Samsung Galaxy S7 review (hands-on), prices and specs: 2016 flagship gets watercooling, a microSD slot and water-resistance

The Samsung Galaxy S7 is a phone that makes complete sense. There’s no major design overhaul – only incremental performance and camera upgrades – but it’s now the 5.1in counterpoint to the 5.5in Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. It’s the phone you want if you prefer a smaller handset, and it’s the phone you want if you don’t want to pony up for the Galaxy S7 Edge but do want all the features and core hardware capabilities.

It’s almost as if Samsung took a look at Apple’s two-phone strategy – one big phone, one very similar-looking smaller one – and decided to deliver its own vision of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Given that not everyone wants a giant 5.7in Galaxy Note 5 (if you can even buy one), it’s a move that makes a lot of sense. 

I certainly think it’s a great plan. Increasing the S7 Edge’s screen size to 5.5in gives customers more reasons to buy it, other than just “hmm… it has a curvy screen”, and it gives them reasons to buy the plain old S7 too. Most importantly, however, Samsung has listened to its customers and brought back key features and made subtle improvements in all the right areas.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review: What’s new?

The first thing to note is that, just like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, the Samsung Galaxy S7 now has expandable storage and IP68 dust and water resistance.

Galaxy fans were in uproar about the lack of a microSD slot in last year’s models, so bringing it back was the sensible thing to do. Samsung hasn’t compromised on the design of the phone to do it, however: the microSD card is neatly hidden away next to the nano-SIM card in an elongated SIM drawer on the top edge, meaning there’s no unsightly second slot.

The dust and water resistance is another nice returning feature that doesn’t impact on the look and feel of the phone, and it’s an upgrade on the IP67 protection of the Samsung Galaxy S5. Technically, this means it’s possible to completely submerge the phone in up to 15 metres of water for up to 30 minutes. But who’s going to do that apart from crazy reviewers desperately in search of a few thousand YouTube views?

I prefer to think of it as peace of mind. A feature that means you don’t need to worry about using your phone to find your way when it’s raining, or if you put it down on a pub table soaked in beer. From that perspective, it’s something that’s well worth having.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Headline specifications and prices

  • 5.1in Super AMOLED display, Quad HD resolution
  • Octa-core Samsung Exynos 8890 processor
  • 32GB storage
  • Android 6.01 Marshmallow
  • microSD slot supporting cards up to 200GB
  • IP68 dust- and water-resistant
  • microSD slot
  • 12-megapixel rear camera with f/1.7 aperture, dual-sensor phase-detect autofocus
  • 3,000mAh battery
  • Always-on screen
  • Curved glass at rear
  • Smaller camera “hump” protrudes only 0.46mm
  • Available from 11 March, everyone who pre-orders gets a free Gear VR
  • Price: £567 inc VAT – more details can be found on our pricing page

Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Design and display

Aside from those headline changes, though, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is a mild update. The Samsung Galaxy S6 was (and still is) a very good smartphone, so this doesn’t represent too much of a problem.

It has a 5.1in Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1,440 x 2,560 – the same as last year’s Samsung Galaxy S6 – and I have no reason to suspect that the quality will be anything other than brilliant.

Samsung has long perfected the art of producing excellent screens on its smartphones, somehow managing to tame the oversaturated colours typical of Super AMOLED technology, and to deliver something that’s super-accurate and incredibly punchy all at once.

I’ll confirm this when I get the chance to test it with our colorimeter, but I don’t expect it to be much better or indeed any worse than the screen on the S6. In fact, it’s probably rolled off exactly the same production line.

Also unchanged is the glass-sandwich design and exotic, metallic finish that underpins it. In short, the S7 looks just as good as the S6 did last year – all shiny, flashy and glitzy glamour – and just as bad once covered in greasy fingerprints.

Flip the phone over and look at the rear, however, and you’ll begin to see differences. First, the camera “hump” has been reduced in size, from around 1.6mm on last year’s model to 0.46mm here. It also has more rounded edges, meaning it’s less likely to catch on the edges of your pocket when you’re stowing it away.

Second, the vertical edges of the phone at the rear now curve up to meet the phone’s slim aluminium frame. If you keep up with all things smartphone-related, this is just like the design of the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, except there’s no stylus, of course.

The rest of the design is fairly similar to the S6. The buttons and ports are all in the same place – the SIM card and microSD drawer are on the top edge, the volume buttons on the left, the power button on the right, and the 3.5mm audio, micro-USB port and speaker grille on the bottom.

The only other major difference is the screen’s new always-on capability. As with Motorola’s Moto Display, this shows useful information such as the time and recent notifications on the screen, even when the phone is on standby.

Unlike Motorola’s version, Samsung’s is on permanently, and you get a choice between the style of what’s shown, with different clock and calendar views available to choose between.

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