Monday, May 23, 2016

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge - The Android Flagship Awakens

My Samsung experience prior to using S7 Edge

My first android phone was a Samsung Galaxy S2 GT-I9100 purchased 4 years ago and after using Galaxy Note & S4, I decided to quit using Samsung phones because they were getting too gimmicky with features and not willing to give up the plastic back panel. While using Galaxy S4 and encountering frequent bugs, I realized that sending feedback to Samsung did not yield any fruitful response. They were more interested in selling their phones in large numbers than to strengthen customer confidence through effective customer support. I felt it was better to keep away from Samsung for some time as they were literally flooding the market with so many lookalike Galaxy variants, literally as if they were preparing for some Clone Wars!

The Mid-Range Mashup

As the budget Android mobile segment grew bold by offering impressive hardware specifications I felt that the stock android experience and 8MP camera with optical image stabilization (OIS) on LG Nexus 5 would suffice my shift for moving away from Samsung and once the Lollipop upgrade arrived it started giving me battery backup and screen lag issues so I then moved on to Asus Zenfone 2 which was promising in many aspects as the first phone with 4GB RAM in India and I must admit it that Asus has the most active online forum where the moderators are constantly interacting with consumers knowing their feedback about various Asus mobile devices, taking note of common issues reported and as a result of this they always pushed across various versions of device based firmware upgrades. I never felt Zenfone 2 overheating with intensive usage and it still works like a charm. This is one android phone that offers a host of customization options enhancing overall usability.

Asus chose Intel for powering the processor on Zenfone 2 with a Quad core 2.3GHz Atom Z3580 chipset and probably this was one area where I felt they were let down because I never got decent battery backup especially after the lollipop OS upgrade and some buggy firmware versions. I could see that Android OS wake lock was consuming battery power constantly even after using all possible tweaks available and performing complete reset on the phone twice. I could barely cross screen on time beyond 3.5 Or 4 hours and if fully charged before leaving to office it would lose charge before evening 6-7 PM. I could live with the barrage of bloatware Zenfone 2 was packing but not the dwindling battery life and I also did not have high hopes with this phone’s camera either. I had shortlisted 2 Android phones for my next change – Lenovo Vibe X3 and Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016).

Dilemma of a Swap and Upgrade

Vibe X3’s wide phablet like display, superior audio, 4K video recording and overall beefy specs offered at a price less than Rs20,000 that too with a 3500mAh battery qualified as strong USP for this new Lenovo launch. Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) came on my search radar purely due to its looks and design as I felt I could try a Samsung phone this time to see if it fared well on my expectations since this phones camera also had OIS and a 3,300mAh battery, only thing that worried me was the internal memory of 16GB even though it was expandable via memory card and Samsung was clever to provide an independent SD card slot. A7 (2016) was slightly overpriced at launch for around Rs33,900 with price now reduced to Rs29,900.

For a brief period Sony’s Experia Z5 phone had caught my fancy with the water resistant features and it’s camera quality was crowned to be the amongst the best as per DxOMark mobile camera rating test of 2015. I realized that with the rising PPI and use of QHD display along with overall large mobile screen trend followed for most premium phones it was unrealistic to expect a stable battery back up on Android OS even if the manufacturers bumped up the battery capacity. So I had almost made up my mind not to go for any high end flagship phones until 2017.

The Force was strong with this one…

When I started following Galaxy S7 Edge reviews ahead of its India launch I found the slick design of this phone with the curved metal back covered in glass that provided S7 Edge a very distinct and stunning look from the most mobiles in Galaxy series with candy bar form factor, water resistant feature was a good value add and the deciding factor was going to be battery backup and camera which looked good on paper in terms of specs. When Samsung sweetened the pre-order deal with a free Gear VR headset I had started seriously considering this phone by now which my wife realized and I was in for a surprise receiving this phone as my birthday gift. I was skeptical in my mind about the Touchwiz lag and buggy OS issues from the S4 experience in the past, S7 Edge was going to be all impulse and gamble and it actually began with a bumpy ride (read more here at leisure)

I am not going into the hardware specifics as there are lot of S7 and S7 edge reviews floating around on the web, and the reason I have given a detailed background before actually beginning with phone review is because for a consumer seeking value out of any mobile phone in the Android ecosystem choice is both a bane and boon, so I am sharing my view about S7 Edge in a question answer format after using it for exactly 2 months now.

