Travel revelations from Samsung's latest phone.
Nothing taxes a smartphone like travel, and the past month has been a unique chance for me to push my Samsung Galaxy S7 edge to its limits. I've been on the road for a little over three weeks — first covering Google I/O in Mountain View, Calif., then a quick stop-over in Seattle, then on to Taipei, Taiwan, for the Computex show. During that time I've been pushing the phone about as far as it'll go every day, taking photos, constantly keeping in touch with teams on the ground and people back home, and shooting countless photos.
So what I have I learned through all this? Well ...
1. Unlocked with lots of LTE bands = awesome
This isn't the sexiest feature of the Galaxy S7 edge, but if you buy unlocked in Europe, you're getting a phone with a ton of LTE bands, and that's really useful when you're traveling. (Basically, more bands means more supported networks around the world.) The European model I've been using (SM-G935F) comes with 20 bands of LTE, covering all the major operators in Europe, North America and Asia — including the less common TDD-LTE bands used in China.
You'll have to deal with Samsung's region locking antics, whereby the phone is only truly unlocked after making a total of five minutes of calls in its home region. But once that's out of the way, it'll happily accept any nano-SIM where the bands line up. That meant I was able to roam on T-Mobile and AT&T in the U.S., before hopping over to a Taiwan Mobile SIM later in my trip.
Unfortunately, some parts of the world — notably the United States — still don't have an unlocked option for purchasing the latest Samsung phones, a factor sure to keep grey importers in business.
2. Samsung still has the best camera
Other phones may have it beaten on megapixel count or pixel size, but there's still nothing out there that beats the Galaxy S7 series as an all-round camera. It's lightning fast to start, near instant to focus, and captures spectacular looking photos with almost no effort. In particular, I've come to appreciate how I can hold the GS7 edge in the general direction of something cool-looking, hammer the shutter button down a few times and all but guarantee I'll get at least one shot that looks fantastic.
The GS7, like most phones, takes fantastic pictures in daylight. But where it really shines is in areas where lighting isn't so great, or the scene is backlit, or there's otherwise a lot of weird dynamic range stuff going on. It's also a lot more forgiving of motion than most phone cameras — all the more impressive considering its speed.
The double-tap camera shortcut is immensely useful if you're being a stereotypical tourist and taking pictures of anything and everything — including that moment your plane unexpectedly banks and gives you a perfect view of the ground below. And it's also being a good stopgap at a developer conference for capturing interesting slides at a dev session, that one guy with an Android tattoo or a random Hugo Barra appearance.
3. Water resistance matters in a country with crazy rain
When it rains in Taiwan, it rains. It's the kind of rain that'll drench you from head to toe in a matter of seconds, drowning your smartphone in the process if you're unprepared. What'll also drench your phone is taking video of this kind of weather, which is naturally what we decided to do with the Galaxy S7 edge's slow-motion video camera.
Partly sheltered from a doorway, we shot the video above at 240fps, capturing the ferocity of the downpour and walking away with a fully functional (and totally soaked) phone. Had I been using a GS6, there's a decent chance that single slow-mo video would've resulted in a waterlogged and thoroughly dead device.
Later in the week when dodging downpours on the way to Computex, I was equally glad that rain — even really heavy rain — was no danger to the GS7.
4. Even with a huge battery, you'll want a backup
The Galaxy S7 edge has an enormous 3,600 mAh battery. But trade shows are hard on phones, and whether I was tethering all day from Google I/O, or constantly taking photos and keeping up to date with the rest of the team at Computex in Taipei, I found I'd struggle to reach the end of the day on just a single charge. With heavy enough use, any phone is going to need a mid-day refill.
My weapon of choice is Samsung's own 5,200 mAh quick-charge battery, which provides a full charge from dead, and also supports Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 for faster recharges. But if you need to go off the grid for longer, there are a bunch of really great options out there.
5. microSD is blessing and a curse
Expandable storage is great, especially considering the only storage option for the Galaxy S7 is 32GB. A microSD card lets you save precious internal storage for apps and games, offloading music, photos and videos to a separate chunk of space. What's not so great is when that all goes up in smoke because of a dead SD card, as happened to me when I was out taking photos in Taipei's Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. In the middle of shooting a panorama, the phone seized up, and upon reboot showed the dreaded "SD card corrupted" message.
Maybe it was the temperature — I was outdoors in direct sunlight and 104-degree heat after all — or maybe the card's time was just up. Whatever the reason, all my stuff was gone. Fortunately, most of my photos were backed up to Dropbox and Google Photos the night before, meaning I only lost a handful of pics, which I was able to re-take then and there. And my offline music cache was easily re-downloaded too.
But the experience highlights how dangerous it can be to rely on a removable storage for important data — and the importance of using cloud backup wherever possible.
Galaxy S7 and S7 edge owners, how have you been getting on with the phone? Hit the comments and let us know!
- Galaxy S7 review
- Galaxy S7 edge review
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- Best SD cards for Galaxy S7
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