We go hands-on with Samsung's latest curved-screen smartphone
The Samsung Galaxy S7 wasn’t the only flagship product announced by the Korean giant at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Just like last year, it has paired the regular S7 with a curvier, sexier sibling – the S7 Edge.
And it has to be said that the S7 Edge is the most beautiful smartphone I've ever held. It’s no longer simply an S7 with some added curves; it stands in its own right. It’s moved from a 5.1-inch to 5.5-inch display, yet it feels compact and easy to hold in one hand.
I placed it next to the iPhone 6S Plus – which also has a 5.5-inch display – and there’s a noticeable difference. Samsung’s device just feels better designed.
Watch our Galaxy S7 Edge hands-on video
5 things you need to know about the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
1) Edge panels
It has a stunning, dual-curved design that feels fantastic and has a few new tricks up its sleeve. Developers can now make apps for the Edges, and there's more space to play with.
Impressive 5.5-inch quad-HD display with vibrant colours and great viewing angles. Could easily be the best screen we've seen on a smartphone.
The S7 Edge sports a 12-megapixel rear-facing camera with 95% brighter photos than the S6. It also benefits from f/1.7 aperture and super-fast autofocus.
It has a much larger 3,600mAh battery plus fast and wireless charging. The unit isn't removable, however.
The handset will be powered by either a Snapdragon 820 or Exynos 8 processor depending on your region, along with 4GB of RAM. The microSD card slot is back too, and the _phone_ is waterproof down to 1m for up to 30 minutes.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge release date and price
The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge will ship on 11 March, with pre-orders open now. In select countries, a pre-order will also bag you a free Gear VR headset. In terms of price, the S7 Edge will set you back £639 for a 32GB model.
Related: Samsung S7 vs S6: What's changed?
Samsung S7 Edge review hands-on – Samsung likes them curvy
Similar to last year's Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge, the S7 Edge has curves on the front and rear. The device feels great to hold, although I do wish that Samsung had ditched the glass back. It's a little too delicate; I ran into problems with my S6 Edge last year, whose glass back cracked. Fingers crossed that the S7 Edge doesn't suffer the same fate.
The S7 Edge's curved screen packs a quad-HD-resolution panel – not 4K, as some rumours have suggested – and it’s of the Super AMOLED variety. From what I've seen so far, the panel is about as vivid and punchy as you can get, without becoming oversaturated. It truly is a glorious display. It's accurate and bright, with stunning viewing angles and so much detail that even if you get up close and personal, you'll struggle to spot a stray pixel.
Probably the coolest addition to the display this time around is the Always-On mode, which is similar to the Glance Screen on Windows Phone. It will constantly display the time, notifications, upcoming appointments and so on, without the need to unlock the _phone_ and open up an app.
Related: S7 vs iPhone 6S
According to Samsung, having this option turned on will use up 1% of battery per hour. However, this is lower than if you constantly take out your phone and light up the whole display.
The Edge screen continues to suffer from a little reflection, however, especially if using the phone in bright surroundings. Light hits the side of the screen and can make the display a tad difficult to see – but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to have something this beautiful.
Samsung has improved the functionality of its Edge display, though. It’s now double the width, so more information can be crammed inside and developers will be able to build their own apps. I was shown a Yahoo Sports panel that will highlight sports scores and the latest news, and one for a compass. The ability to add your favourite apps, contacts and shortcuts to the Edge UX will remain, but its slightly larger size will mean that you can fit more in.
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In my opinion, the Edge panels are about offering visual flair rather than functionality. Nonetheless, it’s nice to see that Samsung has at least made an attempt to try to improve them.
Another slight design change comes in the form of an updated camera. The protruding lens on the rear of the previous device has been replaced by a new sensor that sits flush to the glass. This is thanks to a completely rebuilt camera module that takes up much less space, although one that should still offer fantastic results – I hope.
The sensor itself has dropped from 16 megapixels to 12 megapixels, although this shouldn't be cause for concern. It uses a new system called dual pixels to achieve 95% brighter photos than those taken with the previous camera.
