Galaxy S7 second opinion — the nicest phone I can’t stand to touch
There’s so much to love here — but that can’t keep me from putting down this phone.
One of the cool things about a major phone launch is watching as the Android Central editors all draw their own conclusions from personal experiences. We generally agree on things like camera quality, overall performance, and the technical capabilities of each handset, but whether we actually want to use any given phone is usually a fascinating internal conversation. It’s the kind of thing that leads us to write things like second opinions on phones, because any good review is a healthy mix of objective and subjective analysis.
For what it’s worth, I think Phil’s review gets a lot of important things right about the Galaxy S7. In fact, if you keep reading you’ll undoubtedly see me draw a lot of the same conclusions. There’s one big thing about this phone that I’m unlikely to get over anytime soon, and it’s going to make recommending this phone difficult for me.
I just can’t stand holding this phone.
How we got here
Watching Samsung’s design language change over the last two years has been incredible. The shift from all plastic to glass and metal isn’t an easy change to make, and it couldn’t be more clear that Samsung is learning fast and making changes as quickly as it can. The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge were impressive, beautiful phones that felt oddly sharp when you gripped the corners. Nothing about the design was a deal-breaker, but as a first-generation design there was room for improvement. And, no, I’m not talking about the alignment of the holes on the phone.
You can still tell it’s a Samsung phone by looking at it, but the number of tiny design refinements is impressive.
The Galaxy Note 5 came next. Samsung rounded out the back and smoothed the metal down a bit, and with the exception of a stylus design flaw that was fixed later, this phone felt like a solid improvement on the design of the Galaxy S6. Despite being glass on both sides, my Note 5 has survived by my side for quite a while, and looks just as nice as it did on the day I took it out of the box. As long as you like big phones, Samsung really nailed this one.
The Galaxy S7 looks like a continuation of the lessons learned with the Note 5. It’s compact compared to the other Galaxy S phones — hold it up next to an S5 if you want to be truly impressed — and features not only a pleasantly curved back but a front glass panel that melts right into the frame to complete that nice round feel all the way across the phone. You can still tell it’s a Samsung phone by looking at it, but the number of tiny design refinements is impressive.
So … many … smudges.
Actually holding the Galaxy S7 is a different story. This phone doesn’t feel like the Galaxy Note 5, despite looking like they are made of nearly identical materials. The phone feels softer, as though there’s a coating on the glass and metal that doesn’t exist on the Note 5. After using it for more than a few minutes, a buildup of finger oil coats the back the phone. I find myself constantly wiping the phone down to tolerate using it, and while some of that is to be expected with glass it is noticeably worse on the Galaxy S7 than it ever way on the S6 or Note 5.
More than feeling soft, the phone actually is soft. Rene Ritchie, our Editor in Chief over at iMore, called it “glass-tic” in the way it didn’t feel like a nice glass body, and I think that’s close to how I feel. It’s fragile, and not in the “it turns out phones bend if you try to bend them” way. I’ve had this Galaxy S7 for a little over a week now, and the phone is covered in little nicks and marks on the metal rim of the phone and the metal around the camera on the back. I’ve managed to scratch the back of the phone in more than one place already by putting the phone in the same pocket as my keys, which is extra frustrating for someone who doesn’t own metal keys for the home or vehicle. I use a fob for my car, and my phone for my home, which means the key ring was what scratched the back of this phone while it was in my pocket. Meanwhile, my Note 5 has been dropped half a dozen times since I got it and is almost always in the same pocket as my keys. Not a scratch.
Gorgeous, but not unblemished.
I’ve dropped the Galaxy S7 a few times, but never from any great height. The only think I can say for sure is that I’m fortunate to not have broken the glass on the phone yet. A quick search online will reveal that I am lucky in that regard. While my personal experiences and the personal experiences of those around me can hardly be considered evidence of any grand problem, the phone seems remarkably fragile. Which is a shame, because the rest of the phone is actually pretty great.
As fingerprint sensors go, this can easily be counted among the best.
Samsung’s displays are still in a class of their own — no other manufacturer comes close. The Galaxy S7 doesn’t offer an appreciable difference in quality over the Note 5 in most situations, but things like jumping to super brightness mode when outside happens faster. If you look real close, you’ll see a slight color shift in some viewing angles on the S7 that don’t exist on the Note 5, but only when looking at something white, and only if you’re really looking for it.
The fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy S7 is another example of being just slightly better than its predecessors. While Samsung’s fingerprint sensor isn’t nearly as easy to set up as the Nexus 6P, once you’ve set it up correctly the experience is remarkably similar. The only thing that would make the experience better would be a better unlock animation from Samsung, but that’s a small thing to complain about. As fingerprint sensors go, this can easily be counted among the best.
Performance is an interesting thing to measure on this phone, for a couple of reasons. Any time there’s a processor split between regions, people want to see if one is better than the other, especially when so many hardcore enthusiasts wanted to be disappointed with the Snapdragon 810 last year. The new architecture of the Snapdragon 820 promises a whole lot of performance with none of the heat issues from the previous generation. Heat dissipation is absolutely not a problem with this phone, even when doing things like screen recording while playing games on the Gear VR for extended periods of time, but the phone isn’t any faster than the Galaxy Note 5. Apps launch consistently with the same load time, browsing isn’t any faster, and the games play the same. That decrease in heat means a decrease in power consumption, though, and that is a much bigger deal on phones like these. The Galaxy S7 will easily outperform something like the Nexus 6P when it comes to launching Vainglory or playing Ingress, but against the Note 5 the improvement is more about the energy required for the phone to be that capable. That may not be what the benchmark crown wants to hear, but it’s significant in its own way.
