Samsung is betting it has the answer to all of those questions with its new Galaxy S7 smartphone. The Galaxy S7 is actually two phones: the standard S7 ($650-$695, depending on carrier) and the S7 Edge ($750-$795, depending on carrier). It's the Edge that truly tries to solve the big phone problem using Samsung’s unique curved display technology.
The S7 models aren’t hugely different from last year’s Galaxy S6 pair — in fact, they look almost identical. The Galaxy S6s were a watershed moment for Android devices: they were the first ones that could stand next to the iPhone in terms of design, materials, performance, and camera quality. So for the S7, Samsung didn’t rewrite its formula. Instead, it took what was good in the S6, refined and iterated upon it, and produced something much better.
Between the two devices, the standard S7 is the less interesting model. It’s the most similar to last year’s phone: same size display (5.1-inch, quad HD, Super AMOLED), same materials (metal and glass, no plastic to be found here), same overall shape and design. It’s a little bit heavier and a little bit thicker than the S6, but not egregiously so in either category.
The S7 has adopted the Note 5’s curved glass back, which makes it more comfortable to hold, despite its thicker profile. The home button doesn’t stick out as much and the rear camera housing doesn’t protrude as much as before (again, likely because the phone itself is just over a millimeter thicker than the S6). It’s a more refined version of the S6, but overall, largely the same hardware experience.
The S7 Edge, on the other hand, has undergone more dramatic changes. While last year’s S6 Edge has the same 5.1-inch display as the standard model, the S7 Edge steps up to a phablet-class 5.5-inch screen (also quad HD, Super AMOLED, and fantastic to look at). That does make it taller and wider than before, but not nearly as much as you might expect.
The secret to the S7 Edge is in those curved sides that give it the Edge name. Samsung’s been curving screens on its phones for a few years now, including on the S6 Edge and the larger S6 Edge+. But those felt more like a gimmick for marketing purposes than anything else.
The curved sides on the S7 Edge are different. Samsung’s using them here to make the phone much narrower than it would be if it had a flat display. It makes the whole device smaller and easier to use. That becomes readily apparent when you put the S7 Edge next to other devices with 5.5-inch or similar screens. It’s significantly narrower than all of them, including Apple’s iPhone 6S Plus (5.5-inch), the LG G4 (5.5-inch), Google’s Nexus 6P (5.7-inch), and Samsung’s own Note 5 (5.7-inch). When it comes to ease of use in your hand, a narrower phone is much easier to manage.
The S7 Edge also has curved glass on its back, making it much more comfortable to hold and easier to pick up off a desk or table than last year’s S6 Edge. The whole thing is rounded, polished, and delightful to flip over and over in my hand, much like a river stone that’s been tumbled under water for a millennia or two. It slips into my pants pocket with ease and is just short enough to stay in my pocket when I sit down. That’s something I can’t say about the iPhone 6S Plus, Nexus 6P, or Note 5
On top of this, Samsung managed to make both S7 models water resistant. They can withstand up to 30 minutes under a meter and a half of water; the important thing here is that it you don’t have to worry about the being a fallible human being around your phone. The tiny tragedies of day-to-day life become no big deal: spilling coffee when your phone is on your desk, keeping it by the sink when you’re doing dishes, calling an Uber in a rainstorm, or, worse, dropping it in the toilet when you’re a few sheets to the wind. The S7s don’t have any fiddly flaps or port covers to accomplish this, either. Samsung isn’t the first phone company to make a water resistant phone, nor are the S7s Samsung’s first water resistant models, but it’s something that all phones, especially high-end ones, should have on their spec lists1.
The sum of all of this means that the S7, and more specifically, the S7 Edge, is the most impressive piece of smartphone hardware I’ve ever held. It’s so polished, so well put together, so smartly designed, and so beautiful to look at that it’s a joy to pick up over and over again. That’s aided by the new colors Samsung is using this year: the silver and gold are a little boring, but the black is gorgeous and refined, deep and inky with just the right amount of reflectivity. It seems silly to be excited about a black phone, but since so many are various shades of grey and not actually black anymore, it’s a refreshing change of pace. (Also, it’s just a really good black.) My only real complaint is the glass on both phones is like a rare earth magnet for fingerprints. It also makes them slippery, especially in cold weather when my skin is dry.