In a previous installment we went over how the Samsung Galaxy S6 was a step in the right direction, but also two steps in the wrong direction. The phone sold well, despite criticism from reviewers and fans, but a course correction was needed. Today we wanted to cover Samsung’s redemption with the Samsung Galaxy S7 series.
Some choices were simple, the engineers just hit the proverbial Undo button on a few things. No microSD card slot? It’s back now. No water resistance? It’s even better than before – the S5 only had an IP67 rating, the S7 phones would go up to IP68. And this was without the awkward flap over the USB port. That was another thing, that microUSB 3.0 was not well received, so Samsung went back to microUSB 2.0.
Non-removable battery? Well, okay, that change was not reverted. USB-C would have been better as it was 2016 already, plus, Samsung forgot to add MHL back. At least it abandoned the pursuit of thinness that started with the Galaxy Alpha. That allowed it to fit a larger 3,000 mAh battery in the S7 (up from 2,550 mAh in the S6 and 2,800 mAh in the S5).
As we mentioned last time, some design decisions from the S6 were kept, including the glass and metal sandwich as well as the overall design of the phone. The S7 wasn’t all about correcting the mistakes of the past, it brought some important improvements too.
For the vanilla Galaxy S7, Samsung stuck with a 5.1” diagonal and a 1440p resolution for the Super AMOLED display (keeping it flat). One new addition was Always-On Display. It offered at-a-glance info at the cost of battery life – it sucked down about 1% battery per hour. This brought the Endurance rating from 80 hours to 49 hours, quite a big impact.
Still, you could disable AOD if you didn’t care for it. Alternatively, you could use it but save some battery by scheduling it to turn it off during the night. Either way, this was one of the design wins as AOD is commonplace now (thankfully, these days we have things like LTPO panels that help reduce power draw).
The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge continued the curved screen tradition of its predecessors, however, it chose an average screen size of 5.5”. We say average because the S6 edge was small at 5.1”, while the S6 edge+ was huge at 5.7” – it was as big as the Note5!
The rest of the hardware was mostly the same, except for the battery, which grew to 3,600 mAh. That helped stretch out battery life, adding around 9 hours to the Endurance rating with AOD enabled.
Next, let’s talk about the chipsets – plural. For the US Samsung went back to Qualcomm after the chip maker had recovered from the Snapdragon 810 mess – the 820 was a much better chip. However, for most of the world the company still used an in-house chip, the Exynos 8890.
This chip held a lot of promise as it featured custom CPU core dubbed “Exynos M1”, codenamed “Mongoose”. Early indications were that it would blast its contemporary Snapdragon and the Apple A chipsets out of the water. It did indeed post impressive benchmarks in our review, surpassing the iPhone 6s. However, the iPhone 7 launched later that same year and reclaimed the crown for Apple.
A heat pipe allowed the phones to run quite cool, be they the Exynos 8890 or Snapdragon 820 version. The only time it got warm was when they were pushed to their limit with Gear VR. As for which chip was better, the update to Android 7.0 Nougat improved the performance of the Exynos enough to tip the scales in its favor over the Snapdragon.
These were good days for Samsung’s custom CPU core division, before it started to lag behind the core designs from ARM. Here’s a bit of trivia – Qualcomm used to call its custom cores “Krait” (a venomous snake), however, mongooses are immune to snake venom.
As for the software, the phones launched with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. That was followed up with 7.0 Nougat and 8.0 Oreo (though with some technical difficulties). The phones continued receiving quarterly security patches until 2019, support was discontinued in 2020, four years after launch.
Anyway, the Galaxy S7 camera adopted a new technology called Dual Pixel autofocus. In short, it is an advancement in Phase Detection AF technology. A typical PDAF system has only a few focus points, but with Dual Pixel all pixels are focus points. This enabled faster and more accurate focus locks, even in the dark.
The camera used a 12 MP sensor that was about the same size (1/2.5”) as the 16 MP sensor of the S6, so it had larger pixels (1.4 µm vs. 1.12 µm), plus a brighter aperture (f/1.7 vs. f/1.9) to boot. One of the smart decisions on the S6 was adding Optical Image Stabilization, that was retained for the S7.
We will quickly go over the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active. It was launched in June of 2016 and was exclusive to AT&T. Basically, it was an S7 inside a rugged body, more reliable hardware keys on the front (instead of capacitive) and a larger 4,000 mAh battery.
Looks can be deceiving, however. The Active wasn’t as tough as it pretended to be and it failed Consumer Reports’s water test twice. Even more embarrassing was that its city slicker siblings, the S7 and S7 edge, did pass the test (30 minutes under 5 ft/1.5m of water).
The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge were warmly received by fans and went on to break sales records. The pair was released in March and sales predictions were quickly moved up to 10 million for the first month. Around a year after launch the total sales figure had reached a respectable 55 million. The popularity of the S7 flagships pushed Samsung to record profits. No matter how you felt about the S6, it’s hard to deny that Samsung redeemed itself with the Galaxy S7. And the S8 was even better, but that is a story for another time.