Does S7 Edge really command such hefty pricing compared to other mid-range flagship phones matching or surpassing Samsung on the hardware/ software specifications?

Globally smartphone manufacturers are aware of the imminent saturation visible amongst consumers in the developed markets which is eating into their sales figures and shipments. Consumers have kind of grown tired running on the hamster wheel and there is really not much of novelty left in the current gen annual mobile handset upgrades.

The next phase is poised to evolve mobile communication as a service taking it from a phone to foldable screens, glasses, digital walls, tables and any possible medium that can keep us connected on the go at all times. So most of the manufacturers are now beefing up mobile phone hardware to crazy levels, design wise there is not much to distinguish and they have found a new way to extend app and platform ecosystem by augmenting it with wearables and VR tech.

You can pat yourself for being money smart and buy a mid-range flagship from a host of new Android phone manufacturers who have entered Indian market. These companies have offerings in so many niche areas now, however most likely a buyer really does not give too much consideration to the after sales service network of these brands and they would be happy to move on to another budget phone once it creates any problem that might not be worth the cost of repair or the novelty factor wears off.

S7 Edge is a costly mobile phone for a top end android device and if we talk about value for money proposition it becomes subjective to an endless debate, for me it proved to be an all-round mobile phone not just on paper but in actual use too.

Is the S7 Edge camera really that good?

Yes, it is one flagship phone which I have found true and close to what it claims to be in its marketing pitch. I am sharing link to my Flickr gallery of the snapshots taken with Galaxy S7 Edge. In some images the camera lens picked up more light from what my eyes could actually see at some spots where pics were taken. The image processing algorithm is not perfect and it does tend to leave traces of bleeding effect with a touch of soft blur applied on low light and night snapshots, however the detail to difference in color of light coming from multiple sources is amazing.

I have seen live image feature on iPhone, S7 Edge betters it by giving you option to take snapshot of a frame from live image which is very useful during an event when people are not exactly looking at the camera to capture candid moments applies also to kids and pets etc., There are few add-on camera modes that can be downloaded for free. I have also noticed S7 Edge does not overheat in some 4K videos taken.

Competition is swift and HTC 10 has already joined the party with S7|S7 Edge in sharing the top slot for best camera phone of 2016 (until now) on DxOMark rating chart. It also has OIS for the front facing camera and LG G5 is also not behind as it almost equals G7 Edge in most of the imaging comparison test videos and reviews I have seen online.You can leave your point and shoot camera at home finally and the imaging quality is splendid for regular day time images probably the best I have experienced after Nokia N8.

What about TouchWiz and Marshmallow OS?

Samsung’s infamous OS skin is much more subtle and less buggy on S7 Edge, I am not completely sure but I think it still manages to randomly impact gaming performance during screen loading and for some heavy multi-tasking activities on the phone, though the lag effect is momentary it does not extend for longer duration or happen frequently.

I have faced 3-4 instances of screen freezing until now and especially with the YouTube app, luckily holding the power and volume down button helps to reboot the phone without any issues, other than these glitches I do not have any TouchWiz or OS complaints, I have tested S7 Edge on extended gaming sessions the back panel does not heat up, it may get a little warm on heavy games but you would not feel it much on your palms. S7 Edge’s high end hardware configuration augments Marshmallow OS performance on the phone and it is lighting fast and I could notice the difference in browsing speed on Chrome browser, Wi-Fi connectivity speed, and Screen Mirroring stability in comparison to my Asus ZE551ML phone.

Does the Edge interface (UX) stand out on S7 Edge?

