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Samsung Galaxy S7 review: This is the phone to beat

We reviewed the new Samsung Galaxy S7 in London, Berlin, San Francisco and Sydney. It's the best all-around phone you can buy right now -- and one of the best phones ever made.

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Jessica Dolcourt
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Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Money, How-To & Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Money, How-To, and Performance teams. A California native who grew up in Silicon Valley, she's passionate about connecting people with the highest standard of advice to help them reach their goals.

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11 min read

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Editors' note (March 28, 2017): Samsung has unveiled the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus, the follow ups to 2016's excellent Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. Priced at $750 (£689 and AU$1,199), the Galaxy S8 features a beautifully curved 5.8-inch screen with an ultra-narrow bezel; facial recognition as an alternative way to unlock the phone; and Samsung's nascent Bixby voice assistant. The S8 Plus costs a bit more -- $850, £779 or AU$1349 -- and comes equipped with a larger body and battery, but is otherwise identical.

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Samsung Galaxy S7

The Good

Polished design. Awesome camera. Long battery life. microSD storage slot and water-resistant (again!).

The Bad

Annoyingly reflective. Smudge magnet. Plastic-looking selfies even with no filter. No removable battery, which isn't surprising, but is still a compromise compared to 2014's S5.

The Bottom Line

The fast, powerful, beautiful Galaxy S7 phone is 2016's all-around phone to beat.

Samsung has instituted an eight-point battery test on its new phones in an effort to reassure customers that it has addressed the issues that plagued its exploding Note 7 last year. To see how the Galaxy S8 and S8 Edge stack up against their predecessors, check out CNET's side-by-side comparison.

Samsung Galaxy S8, S8 Plus and Bixby pix: Come and get 'em

See all photos

The original Samsung Galaxy S7 review, published in March 2016 and updated since then, follows.

The ultimate way to test a new phone? Travel with it. When you're seeing sights and losing yourself to the moment, there's no room to tolerate a poor camera or buggy software, slow speed or short battery life. If there's a flaw, you'll find it.

So I tested the Samsung Galaxy S7 in London and Berlin, while colleagues also took it for a spin in San Francisco and Sydney. And you know what? It did great. Better than great. In fact, the S7 was an awesome phone that never cracked under the pressure of being the only way I take pictures and navigate completely unfamiliar terrain, all while keeping battery life going during long days out.

Straight up: the Galaxy S7 is the best all-around phone out today. It's superior to the excellent Google Nexus 6P, Apple iPhone 6S, LG G5 and HTC 10. In fact, the only phone that surpasses it is its own fraternal twin, the larger, curvy-screen S7 Edge, which is technically my top pick -- but only if you're willing to splurge. Sure, there are some potentially worthy rivals out beyond the horizon -- the iPhone 7, the next Nexus model, and the Galaxy Note 6. But none of them will likely be on the market for months to come. So, for now, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge remain the best phones money can buy.

Here's what I found (along with fellow S7-testers) while using the S7 around Europe. You can also scroll to the end for a specs comparison chart.

Editors' note: This review was originally posted on March 8, 2016 and last updated on April 16, 2016.

Samsung's gleaming Galaxy S7 is all win (pictures)

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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.

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Want fries with that grease?

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

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The seriously fast autofocus and optical image stabilization helped capture flowers in strong winds.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

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Selfies looked a little off: either too smooth or too sharp, even with beauty modes off.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I did use the S7's front-facing screen "flash" to light dark selfie scenes, which basically means the phone screen whites-out before the camera fires. This came in handy, since my sister basically selfie-documented every move we made for her husband and kids, especially at dinner and the bar. The flash...it's blinding. Toning down the brightness would make it more useful, especially if I could pick a warmer color temperature or lower brightness setting to make it all less intense. The iPhone 6S' similar selfie-flash did better in the same scenes.

Less bloatware is a very, very good thing

Back in London, my appreciation for Samsung's more restrained customizations to the Android 6.0 software settled in. The S7 slims down the bloatware considerably, while leaving plenty of advanced settings for customizing everything from the lock screen to phone themes -- you just have to dig a little deeper now to find everything. Samsung also added a few nice-but-subtle optional touches, like a new "tray" to help you easily move app icons from one screen to another.

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Dedicated gaming tools help you record and screenshot your sessions.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Speaking of extra touches, I really like the idea of the Game Launcher, a set of tools you can turn on to trigger some quick actions, like recording the screen or minimizing your game so you can do something else. I'm not the kind of active gamer who would immediately benefit from these features, so trying it out on the subway threw off my movements when playing more precision-based games, like the Riptide 2 racer.

