Review: The Samsung Galaxy S7 evens the playing field with iPhone

Samsung’s flagship smartphone has finally devoted enough attention to the camera to make this the S7 a worthy Apple competitor

The Samsung Galaxy S7

The Samsung Galaxy S7. (Peter Nowak)

While it’s true that smartphones are kind of passé by now, I still get impressed when I hold a really nice one in my hand.

Samsung’s newest, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge—the one with the curved screen—are definitely impressive. They are easily the South Korean company’s best phones yet and, after many years of trying, they’re also the equivalent or better of anything else in the market. Here’s looking at you, iPhone.

The Galaxy devices haven’t just pulled even with the iPhone, they surpass it in several ways. As a result, it’s never been more tempting to make the switch to Android.

I’ve been using the Edge for the past week and, like its S6 curved screen predecessor, I’ve really grown to like the angled display. Not only does it feel nice in your hand, the curved glass gives the device a bit more sparkle.

The Edge’s 5.5-inch screen is, as usual for Samsung, fantastic. It uses the company’s Quad HD Super AMOLED technology to provide a resolution of 2560 by 1440, or 534 pixels per inch, which kicks the latest iPhone’s butt by a good margin. And you can tell—the S7’s display simply looks sharper.

The curved Edge screen itself is a little more useful now, since you can pin your most-used apps to it. It’s still an acquired taste and I’m still convinced the curve itself is more an aesthetic bonus than something’s that’s genuinely useful, but your mileage may vary.

The S7’s biggest leap forward comes with its camera. Samsung has scaled back from last year’s model to 12 megapixels from 16, opting for the less-is-more-approach. To go with that, the camera now has a wider aperture and every pixel can autofocus.

The result is a debate over which device has the better camera—the Galaxy S7 or the iPhone 6S—but the fact that such a conversation is actually happening is huge for Samsung fans. The camera is no longer a deal breaker, and which is better is purely academic.

I didn’t have an iPhone 6S handy to compare against, but I did a few side-by-sides with the S7 Edge and the slightly older iPhone 6 Plus. These comparisons aren’t entirely fair given the different generations of devices, nor are they intended to show off which is better, but rather to illustrate how far the S7’s cameras has come:

galaxy s7 iphone samsung, galaxy s7 nacho libre

The S7 Edge also a few other features going for it. It’s dust-proof and waterproof for up to 30 minutes in 1.5 metres of water, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally dunking it in the toilet.

It’s got wireless charging too and a better battery to start with. In my tests, I found the S7 Edge usually had about 20% of battery life left by the end of the day, and that’s despite having its “always-on” feature enabled, which displays the date and time on screen at all times.

Samsung has also brought back the micro-SD card, missing from last year’s model to the chagrin of many users. But rather than add an extra slot on the phone, the micro-SD now shares the SIM card’s tray. There’s still no removable battery, but the company says that’s an unfortunate tradeoff to the waterproofing.

Samsung has packed a few, actually useful software features into the S7 devices as well, including the Smart Switch app that lets you transfer contacts, photos and other info from other Android or iOS devices.

The Game Launcher tool also lets users manage their device’s games more easily, and record their gameplay for sharing.

All of this isn’t to say that the S7 and S7 Edge are perfect phones. Their biggest problem is expense. The S7 costs a whopping $400 on a two-year contract in Canada, or $900 otherwise, while the Edge adds a $100 premium to $500 on contract and $1,000 off.

Like the iPhone, these are premium, mucho-expensive phones that are hard to swallow, especially with the Canadian dollar so low currently. There are plenty of cheaper Android devices, notably from Motorola and Google’s own Nexus phones, that aren’t quite as packed to the gills in specifications, but that are more than just good enough at considerably lower prices.

Buyers should also beware that Samsung’s new devices will automatically lock themselves to specific Canadian carrier networks, even if they are purchased unlocked. Once you pop your SIM card in, the S7 and S7 Edge become locked, at which point you’ll have to request an unlock, which can incur fees from your carrier.

That’s a rather unfair development, especially for individuals who opt to buy the devices outright. With luck, your carrier may do the unlock for free if you’ve actually shelled out for the phone, but there’s no guarantee. Otherwise, you may want to buy the device directly from Samsung, which will also do the unlock with no charge.

All told, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are Samsung’s best phones yet, with the company eliminating pretty much every pain point found in previous devices. Samsung has also made it as enticing for iPhone users as it’s ever been to switch over. Whether that happens in material numbers remains to be seen, but at least the playing field is finally even.

Samsung supplied a loan unit for the purposes of this review.