Samsung Galaxy S7 review: A mild improvement, but it's still the best phone around

Body, brains, and brawn: This is still the Android flagship that does it all.

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Improving an already fantastic camera

I didn’t think that Samsung could improve upon the 16-megapixel camera it packed into the Galaxy S6, but it outdid itself with the Galaxy S7. Samsung’s latest phone features one of the best cameras on any phone, though it’s only marginally better than its predecessor. 

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A few sample shots during a gloomy day, the last of which adjusted with the Selective Focus feature.

The Galaxy S7 employs a 12-megapixel rear-facing camera sensor with Dual Pixel technology, which is fancy lingo for the technology used inside most Canon DSLRs. Samsung’s sensor has two photodiodes in every pixel of the camera sensor, and which allows every single pixel to be a phase-detection autofocus point. That means faster, more accurate focus in all conditions.

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The color and contrast differences between the Galaxy S7 (left) and Galaxy S6 (right) are subtle, but significant. The photo taken with the GS6 isn’t as lustrous as the one taken with the GS7.

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The Galaxy S7 may only have 12-megapixels, but they’re bigger, and they take in more light than the Galaxy S6’s 16-megapixel sensor. 

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With the Galaxy S7, light leakage is not a common issue.

I went for a walk around my hometown with both Galaxy devices in tow and was impressed by how much more well-contrasted the Galaxy S7’s photos were. It appears Samsung also fixed the light leak issue that was prevalent in its last few phones, though it still needlessly bumps up the sharpness. This can be annoying if you’re attempting to master some professional-level photography with your smartphone.

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You can see the slight difference in the Galaxy S7’s f/1.7 aperture versus the Galaxy S6’s f/1.9 aperture.

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The f/1.7 aperture is particularly helpful in low light situations, though only marginally so compared to the Galaxy S6.

Our lab tests also showed that while the Galaxy S7’s 12-megapixel sensor has an aperture of f/1.7, it’s only marginally better in low light situations against the Galaxy S6’s f/1.9 aperture. Indeed, after shooting my own photos of my cat in my dark bedroom, I didn’t notice a very significant difference in low light performance.

The Galaxy S7 can shoot videos in UltraHD (4K). I didn’t try this because, frankly, I don’t have hardware that can display it. However, I did shoot a video in FullHD (1080p) at a concert I recently attended at The Fillmore in San Francisco, and I realized that tapping the screen to focus actually shuts off the auto focus feature. As a result, my video of the lead singer of St. Lucia wading through the crowd is blurry, and the mic seemed to focus specifically on my singing along. This is where I wish the Galaxy S7 had manual video controls the way the LG V10 does. Maybe next time.

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The Galaxy S7’s selfie modes include a virtual face slimmer and eye enlarger.

Samsung kept the 5-megapixel sensor for the front-facing camera, but added in a few software features for those who are particularly concerned with the way their selfies look. The Galaxy S6’s “beautify” mode has been expanded to include a face slimming feature, eye enlarger, skin tone enhancer, and faux spotlight—similar to the effect you’d get if you were using a Lumee light case. There’s also a shape correction feature for when you’re taking a selfie with multiple people. The features are subtle and might seem pointless, but I actually know a few people in my personal life who use these filters on their own photos. 

Lastly, if you were hoping for front-facing flash for you and your friends to take photos in darker environments, you’re out of luck. The Galaxy S7 uses screen burst to light up your face as the front-facing camera snaps a photo. It’s awful and I am always blinded by it. It’s too bad Samsung didn’t spring for the front-facing LED like the Moto X Pure Edition. 

Carrier bloat is still a thing

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The Lock screen and Home screen on the Galaxy S7 (the latter of which has been customized with third-party apps).

Say what you will about Touchwiz (I certainly have), but the truth is that there are people like my mother who aren’t power users that find Samsung’s version of Android to be more intuitive than stock.

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Samsung offers a quick access button to the Notification settings right in the notifications shade.

For instance, Samsung added a blatant Notifications Settings option right below the notifications shade, which makes this new feature in Android Marshmallow more obvious to novices. I’d wager that some users have no idea that you can control the individual notifications settings for each application, so it’s nice to see that Samsung made some of Android’s essential new features more easily discoverable. You can also long-press on a quick setting button to go to the relevant settings screen, rather than having to navigate there yourself.

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The Galaxy S7’s application drawer still scrolls from left to right, rather than up and down like on the Google Launcher. Also, the top three folders came pre-loaded on my review device.

Samsung also dialed down all the blue hue throughout the interface, though it held on to the messy, discombobulated application drawer of the past. I like Google’s vertical horizontal scrolling application drawer better, with the search bar affixed at the top.

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If you hate your bloatware, you can “turn it off” by dragging it to the top. It still takes up room on your device, though.

Also, be forewarned that if you’re buying your Galaxy S7 through a carrier, you’re going to get stuck with all the bloatware that comes as penance for not buying your phone unlocked. Alas, not all of us have the luxury of paying full price for a smartphone. You can’t delete these apps, but Samsung lets you drag the icon to turn it off, essentially disabling it. You’ll still have that application taking up precious storage space, though. When will the carrier bloat stop?

Samsung’s bloat is still around, too, though the company’s been slowly whittling down how much it crams in there. The Galaxy S7 comes preloaded with Samsung’s own email client, file browser, S Voice, S Health, and Samsung Milk Music. The Verizon variant I reviewed also came with apps like go90 and the Gear app, both of which you also can’t remove. 

Is a flagship phone still worth the money? 

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What do you think? Does the Galaxy S7 match flannel? 

Samsung still holds its spot as the top manufacturer in the Android world, but this is the year I’ll be watching to see whether high-end, expensive flagship devices like the Galaxy S7 can withstand the onslaught of perfectly good, unlocked, less-expensive smartphones making headway. 

Here’s the deal: if you’ve got a Galaxy S6 in your hands already, keep it. You’re definitely good for another year, and some of the software features that come with the new GS7 will eventually make their way to your phone. But, if you’re still wielding a Galaxy S4 or Galaxy S5 or some other Android phone that’s let you down too many times, this is the best it’s going to get at this point in time—as long as you’re still convinced it’s worth spending gobs of money on a flagship device. If not, there’s always the Moto X Pure Edition or Nexus 6P, two perfectly-alright smartphones free from bloatware that cost far less than what your carrier will sell you the Galaxy S7 for. 

This story, "Samsung Galaxy S7 review: A mild improvement, but it's still the best phone around" was originally published by Greenbot.

At a Glance
  • The Galaxy S7 is a near-perfect Android device, but you should only upgrade if your carrier is offering you a discount.

    Pros

    • Metal-and-glass chassis is dust and water resistant
    • 12-megapixel rear-facing camera sensor with f/1.7 aperture offers the best low light performance of any smartphone
    • Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 is fast and powerful and perfect for mobile gamers and multitaskers alike
    • The expansion slot is back! Which is great, because there's carrier bloat testy.

    Cons

    • You'll have to contend with unremovable bloat if you buy this phone through your carrier
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