The only Samsung smartphone I have owned and used was the Galaxy S3 (well, I also had the Galaxy 5 - not S - for a few weeks, but that doesn't count). I had been eyeing the company since the original Galaxy S, checking what it's doing and waiting for it to be convincing before I dipped my toes and grabbed the S3. I liked the rounded design, even though everyone criticized it. I loved the powerful hardware too, but I hated TouchWiz. It took me two weeks to get fed up, root the phone, flash a custom recovery, and start trying different custom ROMs that removed some of the bloat and smoothed the experience.
When the Galaxy S4 was announced and later the S5, I wasn't remotely convinced by them. They were reiterative in all the wrong ways and far from what I was expecting from a modern smartphone. My journey with Samsung stopped and I jumped over to the LG G2, which I loved, then the G3, which I loved even more, then the G4, which I… liked. By the time the G4 was announced, the Galaxy S6 was already making waves and whether on paper or in the hand, it felt like Samsung's path to redemption. At least in my eyes.
When I read David's hands-on with the S6, I knew the company was really doing things right again: you don't impress our resident Android Police curmudgeon with one single layer of polish. But the S6 still wasn't right for me since I need external storage. I live in a country were reliance on the cloud is a ridiculous gamble, because HSDPA and LTE are fast but their plans are expensive, and home WiFi networks and ADSL are slow as molasses and even more overpriced. I like having my hiking, travel, and personal photos with me, as well as my music, and maybe a few videos. 32GB of storage, which was the S6 storage tier sold in Lebanon, wasn't nearly enough. The lack of a MicroSD slot meant that despite all that was amazing about it, I had to skip the S6.
But then the Galaxy S7 was announced and it seemed like everything I needed in my next smartphone. I've spent almost a month with the S7 Edge now, and my impression of it hasn't faltered over this period. This is quasi perfection and Samsung has nailed everything about the experience, from the design to the hardware to the software. You can't go wrong recommending an S7 or S7 Edge to anyone, which speaks a lot about the dozens of different aspects that make this a stand-up choice in the smartphone market right now.
Before you go on, it's worth pointing out that this second take on the S7 Edge comes from a very subjective perspective with focus on the aspects that personally matter to me. If you want a more objective and more thorough review of the phone, you can read David's text review, watch Mark's video review, and see the five things David loves and hates about the phone.
Mirror mirror on my phone
I own the silver Galaxy S7 Edge, which looks like a gigantic mirror. Unlike David, I can't ever go naked with my smartphones. I'm way too clumsy to even dare do that for an hour, so my S7 Edge has been in a transparent TPU case from the moment I took it out of its box. That means that I'm not afraid to use it and I don't risk scratching it every time I place it in a purse or pocket or on a desk. But also by making this specific case choice, I'm neither hiding the phone's design nor adding a lot of thickness to it. It's a win-win situation for me.
It might not look the part in this photo, but this case is great on the S7 Edge.
Still, part of me hates this shiny glass that Samsung is using, because you're always too afraid to mishandle it. But you can't deny how gorgeous it looks. It's one of those classic "look but don't touch" situations, yet if I'm going to carry something with me all the time, I'd rather it ooze appeal than just be mediocre. Call me shallow, but I develop a bit of an emotional bond with my phones and the S7 makes me go "wooo nice" every now and then when I look at it. It's the same feeling I had with the LG G3 and G2, and long before that with the Nokia N8 and E71. The LG G4, by comparison, never incited those sparkling eyes of wonder, despite how much I appreciated a lot of things about it - we just didn't connect.
The dual edge of the story
The one aspect of the S7 Edge that I feel more perplexed about is right there in its name. See, by going for the Edge model instead of the regular S7, you're getting a bigger screen (love), a bigger battery (oh hell yeah), but also a curved screen. It looks gorgeous, there's no denying that but my feelings about it have tempered considerably since I first got the phone.
At first, I was all aboard the dual edge train. I loved the curvature of the display under my fingers, I set up the Edge panels and Edge feeds just like I wanted them, and I felt like Samsung might convince me to do things its way. As time passed though, I noticed that I wasn't using the Edge screen at all, not when the phone was on to access the panels and not when it was off to display the feeds. The real added value of the Edge screen was getting lost and all I was left with were the annoyances.
