Samsung’s latest flagship phone, the Galaxy S7 and its somewhat larger sibling the S7 Edge, are aimed at the same market as Apple’s latest flagship effort, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
The Verizon version of the Galaxy S7 (reviewed here) and the iPhone 6s are about the same size, they’re close enough in weight and thickness so as to not matter, and they do everything you want a smartphone to do, including taking nice photos and handling a variety of communications from phone calls to email and text messages.
But there are differences. The Galaxy S7 has a slightly larger screen at 5.1 inches, for example, but not enough larger to make any practical difference. The Galaxy screen is of the super AMOLED (active matrix organic LED) variety rather than the LCD screen of the iPhone. Perhaps more important, the screen is embedded in a case that’s water resistant, something the iPhone isn’t.
Because the AMOLED display allows only the pixels in use to draw power, the S7 is able to display information continuously on the lock screen, including the time and battery status, without affecting battery consumption significantly. This means that you can glance at the phone while it lies on your desk or is placed in its wireless charger and see what time it is.
Samsung wireless fast charger is more convenient than I’d expected, which translates into being able to keep the phone topped off all the time, but I found that this wasn’t actually necessary. The Galaxy S7 has excellent battery life, meaning it routinely lasted throughout the day without a recharge.
The biggest challenge for the S7’s battery life is a result of very weak signals in the area near my office because the phone needs to crank up its power output accordingly. However, Verizon supports WiFi calling on the S7, so dealing with weak signals isn’t the problem it might have been otherwise.
What was a problem with the otherwise excellent screen on the S7 is its almost magical ability to attract fingerprints. The screen is quickly covered with smudges from normal use, and while they can be cleaned off, they inevitably reappear. This in turn makes the screen less useful in sunlight when the AMOLED screen is already competing with the light levels, while also being obscured by smudges.
Looking beyond the screen, the Galaxy S7 includes a 12 megapixel camera on the back and a 5 megapixel camera on the front. The rear camera actually has a lower pixel count than its predecessor, but this is a clear example that there’s more to good pictures than megapixels. The design of the S7 camera sensor is such that the capture area is larger and is designed to enhance the autofocus system, which turned out to be both very fast and very accurate. As a result, the S7 takes excellent photos that are certainly the equal of the iPhone 6s in terms of picture quality.
The S7 is designed to take video, as has become the norm lately, and you can shoot 4K UHD video if you need it.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Smartphone, Gear S2 Smartwatch Work Well Together
Unlike some of the competition, the Galaxy S7 includes a tray for a micro-SD card, and provides a memory capacity of up to 2 TB. The method of housing the card is unique in that Samsung has developed a hybrid card tray that has spots for both the SD card and a nano-SIM, which is a very convenient arrangement.
The only significant problem that I found with the S7, other than its magical attraction for smudges, is with the fingerprint reader which failed to recognize my fingerprint on the first try nearly every time I tried it. As is the case with the iPhone and with some other phones, the fingerprint sensor is in the home button on the front of the phone, which is convenient and would be more so if it worked every time.
The Galaxy S7 supports Samsung’s KNOX security and the Samsung Pay mobile payment app. Verizon sells the Galaxy S7 for $672 which is slightly more than the base price for the iPhone 6s.
The Gear S2 Smartwatch
Along with the Galaxy S7 and its wireless charger, Samsung also provided a Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch. This wearable device is somewhat different from some of its competition because while it works in conjunction with an Android phone such as the Galaxy S7, it also functions independently. When you set up the phone initially, part of the setup process includes making sure you register the S2 with the carrier, in this case, Verizon.
Once you’ve set it up, the S2 includes its own eSIM, and, as a result, has its own phone number that enables the watch to make and receive phone calls even if your phone isn’t within range or turned on. When it’s within range, it connects with the phone using what Samsung calls its Gear network.
Unlike some smartwatches, the Gear S2 is relatively small, attractive and its features are well thought out. For example, the watch screen will stay turned off until you move the watch to look at it, which illuminates it. The watch also has its own WiFi radios, and it can use WiFi along with your Samsung account to stay linked to your Samsung phone.
The Gear S2 is intuitive, although cramming everything into a screen that small does make some things hard to read. You can move between screens by swiping from side to side, and you can customize many of the screens.
Unfortunately, the battery life of the watch is fairly short, which means you will want to keep its wireless charger handy. I found the Gear S2 was only good for about a half day.
In addition, the S2 does not handle weak cellular signals well. So to get it set up I had to leave my office and look for a stronger signal. It’s unlikely that the S2 will be a critical item for most users, but it’s well designed and fun to use. Retail price for this device is $299.99 with a 2-year service contract.