Samsung just announced its two flagship phones for 2016 and we've been putting them through their paces on the show floor at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Our first impressions? These two have the power and the style to give Apple another run for its money over the next 12 months.
Samsung has added even more curves to the Galaxy range this time around, and that comes across in the premium feel to both of these handsets. With curves not just on the back (as both phones now have) but on the front as well, it's the S7 Edge that feels like the more elegant of the pair, but you'd be hard-pressed to find fault with either of them in terms of build quality and design. The camera lens, now almost flush with the back of the case, helps here too.
The S7 Edge gets a bigger screen this time around, 5.5 inches rather than 5.1. It still feels perfectly palmable, although your experience here is largely going to depend on the phones you've used before: if you've grown accustomed to a Nexus 6 (with a screen close to 6 inches), then the Galaxy S7 Edge doesn't feel too large at all.
Samsung is opening up its Edge API to other developers in the hope that third-party coders will work on special apps for the Edge Screen, and the ones that we tried (for contacts and Yahoo News) worked smoothly and without lag – they felt suitably sized too, not squashed up against the sides of the screen like in previous versions of the software. Despite striking us as more cosmetic perk than functional up to this point, the Edge variant might be picking up a few more fans during 2016 on this evidence.
Flicking around Samsung's customized version of Android Marshmallow along with the few apps Samsung's demo units had installed on them was as slick an experience as you would expect considering the next generation CPU and GPU technology installed here (US, China and Japan customers get a Snapdragon 820 chip, while the rest of the world gets Exynos 8990 CPUs). From our few minutes with these handsets we wouldn't be surprised if they topped the benchmark charts once they get in customers' hands.
We also gave the camera a quick run, though you can only tax a camera so much in an event venue hall. Response and focus times were fast, and everything worked perfectly well without any recourse to the settings or different modes on offer. We'll have to wait and see whether the low-light photography is as good as Samsung says it is, but we'd expect Samsung to deliver with its new camera technology, and it looks like that's the case.
The Super AMOLED screens are gorgeous too – another area where Samsung has form – with colors bouncing off the display and everything from games to websites looking clear and sharp.
Other highlights include IP68 water resistance returning to the fold (the Galaxy S5 from two years ago had IP67 resistance) and the microSD card slot that we also haven't seen since 2014.
Samsung bucked one recent trend in mobile devices, skipping the new USB Type C ports we've seen in rivals like the LG G5, Nexus 6P and OnePlus 2, in favor of the legacy micro-USB. We suspect that's because of the Gear VR: switching to USB-C for the GS7 would have required a new model of the VR headset to fit the new phones. Don't underestimate the importance of the Gear VR in Samsung's current mobile strategy.
Since Samsung stuck with micro-USB, the new phones are compatible with the same consumer Gear VR that you can buy today. Despite the S7 edge being a different size from any of the 2015 Galaxy flagships that work with the Gear, Samsung tells us the 5.5-inch phone will fit inside using the larger of the two slide-out settings in the Gear VR headset.
There's only so much you can tell from spending ten minutes or so with a pair of phones, but the early indications are good. At first glance the design, feel and speed of the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge seem to match the months of hype that's been built around them.
The two phones go up for pre-order on February 23, ahead of a March 11 US release date. Preorders will ship with a free Gear VR, along with US$50 worth of Oculus Store content, with the purchase. There's no word on the handset's pricing yet, but it's probably a fairly safe bet to say around $650 full retail for the GS7 and ~$70-100 more than that for the Edge.
Stay tuned for our full review in due course, and plenty more from MWC 2016 this week.