THE UPCOMING Galaxy S7 is a refinement, rather than a reinvention, of last year's Galaxy S6. The iPhone 6S introduced a pressure-sensitive display, and the LG G5 is set to feature interchangeable hardware modules, but Samsung has made the relatively conservative play of simply cranking up the power and restoring some previously omitted features.
Still, as we found in our hands-on test, the Galaxy S7's iterative improvements make for a hugely impressive device. Read on to see exactly how Samsung has built on the Galaxy S6 to create what is likely to be its finest smartphone yet.
Dimensions and design
Galaxy S7: 142x70x7.9mm, 152g
Galaxy S6: 143x71x6.8mm, 138g
The newer model is heavier and thicker than the Galaxy S6, but that's not a terrible price to pay for the enhancements. The Galaxy S7 reinstates microSD support, which was annoyingly absent from the Galaxy S6, as was waterproofing which has also been brought back here. In fact, the Galaxy S7 is IP68 certified, meaning that it has complete resistance to dust and is waterproof in depths up to 1.5 metres for up to 30 minutes.
These features, as well as a nicely tapered screen and a more curvaceous, palm-hugging glass backplate, make the Galaxy S7's design a clear improvement even considering the added bulk.
Galaxy S7: 5.1in, 2560x1440 resolution at 577ppi
Galaxy S6: 5.1in, 2560x1440 resolution at 577ppi
The screen, on the other hand, has been left mostly unchanged, which is fine. The Galaxy S6's ultra-sharp display was one of its best aspects, and that 577ppi is still hard to beat a year later. Both devices also user Super AMOLED tech, producing brilliantly vibrant colours and deep blacks by electrically charging individual pixels.
The one notable upgrade on the Galaxy S7 is always-on capability, allowing the phone to display basic information like notifications and the time on the lock screen, while keeping battery consumption down to one percent per hour. Third-party developers will be able to create widgets for this feature.
Galaxy S7: Android 6.0 Marshmallow with TouchWiz
Galaxy S6: Android 5.1 Lollipop, upgradeable to Android 6.0 Marshmallow (both with TouchWiz)
The latest version of Google's mobile OS is currently rolling out to Galaxy S6 handsets, which launched with Android 5.0 and have since updated to Android 5.1. The update appears initially to have reached the Vodafone network, but we expect other carriers to have completed the rollout by the time the Galaxy S7 launches on 8 March.
Samsung's latest handset will have Android 6.0 pre-installed, an expected and welcome outcome. The fingerprint sensor is now natively supported by the OS, and the Doze power-saving mode should help make the big 3,000mAh battery last even longer. The TouchWiz custom skin has been updated as well and now has a softer, cleaner look.
It's clear that Samsung has focused on tweaking the hardware rather than making sweeping changes to the software, as these two devices will be largely on par with each other in this regard. Both will support Samsung Pay when it launches next month as well. The main difference seems to be a new Game Launcher app on the Galaxy S7, which aims to turn it into a more serious gaming machine by offering the ability record in-game footage, share scores and achievements with friends and prevent notifications interrupting play.
Galaxy S7: Samsung Exynos 8890 (four 2.3GHz cores, four 1.6GHz cores, 4GB RAM)
Galaxy S6: Samsung Exynos 7420 (four 2GHz cores, four 1.5GHz cores, 3GB RAM)
Weirdly, Samsung is selling the Galaxy with its own Exynos 8890 SoC and Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 820, depending on the region. Here in the UK, we'll get the former. Like the Galaxy S6's Exynos 7420, it's a muscular octa-core chip, albeit with faster clock speeds across the board and a boost to the RAM.
Barring some kind of catastrophic build flaw or overheating problem, there's no reason to think that the Galaxy S7 won't outperform the Galaxy S6 purely on the back of its superbly specced chip, and while 3GB of RAM is plenty even for a premium device, the extra memory is likely to improve heavy multitasking performance as well.
Galaxy S7: 12MP rear-facing with 4K video, 5MP front-facing
Galaxy S6: 16MP rear-facing with 4K video, 5MP front-facing
The lower pixel count on the Galaxy S6's main snapper appears initially to be a downgrade. Not so, according to Samsung; the actual size of pixels has been increased, allowing more light per pixel to be captured through a new f/1.7 sensor. This, in theory, should result in more colourful, less noisy images taken in low light.
We'll need to spend more time with the Galaxy S7 to see how its cameras truly measure up to the Galaxy S6's. If the new sensor can make up for the loss of pixels, that wouldn't be the worst trade off in the world.
Galaxy S7: 3,000mAh
Galaxy S6: 2,550mAh
Perhaps the Galaxy S7's increased thickness is partly down to the larger battery, which has received a generous capacity upgrade over the Galaxy S6's.
Of course, just because the battery is a fifth bigger doesn't mean that battery life will be a fifth longer, as the always-on display and beefier SoC will no doubt exert a heavier strain than before. Even so, anything less than clearly increased longevity would be very disappointing, considering the sheer size of the new unit.
Galaxy S7: 32GB/64GB, microSD (up to 200GB)
Galaxy S6: 32GB/64GB/128GB
No contest here: the return of microSD support, having been absent from the Galaxy S6, gives the Galaxy S7 far more flexibility and a far higher maximum theoretical storage capacity. The Galaxy S6's sole advantage, a super-premium 128GB option, doesn't mean much when those who buy a 64GB Galaxy S7 can make up the difference with a 64GB card costing £20.
It's worth noting, unfortunately, that Samsung has intentionally disabled an Android 6.0 Marshmallow feature that would have treated microSD capacity as internal storage rather than keeping it separate. The firm cited user confusion and the heightened risk of removing the card while the data on it is in use. It's not an entirely convincing explanation, but at least expandable storage can still be used as it could on non-Marshmallow devices.
It may not be a radical overhaul, but the Galaxy S7's almost universally higher specs make it a technical improvement on the Galaxy S6 in almost every way. Even in the areas where scepticism is particularly due, such as the rear camera and battery life, it still has a solid chance of coming out on top. µ