Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge - evolution, not revolution

LG's latest flagship, the G5, was unveiled yesterday as the company's effort to produce something a bit more distinctive in a sea of 'me-too' handsets. The device features a so-called 'Magic Slot', into which various accessories can be connected to expand the capabilities of the G5 in various ways.

LG's South Korean rival, Samsung, also unveiled its new Android range-toppers yesterday and at first glance, they seem to be little more than a plain evolution of their predecessors. But from what I've seen of the new Galaxy S7 and S7 edge so far, while they don't rock the boat too much, they're still worth a closer look.

Like their predecessors, Samsung's latest additions to its Galaxy S-series line are crammed full of high-end hardware, but the first thing you're likely to look at, of course, is the display. This is one area in which Samsung has always excelled (indeed, it also makes screens of all sizes for other manufacturers) and the S7 doesn't disappoint. The 5.1-inch Super AMOLED panel is every bit as sharp as you would expect of a screen of this size offering Quad HD (2560x1440px) resolution and of course, it offers stunningly bright and vibrant colors, with extraordinary contrasts and deep blacks.

The screen on the Galaxy S7 edge is slightly larger at 5.5-inch, but shares the same resolution and looks just as stunning, if not more so, in fact, thanks to its stylishly curved edges. There's no doubting the drama of this design and it's as impactful to look at as it was on last year's Galaxy S6 edge. Even so, while it's undoubtedly beautiful to behold, the benefits that it offers are somewhat limited.

As with the Galaxy S6 edge, the edges of the new S7 variant aren't deep enough to offer a side-on view, like the Galaxy Note Edge did. On the Note Edge, the single curve dipped over the side of the device to a much greater extent, creating a miniature lateral panel on which you could view information - for example, when lying in bed and viewing the device on your bedside table.

On the S7 edge (and the S6 version before it), the curve is much shallower, which prevents it from displaying content in the same way as the Note Edge. I wondered if perhaps I hadn't got the full picture, so to speak, when reading about the new S7 edge and trying to understand exactly what benefits Samsung was putting forward with its distinctive dual-curved display. I asked several Samsung staff to clarify the full range of usage scenarios and features offered by the display.

Essentially, the image that you see above sums it up. Samsung uses the edge display as a staging area for quick-access shortcuts, and for key user-selected content. It's debatable whether or not this is genuinely useful (and indeed if this really needs a curved display rather than just a swipe gesture on a flat screen), but some users may well find this kind of functionality indispensable - or, at the very least, handy enough for regular use.

In addition to app shortcuts, for example, you can swipe across the edge overlay to another panel that offers quick access to tasks...

...while another swipe will bring you to the People edge. Here, Samsung has thought a bit more about how to extend the functionality of the curved display further. Each of the five people that you can pin to the People edge is assigned a color, so that if your phone is ever lying face-down on your desk, the edges of the display will glow in the same color as a particular contact if they try to get in touch with you. Again, it's debatable just how useful this will be in the real world. How many users put their phone face-down on a desk rather than having its display easily visible?

Users can download further edge panels from the Galaxy Apps store, offering easy access to a range of content, such as news headlines, tweets, or device usage data.

Samsung has also listened to feedback from its users, who requested the return of the microSD card slot, as well as water and dust resistance. The microSD card is inserted into the same bay at the top-end of the device as the SIM card. This helps to preserve the clean lines of each device, but it also means that you'll need a SIM-removal tool (or something similarly long and thin) to be able to remove the memory card.

Both the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge feel like top-of-the-line hardware, and are very comfortable to hold - even more so than their predecessors, despite sharing very similar form factors. Samsung appears to have made a conscious effort to build on the most successful and popular elements of the S6 devices, and improve upon them in every way possible.

Samsung is also hoping to boost the appeal of its new handsets by providing a wide range of accessories, including extensive support from third-party manufacturers.

Samsung's own offerings include the stylish new Gear 360 camera...

...and the Gear VR headset, co-developed with Oculus. Samsung will even be bundling a free headset with both of its new phones for those who pre-order one of them.

And of course, nothing beats looking quite as cool as this when you're wearing a VR headset.

While LG has attempted to do something a bit different with its flagship, Samsung is favoring evolution over revolution. But there's no denying the success of the last-generation Galaxy flagships, and if that formula worked well for Samsung, there's very little reason for it to shake things up and change everything for its own sake.

The Galaxy S7 ticks a lot of the boxes that buyers will be looking for, coming crammed full of the latest high-end hardware, promising fierce performance and most of the key functionality that they'll need. The extra functionality offered by the more expensive Galaxy S7 edge will be of questionable use to some buyers, but there's no denying the beauty of its stunning display. For some buyers, that will be enough to justify the extra price.

As with all of the shiny new devices being unveiled this week at Mobile World Congress, we'll have to wait until we have the opportunity to test the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge in the real world before we can offer a recommendation about whether or not to buy one. On the surface, at least, Samsung's new flagships look like worthy additions to the company's illustrious Galaxy S-series.

Report a problem with article
Next Article

First impressions on the Vector Luna smartwatch, which claims 30 days of battery life

Previous Article

HTC One X9 coming to Europe and Asia this month

30 Comments - Add comment