Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review: Bigger and better in almost every way

The quick take

Samsung is undeniably putting its marketing power behind the "edge" version of the Galaxy S7. It's bigger, flashier and more expensive than the standard phone, and it's for those who want to stand out from the crowd just a bit more. Compared to the compact Galaxy S7 the larger size of the GS7 edge is going to cause problems for some people, but if you want the boost in battery, head-turning curved screen and handful of extra software features, the Galaxy S7 edge is the one to get.

The Good

  • Excellent screen
  • Solid performance
  • Great camera
  • Waterproofing is a big bonus

The Bad

  • Pre-installed software still bothersome
  • Back glass a fingerprint magnet
  • Only 32GB models available
  • Edge screen software not super useful

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

The best Samsung phone of its time?

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Full review

Over the past five years, innovation in the smartphone world has moved at a relentless pace. In terms of external design, component power and overall user experience, you can't argue that the phones of today are exponentially better than those from just five years ago. With such amazing advances in so many areas, consumers don't expect just one new and exciting feature per product release … they want everything to improve.

At first glance, it seems as though Samsung's strategy with the Galaxy S7 edge is at odds with those consumer demands. Physically, it's not unlike the Galaxy S6 edge+, which was also released just six months ago — it has a very similar metal and glass materials, similar screen size and the same dual curved display. At the same time, many features are unchanged — you get fast internals, a brilliant screen, wireless charging and familiar software.

But what if there wasn't all that much in the Galaxy S6 edge and S6 edge+ that needed to be changed in the first place? Why change things just to seem like you're doing something to make improvements, rather than focus on the few areas that needed fixes? If you take this view, you'll see Samsung may have taken the right approach.

Expandable storage. A bigger battery. Waterproofing. Simple software improvements. Top it off with a better low light camera, even though the Galaxy S6 edge already had a great shooter, and from Samsung's eyes it just checked the only boxes that were left unfilled in last year's flagship. Does it add up to an experience worthy of 2016, or does the Galaxy S7 edge feel more like a refreshed flagship of the past year? We're here to answer that in our full review.

About this review

I (Andrew Martonik) am writing this review after a week using a Verizon model of the Galaxy S7 edge, in New York, NY, Atlanta, GA and Seattle, WA. For the duration of the review, an Under Armour Band fitness tracker was connected over Bluetooth.

Pretty pictures

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Video review

Words are one thing, but seeing a phone in action is another thing altogether. To pair with our written review, we've worked up a full video review of the Galaxy S7 edge as well. Check it out above, then read on for our full nuanced opinions on the phone in the rest of the review.

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

Line items

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Specs

It's best to kick off a review by getting the nitty-gritty specs out of the way first. These are all of the little line items, speeds and feeds that enable the Galaxy S7 edge to handle everything you throw at it — the specs mean nothing without the experiences that take advantage of them, but you can argue that the converse is also true.

Lots of predictable upgrades on the inside.

The Galaxy S7 edge incorporates a very predictable upgrade in specs over last year's model, and in some areas sticks with the same specs as before. The one outward-facing move is in display size, where the GS7 edge comes in a 5.5-inches over last year's 5.1 (though the GS6 edge+ was 5.7) but sticks with the same Super AMOLED display tech and 2560x1440 resolution. On the inside, a small bump to 4GB of RAM is welcomed, as are the new processors — you'll get either a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, or Samsung's latest octa-core Exynos 8 processor.

Two different processors

As we go through the Galaxy S7 edge review, it's worth noting that there are actually two different processors out there, depending on where you buy the phone. In the U.S., China and Japan, the phone will have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor. Elsewhere around the world, you'll likely find a Samsung Exynos 8 octa-core processor instead.

Differences between the two phones in terms of performance and battery life should be negligible, but it's worth keeping in mind when you see impressions of the phones that they do have different processors running the show. This review is entirely based on the use of a Snapdragon-powered U.S. model.

The two other notable spec table changes are storage and battery. You'll only have the option to buy a Galaxy S7 edge with 32GB of internal storage; of course that's paired with the new microSD card slot, which can take up to a 200GB card, but for those who want everything to be internal there aren't 64 and 128GB versions any more. The battery also jumps to a rather large 3600 mAh, which is 1000 mAh more than the Galaxy S6 edge and even 600 mAh more than the Galaxy S6 edge+.

