Samsung Galaxy S7: Should you upgrade?

If you've got a previous Galaxy phone, is Samsung's new flagship worth your money?

Gráfica por Juan Garzón/CNET

Samsung's Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are the phones to beat. When they hit the shops on March 11, they'll be the best pocket computers you can buy -- just read our Galaxy S7 review to see what I mean. But do you really need to upgrade from a Galaxy S6 or Galaxy S5, or maybe a Galaxy Note 5 with its stylus? To answer that question, we created this guide.

Just scroll down until you see the phone you own, and we'll give you our best advice.

Note: If your Samsung phone is not on this list, it's either old enough or has been outclassed enough that you should definitely upgrade.

Galaxy S6

The Galaxy S6.

Josh Miller/CNET

What you get with the Galaxy S7

  • A slightly faster processor and a little more memory
  • Water resistance
  • Expandable microSD storage
  • Slightly better pictures in low-light situations and faster focus
  • Faster wireless charging
  • Curved glass back
  • Better battery life (16 hours for S7 vs. 12.4 hours for S6; 20 hours for S7 Edge)
  • Clickier home button
  • Faster fingerprint recognition
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow (in case your phone is still waiting for it)
  • Always-on display so you can check time and notifications at a glance

What's the same

Pretty much everything else, including:

  • Aluminum chassis with glass front and back
  • Excellent 5.1 inch (S7) or 5.5-inch (S7 Edge) super high-def screen
  • 32GB of storage to start

What you're losing

  • Visibility in bright light (S7 has noticeably more glare)
  • Thinness and light weight (S7 is very slightly thicker and heavier)
  • IR blaster to control your home entertainment system

Verdict: Stick with your Galaxy S6 for now.

The Galaxy S7 is a pretty decent upgrade over the Galaxy S6, including a couple big features that have been missing from Samsung's recent glass-and-metal phones (microSD, waterproofing), hours of extra battery life (particularly with the S7 Edge), plus some little improvements that you missed (like faster fingerprint recognition) in the Note 5 and S6 Edge+ late last year. But unless your Galaxy S6 dies partway through the day, or you absolutely need that expandable storage and processing power for VR applications, your existing phone is more than good enough. Particularly if you paid full price -- or are still on a two-year contract.

Galaxy Note 5

The Galaxy Note 5.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What you get with the Galaxy S7

  • A slightly faster processor
  • Water resistance
  • Expandable microSD storage
  • Slightly better pictures in low-light situations and faster focus
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow (in case your phone is still waiting for it)
  • Always-on display so you can check time and notifications at a glance
  • Slightly lighter (Note 5 is roughly half an ounce heavier than S7, S7 Edge)

What's the same

  • Aluminum and glass build
  • Curved glass back
  • Similar thickness
  • Battery life (16 hours for S7 vs. 15 hours for Note 5; 20 hours for S7 Edge)
  • 4GB of memory
  • 32GB of storage to start
  • Excellent super high-def screen
  • Fast wireless charging
  • Fast fingerprint recognition

What you're losing

  • Some screen real estate (S7 is 5.1-inch, S7 Edge is 5.5-inch; your Note 5 is 5.7-inch)
  • Removable stylus

Verdict: Stick with your Note 5 for now.

If you just bought a Note 5 late last year, the Galaxy S7 really isn't much of an upgrade in performance or capabilities, and you lose the stylus. I will say this, though: if you bought the Note 5 because of its comfortable curved glass back, but wished it also had the S6 Edge+'s curved glass screen, the new S7 Edge is the best of both worlds. One last reason to hold off: there'll likely be a new Galaxy Note if you wait until this fall.

