Samsung’s big design leap forward last year, with the launch of the Galaxy S6 edge smartphone, was remarkable. At a stroke, the accusation that Samsung only made plasticky handsets that weren’t as high-end as the tech they housed, was kicked into touch. Samsung’s class was undeniable.
The sloping edges on each side of the screen made the phone strikingly different from anything else on the market. So no surprise that this year’s S7 edge looks almost the same.
Actually, look closer, feel the new phone in your hand, and you’ll see it’s subtly different. Chiefly, the back of the phone is gently curved now, as well as the front. The result is that thanks to critical manufacturing details, the phone is spectacularly different in your grip. Suddenly it’s smooth enough to roll around like a worry stone.
And the curved edges make this phone, with its whopping 5.5-inch display, feels entirely manageable in the hand, comfortable and appealingly tactile. These are all very good things in something you’re likely to be handling all day.
Although you may not find yourself turning it on as compulsively as before. Apparently we click the screen on well over 100 times a day, to check the time, notifications and so on.
A brilliant new feature on the S7 and S7 edge is an always-on screen that shows you the time while your phone slumbers. It’s extremely useful. Samsung wasn’t the first to have this feature – Nokia got there a few years back – but it looks brilliant with the white-lit time and date screaming out of the pitch-black display. Not least that’s down to the AMOLED screen, an area where Samsung is a master. And Samsung promises that it uses less than 1 per cent of battery life per hour which in my testing seems to be the case, so no worries there.
The curves, incidentally, also mean that this handset is substantially smaller than that other beauty with a 5.5-inch display, the Apple iPhone 6s Plus. Well, it’s a little thicker than the iPhone, but the other dimensions are smaller. And even there it’s still only 7.7mm thick. One of the best things about the S7 edge, and there are many great things about this phone, is that it manages the trick of seeming small enough to fit easily in the hand while having a screen that’s pretty darn big.
Last year’s S6 edge introduced us to the idea that the edge of the screen could work separately to the main part. So that you could set it to notify you when a favourite contact was messaging or call you, and you could see they were calling even if the phone was face down, in an important meeting, say.
This time around, the edge screen does more, with extra apps functions on the side and a welcome return to the edge ruler which appeared first on the Samsung Galaxy Note edge. The sloping side means you can get a measurement more conveniently than on a regular phone.
Swipe from the side (left or right, you choose which is the active edge) and two columns of apps appear, with a range of options now and more apps to follow. It’s a very handy way to get to favourite items.
The camera on the S7 edge is 12 megapixels. This is actually a drop from last year’s 16-megapixel resolution, but it’s not all about pixel count, as you know. These pixels are bigger, so better at sucking in light which is especially handy if available light is low. The result is a fast, impressive snapper that launches quickly just by double-pressing the home button. And its autofocus is very nippy, so you’re unlikely to miss that shot. Selfies are helped along, as they are on the iPhone 6s, by using the display as a flash, with reasonably good results. If you like selfies.
This is a very proficient camera – Samsung has even flattened the components so they don't poke out like they did last year. The lens isn’t quite flush to the case, but it’s a big improvement.
Gaming is also a priority on the phone with special settings to gather games together so they’re easy to find and even the capability to turn notifications and certain button responses off so you don’t interrupt your playing.
And among the improvements in the S7 edge is the return of decent waterproofing, last seen on the S5. This is a useful benefit that most of the time you won’t need but you’ll be enormously grateful for in that moment when you drop it in the bath, or worse.
Also missing from the S6 was expandable storage. This time the sim card tray handily has room for a microSD card as well.
Battery life is excellent, way better than on the admittedly disappointing S6. It’ll get you through a full day with ease, though as usual the caveat that nightly charges are needed still applies.
There are so many advances on the S7 and so few downsides – one of which is cost, this is not a cheap phone – that it’s easy to recommend it. It’s easily the most powerful and good-looking Android phone on the market, and may even have Apple fanatics wondering about switching.
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