My colleague Jason Parker in San Francisco liked being able to turn off all alerts (with the exception of actual incoming phone calls), but pointed out that the notification for an incoming call still covers most of the screen -- so this particular feature doesn't go far enough.

During my week away from San Francisco (aka home), I fell in love with the S7's new always-on display, which shows you either the clock, a calendar or an image. It was immediately useful for checking the time and the phone's battery levels, a constant worry, without actually having to take the phone out of standby. I also set up a clock for the local timezone and the one at home, so I knew when it was too early to call or text.

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You always know the time and where you stand with battery life.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Battery life is long, performance swift

Other than the camera quality, battery life was my No. 1 concern when using the S7 while Euro-tripping. I was often out from 9 a.m. until midnight, and didn't always carry a bulky charger or heavy external battery pack, because that gets annoying. Luckily, I didn't need to. The battery lasted through a full day of heavy use.

Over in San Francisco, my colleagues ran the S7 through our standard CNET lab tests, a looping video downloaded to the phone, played in airplane mode.

The S7 averaged 16 hours in three tests, which is one of the longest-running results we've seen for any phone.
In comparison, the iPhone 6S scored 10.5 hours on the exact same test. I'd still expect to charge it once a day, but would be more confident making it through a late night without dying. If you want a larger battery, there's always the S7 Edge.

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You can cast off the cord and charge the S7 and S7 Edge (pictured) on a wireless charging pad.

James Martin/CNET

During my week gallivanting around with the S7, it operated smoothly and never lagged, and games played on its top-of-the-line processor with ease. (See our performance chart below.)

A few things the S7 could do better

  • Less plastic-looking selfies, toned-down screen flash.
  • A speedier, more accurate fingerprint reader like the Nextbit Robin's side-button reader (this wasn't bad, the Robin's is just that good).
  • Figure out how to add a removable battery on a metal design (LG did). For you, that means swapping in fresh batteries if you want to keep the phone a long time or increase its resale value.
  • Make sure the phone's right-side power button doesn't turn on in a purse; this drains battery faster (kudos again to the Nextbit Robin).
  • Make the screen more readable outside on overcast and sunny days. Microsoft/ phones have a filter; Samsung should, too.
  • Support thicker gloves. In chilly London and Berlin, I had to choose between frozen fingers or my lined leather gloves. Samsung says the screen automatically supports thinner gloves.

Eurotripping with the Samsung Galaxy S7 (pictures pictures pictures!)

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More stuff you need to know

Moar storage!: Samsung's return to the microSD card slot meant I could load the S7 with a movie to watch offline, and save all those photos and videos to a card instead of to the more limited phone memory -- you can also transfer over an app you download from Google Play. A microSd card also means you won't have to buy a pricier S7 model to get more storage. In that sense, an extra 64GB from the SD card costs you only about $20, AU$65 or £12 -- five times less than an Apple storage upgrade costs.

Water-resistant once again: I wouldn't normally worry about a regular phone corroding from rain, so London and Berlin's frequent downpours didn't prove a thing. I did not and will not drop the S7 into a toilet to test this. Just, no. Anyway, "waterproofing" is more beneficial if someone throws you in a pool as a joke or you take gloaty photos in a hot tub. Or this:

Luke Westaway/CNET

Samsung Pay is still awesome: This isn't new, but who cares? I still used it all the time in London and Berlin, so that makes it important. Samsung Pay one-ups Apple Pay and Google Pay by letting you use the phone as a credit card at any card-accepting merchant (it works with old-fashioned swipe readers, no need for an NFC reader). That made it super simple to buy coffees and train tickets without having to dig for my wallet or withdraw more local currency when I ran out. Here's everything you need to know about Samsung Pay.

Wireless charging remains: Like Samsung's 2015 phones, you can charge the S7 wirelessly (it supports all major standards). Same goes for quick-charging from the wired charger, which is included.

"Old" chargers will work: The S7 uses the Micro-USB charging port, not the new Type-C port that some phones, like the LG G5, have. This means that you can use any chargers that you already happen to have lying around, but it won't do all the tricks of the new standard -- that's not a deal-breaker by any means. Adoption here will be gradual.

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How happy are we to see the return of the storage slot? So happy!

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Not a Nexus: Just a reminder, future Android updates won't come on day 1, unlike on a Nexus phone. Based on past experience, expect a six-month wait.

Long-term life: Battery life blows it out of the water now, when the S7 is all fresh and new, but phones can't hold the same charge as they age. Speed also slows down over time, especially after loading the phone with zillions of apps and photos. We'll keep a close eye on this one to see how it does down the line.

Call quality: Calls sounded great when my colleagues tested the S7 in San Francisco with Verizon's network. Calls didn't drop, they said, and audio maintained a more balanced, warm sound.