Compared to a flat screen, it's harder to hit the border of the display when swiping and I often find myself doing something I didn't intend to, like archiving/deleting a Gmail message instead of opening the sidemenu. App developers are designing for flat screens so you'll often run across interface elements that are not suitably placed for the edge. It's not that they're harder to reach, but you find that you have to be deliberate with the way you reach for them. That's something that you don't need to worry about with flat displays.
It's also harder to type since the border letters on the keyboard are often on the curvature of the display; it's even harder to do so one-handed because the moment you try to reach the opposite side of the screen, your palm will sure trigger the keys that were below it. My S7 Edge doesn't suffer from the incorrect touch recognition issues that had plagued some versions of the phone, but by its mere design, it has incited more mistaken actions from me than any other phone I have owned.
The curved display also creates another conundrum: good screen protectors are impossible to find. I am aware that there's a super tough Gorilla Glass 4 on top of my phone, but call me old-fashioned or overly protective: I just like an additional layer of tempered glass. That way if it gets scratched by lint or sharp objects or whatever, I don't regret it. I just take it off and replace it for a few bucks. The problem though is that I've tried a couple of tempered glass screen protectors for the Edge and none of them stick well or curve perfectly with the phone. Lots of tapping noises when touching the edge of the screen were heard and I ended up removing them altogether.
Nova Launcher 4 Lyfe!
For now, my S7 Edge doesn't have any scratch on the glass, but I'm not 100% confident it'll stay this way and that annoys me. I'm waiting for a PET screen protector to be delivered and hoping it will work with the phone.
All day and all night
The trade-off of carrying the larger and curved S7 Edge is its battery and you should believe the hype here. Screen-on-time seems like the most objective way to measure a phone's endurance nowadays, but I won't tell you what numbers I'm getting because I abuse my phones. I leave Bluetooth on and always connected to my Fitbit One and Huawei Watch, and sometimes a pair of Bluetooth headphones. I keep GPS and NFC enabled and use them sporadically, I raise the screen's brightness, I get spotty reception sometimes at work, I have several Gmail accounts syncing all the time, I keep WhatsApp running and use it all the time, I often listen to podcasts on the loudspeaker for approximately 45 minutes on my commute to and from work each day. All in all, even when its display is off, my phone is probably working more than an average awake phone.
And still, the S7 Edge's 3600mAh battery impresses me. Last Sunday, I went on a hike where I had Runtastic logging for 4.5 hours straight on a series of mountains with intermittent cellular signal. I took over 80 photos of which some were panoramas and some were manually shot. I also kept LTE/HSDPA on and was communicating with friends and family over WhatsApp. By the end of the hike, I still had 17% battery. By comparison, my previous phones had to be tethered to an external battery pack after about an hour of hiking because they were usually getting dangerously close to 50%.
17% battery left after a 4.5 hour hike, over 80 photos, and more.
I've never felt like I could rely on a phone's battery this much and not obsess over the remaining percentage. If the S7 Edge is at 35% and I have to go out to a dinner, I don't panic and start scrambling for my Anker battery pack like my life depended on it. I am sure those 35% will last me a couple of hours, easily and reliably. That certainty was never there with any Android phone I've previously owned or tried. Most of them never had good battery life to begin with or were hit-and-miss depending on the days, so I couldn't trust them. It's relieving to finally have something I feel confident will tolerate my abuse.
And it helps that the S7 Edge still uses MicroUSB for charging. Although I own a Nexus 5X and have bought a couple of extra USB-C cables, I am not yet ready to change my entire accessory fleet to Type-C, so the S7 Edge can be charged with my MicroUSB Anker Astro Slim3, my home and work Everdock Duo docks, and when stuck with none of those, I wouldn't have any trouble getting a stranger to lend me a cable or charger for it.
12 Awesome megapixels
When Samsung announced that it was going back to a 12MP camera on its S7 series, I felt a little letdown. I had grown accustomed to my G4's 16MP camera with its manual modes and I didn't want to move backward with the quality of my shots. But after a month with the S7 Edge, there's nothing I can fault the camera at.
I'm impressed with the photo quality of the sensor, especially in low light, something I always felt my G3 and G4 struggle with. I've taken some of the best night shots of my life with the S7 Edge's camera and I haven't had it long enough to test and play with all of its features. But what I do appreciate are the separate autofocus and exposure slider in the Auto mode. I never knew how much I needed this until I tried it. It makes it incredibly easy to pick a spot to focus on then tinker with the exposure as you wish, regardless of that area's brightness or color.