Apart from the contacts/people edge card I did not find any compelling reason to praise usability of the Edge screen and it still needs support from more developers to build a decent library of edge based apps and utilities. Reading notifications, RSS feeds etc. is more like a good to have feature and where it lacks content is in the must have category.

How good is the Water Resistant Capability?

Okay, whatever the company might say I am not willing to risk my phone to test it like a guinea pig for its water resistant feature. There are many YouTube videos showing crazy kind of tests done on S7 and S7 Edge and those companies or users are probably getting paid or compensated to do those frightening things even if the phone is damaged. I would update my post whenever the inevitable happens with my phone.

VR Experience

I got the free Gear VR headset from pre-order offer on S7 Edge. It is probably the best entry level device to get you acquainted with VR tech and there are really some cool games and apps you should really try on the Gear VR. It does feel a little heavy around and on the nose after wearing it for a while but the amazing world it transports you into is beyond words to explain. What is really needed is a dedicated YouTube app for the Gear VR and I hope it becomes available very soon, using it via the inbuilt Samsung browser does not guarantee a high quality viewing experience via YouTube website.

I really liked the Oculus video app which has various video watching modes and you can actually hear the sound changing direction when you move your head sitting in a virtual cinema hall or a home movie room. My favorite is the void screen which allows you to zoom the viewing area and you can even watch your video content relaxing on your couch or bed by adjusting the viewing screen position with just a tap.

The phone battery drops at least around 20-25% on over a hour’s Gear VR usage and the mobile heats up too. I am still trying to figure out some source to download high quality VR videos as the streaming experience is not always clear and high quality and I can feel my 8MBPS broadband connection sometimes struggling to buffer 360 VR video content.

Some Observations

When I initially used this phone for 2-3 days without the SIM, it gave me screen on time of around 9 hours and in regular day to day moderate to heavy usage I am able to get 6-7 hours of screen on time and the charge cycle lasting close to 1.5 days. I am also going to try the package disabler pro from OS police or EZ Package Disabler which is particularly useful on Samsung phones just to enhance the battery backup further on this device.

Quick charging 2.0 takes around 1 hr 20 min to 1 hr 30 min until full charge and Samsung has managed to keep the bloatware to the bare minimum this time, also allowing you freedom to disable some of the apps you do not need. What I disliked the most is presence of only one down firing speaker at the bottom and even the 3.5mm headphone jack has been place positioned at a weird location. Tactile feedback of power button and volume rocker is firm and does not feel tacky.

It would have been great if Samsung could have provided a separate slot for second sim or SD card instead of the hybrid solution. Do remember to get a case for S7 Edge that offers protection at the edges and firm grip because as good looking and curvy the design is, it is a finger print magnet and does not inspire confidence for single hand usage or even holding it with both hands horizontally. There is always a fear in my mind of dropping it accidentally.


I would never judge any one too critically for using an iPhone or any other Android phone because it boils down to matter of personal choice and preference and one thing I have noticed is the way some people check out the S7 edge, sometimes they don’t have anything to say and they pretend as it if it us just another phone and few even have advice ready for you to ask why are you not using an iPhone, why did you go for this expensive phone for an Android? These are the type of questions that get me irritated. It’s my choice if I do not want to bite the Apple, so be it!

The same applies to consumers who find it sensible to use mid-range flagship android phones rather than splurging money over some expensive device, if you are happy with your phone then there is no need to ridicule someone who could afford a high end flagship mobile or maybe it is something that satisfies their need, desire or ego whatever it could be as I have also come across articles by some tech journalists and enthusiasts writing stuff to just to prove their point and declaring how their budget device can knock this expensive phone out of the park. That’s the way competition moves in today’s world and even I believe S7 or S7 Edge can never rule the Galaxy of smartphones forever.

To summarize I am in a love hate kind of situation - in love with the product but still hate Samsung for leaving me with a bitter customer service experience so please disregard any hype surrounding the S7 and S7 Edge, this phone would not disappoint you with battery backup and camera so if you have the budget go for it eyes closed.

No comments: