BARCELONA: AT FIRST GLANCE you'd be hard pushed to distinguish Samsung's new Galaxy S7 from last year's release. However, Samsung has made changes where it matters, equipping the smartphone with a new IP68-certified waterproof chassis and a microSD slot, which was sorely missing from the Galaxy S6.
However, the Galaxy S7 is like the iPhone 6S was to the iPhone 6, offering a few incremental updates that the firm hopes will make a big difference.
Last year's Galaxy S6 ditched the plasticky case of previous models and upgraded it to a premium metal and glass combo. The Galaxy S7 follows suit, featuring the same high-end build as last year's model, albeit much shinier which does make it a bit of a fingerprint magnet.
The back of the Galaxy S7 is a little more curvaceous than last year's model and, while the change is subtle, it makes the handset more comfortable to hold in the hand, which will be appreciated when used for long periods. Another subtle change is the downsized camera module, which means the Galaxy S7 doesn't sport the same protruding lens as its predecessor.
The most interesting thing about the Galaxy S7 is its IP68 rating, which means you don't have to scramble for some rice if it falls in your pint. We were unable to test this feature, but Samsung claims it'll be able to withstand up to one metre of water for 30 minutes.
While not as interesting, the return of the microSD slot is much welcomed, especially given that just 20GB of the handset's 32GB built-in storage is available to the user.
The Galaxy S7 features the same 5.1in 1,440x2,560 AMOLED screen as its predecessor and, while some might bemoan Samsung's decision not to up this to a 4K resolution, the display remains one of the most gorgeous we've seen. The AMOLED panel makes for punchy, vibrant and thankfully not oversaturated colours, while the QHD resolution means everything is wonderfully crisp.
Much like the LG G5, Samsung has added Always-on display functionality, which means a cursory glance at your smartphone will show you the time and your notifications. The firm claims that the added feature will suck just one percent of your battery per hour, but we're slightly concerned given that the AMOLED screen technology has a history of suffering burn-in.
Software and performance
As you'd expect, the Galaxy S7 runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and Samsung has stuck its TouchWiz interface on top. We've never been huge fans of Samsung's custom software, but it's definitely not as bad as it used to be. The firm still coats icons in its own, not-as-attractive skin and adds its own tweaks to the software throughout, but gone are the days of ugly widgets.
There's still plenty of custom apps, though. You'll find a bundle of Microsoft apps, including Word, Excel and OneNote, alongside a hefty bunch of Samsung's own apps, including S Health, Galaxy Apps, Samsung Gear and, er, Candy Crush Jelly. A couple of welcome additions, though, are Samsung Pay, which is set for a launch in the UK next month, and Game Launcher, a new feature that lets you halt notifications while playing a game and enables easy the recording and sharing of in-game footage.
Things get confusing when it comes to performance. Samsung seemed unsure which processor the model we tested was equipped with, but explained to us that some models will ship with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip, and others with Samsung's similarly-specced octa-core offering. Whichever it was, Samsung claims that the Galaxy S7 is 30 percent faster than the Galaxy S6, while offering a near 65 percent boost in GPU power.
We've yet to run benchmarks, but can confirm that the Galaxy S7 is blazingly fast, and didn't show any signs of slowing down no matter what we threw at it.
Many will scoff at the Galaxy S7's 12MP rear-facing camera, which seems a downgrade compared with the 16MP sensor on last year's model. However, pixels are larger at 1.4um and there's a bigger f/1.2 aperture. Samsung claims you'll get 95 percent brighter photos as a result.
Unfortunately, despite Samsung's boasts of improved low-light performance, we were able to test the camera only under the bright lights of the firm's MWC showroom. Still, images snapped under the luminous lighting were perfectly detailed and sharp enough, and the souped-up autofocus is incredibly fast.
Round the front of the phone is a 5MP sensor, which seemed to perform similarly to that on last year's Galaxy S6.
The Galaxy S7 might be the closest we've come yet to the perfect smartphone. That's a big claim, and one we won't confirm until we've tested the device fully, but it's hard to criticise, despite Samsung's questionable software choices, and offers most, if not all, the features that most smartphone buyers are after. It's waterproof, has expandable memory and ticks all of the boxes in terms of specs. µ