I dig that exposure slider on the right!
The camera has plenty of other modes and settings too, but so far I only had time to test the Auto (with auto HDR) and Panorama. There's selective focus that takes a near-focus and far-focus shot of the same scene, slow-motion, hyperlapse for smooth gif-like animations, virtual shot for 3D-like renderings of objects, as well as a motion photo setting that takes videos before each shot and could be super handy if you have kids. There's also tracking focus to fix your focus on a moving subject and a full pro mode for manually setting white balance, exposure, iso, shutter speed, and more. Some of these sound like gimmicks, others could be really useful, but the point is that they're there for you to use or not.
I also appreciate the double tap on the home button to launch the camera. I used it a lot when I was hiking because I didn't want to fumble with the lockscreen or slow down my group each time I felt like taking a shot. I suppose it can also come in handy for those inopportune moments or people with kids who never know when something interesting is going to happen.
Unedited photos taken with the S7 Edge while hiking and in low light.
My only gripe with Samsung's camera software is that some options save additional data, like the panorama mode and the motion photo setting that also shoot videos, but you can't seem to be able to delete the video independently of the photo. This means that you sometimes have a lot of useless data attached to your photos, and you can't easily delete them but keep your shot.
TouchWiz has grown a lot over the past couple of years. The slowness and bloating of the experience on the Galaxy S3 are long forgotten now. You could think that it's the additional storage and RAM that are smoothing things out, but TouchWiz has improved even on low-end Samsung smartphones. Last year, I got a Galaxy E5 for my aunt and recommended a Galaxy J5 and A5 for my in-laws to-be. I helped set up and test all three devices before handing them to their owners and I found they worked superbly. No lag, very little unnecessary bloat, well-suited interface for the user, and plenty of handy options.
I'm not going to get here into a debate over the merits or lack thereof of manufacturer skins on Android, but suffice it to say that I'm firmly in both camps. I love the simplicity and smoothness of pure Android on my Nexus 5X, and I also love what LG and Samsung have done to augment and improve that experience.
The Galaxy S7 Edge that I got had a few unnecessary apps preloaded. I uninstalled Paper Garden and Shahid (some Arabic app), but I couldn't remove any of the other apps. Luckily, they were all shortcuts to the corresponding app on Samsung's Galaxy Apps store, so I just disabled them. These were Facebook and several Microsoft Office apps. As to Samsung's own apps, I disabled S-Voice and S-Health, but couldn't do that to S-Planner, Email, or Internet. Oh well.
Apart from those added apps, some of which I wouldn't call bloat because they're just shortcuts, I haven't had any issues with the S7 Edge. Quite the contrary. There are plenty of added features in TouchWiz that make the experience unique and interesting.
Apps I disabled (left) and multiple select for lockscreen wallpapers (right).
For example, there's multiple select for contacts (which wasn't possible on LG's skin), up to 30 rotating wallpapers for the lockscreen, pop-up view and dual windows, a private mode for saving sensitive data, a magnifier app, and different home and work modes.
Samsung's approach to moving, copying, and sharing makes more sense than LG's: you select your images or files and then decide what you want to do with them, whereas LG wanted you to start with the action which then opened the multiple select dialogue. I often found that convoluted so it's nice to see it done right here.
I also like Samsung's Gallery a lot. It's slightly reminiscent of Google Photos, but I use it in conjunction to it because it provides better access to locally stored photos. There's a time view and an album view, automated Events and Categories, built-in editing, a zoom animation to display more photos, a drag-and-drop gesture for moving photos between folders, and so on.
Drag and drop from a folder to another. This is handy.
There's even an auto-adjust option that not only corrects colors and brightness but also realigns the photo for you.
Auto-adjust improved the colors AND alignment of the shot.
I won't mention Samsung's emoji here, which I like just as much as I liked LG's (read: not at all). My brain can't keep up with the difference between the WhatsApp emoji and the Google emoji, so why manufacturers feel the need to create their own iteration is beyond me.
Way too realistic emojis.Yikes.
