I was feeling pretty great about things until I started comparing the S7's results with some photos shot with the Galaxy Note 5 and its 16-megapixel camera. Its higher resolution allowed it to pick up even more nuance in statues, landscapes and human subjects, while matching the S7 on color reproduction. In certain conditions -- usually bright natural light-- the Note 5 took more appealing photos. The trade-off here is that while the S7 and S7 Edge lack the edge (ha!) in resolution, they're both noticeably better than the iPhone and Note 5 in low-light environments. Bear in mind, they're definitely not going to replace your Sony A7s; you'll still see lots of grain, and most shots feel a little overprocessed, but I was able to consistently leave the flash off and still achieve results good enough for Facebook and Instagram.
Fortunately, the camera interface hasn't really changed since the Note 5 came out, which means you don't have to do anything to get good-looking shots. There's a Pro mode in case you want to fiddle with your exposure values and shutter speeds, and the usual selective focus, video collage, virtual shot and live broadcasting modes are back too. New here is a Hyperlapse mode, which does exactly what the name suggests.
There's also something Samsung calls "motion panoramas." Basically, when the feature is enabled, the camera shoots a panoramic video in addition to the usual super-long photo. Then, when you play it back, you can rotate or move your S7 or Edge to see the panorama come to life in front of you. Useful? Maybe. I wonder how many people actually bother shooting panoramas. Is it neat, though? You bet. The video experience is generally pretty lovely here, too -- resulting footage was crisp, bright and well saturated, though you lose niceties like tracking autofocus when you jump into 4K. All told, the camera experience on the S7 and S7 Edge is more of a mixed bag than I hoped. The sensor powering everything is one hell of a technical achievement and gives both phones low-light and autofocusing superpowers. Still, just a little extra resolution would have been nice.
Samsung has historically been good about balancing polish with technical progress. As for this year's models, it's hard to argue with the quad-core Snapdragon 820 chip and 4GB of RAM used here. During my week of testing, the Galaxy S7 handled anything I threw at it with grace. That was almost always the case with the S7 Edge too, except the few times it wasn't. Once in a while, I ran into some lag that made navigating home screens, popping into Flipboard and switching between apps feel strangely jerky.
I can't tell what's causing this weirdness either. It might be some issue with TouchWiz, or maybe some overzealous CPU throttling. For what it's worth, the S7 seemed immune to these technical hiccups; only the Edge had occasional stutters. These issues popped up from time to time on the S6 twins too, but I was really hoping Samsung would have ironed out the kinks by now.
Meanwhile, our usual slew of benchmark tests point to some notable boosts in performance, especially when it comes to graphically intensive tasks like gaming. The S7 siblings are the first smartphones available that play nice with the Khronos Group's Vulkan API, which should make for a new breed of console-grade mobile games. Remember Tim Sweeney's gorgeous demo during Samsung's S7 press conference? Vulkan-powered games haven't hit the Google Play Store yet, sadly, but it's clear Samsung is taking its future in gaming seriously. In the meantime, games like Dead Trigger 2, Asphalt 8 and Mortal Kombat X ran like butter, thanks to the addition of the Adreno 530 GPU. Interestingly, the S7 seems to pull ahead in most of these tests -- you'd do well not to count the smaller phone out.
||Samsung Galaxy S7
||Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
||Samsung Galaxy S6/Edge
||iPhone 6s Plus
|3DMark IS Unlimited
|SunSpider 1.0.2 (ms)
|GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps)
|SunSpider 1.0.2: Android devices tested in Chrome; lower scores are better.
Our usual battery rundown test entails setting the screen brightness to 50 percent, connecting the phone to WiFi and looping an HD video. I had high hopes for the Galaxy S7 Edge and its hefty 3,600mAh battery, but the improvement was actually fairly modest. All told, it hung around for 14 and a half hours, only about 40 minutes longer than the Galaxy Note 5.
The Edge fared much better in mixed use. I'd usually disconnect it from the charger at around 7:30 AM and use the thing nearly nonstop until I finished work at about 8 PM. Throw in a little light Kindle app reading and a few Spotify playlists and the Edge would usually hit 10 percent around the time I went to bed. And since Marshmallow's Doze feature kicks in when the phone is still, I'd wake up with just enough juice to check a few emails before plugging it in.
Meanwhile, the regular Galaxy S7 survived our video gauntlet for 13 hours and 20 minutes, slightly trailing the Note 5. Mixed use also suited the smaller phone better: It'd routinely come off the plug at 7 AM and stick around until just before I fell asleep at around 1 AM. Both of these phones showed decidedly above-average endurance, and will easily see you through the day. Like I said, though, the difference over last year's models is subtle.
By virtue of timing alone, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are two of the most powerful, desirable Android phones on the market. That said, you should still be mindful of other options. Take the Nexus 6P ($499 and up), for instance. While it lacks the latest Snapdragon chipset, its mix of top-tier power and a clean Android build make it a potent contender for the "Best Android Phone" crown.
Then we have LG's recently announced G5, which as of this writing isn't out yet. It pairs the same Snapdragon silicon with either 3GB or 4GB of RAM and a 5.3-inch Quad HD IPS LCD screen. That's a painfully reductive way to look at the thing, though, when you consider that LG is responsible for building a proper, modular flagship smartphone. It remains to be seen whether the G5, with its swappable doodads and weird dual-camera setup, will find a foothold in the market. But on some level it doesn't matter: LG finally made a more exciting flagship than Samsung.
The S7 and S7 Edge bear some thematic resemblance to the iPhone 6s ($649 and up) and 6s Plus ($749 and up), another pair of devices with different form factors built around near-identical brains. They're obviously not Android phones, but they're the spawn of one of Samsung's biggest rivals, and meld a surprising amount of horsepower with a fantastic ecosystem of apps and the sort of touch-sensitive screen we all thought the S7 clan would get too.
They may not be revolutionary, but Samsung's new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are powerful and well built, making them worthy sequels to what were previously its best-ever phones. More important, there are now distinct reasons to buy each. The S7 is one of the finest phones I've ever tested, while the Edge has the screen and battery to (mostly) satisfy mobile movie buffs and phablet diehards. That said, I was hoping for a bigger boost in longevity, considering the size of this year's batteries. And the cameras, while generally very good, aren't an across-the-board improvement over last year's.
Even so, if you're in the market for a new, not too big Android phone, your search should start with the Galaxy S7. And if you're a sucker for style, as I know many of you are, the S7 Edge does a good job balancing power and prettiness. Though these are just the first of several flagship phones to arrive this year, we can already say that Samsung's latest offerings are well equipped to take on the competition.