Galaxy S6 Edge+

The Galaxy S6 Edge Plus.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What you get with the Galaxy S7

  • A slightly faster processor
  • Water resistance
  • Expandable microSD storage
  • Curved glass back
  • Slightly better pictures in low-light situations and faster focus
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow (in case your phone is still waiting for it)
  • Always-on display so you can check time and notifications at a glance

What's the same

  • Aluminum and glass build
  • Curved screen (if you opt for the S7 Edge)
  • Similar weight
  • Battery life (16 hours for S7 vs. 15 hours for S6 Edge+; 20 hours for S7 Edge)
  • 4GB of memory
  • 32GB of storage to start
  • Excellent super high-def screen
  • Fast wireless charging
  • Fast fingerprint recognition

What you're losing

  • Some screen real estate (S7 is 5.1-inch, S7 edge is 5.5-inch; your S6 Edge+ is 5.7-inch)
  • Some thinness (S7 is a millimeter thicker; 8/10ths of a millimeter for S7 Edge)

Verdict: Stick with your S6 Edge+ unless you've got money to burn.

Much like the Note 5 above, the S6 Edge+ already has most of the performance and capabilities of the S7 and S7 Edge, so there's not much reason to upgrade so soon after your last phone. Then again, if you're the kind of person who bought an S6 Edge+ instead of a Note 5 because of those sexy glass curves -- well, the new S7 Edge has more of those.

Galaxy S6 Edge

The Galaxy S6 Edge.

Josh Miller/CNET

What you get with the Galaxy S7

  • A slightly faster processor and a little more memory
  • A larger 5.5-inch screen (assuming S7 Edge)
  • Water resistance
  • Expandable microSD storage
  • Slightly better pictures in low-light situations and faster focus
  • Faster wireless charging
  • A curved glass back
  • Better battery life (16 hours vs. 13.5 hours in our tests; 20 hours for S7 Edge)
  • A clickier home button
  • Faster fingerprint recognition
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow (in case your phone is still waiting for it)
  • Always-on display so you can check time and notifications at a glance

What's the same

  • Aluminum chassis with glass front and back
  • Excellent super high-def screen
  • Curved glass front (assuming S7 Edge)
  • 32GB of storage to start

What you're losing

  • Visibility in bright light (S7 has noticeably more glare)
  • Thinness and light weight (S7 is very slightly thicker and heavier)
  • IR blaster to control your home entertainment system

Verdict: Upgrade to the Galaxy S7 Edge.

Let's be real. If you bought a Galaxy S6 Edge over the more practical Galaxy S6, you were probably trying to make a fashion statement. With the Galaxy S7 Edge, that fashion statement can also be quite practical. Not only is the S7 Edge a pretty decent upgrade over the S6 Edge, it's got even more curved glass around back, which contours comfortably to your hand. Plus the biggest battery we've ever seen on a Galaxy smartphone. It's easy to justify the splurge.

Galaxy S5

The Samsung Galaxy S5.

Josh Miller/CNET


What you get with the Galaxy S7

  • Much faster processor and double the memory
  • Aluminum chassis instead of plastic
  • Much crisper screen (2,560x1,440-pixel vs. 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution)
  • Notably larger curved glass screen (assuming S7 Edge)
  • Curved glass back
  • Better battery life (assuming S7 Edge)
  • Notably better pictures in low-light situations, much faster focus
  • Smoother video thanks to optical image stabilization
  • Built-in wireless charging (both Qi and PMA)
  • Far simpler fingerprint sensor (just touch, instead of swipe)
  • Samsung Pay support so you can pay with your phone anywhere that takes credit cards
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow with far fewer Samsung user interface tweaks
  • Slots into Samsung's $99 Gear VR headset for virtual reality applications
  • Always-on display so you can check time and notifications at a glance

What's the same

  • Water resistance (slightly better in Galaxy S7, no need to cover the USB port)
  • Comparable battery life (16 hours in our tests; 20 hours for S7 Edge)
  • Very similar thickness and weight
  • 32GB of storage to start

What you're losing

  • Removable battery
  • IR blaster to control your home entertainment system

Verdict: Upgrade to the Galaxy S7.

It's time. Unless you're still clinging to removable batteries (in which case you should really consider the upcoming LG G5), the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are the upgrade you've been waiting for. The battery life is back, the expandable storage is back, the water resistance is even a little bit better and the camera has significantly improved two years later. Honestly, you could probably still stick with your Galaxy S5 a little longer if you really want -- removable batteries help there -- but if you're considering a new phone at all, the S7 is definitely worthwhile.