Themes and other expansions
One aspect of TouchWiz worth exploring on its own is its expandability. You can grab new camera modes and new Edge panels from Galaxy Apps to add more features to your phone. Development on these is limited, but it's there, so you're likely to find one or two interesting add-ons.
But by far my most favorite feature of TouchWiz is the themes. I'm not a huge fan of the default look so I appreciate that there is an easy way to overhaul the entire interface without root, mods, or custom ROMs. It harkens me back to the Symbian days where themes were prevalent and a fun way to change your device's feel. I've found a couple of pure Android-inspired themes and I'm using them on my S7 Edge to keep things as homogeneous as possible with my Nexus 5X.
I like that "Android N" theme. Fake it till you make it.
All that is right and all that is wrong
There isn't just one aspect to love about the S7 Edge, there are plenty. From the gorgeous display to the abundant RAM, the powerful processor (I have the Exynos version), the solid build and the elegant design, the fast storage, and the great camera. Wait, I forgot the water-resistance. I haven't completely submerged the S7 Edge in beer a la Lil Wayne, but I have dropped some water on it and didn't feel panic at the moment. That's a big bonus for any modern smartphone.
But there are a few annoyances that are still plaguing my experience after a month. The fingerprint recognition is very hit-and-miss, not because the sensor isn't sensitive but because there's no physical boundary to your thumb. Unlike the iPhone and the latest round of Nexus devices and LG G5, the Samsung home button is raised instead of carved, which means that you can easily drop your finger on it in the wrong spot. Even after teaching each thumb from different angles and spots, I still come across the dreaded "no match" message more often than I'd like. That's silly considering how many steps Samsung requires to learn your fingerprint compared to the Nexus devices.
Fingerprint recognition doesn't work sometimes, annoyingly.
Moving a little to the side of that home button / fingerprint reader, I am very annoyed by Samsung's decision to invert the Back and Recents keys. I understand that the company wants to keep its experience consistent for previous owners, but this is getting ridiculous now. Of course I instantly got used to the keys placement because I've had an S3 before and my muscle memory hadn't faded, but I always feel confused and need a short readjustment period whenever I switch between the S7 Edge, LG G4, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 7. Guess which of these is the confusing one...
And on the software side, one of the unnecessary changes of TouchWiz lies in the way Samsung has modified the Bluetooth transfer UI, completely removed the Downloads app interface (the app is there and works, but as far as I can tell, you can't see it, which means that you can't cancel a download or check all your previous ones), added a pop-up each time you turn Bluetooth on, and decided to notify you of the insertion of a MicroSD slot every time you turn your phone off and on. Why God why?
SD card notification (left), Bluetooth share menu (middle), and Bluetooth on pop-up (right).
More personal note: What I miss from the G4 and LG's UI
Having spent 3 years with LG's phones prior to trying this Galaxy S7 Edge, there are features I have grown accustomed to that I sorely miss here on Samsung's Android flavor.
On the hardware side, I miss LG's rear keys. Once you go rear, you never go front (ha!). Back buttons are a lot easier to reach and a lot more difficult to tap by mistake, whereas side keys can be triggered if your grip is tight and given their high placement on the S7 Edge, I often have to search before my finger lands on them. I also miss the InfraRed blaster which I was using to control my TV and DVD player.
On the software side, the lack of a double tap to lock and unlock is one of the most prevalent annoyances. It would have been quite handy on the S7 when you don't want to deal with that physical home button. I also miss the drop-down notification button in the navigation keys, the simple camera mode and the swipe gesture to switch between the front and back camera, and most importantly, I miss Capture+ (previously QuickMemo+) for quickly annotating a screen without taking a screenshot and then editing it.
But objectively speaking, these are just minor quibbles. TouchWiz adds enough to the software that a couple of missing options won't even get close to spoiling the experience.
Singing the S7 Edge's praises
From the Galaxy S6's announcement, I knew that Samsung was back on the right track. The S7 not only solidifies that opinion, it also puts Samsung several steps ahead of the competition, at a level where it's nearing perfection. My only two real quibbles with the phone skew from its design: the edge screen looks fantastic but creates more issues than it solves them, and the fingerprint reader isn't as precise because of its raised non-delimited position, but that's it. Everything else about the phone is perfectly executed, every chip and hardware component does its job and more, and the software creates a very unified experience around it all. I'm honestly perplexed as to how the company can outdo all of that with the Galaxy S8 next year.