No, I’m not putting a case on my phone.
Here’s the part where readers skip down to the comments section and tell me to just put a case or skin on the phone and I’ll be happy. Guess what, you’re wrong for several reasons. First, the thin cases that make the phone still feel somewhat close to the shape Samsung intended aren’t protecting you from the things that are wrong here. Even if the corner damage was safe due to a layer of plastic, those cases are incredibly susceptible to particulate invasion, which means sand and grit and all manner of other grossness would get in between the plastic and glass and scratch everything up anyway. Ask anyone who was told to “just put a case on” the old iPhones with glass backs, which frequently resulted in more damage over time because they weren’t properly cleaned on a regular basis. It also doesn’t make sense to slap a giant case on this phone, as it removes the thing that makes the phone special in the first place. It’s sold as a small phone, and I’m not going to turn it into a large phone to keep it safe.
Marshmallow TouchWiz is surprisingly good. It’s snappy, visually appealing, and doesn’t get in the way of Google’s core features. Now on Tap lives in the home button so everyone is free to keep ignoring it until it stops being entirely useless, notifications behave like they should, and Marshmallow core features like Doze actually work. The Galaxy S7 doesn’t Doze quite as well as the Nexus 6P, averaging about 3% battery drain over 9 hours instead of 1.2%, but it’s noticeably better than it used to be.
Most of the things that drive non-TouchWiz users crazy can be replaced. The Launcher still doesn’t sort alphabetically on its own, the included keyboard still throws out email addresses from your contacts when completing normal sentences, and Samsung still thinks the app drawer belongs on the far right of your screen. All of this is easily replaced with whatever you want, leaving only the notification tray for you to deal with. If you’ve been paying attention to the notification tray in the Android N Developer Preview, you’ll see that Nexus users will soon be telling everyone how awesome this thing Samsung has been doing for quite a while now is on their phones thanks to Google.
The things I wish Samsung would change are the things it seems mostly disinterested in changing.
The only thing that confuses me about the software on the Galaxy S7 is the always-on display. It is, without exception, the most useless form of always-on display that exists today. Telling the time is the only thing it does that makes any sense. Last year, Samsung’s Edge Display gave me a glance at the time, emails, who called or messages from my closest friends and family, and even the stocks if I was so inclined. This year we get the time, and nothing else of value. There’s no way to see what notifications actually are when they come in, the calendar widget doesn’t actually do anything, and there’s no way to personalize anything unless you want a silly wallpaper instead of something useful. It’s beyond bizarre, and not worth the 1% to 3% battery you lose by having it on.
More than anything, the things I wish Samsung would change are the things it seems mostly disinterested in changing. I’m using a Verizon Wireless version of the Galaxy S7, which means the phone is full of Verizon apps that I’m never going to use and have to hide because I can’t uninstall them. It also means security patches are going to come late for this model, when Euro versions of the phone already seem to be getting them in a timely manner.
We’ve called for unlocked versions of these phones more times then I can count, but I’m going to do it again. Samsung needs to sell versions of their phones in the US that they control from top to bottom, and they need to do it now.
There was little doubt that Samsung was going to once again top the charts with the camera in the Galaxy S7. Samsung has been making this a priority for a long time now, and in this generation you get a camera that launches almost instantly and focuses even faster. Samsung’s Camera UI hasn’t changed much, save for the addition of some new camera modes by default, and that’s a good thing. Samsung’s UI ensures all of the important things are a single tap away, and leaves as much of the screen as possible open to seeing what you’re shooting.
Not a ton has changed about the way Samsung processes color or detail from the previous generation of sensors, which is a big deal when you consider the significant differences in sensors between the last year and this year. For images to come out as similar as they do between the S7 and the Note 5 is impressive, but as we’ve said in reviews the real differences can be found in low-light situations. The Galaxy S7 doesn’t handle low light quite as well as the Nexus 6P, but takes pictures so much faster that you’re more likely to get the shot you want with Samsung.
This is especially true when capturing photos of things in motion, something the S7 does well even in low light. Getting a picture of something in motion is tough, and getting a great low light shot is tough. Getting both is incredibly complicated, but something you can do with ease in most situations on the Galaxy S7. It’s a fantastic overall camera, which is exactly what you expect when using a Samsung phone nowadays.
The bottom line
I love what the Galaxy S7 is capable of. I love the way it behaves in the Gear VR. I love the consistently amazing photos I get from it. I love the way the battery crushes what the S6 was capable of, getting me 14 hours of use consistently on Verizon Wireless. It’s like Samsung took the Note 5 and shrunk it down, adding little bits of polish along the way, which is awesome.
But I can’t hold the damn thing, and that’s a problem. I’m constantly concerned about it breaking now, and it sucks that I would rather grab for my Note 5 or Nexus 6P because I don’t have to worry about those phones slipping out of my hand or being damaged simply by existing in my pocket. This is undoubtedly the best phone Samsung has ever made on the inside, but what’s the point if I can’t enjoy the experience?