Galaxy Note 4

The Galaxy Note 4.

James Martin/CNET

What you get with the Galaxy S7

  • A faster processor and a little more memory
  • An aluminum chassis instead of plastic
  • A curved glass screen (assuming S7 Edge)
  • A curved glass back
  • Water resistance
  • Better pictures in low-light situations, much faster focus
  • Better battery life (16 hours for S7 vs. 12.9 hours for Note 4; 20 hours for S7 Edge)
  • Built-in wireless charging (both Qi and PMA)
  • Far simpler fingerprint sensor (just touch, instead of swipe)
  • Samsung Pay support so you can pay with your phone
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow with far fewer Samsung user interface tweaks
  • Slots into Samsung's $99 Gear VR headset for virtual reality applications
  • Always-on display so you can check time and notifications at a glance

What's the same

  • Optical image stabilization for smooth video
  • Super high-def screen
  • Removable storage (microSD slot)
  • 32GB of storage to start

What you're losing

  • Removable battery
  • Removable stylus
  • IR blaster to control your home entertainment system
  • Some screen real estate (S7 is 5.1-inch, S7 edge is 5.5-inch; your Note 5 is 5.7-inch)
  • Compatibility with Gear VR Innovator Edition (assuming you had one of those)

Verdict: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

You're probably overdue for a new phone, and the Galaxy S7 is notably better in most of the ways that count. But it's a very, very different phone from your Galaxy Note. The features that probably made you want to buy the Note either don't exist in the Galaxy S7, or they haven't improved all that much. Unless you've been waiting for the right moment to adopt a metal-and-glass phone or want to jump feet-first into virtual reality, you can probably afford to wait until fall. That's when Samsung will likely introduce an even better Galaxy Note.

Galaxy Note Edge

The Galaxy Note Edge.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What you get with the Galaxy S7

  • A faster processor and a little more memory
  • An aluminum chassis instead of plastic
  • Both edges of the screen are curved (assuming S7 Edge)
  • A curved glass back
  • Water resistance
  • Better pictures in low-light situations, much faster focus
  • Better battery life (16 hours for S7 vs. 11.6 hours for Note Edge; 20 hours for S7 Edge)
  • Built-in wireless charging (both Qi and PMA)
  • Far simpler fingerprint sensor (just touch, instead of swipe)
  • Samsung Pay support so you can pay with your phone
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow with far fewer Samsung user interface tweaks
  • Slots into Samsung's $99 Gear VR headset for virtual reality applications
  • Always-on display so you can check time and notifications at a glance

What's the same

  • Optical image stabilization for smooth video
  • Super high-def screen
  • Removable storage (microSD slot)
  • 32GB of storage to start

What you're losing

  • Removable battery
  • Removable stylus
  • IR blaster to control your home entertainment system
  • Tiny amount of screen real estate (S7 is 5.1-inch, S7 edge is 5.5-inch; your Note Edge is 5.6-inch)

Verdict: Upgrade to the Galaxy S7 Edge.

If you bought a Note Edge when it first came out and still own it today, that means you're an early adopter who made a conscious decision to spend big money on a curved screen...yet you decided to give up your early adopter badge when Samsung started pushing virtual reality. If you wanted to buy into the Gear VR, you would either have needed to switch to a Note 4 and give up the curved screen -- but you didn't. So I'm guessing curved screens are important to you. Yet you also didn't upgrade to the Galaxy S6 Edge+. Perhaps once you'd given up your early adopter badge, you decided to save your money until your next handset purchase could have a greater impact.

In your case, it doesn't make much sense to wait until fall because there probably won't be a Galaxy S7 Edge+ with a larger screen to go alongside the next Galaxy Note. Samsung seems to have decided that 5.5 inches is the right size for a big handset with a curved screen, which means that the 5.5-inch Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is the phone you need.

Looking for all the specs?

We've compiled a chart comparing Samsung's Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, S6, S6 Edge, Note 5 and S6 Edge+, and you can find it right here.

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