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Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge Hands-On

Samsung announced their yearly Galaxy S refresh on schedule today at their Unpacked event, held at MWC 2016 in Barcelona. Once again, it’s improvement at the usual steady pace for Samsung — in other words, if you’re looking to upgrade your phone and go (or stay) premium this year, the Galaxy S7 family has to be considered. We got a look at the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge, and unsurprisingly, both of them look like powerhouses for 2016.

The usual caveat for Samsung Galaxy phones applies here — if you have a Galaxy S from the last two years, you’re probably good sitting this one out, because it’s not too much more advanced than what you’ve got. Physically, they’re similar to the S6 series, retaining the all-metal build and protective glass on the front and back. The backs are curved, and while the S7 Edge is too big and thin to get much of a benefit from that, the rounded back does make the smaller S7 a little more comfortable to hold.

The dimensions of the S7 are roughly the same, while the S7 Edge is now a noticeably larger while keeping the dual curved edge screens. The fingerprint scanner is still on the home button, leaving just the camera lens and the dual LED flash on the rear. Both phones are about 1 mm thicker than their predecessors, which is nice — it makes the phones more comfortable to hold and allows for larger batteries. New for the S7 family is an IP68 rating, making the phone water- and dust-resistant. Although Samsung stopped short of calling it waterproof, the S7 and S7 Edge can be submerged in shallow water for a short time and still survive.

Both the S7 and the S7 Edge have roughly the same specs, aside from physical size, battery size, and the edge screens. The S7 is still a 5.1″ phone, while the S7 Edge has grown to 5.5″. Both phones have the same 2560 x 1440 AMOLED display as the S6 series. Interestingly, Samsung has gone back to a Qualcomm SoC, using the Snapdragon 820 SoC in some regions while using their own Exynos SoC in others. There’s now 4 GB of RAM and either 32 GB or 64 GB of storage, although that depends on region, not on how much you’re willing to pay (North America will get the 32 GB model).

One of the biggest improvements to the S7 is in battery life. There’s not too much more draw here than there was in the S6 line, but the battery capacities are much larger, going from around 2,600 mAh to 3,000 mAh for the S7 and 3,600 mAh for the S7 Edge. Retaining the metal and glass build means that the battery still won’t be replaceable (no tricks like on the LG G5), but the microSD card slot will return, supporting up to 200 GB. Like a lot of other phones without replaceable backs, this slot will be on the dual-SIM card tray, although actually using two SIM cards will not be possible in North America.

The rear camera on the S7 and S7 Edge is a bit interesting. It has a 12 MP sensor, which is lower than the 16 MP sensor on the S6. On the S7, it seems that Samsung has sacrificed a bit in image resolution to make gains in low-light performance. Not only can the larger pixels take in more light, the aperture can open wider than before, up to f/1.7. The Dual Pixel sensor Samsung is using is said to provide faster auto-focus times, too. Optical image stabilization has also been included on the rear camera. On the front, there’s a 5 MP camera that also has a f/1.7 lens.

For connectivity, both the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have dual-band 802.11 ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 LE, and ANT+. Interestingly, Samsung is still using the Micro USB charging port instead of the USB Type-C most of their competitors are using this year. Not sure that’s a bad thing — consumer adoption of other USB Type-C devices and accessories is still going to be relatively low this year, so it never seemed like a must-have despite so many companies making the jump. Expect Samsung to make the move to Type-C on the S8, when more people will have laptops and PCs with Type-C ports. Samsung has also included NFC and MST for Samsung Pay, which keeps Samsung Pay as the only payment app that can be used with magnetic stripe readers. As before, Samsung Pay and the fingerprint scanner will be protected by Samsung KNOX security, which has become a very strong product since its introduction about four years ago.

The S7 and S7 Edge will run Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box with Samsung’s latest version of their TouchWiz overlay. That overlay is said to be lighter this time, although we expect it’ll still be one of the most significantly different from stock Android. That said, Samsung has done a pretty good job at making their own apps more than just redundant copies of what Google offers (especially Samsung Pay), so we’re willing to cut them some slack.

Like the LG G5, Samsung is introducing an always-on display to the S7 series. Samsung’s is a little smarter, though, only activating when the phone senses that you’ve taken it out of your pocket or purse. Like the LG G5 (and the longtime Glance Screen feature of Windows Phones), the always-on display will show basics like battery level, time, date, weather, and notifications. Meanwhile, the Edge screens on the S7 Edge have been made slightly bigger. They can now launch more apps, flash for incoming notifications, and act as a ticker, now using a partnership with Yahoo.

The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge will both work with the Gear VR headset, which Samsung is keen on promoting — anyone who picks up an S7 or an S7 Edge between now and March 18 will get a Gear VR headset for free. To help you create your own VR videos, Samsung is also releasing their own 360-degree camera. The Gear 360 has two 15 MP fisheye lenses back-to-back to create an entire 360-degree image. The camera will have its own microSD card slot and will be dust- and water-resistant. It’ll also have Wi-Fi connectivity, which can be used to stream video being recorded onto a Galaxy S phone. Using a companion app, Galaxy phones can be used as remote controls for the Gear 360.

Like we mentioned up above, the S7 series isn’t much of a departure from recent Galaxy S releases, and there’s no one feature we can point to to say this is a must-upgrade. If you’re in the market for a new phone, though, this is assuredly going to be one of the best (and most expensive). The Galaxy S7 will come in black onyx and gold platinum, while the S7 Edge will come in black onyx, gold platinum, and silver titanium — the color options definitely aren’t as fun as last year’s. Both phones will be available for preorder on February 23 from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular, with a ship date of March 11. The Gear 360 will be available in Q2, with pricing still unknown at this time.

Pricing information will be released by individual carriers in the coming days. Here’s what we have so far — T-Mobile will have the S7 for a little under $28/month for 24 months and the S7 Edge for $32.50/month for 24 months, either new or through the T-Mobile Jump upgrade program (all prices are $0 down). The phones cost $700 and $780, respectively, if you want to pay to own. At AT&T, the S7 will be available on 30-, 26-, and 20-month plans for $23.17/month, $28.96/month, and $34.75/month, respectively, or $200 with a two-year contract. The S7 Edge will be available on the same monthly plans for $26.50/month, $33.13/month, and $39.75/month, or $300 with a two-year contract.