Samsung Electronic (SSNLF) had to be disappointed after the 2015 release of the Galaxy S6. The company finally banished its low-rent plastic design for a premium glass-and-metal look but still came up short in sales. With the Galaxy S7, Samsung has improved last year’s design to near perfection.
This is the smartphone to beat in 2016.
But will the latest Galaxy smartphone be enough to lift Samsung out of its sales doldrums? Does it have the chops to take on Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) mighty iPhone 6S, and will it be advanced enough to compete against the iPhone 7 juggernaut when it arrives in the fall?
Key Improvements Over the Galaxy S6
With the Galaxy S6, Samsung was praised for abandoning the plastic body of previous Galaxies in favor of a premium metal-and-glass look, putting Samsung’s flagship smartphone on a more even design footing with Apple’s iPhones.
Unfortunately, that change necessitated dropping some features that Galaxy fans considered deal breakers — like support for SD cards — and introduced some new problems. The sleek design was a looker, but also difficult to grasp firmly.
With the Galaxy S7, Samsung attempts to rectify those missteps.
The back of the Galaxy S7 gains a bit of curve instead of being perfectly flat, making it much more comfortable to hold than the Galaxy S6. The camera bump that first appeared in the Galaxy S6 is also much less pronounced.
The Galaxy S7 regains water resistance, with the ability to survive splashes and even a short dunking.
While Samsung didn’t go so far as to offer the replaceable battery previous Galaxy smartphones have had (that would be tough to pull off in a waterproof case with tightly bonded glass and metal), it did significantly boost the capacity of the battery in the Galaxy S7.
Finally, the ability to use a microSD card for cheap storage expansion is back (it’s hidden in the SIM card tray), but with a caveat — Samsung chose not to support Android Marshmallow’s “adoptable storage,” so the card isn’t treated as system storage. However, it works as traditional extra storage, so it can be loaded up with files like music and movies.
Finally, rather than its own Xynos processor, Samsung is returning to Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM), using its flagship Snapdragon 820 CPU and tacking on an additional gigabyte of RAM.
Galaxy S7’s New Features
The Galaxy S7 is much more than just a spec bump and a few fixes. There are new features, including a completely revamped camera system that takes on one of the iPhone’s key advantages: photos.
For years, Samsung has been pushing higher megapixels as being the critical measurement of camera performance. Despite its efforts, the lower-pixel-count iPhone has consistently come out on top as the preferred choice for snapping photos.
With the Galaxy S7, Samsung gambled and adopted Apple’s approach, actually cutting the megapixel count compared to last year by switching to larger dual-pixels, while also adding a larger aperture lens.
The result is dramatically better photos, with extremely rapid auto-focus and excellent low-light results. Multiple Galaxy S7 reviews have pitted its camera against the iPhone 6S and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Google Nexus 6P, and the Galaxy S7 is hands-down the winner when it comes to taking high quality photos.
Also new for this year is an always-on display.
Samsung is taking advantage of OLED technology to have a section of the Galaxy S7 display permanently active and showing key information like the calendar, time and notifications.
While this may use a little more power, the battery in this phone is larger than last year and not having to power it up to check this information means that in practice it has negligible effect on battery life — it’s a very handy feature, and something the iPhone lacks.
Galaxy S7 Key Specs
- 5.1-inch Quad HD AMOLED display with Always On feature
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 CPU with 4GB RAM
- 32/64GB storage with microSD card expansion support
- Primary camera has 12 MP dual-pixel image sensor with f/1.7 lens, LED flash, optical image stabilization and 4K video
- Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
- Fingerprint sensor, accelerometer, proximity sensor, gyro, compass, barometer and heart rate sensor
- 3000 mAh Li-ion battery
- Fast charge and wireless charging compatible
- Weighs 5.36 oz, 0.311-inches thick
- Runs Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) with Samsung TouchWiz UI
- IP68 Certified water resistant
- MSRP $699 unlocked
The Galaxy S7 was always going to be the Android smartphone to beat in 2016.
After all, despite the success of competitors like the Nexus 6P and the growing threat of Chinese manufacturers like Huawei, Samsung remains top dog. In 2015, the company sold more than the next three top Android makers combined, despite disappointing Galaxy S6 numbers.
With the Galaxy S7, Samsung mostly rectifies the design flaws introduced with last year’s flagship while largely retaining its stunning visual design. That should win back the Galaxy faithful who may have skipped last year’s upgrade. And rather than sit still with basic feature progression, Samsung gambled on a major camera redesign that forced it to back off on years of marketing higher megapixel counts as being key to great pictures.
As a result the Galaxy S7 is not just the best mass-market Android smartphone, it’s more than able to take on Apple’s iPhone 6S.
That leaves a few big questions for 2016.
One: will the Galaxy S7’s flagship price scare off Android shoppers when strong competition like the $499 Nexus 6P cost hundreds of dollars less?
And two: is the sleek design, upgradable storage, water resistance and superior camera enough to sway anyone from the iPhone camp over the next five months?
The new Galaxy S7 isn’t perfect, but it is without a doubt the smartphone to beat in 2016.
At least until September, when the iPhone 7 will make its debut.
As of this writing, Robert Martin did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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