Here's a full breakdown of the spec table, as compared to last year's Galaxy S6 edge and the direct competitor from another company, the Apple iPhone 6s Plus.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CategoryGalaxy S7 edgeGalaxy S6 edgeiPhone 6s Plus
Operating SystemAndroid 6.0Android 5.1.1iOS 9.2
Display5.5-inch 2560x1440
Super AMOLED
Dual edge screen
5.1-inch 2560x1440
Super AMOLED
Dual edge screen
5.5-inch 1920x1080
IPS LCD
Pressure-sensitive touch
ProcessorQuad-core Snapdragon 820
or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 8
Octa-core Samsung Exynos 7420Dual-core Apple A9
Storage32GB32/64/128GB16/64/128GB
ExpandablemicroSD up to 200GBNoNo
RAM4GB3GB2GB
Rear Camera12MP f/1.7
1.4-micron pixels
OIS
16MP f/1.9
1.12-micron pixels
OIS
12MP f/2.2
1.22-micron pixels
OIS
Front Camera5MP f/1.75MP f/1.95MP f/2.2
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11 ac MIMO
Bluetooth v4.2 LE
USB 2.0, NFC
Wi-Fi 802.11 ac MIMO
Bluetooth v4.1 LE
USB 2.0, NFC
Wi-Fi 802.11 ac MIMO
Bluetooth v4.2 LE, USB 2.0, NFC (Apple Pay)
Chargingmicro-USB
Fast charging
Qi wireless
Powermat wireless
micro-USB
Fast charging
Qi wireless
Powermat wireless
Lightning connector
Battery3600 mAh2600 mAh2750 mAh
Water resistanceIP68 ratingNoNo
SecurityOne-touch fingerprint sensor
Samsung KNOX
One-touch fingerprint sensor
Samsung KNOX
Touch ID fingerprint
Dimensions150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7 mm142.1 x 70.1 x 7 mm158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm
Weight157g132g192g

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

The same, with subtle changes

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Hardware

As was the case with the Galaxy S4 following the Galaxy S3, heaps of digital ink have been (and will be) spilled online about how Samsung's new Galaxy S7 edge doesn't look demonstrably different from its predecessor. Even though as a standalone product with its curved display and flashy colors the Galaxy S7 edge stands out from a crowd, it's easy to mistake it from a distance as the Galaxy S6 edge — or particularly the GS6 edge+ — of 2015.

Depending on whether you're familiar with a Galaxy S6 edge or S6 edge+, this may come as a good or a bad piece of news. For those who enjoyed the smaller Galaxy S6 edge, it's a bit rough — the GS7 edge is bigger and has even less metal to hold onto thanks to the new curved glass back. If you're used to quite large the 5.7-inch GS6 edge+, the drop of 0.2-inches will be a welcomed sight — particularly in how it narrows the phone and makes it easier to reach across.

For the uninitiated who have yet to lay a finger on a recent Samsung flagship — and in particular either previous curved Galaxy S6 variant — you're really in for a unique experience here. No matter what phone you're coming from, it's hard to deny the beauty of the Galaxy S7 edge, and the physical changes made — no matter how subtle — from previous generations are very much function-over-form in nature. The new curved glass back, borrowed from the Note 5, offers the Galaxy S7 edge a better surface for wrapping your fingers around. The slightly thicker build gives more room for battery, and also helps reduce the camera bump on the back to less than half a millimeter.

Samsung isn't messing with a good thing.

The phone manages to be built like a solid, considerable piece of machinery while also keeping the weight in check and evenly distributed. The metal machining, external finishes and how the parts match up are all on the highest level. In terms of the actual usable functions of the device, from the headphone jack to the buttons, Samsung has taken the simplest route and put them where you expect — no back buttons, funky layouts or gimmicks. At this point Samsung has elevated its design story to focus on standout beauty and elegance, not useless changes in the name of "differentiation" that would actually turn into negatives.

That same philosophy is at play in the available colors of the Galaxy S7 edge, with four options that skew toward high fashion rather than being playful. The completely ostentatious gold variant shown in this review is as loud and gaudy as you'd ever want it to be, but it's undeniably eye-catching and appealing to certain buyers — and it's the color Samsung chooses to use for a majority of its marketing. Both the silver and gold colors are extremely glossy and reflective to the point where they can shoot quite the flight beam on someone or work as an impromptu mirror if cleaned up nicely — in other words, they turn heads when you're using them. The black model is the conservative one (and probably my personal favorite) with far less gloss to it and even fewer silver accent pieces than the dark blue of last year, while the white model (only available internationally) strikes a nice middle ground between the bright mirrored finishes and the murdered-out black.

These are high fashion colors; but damn, those fingerprints ...

And that brings me to the same complaint as I had with the previous model: this phone acquires and displays an impressive amount of fingerprints and smudges.

Covering the back of your phone in a solid pane of glass has always been a recipe for finger oil accumulation, but when you add that to the mirror-like gold and silver finishes it's downright bothersome. The Galaxy S7 edge is actually impossible to keep clean unless you plan on wearing gloves every time you use it, and while those bright colors and smooth lines look great in marketing materials they're quickly turned into something far less attractive once you lay your hands on it.

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

Same wonderful display

One area of the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge+ that needed no additional work was the display. Despite having much of the attention spent on the mind-bending dual curves that accent the sides of the phone, the display quality is top-notch amongst any phone display out there, curved or flat. Samsung has the exact same Super AMOLED display tech and QHD (2560x1440) resolution this year, albeit cut into a slightly different size at 5.5-inches diagonally.

