improve image quality further still. It's done this by reducing the camera's resolution to 12-megapixels instead of sticking with the S6's 16-megapixel sensor.
That might sound like a step backward, but Samsung's made each individual pixel bigger, increasing their size from 1.12um on the S6 to 1.4um on the S7. The bigger the pixel, the more light it gets, thereby helping to reduce the amount of noise in your pictures. The aperture of the lens has also been widened to f/1.7, meaning that 25% more light reaches the sensor than on the S6. Add in Samsung's new dual-pixel sensor, which provides 100% phase detection pixels for super-fast autofocus, and the S7 should produce higher quality pictures than its predecessor - which it does.
In our outdoor photos, there was certainly a lot of detail present, as even far-off street signs and building brick detail on the outskirts of the frame were sharp. There's plenty of contrast available, too, and colours were lovely and bright (both on the phone and on our colour-calibrated test monitor). It tends toward a slight overexposure in shots with a challenging dynamic range, which for most is preferable to the alternative of darker shots, plus I was able to rectify this by switching to HDR mode when possible.
Compared to the S6's camera, our outdoor shots weren't that different. Colours were richer on the S6, though not more realistic, but otherwise there's very little in it apart from the obvious difference in aspect ratio. The S7's sensor is a more traditional and sqaurer 4:3 ratio at the full 12-megapixels rather than the widescreen, and screen-filling, 16:9 ratio used on the S6.
GALAXY S6: To really put the S7's camera to the test, I took these on the Galaxy S6 at the same time. Colours are richer, but apart from the difference in aspect ratio, there's very little in it
GALAXY S6: The S6's shots are arguably better exposed, but even this struggled to capture every last detail on the white buildings above
Indoors, it was a similar situation, at least on the surface. In both our low light, flash and bright light tests, both phones produced nigh on identical shots. However, it was only when I delved into the shutter speed information did the S7 reveal itself as the superior smartphone. For instance, in our low-light shot, the S7 took the photo at 1/25 sec, whereas the S6 shot at 1/15 sec. This means the S7 will be more reliable in low light situations and less likely to blur moving subjects, making it the better camera overall.
Indoors, the S7 performed admirably. There was a lovely amount of fur detail in our teddy bear, and shadows produced hardly any visible noise
The S6 produced great indoor shots, too, but the S7 proved faster when it came to shutter speed in identical conditions
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Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Verdict
There's no denying that the Galaxy S7 is yet another outstanding effort from Samsung, and its improved battery life, speed and performance, not to mention the addition of a microSD slot, make it more than a worthy successor to the Galaxy S6.
The only thing that might put you off is the Galaxy S7's price, although this has come down a bit now since it first launched. With SIM-free prices currently standing at £550 and contracts starting from at least £32-per-month, it's still quite expensive, but at least it's more palatable than the £600 SIM-free or £42-per-month contracts currently being demanded by the iPhone 7.
Generally speaking, though, these kinds of prices are pretty par for course for a flagship smartphone, although you can always make sure you're making the best use of your cash by checking out our regularly updated best S7 deals article. As a result, those who want a new phone right now really can't do much better than the Galaxy S7, and it wins a deserved Best Buy award. Looking for something a little cheaper? Then check out Our Best Smartphones for 2016 article for all the latest and greatest smartphones you can buy today.
See also: 6 Apps to Better Secure Your Smartphone