Samsung kicked off Mobile World Congress in Barcelona with its much-anticipated “Unpacked” event unveiling the new Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, which went on sale March 11. The new Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge look familiar, but bring back water resistance and expandable storage, plus feature new integrations with the company’s virtual reality ecosystem. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg made a guest appearance to promote a Samsung-Facebook partnership on virtual reality.
Before we dive into the details of what’s new — and what’s familiar — with the flagship phones, it’s worth noting that the major differences between the Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge are the size of the phones. The S7 is 5.1 inches and the S7 Edge is 5.5 inches, and while both are thicker and heavier than their predecessors, they’re also narrower and shorter, with rounded backs that make them easier to use one-handed. The S7 Edge also has a screen with curved edges, which offer access to an updated edge screen with widgets and app shortcuts. In both cases, the screens are brighter and more efficient, with new always-on display technology, and the phones feature significantly upgraded batteries, plus features that are new or are reappearing after being removed from last year’s flagship phones.
What’s new with the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge?
Though the features and specifications of the new phones were thoroughly leaked before the event, journalists who were able to test out the devices were impressed by just how big a difference they made. Darren Orf reports for Gizmodo that “after spending a few minutes testing the device, it became clear that Samsung can still make a great Android phone,” and Dan Seifert reports for The Verge that the Galaxy S7 is “a stunning piece of technology.”
The build quality has been refined, the camera is better than the one included in last year’s model, and expandable storage is back thanks to a microSD card slot that enables the phone to hold up to 200GB of data. The S7 is also IP68 rated, which means that it can survive a drop in five feet of water for 30 minutes. The S7’s waterproofing includes sealed ports, meaning that there aren’t port covers for the USB ports or headphone jacks.
Samsung has made the 5.1-inch S7 more comfortable to hold and easier to pick up from a table, and the phone features a flatter fingerprint scanner and a less-pronounced camera bump. The S7 features the same 5.1-inch quad HD Super AMOLED display used in the S6. The S7 Edge has been more thoroughly updated, with a larger 5.5-inch display (that’s also quad HD Super AMOLED and has curved edges). The back of the device is now slightly curved, and the phone is impressively small compared to other phones with 5.5-inch screens like the iPhone 6s Plus.
While the S7’s camera has 12 megapixels instead of the 16 found in last year’s model, the bigger pixels let in 56% more light, which should result in better low-light images. The camera’s f/1.7 aperture, which lets in 25% more light, and a rearranged sensor layout optimized for faster focusing make for what Orf characterizes as “the most impressive phone camera system I’ve ever seen.”
The models intended for North America feature Snapdragon 820 processors, and the RAM has been increased to 4GB. There’s no removable battery, though Samsung increased the size of the phones’ batteries significantly, to 3,000mAh in the S7 and 3,600mAh for the S7 Edge. Both phones retain Samsung’s adaptive fast-charging and fast wireless charging features. The screens gain an always-on feature that can show the time, calendar, notifications, or even a few wallpaper designs while still conserving power. The S7 and S7 Edge run Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, which integrates a new gaming hub.
The upgraded edge software — a full version of which is made for the S7 Edge, S6 Edge, and S6 Edge+ but not the Galaxy S7 or S6 — is now fully customizable and enables you to build shortcuts to IFTTT-style commands. The standard S7 comes with the improved apps edge for apps shortcuts, people edge for contacts shortcuts, and the new tasks edge. The shortcut sidebars are twice as big, which offers more space to add shortcuts. The bigger 5.5-inch S7 Edge has a few extra features, and lights up when one of your favorite contacts calls you or enabling you to see sports scores or breaking news from Yahoo.
What hasn’t changed since the Galaxy S6?
As Seifert points out, Samsung had a lot to prove with the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, smartphones that it used to demonstrate that it could make high-end devices with good design and premium materials. The S6 went a long way toward repairing Samsung’s reputation for cheap and ugly devices, but “they weren’t without flaws: high prices, the removal of expandable storage and waterproofing, and poor battery life disappointed many reviewers and buyers.” The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge borrow liberally from the S6’s design and features, but bring improvements and restore features that were missing from the S6 line.
But there are also a number of features that Samsung opted not to change with this year’s models. Orf notes that while the S7 is a refinement of the S6, much remains unchanged, such as Samsung’s choice to load the phones with apps that most users don’t want, including Microsoft apps that can’t be deleted. The TouchWiz interface looks familiar, but has been tweaked to feel more lightweight. Samsung opted to stick with the micro-USB charger instead of switching to the new USB-C standard that other Android makers have adopted, citing micro-USB compatibility with the Gear VR headset released last year.
If you’re trying to weigh whether an S7 or S7 Edge is worth the upgrade from the previous Samsung flagship, Emil Protalinski reports for VentureBeat that compared to its predecessor, the Galaxy S7 offers more power and more features, but a thicker and heavier device. The same applies with the S7 Edge, though the Edge model offers a a much bigger screen than its predecessor. As Protalinski notes, deciding whether to pay for an expensive new smartphone will come down to whether the tradeoffs are worth it.
How much will they cost?
The S7 comes in black or gold, while the S7 Edge is offered in black, gold, or silver, which should make choosing a model relatively easy. The 32Gb Galaxy S7 will cost $27.09 from Sprint or $27.91 from T-Mobile over 24 months. The S7 Edge will cost $31.25 from Sprint or $32.50 from T-Mobile. AT&T has only announced pricing for its 30-month plans, and the phones will cost $23.17 per month for the S7 and $26.50 for the S7 Edge. Verizon hasn’t yet announced pricing for the new phones.
Carriers are already offering promotions to try to convince you to buy Samsung’s new phones from them. While T-Mobile is offering a year-long subscription to Netflix, Sprint is offering a second S7 for half price if you sign up for one, a deal that’s valid for existing and new customers. Sprint is also bringing a version of its “iPhone for Life” plan to Samsung’s line of Android phones. The program, called “Galaxy Forever,” is essentially a standard upgrade plan; you turn in your phone after 12 or more months of payments in exchange for a new one. Since you don’t get to keep the phone, the payments are $25.99 for the S7 and $30.50 for the S7 Edge, though D’Orazio notes that you’re probably better off keeping the phone and selling it yourself.
What else did Samsung announce?
Samsung’s Unpacked event was a big one for the company’s virtual reality efforts. Not only are the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge compatible with the latest Gear VR headset, but as Ina Fried reports for Re/Code, Samsung also announced the Gear 360, a consumer camera for creating virtual-reality content. The device “completes the VR circle” formed by Samsung’s phones and its Gear VR headset, which is already the most accessible way to consume VR content outside of Google’s cardboard viewer. While the Gear 360 won’t be released until the second quarter, and pricing details weren’t announced, Fried reports that the device “looks small, simple and powerful.” It works with a number of Samsung phones, including the Galaxy S7, the Note 5, and the Galaxy S6 Edge+, with the phones acting as a viewfinder and remote control.
Mark Zuckerberg made a chaos-inciting guest appearance — the audience watched a virtual reality demo using Samsung’s Gear VR headsets, and when they removed them, Zuckerberg was standing onstage — to talk about Facebook and Samsung’s VR partnership. Jonathan Cheng reports for The Wall Street Journal that it was, perhaps, inevitable that in a year when many of the Galaxy S7’s new features are actually old features restored to the flagship line after being removed last year, Samsung would turn the spotlight to something new.