But no matter the size, the screen here is absolutely superb in every aspect. Colors really pop, the viewing angles are great (important on the curves in particular) and text is sharp as a tack. You can argue that the colors are a bit over-saturated and unnatural, but even though there's an option in the settings to turn down the saturation I leave things at the default because they just look so good.

One of my favorite features of Samsung's latest displays is their incredible range of brightness, meaning you can crank it way down at night to reduce eye strain or let it go all the way up during the day. And when you leave automatic brightness turned on and are in direct sunlight, a special display mode is engaged to eke out a few extra nits to make it easier to see.

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

Sticking with micro-USB

Beyond the physical looks of the phone, a good bit of focus is being put on Samsung's choice to stick with a micro-USB port on the bottom instead of the newer USB-C standard. Considering the hardware similarities to last year's flagship lineup it isn't too surprising that the same legacy port is back in 2016, but there are a few other things to take into consideration as well.

For as great as USB-C is, micro-USB does everything Samsung needs it to do.

Samsung has said that keeping compatibility with the current Gear VR headset was a priority, which necessitated keeping the port. It also has a long legacy of consumers with previous Samsung phones that it feels would prefer to keep those cables and docks around when they upgrade. Beyond their own intentions, they also just feel consumers aren't ready to upgrade their infrastructure of third-party accessories to USB-C despite all of the port's benefits.

Can you knock Samsung's unwillingness to jump into the future USB standard? Absolutely. Will it do anything to change Samsung's approach? Probably not. For now, even though USB-C is the new standard and has plenty of upside, micro-USB is doing everything Samsung wants it to do and for that reason sees no reason to move on just yet.

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

Fingerprint sensor, now with more possibilities

Plenty of focus is being put on fingerprint sensors in 2016 phones, but we should remember that Samsung was right there at the early stages of this game (at least amongst Android manufacturers) in launching the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge with excellent one-touch fingerprint sensors. These were a night-and-day improvement over the capable, but finicky swipe-style scanner in the Galaxy S5, and Samsung has carried over the same top-notch experience to the Galaxy S7 edge.

The biggest improvement this time around doesn't come from any change in the hardware, actually, but rather the access to Android 6.0 Marshmallow's new fingerprint authentication APIs.

With this new support, any app that targets Android's standard fingerprint authentication system will work perfectly on the Galaxy S7 edge — and that's extremely important as the number of Marshmallow-focused apps grows this year. Apps that only target Samsung's own proprietary fingerprint APIs from pre-Marshmallow releases will still work, too, which boosts the install base of capable apps until the new Marshmallow-enabled one start to fill up the Play Store.

Galaxy S7 edge micro SD card slot

Return of the microSD card slot

The SIM card slot on the Galaxy S7 edge is in the same place as prior models — on the top edge of the phone — but this year it harbors a little something extra: room for a microSD card. Samsung heard a considerable amount of angst regarding its decision to remove the microSD card slot from its flagship Galaxy phones in 2015 after having it every previous iteration. And no matter how many people actually miss the feature compared to how many it seems like, the slot is back on the Galaxy S7 edge.

But of course no feature addition comes without some sort of issue, right? This time adding the microSD card back to the Galaxy S7 edge brings up an interesting conversation because the phone is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which added a new way of handling removable storage called "adoptable storage." Adoptable storage allows the phone to take in an external storage device and integrate it to the system so that it can be treated as internal storage.

An SD card slot is something a lot of people were clamoring for, even if it doesn't work as adoptable storage.

That's a departure from the way previous versions of Android used an SD card, and for a multitude of reasons Samsung has decided not to include adoptable storage in its Marshmallow build for the Galaxy S7 edge — not the least of which being user confusion and worries over data corruption when a low-quality SD card is used. When you insert an SD card into the Galaxy S7 edge it works just like it did in any pre-Marshmallow phone you may have used, in that it's simply mounted as a separate volume for you to store data of your choosing on. That is, except for some kinds of data that just don't play well with removable storage of this type.

For example the SD card is best used for media storage, where the files are large and the speed requirements are relatively low — like movies and music loaded from your computer, or pictures and video generated on your phone. Whether you can install apps onto the SD card is a case-by-case situation you'll find by visiting the application settings, but chances are your most intense and powerful apps won't be allowed to move. You also wouldn't want to use the external storage for data that you don't want to be easily removed from the phone with a simple SIM tray tool.

Whether the SD card is all that useful when it's implemented this way is up for debate, but knowing that it is there for those who want to use it to its full potential is good. It doesn't have any effect on the phone if you choose not to use it, and it opens up a way for you to expand storage later if you need it.

Galaxy S7 edge software

TouchWiz has matured

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Software

We've endured yet another year of "leaks," "sources familiar with the matter" and "confirmed reports" relating to Samsung supposedly dramatically overhauling its Android interface, and in little shock to myself Samsung hasn't done anything of the sort. Samsung's take on Marshmallow is much like its builds of Lollipop, which in itself was an improvement over previous versions but hasn't been a massive departure from what immediately preceded it.