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Report On Business Samsung’s new Galaxy phones: Slight changes make a collective difference

Samsung’s newest flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S7 and curve-screened Galaxy S7 edge, don’t deviate a great deal from their predecessors, but the incremental changes they do offer are in many of the right places.

Visibly, little has changed from the major facelift Samsung gave its devices when it introduced the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge last year. Glass and metal still make up the body, and the screens maintain the same Quad HD 2560 x 1440 resolution, as the South Korean giant refrained from making them 4K. The similarities extend to the fingerprint sensor, wireless charging (both Qi and PMA standards), fast wired charging, speaker, microphone and microUSB charging port at the bottom. They both also work seamlessly with Samsung’s Gear VR virtual reality headset. (Some Canadian retailers are including the $140 headset with phone purchases for free for a limited time.)

The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, left, and the Galaxy S7. (Ted Kritsonis for The Globe and Mail)

Beyond that, the slight changes do make a collective difference. The Galaxy S7 edge is three mm slimmer than the S6 edge+ released in the fall, which may not seem substantial, yet adds greater stability when holding it with one hand. Being 14 grams lighter also helps in that regard. The 5.5-inch Super AMOLED screen is also 0.2-inches smaller than the S6 edge+. The flat Galaxy S7 remains the same as its predecessor at 5.1 inches.

Bringing back the microSD memory card slot for storage expansion and water resistance may help win over some holdouts who lamented their omission last year. The former is highly necessary because 7GB of the 32GB (the only size available in Canada, so far) internal storage is taken up by system memory. Water resistance doesn’t mean “waterproof” in the full sense, but both phones can withstand being submerged in clear water down to 1.5 metres for up to 30 minutes. This is less about snapping incessantly at the pool, and more about keeping the phone safe from rain, splashing water and an accidental toilet bowl dip. That’s something most smartphones, including the iPhone, can’t do without a case.

The rear camera is now more flush with the back, dampening the unseemly protrusion on the previous devices. Additionally, it has a 12-megapixel image sensor, which may seem like a downgrade from the previous 16-megapixel one (if you buy into the megapixel myth), but is actually a step up. A wider f/1.7 aperture and larger micron pixels are the two main reasons both of these models can shoot better images.

(Ted Kritsonis for The Globe and Mail)

Indeed, the combination of a wider aperture with larger pixels allows for better shooting in almost any low-light situation. The great results in Auto mode, notwithstanding, it is worth getting acclimated with the Pro manual mode to achieve even better composition.

The differences between the S7 and S7 edge, other than screen size, are largely based on the edge screen. Otherwise, they use the same internal components, screen resolution, camera and software, making the choice largely about screen size and the edge, which isn’t aimed at a specific user, but rather anyone who might like it. Those who choose the edge will likely do so for the look.

Another thing both have is the Always-On display feature – an interesting one that may also be divisive. When the screen is off, pertinent information like the time, date, battery level and basic notifications of new e-mail, messages and missed calls appear in plain white text. It floats across the screen slowly to avoid “burning in” to the display, as AMOLED screens don’t handle long static images well.

(Ted Kritsonis for The Globe and Mail)

The feature negated the need for me to have to turn the screen on to check the time or battery level, and I was fine with it being there because it also wasted little battery life. Others I showed it to were on the fence, however, deeming it to be intrusive and distracting. The fact notifications have no context as to where they’re coming from, and aren’t actionable from the plain black-and-white display, is something I didn’t like, especially given that other Android phones have offered that in the past. The Always-On display can be turned off in the settings, if so desired.

More of an edge

The edge screen, so terribly neutered last year, has now been given a real chance to grow on the Galaxy S7 edge, though its longevity will largely depend on outside support from app developers. The same colour-coded contact list (limited to five) is joined by a 10-app shortcut list and “Tasks edge,” a shortcut to 10 specific things, like taking a selfie or creating a new contact.

Tasks edge is slightly gimmicky because it’s limiting in its current form. For example, it’s not possible to create a new task entirely from scratch using a third-party app, or even pair two tasks together in a sequence. Instead, the list of additions is already provided by Samsung, and several are redundant because they’re no more accessible there as they would be navigating the phone otherwise.

(Ted Kritsonis for The Globe and Mail)

Adding content strips to the edge interface is easy enough, and can vary from Yahoo or CNN news to your Twitter feed, but again, the pickings are slimmer because content providers would have to support the feature. While generally useful, customization would need to take another step forward to put the edge feature into a different class altogether.

The regular Galaxy S7 naturally doesn’t offer the edge interface, and so, is more traditional in how it operates. It’s also $100 cheaper because of it.

Takeaways

Neither phone is a huge leap forward from what came before, and being made of glass, are both quite fragile, but the incremental upgrades are nicely done.

Those who skipped the S6 will be happy with either the S7 or S7 edge. But if you haven’t used a Samsung before, I would recommend waiting to see what other vendors come to market this year. These are the most expensive Android phones available right now.

The flat Galaxy S7 ($399 on contract; $899 outright) comes in black or silver, while the S7 edge ($499 on contract; $999 outright) comes in black only. Both are available now for pre-order and hit stores on March 11.



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