Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S7: An impressive upgrade to the best _phone_ of 2015

The best way to describe the Samsung Galaxy S7 is to say it’s very similar to one of Apple’s iPhone "S" releases. On first glance, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the Galaxy S7 and S6 apart, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to get excited about. The S7 isn't quite as eye-catching as the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, however.

Watch our Samsung Galaxy S7 hands-on video

5 Things you need to know about the Samsung Galaxy S7

1) Display: The S7 has a beautiful, crisp and vibrant 5.1-inch Super AMOLED quad-HD display. It's always on too, so notifications, calendar appointments and the time always show up

2) Returning features: The microSD slot is back, and it's waterproof just like the S5. Well, down to 1m for 30 minutes

3) Plenty of performance: It will be powered by either a Snapdragon 820 or Exynos processor depending on your region, along with 4GB RAM

4) An improved camera: 12-megapixel rear-facing sensor with 95% brighter photos than the S6. Plus a f1.7 aperture and super-fast autofocus

5) A bigger battery: Fast adaptive charging and fast wireless charging. 3,000mAh battery that should be a massive improvement over the Galaxy S6

Samsung Galaxy S7 price and release date

When is the Samsung Galaxy S7 release date? Samsung says the S7 will go on sale on 11 March.

How much will the Samsung Galaxy S7 cost? Pricing for the S7 is £569 for the 32GB model.

What colours will the Samsung Galaxy S7 be available in? The Samsung Galaxy S7 will be available in black, gold and silver. But, us in the UK will only be getting the black or gold models.

Get a great deal on the Galaxy S6 at Amazon

Hands-on with the Galaxy S7

Refinement is key with the Samsung Galaxy S7. Last year’s Galaxy S6 was a huge departure in a number of areas. Samsung had ditched the cheap-feeling plastic and faux-material backs of previous Galaxy models and replaced them with swathes of metal and glass. The resulting Galaxy S6 was a stunner, which is why I’m pleased to see the S7 follows suit.

A slight curvature to the rear, reminiscent of the Galaxy Note 5, makes a huge difference to how comfortable the _phone_ is to hold. While the Galaxy S6 was tough to grip for long periods, the S7 slides easily into your palm. Samsung has also managed to ditch the protruding camera. The sensor now sits flush with the glass, so the phone won’t rock on the table when you try to knock out an email at your desk. It’s a small change, but it shows Samsung is taking note of consumer feedback.

Related: MWC 2015 – All the news from Samsung, LG and the rest

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That theme runs throughout the whole of the Galaxy S7. At the pre-briefing event I attended, Samsung reps reiterated time and again that the company has taken on board what customers have had to say to add in requested features.

The microSD card’s return is proof of this. The S6 ditched the microSD slot to much uproar. The slot sits inside the nano-SIM tray, so doesn’t add any unsightly lines to the side of the phone. Interestingly, Samsung has decided not to support Marshmallow's Flex Storage feature, so you won't be able to combine internal and expandable storage together.

Another Galaxy feature of old making a return here is waterproofing. Thanks to its IP68 rating, you can dunk the Galaxy S7 into water up to 1m deep for 30 minutes. Not having to worry about your phone getting wet in the rain or that accidental drop into a cup of water is always reassuring.

Sure to spark a debate among those who believe higher is better is Samsung's decision to reduce the camera sensor from a 16-megapixel version to a 12-megapixel one. Now, megapixels aren't everything, but even I was initially sceptical about this move, since even a year on, the Galaxy S6 has arguably the best camera on any Android phone.

Related: Galaxy S7 vs iPhone 6S

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It looks to be a good move, however. The aperture has been improved to f/1.7 and Samsung claims you’ll achieve 95% brighter photos as a result. While it wasn’t specifically mentioned, it appears that Samsung is using the Britecell technology it demoed last year. The tech reduces the sensor’s size, hence the lack of bump, while improving low-light performance.

During the demo Samsung showed off improved auto-focus, which is ridiculously fast. The resulting images were noticeably clearer than those produced by the S6. If Samsung really has managed to cram an even better sensor into a smaller shell than before, then I’ll be very impressed. But you'll have to wait for the full review for the final judgement.

Around the front of the phone is a 5-megapixel sensor, which doesn’t seem to be much altered from last time around.

My biggest criticism of the Galaxy S6 was the awful battery life. The 2,550mAh cell was barely capable of making it through the day, and devoured juice when streaming video and music. Hopefully, that won’t be a problem this time round.

Related: Galaxy S7 vs S6

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The Galaxy S7 has a much beefier 3,000mAh cell, which should make it through the day without any issues. It remains non-removable, but retains adaptive fast charging and fast wireless charging.

While the 5.1-inch screen is technically the same as before – that’s a quad-HD resolution and Super AMOLED – it seems a tad more vibrant when compared to the S6. It really is stunning: colours are beautifully represented, viewing angles are fantastic, and it’s so beautiful to look at that I had to pull myself away from it. Best smartphone screen again? Probably.

A nifty new addition to the display is Always On. You know those times when you've pulled out your phone to check on the time or on any notifications and you've had to flick the device on to see them? Not anymore. A portion of the Galaxy S7’s display is always on, constantly showing the time, maybe your calendar and a glance at your notifications.

Samsung claims this eats through an extra 1% of battery every hour, which in my opinion is acceptable. Will it save you more battery in the long-run since you won’t be lighting up the screen every few minutes? I'd say so, but I’ll definitely test this further when the review unit arrives before offering my final verdict.

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As you’d expect, Samsung has beefed up performance on the S7. There’s an extra 1GB of RAM, taking it up to 4GB, plus a new processor Depending on your region, you’ll get a Snapdragon 820 – which marks a return to Qualcomm for Samsung – or one of the company's own Exynos chips. The difference between the two should be minimal, and I was told to expect 64% more GPU and 30% more CPU performance from both.

Whichever chipset you end up with, performance shouldn’t be an issue. I opened up plenty of apps without any stuttering, and with this much power on tap gaming should be handled with ease. Samsung’s UI used to cause some stuttering, but again this looks to have been dealt with.

Speaking of the UI, it’s still TouchWiz. I’m not the biggest fan of Samsung’s slightly child-like custom interface, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be. Yes, the icons are still ugly, but it’s much lighter and less in your face than previous versions – and it’s built upon Android Marshmallow. There’s even a new Game Launcher feature that lets you halt all notifications and record your gameplay while you’re playing Clash of Clans on the bus.

Samsung Galaxy S7 – First impressions

The only thing really missing from the Galaxy S7 is a surprise. It’s like a greatest hits of Samsung’s flagship phones, culminating the bits that everyone liked and adding them to the lovely design that came last year.

Expandable storage, a bigger battery, no protruding camera and an easier-to-hold design were my biggest requests after using the S6 – and they’re all here. Yes, the S7 doesn’t rewrite the smartphone rulebook, but when it looks to be this good I don’t think it needs to.

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