The Samsung Galaxy S7 Android 7.0 update has just started rolling out to some users, giving GS7 owners a taste of Nougat. In addition to new Android OS features, Samsung is giving GS7 owners an early look at its updated TouchWiz UI, which builds on the work we saw in the Note 7.
The update provides a useful window into what to expect from Samsung's next big thing, the Galaxy S8. Just as 2015's GS6 Marshmallow beta foreshadowed the UI we would eventually see on the Galaxy S7 at launch, the GS7 Nougat update gives us a few clues about what to expect from the Korean company's 2017 flagship.
1. A new, lighter UI
The most obvious visual change in Samsung's latest UI is the move away from blues, teals and greys of older versions, in favor of brighter whites. The rounded settings icons are also gone, replaced with colored icons for options like Wi-Fi, sound and display.
Light grey borders break things up, and each app has its own subtle accent color — green for the Phone app, for instance, and orange for the Messages app. And in addition to Samsung's standard font, the status bar, Settings app and a number of other applications now use a narrower, more condensed typeface.
No more blues and teals.
In addition to looking dramatically different to the TouchWiz UI that shipped on the Galaxy S6 and S7, we're now several generations removed from the overblown, aggressively colorful UX of some of Samsung's older phones. By the standards of the Galaxy S4 or S5, Samsung's latest interface is positively reserved.
By default, app icons are contained within rounded rectangular borders (or "squircles" as we like to call them). It's unclear whether this will carry over to the final release — Samsung went back and forth on this in the run up to the Galaxy S7's release. In any case, it's easy to disable icon borders in the Settings app.
Samsung gave us our first look at the Galaxy S7's UI during the Galaxy S6 Marshmallow update, so it stands to reason that most of the design decisions in this Nougat UI will carry over to Samsung's next major release. Whatever whizbang features are along for the ride, the basic interface probably won't change too much from what we see here.
2. Resolution scaling for a 4K display
The late Galaxy Note 7 (RIP) had resolution downscaling as a battery-saving option; the Galaxy S7 on Nougat introduces it as a regular option under Display settings. In fact, the default resolution for the GS7 on Nougat is Full HD (1080p), not the panel's native res of Quad HD (1440p).
That's an interesting decision in itself. The difference between 1080p and 1440p isn't that noticeable in a handheld device, and scaling down lets you save some battery power, and potentially improve performance at the same time.
One obvious application of this would be in a 4K-equipped Galaxy S8. The GS8 is rumored to feature a 4K display, but it surely wouldn't be a great idea to enable 4K mode all of the time. Instead, a similar display scaling option on the upcoming phone might let power-conscious users run their 2160p phone in 1440p or 1080p mode, with the full resolution being saved for VR or fullscreen video applications.
3. A more intelligent Galaxy
Samsung's acquisition of Viv Labs has fuelled speculation that AI will feature prominently in its next-generation Galaxy phone. And it's easy to see why — Apple's Siri is getting smarter all the time, and Google is pushing forwards with its Assistant platform.
There's no built-in AI in the Galaxy S7 Nougat update, but there are signs that Samsung's trying to make its UI smarter. Each area of the Settings menu has a "Looking for something else?" section down below, linking you to related options.
At the same time, Samsung has integrated search into more of its apps, complete with voice search integration. It's easy to see how this could be extended to support a wider variety of voice commands across the board.
For what it's worth, S Voice — Samsung's existing voice-controlled app — is included in the GS7 Nougat update, but it's buried in the "Samsung" folder in the app drawer where most users are likely to ignore it.
4. More control over performance and battery
Continuing a trend we've been seeing in Android phones for some time, Nougat on the Galaxy S7 gives users a number of different performance and battery-saving modes to choose from.
Performance Mode gives lets you tune screen resolution, brightness, audio quality and game preferences for best results in day-to-day use (normal), games, entertainment (i.e. photos and videos) and "high performance," which currently sets the screen to Quad HD and maxes out the brightness.
At the other end of the spectrum, battery saving mode is now split into three tiers — off, "mid" and "max." The latter is your standard Ultra Power Saving Mode, which disables all but the most basic functions of the phone. "Mid" lets you limit background operations and CPU speed, as well as cutting the screen resolution to 1080p, in order to save a modest amount of power.
And individual apps can now be "put to sleep" if they're causing problems. Long pressing on most apps in the stock launcher now gives you the option to disable background functionality without wading through menus.
All of this points to Samsung using software in order to claw back battery life in its upcoming handsets. If, as rumored, we're looking at the first 4K devices from the phone maker, it'll be important to ensure that a session of 4K VR gameplay is offset by efficient battery performance in other areas.
5. Search everywhere
Just as Google moves away from the omnipresent search bar, Samsung's bringing it back. In the app drawer, Phone app, Messages app, Gallery app, Calendar app and File Manager, to name but a few, the translucent search bar is either found at the top of the screen, or is just a single click away.
In addition to opening up possibilities in terms of AI-driven search, the move sees Samsung emphasizing finding stuff within apps through one central location, via on-device search. We've already seen this through the S Finder app on older Samsung phones; now the difference is that Samsung's taking an app-centric approach.
What do you want to see in the Samsung Galaxy S8? Let us know down in the comments!