Perfect for pockets, but smudgy as hell
I began my testing on London’s crowded, bagpipe-festooned bridges and streets. Since I constantly mashed the S7 into my jeans and jacket pockets only to retrieve it again for a weather check, photo, digital payment or to navigate around, its approachable size was a much better fit for me than a larger phone. “Medium” by today’s bonkers standards, it has a 5.1-inch screen.
Throughout all this nonstop handling, the S7’s curved back and sides made it comfortable to hold, and the one time I dropped it it didn’t dent or break. That was only a few feet off the floor inside a pub, mind you — I’m sure it’d sustain more damage if it had clattered onto pavement.
I spent a good, long time staring at the S7. That curve-back design I mentioned and some very slight rounding on the edges around the display are damn nice, giving the phone a far more luxe and contoured appearance than most, including last year’s ramrod-straight Galaxy S6. In fact, look closely at the details and you can see that this S7 is built better than previous Galaxy phones.
One downside to the S7’s shiny metal-and-glass backing is that smudges pile up on smudges, leaving a semi-permanent sheen of finger grease all over your expensive property. It’s gross, and a pain to constantly clean, which always fails anyway. But like all beautiful phones, you’re bound to slap a case on it anyway, so it’s almost a moot point — just not an excuse.
Camera, camera, camera!
I took a boatload of photos in London while testing the phone, but when my sister and I went to Berlin for the weekend, all hell broke loose. Every pastry and pretzel, imposing museum, graceful river crossing; every glorious kebab and lip-smacking beer became an opportunity for dutiful documentation.
What was confirmed again and again is that crisp photos from the 12-megapixel camera countered low-light interference in every darkened cocktail bar, moodily lit restaurant and dusk-dimmed park. Although this camera has fewer megapixels than last year’s S6, it takes better photos. Scenes are brighter, which makes the action easier to see.
Even in low-light scenes, such as a Berlin speakeasy, the S7 trumps the iPhone 6S, yielding brighter, more usable photos. Digital noise was still there, just diminished; those small speckles of color that infiltrate the picture are an inevitability in low-light digital camera shots.
Whip-quick autofocus was also a winner, grabbing clear shots of moving objects, like swaying flowers (yes, I really do take photos of flowers) and my sister lunging like a lightsaber-wielding Jedi in front of a mural (fear her!).
Photos didn’t just look great on the S7’s sharp screen; they also stood up to enlarged views on my laptop and an even larger monitor back in London.
I also really liked using the new, optional preview mode that lets you delete or share photos immediately after taking them. Oh yes, the S7 has optical image stabilization (OIS), which helped keep my photos from blurring after all those jetlag-fighting coffees.
I’m still less sure of the 5-megapixel front-facing camera, which now has even more “beautification” filters than before. I never liked these, even though I’m vain enough that I don’t want to see every line and wrinkle. To me, they make skin appear plastic and dull; maybe the uncanny valley of too-perfect skin, but I know plenty of people who love the youthening effect. At any rate, I turned all of these filters to zero, but still found that selfies either looked fake or overly harsh. Something in the processing seems off, but this isn’t a dealbreaker by any means.