Virtual reality perk: The Gear VR headset was free for those who bought an S7 or Edge before March 18, $99 otherwise. It's way better than Google Cardboard.

Versus other phones

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Sizing up the S7, S7 Edge, iPhone 6S Plus and Google Nexus 6P.

Josh Miller/CNET



iPhone 6S: The S7 bests the iPhone 6S in low-light camera shots; battery life; Android 6.0 software features (like Google Now and built-in Doze battery savings); Samsung Pay (which works where Google Pay and Apple Pay don't); and the microSD card slot, which makes storing media cheaper than buying a phone with larger storage. More comparisons here!

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge: The two have everything in common except for the S7's smaller battery and screen size, and its conventional display versus the Edge's curved screen (plus "edge" software navigation bar). The more interesting Edge is the splurge: more distinctive, but at a cost. Read up on the S7 Edge.

Google Nexus 6P: I will never stop loving the Nexus 6P as a value-for-money phone, and you won't do wrong buying it. The S7, however, is better in all areas -- except one. A Nexus phone is the first one Google will bless with Android updates. Samsung owners could wait up to six months or longer. See the specs-off!

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LG G5: The G5 brings some serious innovation to the table, and its removable battery thumbs LG's nose at Samsung. Still, the Galaxy S7 is better. I compare the G5 and S7 face-to-face here.

Prices: Not cheap, but worth it

The S7 starts at $650, £569 and AU$1,149. That isn't cheap, but I think it's worth the investment. Compared to 2015's iPhone 6S, the new Galaxy S7 has the advantage: The might of Android's software excellence, that gorgeous design, a lot of customization options and top hardware guts.

You could also pony up more to upgrade to the S7 Edge if you value the bigger 5.5-inch screen, the larger battery and the seductive waterfall screen design.

Specs and all that jazz

Love specs and data? Here you go: the S7's benchmark performance and specs, compared to rival phones.

Samsung Galaxy S7 2,323 5,429 29,031Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 2,370 5,493 28,896Apple iPhone 6S 2,527 4,404 27,698Apple iPhone 6S Plus 2,403 4,240 28,080Google Nexus 6P 1,286 4,313 24,224OnePlus X 904 2,552 17,369
  • Geekbench 3 Single-Core
  • Geekbench 3 Multi-Core
  • 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

The Galaxy S7 versus Apple's iPhone 6S, LG G5 and the Google Nexus 6P.

Galaxy S7 takes on the competition


Samsung Galaxy S7LG G5Apple iPhone 6SGoogle Nexus 6P
Display size, resolution 5.1-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.3-inch, 2,560x1,440 pixels4.7-inch; 1,334x750 pixels 5.7-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 576ppi554ppi326ppi515ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.6x2.70.3 in.5.88x2.91x0.30 in.5.4x2.6x0.28 in.6.3x3.1x0.28 in.
Dimensions (Millimeters) 142.4x69.6x7.9 mm149.4x73.9x7.7 mm138x67x7.1 mm 159x78x7.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.4 oz.; 152 g5.61 oz.; 159 g5 oz.; 143 g6.3 oz.; 178 g
Mobile software Android 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowApple iOS 9Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Camera 12-megapixel16-megapixel, 8-megapixel wide-angle12-megapixel12.3-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel8-megapixel5-megapixel8-megapixel
Video capture 4KTBA4K4K
Processor 2.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapgradon 820 processorQualcomm Snapdragon 820 processorApple A9 chip (64-bit)2GHz eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810
Storage 32GB, 64GB (varies by region)32GB16GB, 64GB, 128GB32GB, 64GB, 128GB
RAM 4GB4GB2GB3GB
Expandable storage 200GB2TBNoneNone
Battery 3,000mAh (nonremovable)2,800mAh (removable)1,715mAh (nonremovable)3,450mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Home buttonHome buttonHome buttonBack cover
Connector Micro-USBUSB-CLightningUSB-C
Special features Water resistantPull-out battery, two rear cameras3D Touch interface"Pure" Android
Price off-contract (USD) AT&T: $695, Sprint: $650, T-Mobile: $670, Verizon: $672, US Cellular: $672TBA$649 (16GB); $749 (64GB); $849 (128GB)$499 (32GB); $549 (64GB); $649 (128GB)
Price (GBP) £569TBA£539 (16GB); £619 (64GB); £699 (128GB)£449 (32GB); £499 (64GB); £579 (128GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,149TBAAU$1,079 (16GB); AU$1,229 (64GB); AU$1,379 (128GB) AU$899 (32GB); AU$999 (64GB); AU$1,099 (128GB)
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9.0

Samsung Galaxy S7

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 9Camera 8Battery 10