It also benefits from a f/1.7 aperture and a ridiculously, almost instantaneous, fast autofocus. It even autofocused in a snap when the lights were turned off – something I haven’t witnessed before on a phone.
Considering the strength of the camera on the S6, I’m expecting a lot here – but my first impressions didn’t disappoint.
You’ll be able to shoot 4K and slow-mo video too, while the front-facing 5-megapixel selfie camera seems to be the same one used in the S6.
In terms of performance, the S7 Edge looks set to be a seriously fast phone. Samsung says that, depending on the region, the device will include either one of its latest in-house-made Exynos chips or a Snapdragon 820. Both offer 4GB of RAM, and up to 30% more CPU performance and 64% GPU performance than before.
During my brief spell with the S7 Edge I didn’t notice any lag, stuttering or performance issues. But, of course, I’ll need far more time to really put it through its paces.
Samsung is also looking to overcome any overheating issues by including a water-cooled element inside the device. When you’re gaming or running particularly intense apps, it will kick in to keep everything cool.
Samsung responds to feedback
While the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge were certainly met with critical acclaim – heck, we gave them both smartphone of the year at the TrustedReviews Awards – there were some who felt that the devices had lost the essence of the Galaxy series. Neither included expandable storage, removable batteries, or benefited from an IP68 rating, so they couldn't be dunked in water.
Well, Samsung is hoping to win those fans back round with the Galaxy S7 Edge.
MicroSD expansion makes a return, with the card slotting alongside the nano-SIM in a redesigned tray. With Android Marshmallow allowing you to combine both your system and expandable storage, picking up a 32GB phone and popping in a 64GB card will provide more than 90GB with which to play.
Obviously, for this to work you’ll need a super-quick – ideally Class 10 – microSD card. Cleverly, however, the system will provide an alert if your choice of card is likely to hamper performance.
Get a great deal on the Galaxy S6 Edge at Amazon
The S7 Edge is also IP68-certified, which basically means you can submerge the whole device in water – don’t go trying this in milk, or beer – to depths of 1m for about 30 minutes.
For me, this isn’t anywhere near as important as the provision of expandable storage, although it's reassuring to know that accidentally dropping the device into a glass of water, or being caught out in a rainstorm with it, won't damage the phone.
The fact that the handset is waterproof also means that the external look of the phone isn't ruined by any ugly flaps covering the ports – which is always a bonus.
Samsung has also tried to make up for the poor battery life suffered by the S6 and S6 Edge by upping the internal cell quite dramatically. It’s now a 3,600mAh unit, which – according to Samsung's reps – will allow you to watch an entire season of Game of Thrones before you need to reach for the charger.
Sadly, it isn't a removable cell; this would be almost impossible in such an enclosed design. However, at least there’s the potent pairing of adaptive fast charging to get you out of the red quicker and Qi/PMA fast wireless charging too.
Interestingly, and for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, Samsung has decided to stick with micro-USB rather than switching to USB-C. Maybe this was to keep the thickness of the phone down, or maybe the company just wasn't convinced that folk are quite ready to ditch all their old cables. Either way, it does stop the S7 Edge being quite so futureproof.
TouchWiz is still the UI overlay of choice here, although – as seems to be the case every year – it’s a little lighter, less ugly and more in line with Google’s version of Android. It runs atop Android 6.0 Marshmallow so you’ll benefit from Doze, to stretch out the battery even further, and Google Now on Tap.
There's no word on price or availability yet, although hopefully we'll learn more soon.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is a stunning phone. No longer is it simply a slightly curvier version of the S7; it's something quite different.
Pair the good looks with a huge battery, super-fast processor, plenty of RAM, microSD expansion plus wireless and fast charging, and you’re probably looking at the phone to beat this year. That’s before mentioning that stunning screen and a camera that's showing signs of being pretty impressive too.
If Apple is to do battle with the S7 Edge, it's going to need something good up its sleeves.