Galaxy S7 Edge impresses with design, misses mark with user experience

A screenshot from a youtube preview of the new Galaxy S7 Edge phone. Screenshot via Youtube

A new curved screen. A water resistant design. A virtual reality experience. Although this sounds like the feature set for some type of do-it-in-your-bathtub scuba experience set, the Galaxy S7 Edge brings all of these features and more that might not be expected. The incredible waterproof design, terrific camera and interesting VR experience on the S7 Edge make it an excellent device, but the user experience may not be enough to make users choose it over other phones in the crowded market.

The S7 Edge is a gorgeous device. The curved display manages to fit an incredibly detailed 5.5” screen into a small form factor — the sloped front and back make the phone easier to handle than most phones with a screen this size. People with smaller hands, however, may still find the phone to be unwieldy. The phone is also water resistant up to five feet for 30 minutes, according to Samsung.

The phone is fast. It speeds through reading email, sending texts and browsing the web mostly without any problems. The battery life is good, lasting a full day and charging in roughly two hours. But even though the phone performs well, I felt occasionally slowed down by the user experience. When typing, some of the keys are right where the screen curves, which makes hitting the “q” key more difficult than it should be.

These days, beyond communication, most users expect their phone to include an excellent camera. Most of our photos are taken in poor lighting situations — at night or in a dimly lit room — and they have the grainy quality to show it. The S7 Edge has a much larger aperture than most competing phones, which means that photos look better in low light, and all those snapchats taken at night won’t look quite so bad. The camera app on the S7 Edge allows for photos to be quickly taken with two taps on the home button, meaning fewer blurry and missed photo ops.

One of the phone’s more out-there features is a virtual reality headset that Samsung calls Gear VR. A highlight of the Gear VR is the Netflix app, which transports you to a living room in front of a huge TV. As you turn your head, the light from the TV reflects off of the couch and table in front of you. Seeing a 360-degree Cirque du Soleil performance or going for a deep sea dive through the VR experience is a unique add-on, even if the headset isn’t the most attractive outerwear available — I personally wouldn’t recommend using the Gear VR in public.

The S7 Edge also includes a buffet of smaller features. From camera tricks (like holding up your hand to take a selfie) to the Edge display (which can show you a constant news feed if you’re so inclined), there are simply too many features to list, but the novelty of many of them wears off after a few days. Many of the features other than the Edge display are buried in menus and mostly stay hidden if you don’t want them. It’s cool to have a heart rate monitor on the back of your phone, but it’s hardly something that most people will have a reason to use on a regular basis. The model I reviewed was the Verizon Wireless Galaxy S7 Edge, which came with a ton of preinstalled Verizon apps, including two competing messaging apps that can’t be removed but can be disabled. Although this isn’t a huge deal, buying a device and then realizing it came with a bunch of preinstalled junk is annoying.

The S7 Edge comes in one version with a storage space of 32GB and on Verizon costs $792.00 off-contract, or $33 per month. Samsung also offers a version of the phone without the Edge display, the S7, which also has 32GB and costs $672.00, or $28 per month. Apple’s iPhone 6s, for comparison, costs $649.99 on Verizon, or $27 per month for a 16GB model. Both the S7 and S7 Edge have removable storage, which costs roughly $20 for a 64GB card, allowing a user to easily increase the amount of space for photos and videos.

The Galaxy S7 Edge is one of the best phones on the market. It brings speedy performance, a camera that takes great photos even in low light and a water resistant curved design. But most of the software tricks, while interesting, don’t have much lasting value. For iPhone users, features like iMessage that allow users to easily send group messages are a large draw to the platform. Samsung has not created as excellent of a messaging experience and that may keep some from switching. Although the software experience on the S7 Edge is not quite as good as it could be, the stellar camera and water-resistant design stand out as major differentiators and make this phone a top pick.


Summary

Some software stumbles hold back an otherwise excellent device.

4 stars
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