APPLE'S iPhone 6S casts a long shadow over the smartphone industry. The company's world-dominating success with the brand means that most mainstream competitors are actively copying it or trying to outflank it with ever-flashier designs or unique gimmicks. Still, none has ever really inflicted significant damage to Apple's market share.
Samsung's Galaxy S range has historically come the closest, although the most recent iPhone 6S has handily beat 2015's Galaxy S6 in terms of sales despite the latter's ambitious focus on ultra-high-end components. Samsung has balanced this premium obsession for the upcoming Galaxy S7, announced on 21 February and due for release in March, with an eye for basic utility, bringing back microSD support and waterproofing after both features went conspicuously missing on the Galaxy S6.
Dimensions and design
Galaxy S7: 142x70x7.9mm, 152g
iPhone 6S: 138x67x7.1mm, 143g
Unsurprisingly, the smaller-screened iPhone 6S is easily the more pocket-friendly with tighter dimensions and a lower weight. The Galaxy S7's curved glass back looks temptingly lavish, but we'd prefer the durability and fingerprint resistance of Apple's aluminium unibody.
However, the Galaxy S7 strikes back with IP68 certification dust- and water-proofing and can survive being left in a bath for half an hour, let alone a drop in a puddle. The iPhone 6S, by contrast, has some added internal gaskets but the Lightning port, speaker, headphone jack and SIM slot are all weak points for encroaching moisture.
Galaxy S7: 5.1in, 2560x1440 resolution at 577ppi
iPhone 6S: 4.7in, 1334x750 resolution at 326ppi, 3D Touch
The upside of a bigger form factor, of course, is a more spacious screen. The Galaxy S7 beats the iPhone 6S in this regard, although it's the resolution where Samsung's effort really pulls ahead, offering nearly twice the pixels and a much higher density, ultimately resulting in greater sharpness.
We therefore suspect that the Galaxy S7 will be more comfortable for general use, particularly content consumption, but let's not ignore the iPhone 6S's party trick: the pressure-sensitive 3D Touch tech. This allows more ways of interacting with the OS, opening up new app shortcuts and content previews via the ability to differentiate between soft and hard presses. The Galaxy S7's big display feature of always-on capability that can show widgets on the lock screen while minimising battery drain looks quite dull and limited in comparison.
Galaxy S7: Android 6.0 Marshmallow with TouchWiz
iPhone 6S: iOS 9
Both of these systems are the best in their respective series. Android 6.0 finally adds native app search and indexing, as well as a wonderfully privacy-focused permissions model where users can customise exactly what data an individual app can access before and after installing it.
iOS 9, meanwhile, features six-digit passcode support and two-factor authentication, as well as reworked apps that can use the Metal API to save battery while running faster.
The two are pretty much evenly matched in terms of desirable features, but those who like to keep their device as up-to-date as possible should note that Samsung has skinned the Galaxy S7's OS with TouchWiz. This does add some welcome functionality, such as Samsung Knox which creates encrypted secure areas in the device's storage, but it delays future Android updates, as opposed to the iPhone 6S which will receive iOS 9 patches as soon as they appear.
Galaxy S7: Samsung Exynos 8890 (four 2.3GHz cores, four 1.6GHz cores, 4GB RAM)
iPhone 6S: Apple A9 (two 1.8GHz cores, 2GB of RAM)
Specs can be deceiving with Apple's SoCs because what looks like an underpowered little dual-core chip actually ploughed through the benchmark tests in our iPhone 6S review, beating the octa-core Galaxy S6 by some margin. This is down to the extreme optimisation programme Apple deploys to make sure iOS 9 runs as efficiently on the A9 chip as possible.
The Exynos 8890, on the other hand, is designed to be lightning fast with any software and hardware combination it may be paired with. The numbers are certainly encouraging: both sets of four cores are clocked faster than the Galaxy S6's Exynos 7420, and it's gained an extra gigabyte of RAM too.
Further testing is required to see which of these smartphones offers better real-world performance, although interestingly GSMArena's early Galaxy S7 benchmarks returned an astonishing Antutu score of 114,250, which would make it the most powerful Android device to date.
Galaxy S7: 12MP rear-facing with 4K video, 5MP front-facing
iPhone 6S: 12MP rear-facing with 4K video, 5MP front-facing
Samsung actually lowered the Galaxy S7's pixel count from the Galaxy S6's 16MP, bringing it to parity with the iPhone 6S. It's not a complete downgrade, however, as the Galaxy S7's pixels are slightly larger, and a new f/1.7 sensor is said to improve low light performance.
It's worth noting that Samsung showed a side-by-side comparison image during the Galaxy S7 unveiling supposedly demonstrating its superior sharpness and colour balance in low light compared with the iPhone 6S. We'll wait to see how the Galaxy S7 performs in our own tests before deciding on a winner.
Galaxy S7: 3,000mAh
iPhone 6S: 1,715mAh
It's a clean win for Samsung on paper. The firm has addressed complaints that the Galaxy S6's 2,550mAh unit lacked sufficient stamina, while Apple elected to shrink the iPhone 6S's battery from the iPhone 6's 1,810mAh.
Again, Apple has a way of squeezing high performance out of seemingly low specs, and the iPhone 6S's score of nine hours and seven minutes in our video loop test is well above average. Even so, we'd be extremely surprised if the Galaxy S7's upgraded battery couldn't seriously contest it.
Galaxy S7: 32GB/64GB, microSD (up to 200GB)
iPhone 6S: 16GB/64GB/128GB
Samsung has dropped the 128GB option for the Galaxy S7, but its support for swappable microSD cards gives it effectively unlimited storage which the iPhone 6S, with its fixed internal capacities, just can't match.
At £539, the 16GB iPhone 6S does have the benefit of being marginally cheaper than the £569 32GB Galaxy S7, but, frankly, £30 for a double-sized drive and huge expandability potential is a bargain. 16GB will be far too small for many users, anyway.
The iPhone 6S remains an excellent smartphone, combining sleek craftsmanship and huge power in a way that most other manufacturers have struggled to match, let alone beat.
The Galaxy S7, however, has the best chance of any device so far to knock Apple off the top of the market. It's outstandingly specced with powerful innards and highly functional features, from a microSD card slot to a gigantic battery, that just make a smartphone easier to live with. We don't know whether the Galaxy S7 will help Samsung shake its second-place position, but it arguably deserves to. µ