Samsung unveiled its two latest flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S7 and GS7 edge at an elaborate Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona. Rumors about the GS7 and GS7 edge hit the Web (hard) months ago. Many of the most widely circulated reports proved accurate. However, Samsung did keep a few surprises under wraps.
I spent about an hour with both new Android phones last week at a media event in New York City, and I brought along my GS6 and GS6 edge+ for comparison. Of course, 60 minutes isn't nearly enough time to provide a full evaluation of a smartphone — let alone two of them — but a number of things quickly jumped out at me.
What you'll love about Samsung's Galaxy S7, GS7 edge
1) Galaxy S7 and GS7 edge digital camera
The GS6, GS6 edge and GS6 edge+ all have 16MP cameras. The new GS7 and GS7 edge have 12MP digital shooters. So, you ask, why is a reduction in megapixels a good thing? Simply put, megapixels aren't everything when it comes to digital cameras, and at a certain point, the lens, aperture and shutter speed begin to carry as much if not more weight.
The cameras on the new GS7s are the "first dual pixel sensor 12MP" smartphone cameras ever, according to Samsung, which means every pixel they pack is used to focus. That leads to quicker, more effective autofocus. Samsung says the GS7 cameras focus "two to three times faster" than the GS6 shooters. The GS7 camera aperture (F1.7), leads to 25 percent less exposure time than the cameras on the GS6s (F1.9), according to Samsung, which should result in crisper, clearer images. The camera pixels themselves are also larger in the GS7s (1.4μm) than the GS6 phones (1.12μm), Samsung says, and they take in more light and help capture quality images in dimly lit spaces.
I know that's a lot of "Samsung says" and "according to Samsungs," but it's tough to test camera quality in a controlled environment. The company did, however, perform a demo in which it pitted a GS7 edge against an iPhone 6s Plus in a dark chamber to see which one focused faster and took better images without a lot of light. As you might expect at a Samsung event, the GS7 edge was the clear winner, and though I don't entirely trust Samsung's tests — and it remains to be seen whether or not the improved sensor makes up for that significant pixel reduction — they were encouraging.
2) Galaxy S7, GS7 edge and microSD memory cards
The Galaxy S6 was the first Galaxy S smartphone that didn't have a slot for expandable memory, and though this wasn't a deal-breaker for most folks, it was a disappointment for many. With the GS6, the company was drastically trying to increase the aesthetic appeal of the Galaxy S line (after a lukewarm response to the boring GS5), and decrease the thickness, and I suspect that had something to do with the decision to ditch the microSD card.
Samsung reversed course with the GS7 and again included a microSD slot. The company also figured out a way to include the memory card while maintaining the GS7's svelte frame; the memory-card and SIM card slots on the GS7 are one and the same. The GS7 phones currently support memory cards up to 200GB, though Samsung says they could be updated to work with higher capacity cards as they're released.
3) Galaxy S7, GS7 edge and 'Always on Display'
The two new GS7 smartphones have a new "Always on Display" feature that does just what it suggests and lets you quickly view a variety of information without ever touching your device to wake it. The feature isn't unique — Motorola's latest DROIDs have similar "Attentive Displays," for example — but it does make it easier to see the information that's important to you in less time. (The GS7 devices I used both ran Android v6.0.1 "Marshmallow.")
The customizable Always on Display can also use a motion sensor to wake the GS7 devices and display the date, time and message alerts; a calendar; or a personalized screen. And it has two different light levels so, for example, if you place the GS7 on your bedside in the dark, the Always on Display dims accordingly.
4) Galaxy S7 and GS7 edge are water resistant
Samsung has sold various water-resistant and ruggedized phones for years. It even makes a bulked-up version of the GS6, the GS6 Active, that's basically a GS6 with body armor. While the GS7 phones are not ruggedized like the Active, they are just as water-resistant.
Samsung is careful to stress that while the GS7s are protected from water, they're not waterproof. The new phones have an International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) protection rating of IP68, which means they offer "protection from contact with harmful dust" and are "protected from immersion in water with a depth of more than 1 meter," according to CNET. But you should by no means try to take underwater photos with a GS7 — or if you do, don't go crying to Samsung when your phone croaks.
5) Galaxy S7 edge's enhanced 'edge screen'
The curved displays on Samsung's edge phones are designed to provide quick access to information, apps and contacts. Not surprisingly, the GS7 edge has some new edge screen features.
The edge panel now takes up more of the display when opened; it is 550 pixels instead of 256 pixels, or more than double the width of the edge panel on past Samsung edge phones. The larger size lets you view two side-by-side columns of apps or contacts instead of just one. And the new GS7s also shows certain information horizontally down the column so you don't need to hold the phone in landscape orientation to see it.
You can also now place 1x1 app widgets from third-parties on the apps edge to trigger certain functions. For example, you could place a 1x1 widget from a Twitter app on the edge screen and use it to go directly to the new tweet function, instead of using the app's icon to open it and then navigate to the appropriate page.
6) Galaxy S7, GS7 edge have big ol' batteries
Both of the new GS7s have significantly larger batteries than their GS6 counterparts. Poor battery life is the GS6 edge's Achilles heel, and these larger power packs should address that issue.
The GS7 has a 3,000mAh battery (which is about 18 percent larger than the GS6's 2,550mAh battery) and the GS7 edge has a whopping 3,600mAh battery (20 percent larger than the 3,000mAh GS6 edge+ battery). There is a downside to packing such large battery packs into phones, and I'll get to that in the next section, but they should also mean longer battery life.
7) Galaxy S7, GS7 edge and faster wireless charging
Like the GS6 and GS6 edge phones, the new GS7s support both Qi and PMA wireless charging standards. However, the new phones power up faster wirelessly — you can charge a dead phone to about half capacity in 30 minutes, according to Samsung … if you use an appropriate wireless "fast charge" accessory, such as the company's new wireless charge pad, which props the GS7 up at about a 40-degree angle, so you can see the Always On Display features. The Galaxy S6 edge+ fully charges wirelessly in about 120 minutes, according to Samsung, so the new phones should wirelessly power up about twice as quickly.
There's a lot to like about these two new phones, but they're not perfect. Here are a few reasons why Samsung might have missed its mark with the GS7s.