Samsung Galaxy S7 review: A great phone in its day but don’t buy one in 2018

£569
Price when reviewed

Samsung Galaxy S7 review: A faster, better camera

That’s a disappointment, but the camera is a different matter entirely. Behind that smaller camera hump, there’s been a dramatic change to the imaging sensor. Samsung has reduced the resolution from 16 megapixels to 12, and in the process changed the aspect ratio of images captured with it from 16:9 to a squarer 4:3.

You might think this would be a problem, but in the process (or perhaps as a result of the resolution reduction), Samsung has boosted the size of the pixels from 1.16um to 1.4um and brightened up the aperture to f/1.7.

This is brighter than any other rival smartphone and, on its own, delivers 25% more light to the sensor than last year’s S6. More light means faster shutter speeds and sharper pictures. It can also mean less noise, which should lead to cleaner, more detailed photographs, but that depends as much on the ISO level chosen by the camera software as the hardware itself.

In practice, however, that’s precisely what the Samsung Galaxy S7’s camera delivers. I took a series of shots in the same conditions as the S6 and, upon examining the EXIF data, found the S7 tended to shoot with both a faster shutter speed and lower ISO sensitivity. This doesn’t make a huge difference in outdoor shots where there’s plenty of light to play with, but it means you’re far more likely to get sharp pictures in low-light situations, especially when your subject is moving.

On the downside, I found the colours weren’t quite as saturated as on photographs captured with the S6 and that the auto-exposure didn’t work quite as well, blowing some highlights out where the S6 didn’t.

The other big development on the camera front is that the sensor has an improved phase-detect autofocus system. It’s a “dual-pixel sensor” of the type first used by Canon in cameras such as the superb Canon EOS 70D and, predictably, Samsung is claiming it as a world-first in smartphones.

Essentially, this technology employs a pair of photodiodes for each and every pixel site on the camera sensor, hence the name. So far, we’ve seen phase-detection pixels embedded on the sensor, but they’re scattered across the sensor, with only a small number of the total camera pixels – usually between 5% and 10% – used to aid focus. Samsung’s new camera takes this up a considerable notch.

What does this mean for your photography? Simply that focusing on a subject that’s close to you and then far away is faster and more surefooted now, and that should mean fewer blurry, out-of-focus photographs.

samsung_galaxy_s7_dual_pixel

The image sensor also retains Samsung’s Isocell tech, first introduced with the Samsung Galaxy S5, to ensure that cross-talk electrical noise is kept to a minimum. And Samsung has added a couple of new modes to the camera app as well. Motion Panorama allows you to capture movement as you shoot panoramas so that when you scroll left and right, things move in your pictures. It’s weirdly effective. Hyperlapse creates ultra-timelapse videos, automatically selecting frames in your video to ensure the final results are smooth and stable.

It’s clearly a superior system. Samsung demonstrated this at the launch event for the phone by mounting an S6 and S7 next to each other at the end of a sealed box and moving a dimly lit photograph back and forth, forcing both cameras to refocus at the same time. Predictably, the S7 focused quicker than the S6 – noticeably so – and it reflected that performance in real-world use. I never saw the S7 hunting for focus as the S6 occasionally would, another factor adding to the reliability of the Samsung Galaxy S7’s camera.

All told, the Samsung Galaxy S7 has a fantastic camera. Although it captures less detail than the S6’s snapper and the colours aren’t quite as good, it’s more reliable in a wider variety of situations and lighting conditions. For the vast majority of smartphone users, it’s the better camera and a worthwhile step forward.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=PZkAuyZ7kFk

^ Galaxy S6 is on the left; Samsung Galaxy S7 is on the right

Samsung Galaxy S7 specifications

vs Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge specifications

ProcessorUK spec: Most likely - Octa-core (quad 2.3GHz and quad 1.6GHz), Samsung Exynos 8890 Octa; Other regions - Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (dual-core 2.15GHz and dual-core 1.6GHz) UK spec: Most likely - Octa-core (quad 2.3GHz and quad 1.6GHz), Samsung Exynos 8890 Octa; Other regions - Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (dual-core 2.15GHz and dual-core 1.6GHz)
RAM4GB LPDDR44GB LPFDDR4
Screen size5.1in5.5in
Screen resolution1,440 x 2560, 576ppi (Gorilla Glass)1,440 x 2,560ppi
Screen typeSuper AMOLED, always-on displaySuper AMOLED, always-on display
Front camera5MP5MP
Rear camera12MP (f/1.7, 1.4μ pixel size, 1/2.6in sensor size, phase detect autofocus, OIS, dual-pixel sensor)12MP (f/1.7, 1.4μ pixel size, 1/2.6in sensor size. phase detect autofocus, OIS, dual-pixel sensor)
FlashDual LEDDual LED
GPSYesYes
CompassYesYes
Storage32GB32GB
Memory card slot (supplied)YesYes
Wi-Fi802.11ac802.11ac
BluetoothBluetooth 4.2 LE, A2DP, apt-X, ANT+Bluetooth 4.2 LR, A2DP, apt-X, ANT+
NFCYesYes
Wireless data4G4G
Size (WDH)70 x 7.9 x 142mm (WDH)73 x 7.7 x 73mmmm (WDH)
Weight152g157g
Dust and water resistanceIP68IP68
Operating systemAndroid 6 Marshmallow with TouchWiz UIAndroid 6 Marshmallow with TouchWiz UI
Battery capacity3,000mAh3,600mAh

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