BARCELONA -- Samsung unpacked the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge in a spectacular event held Sunday night here at the Mobile World Congress expo that included virtual reality and a surprise appearance by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The handsets are the finest ever from Samsung, but don't necessarily go far enough to woo fickle smartphone buyers.
Like their predecessors, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge feature aluminum chassis and glass body panels. Samsung took care to refine the designs a little, and smoothed over some of the rough spots of the 2015-era Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. The new phones have curved glass panels that join tighter to the metal frames.
They are top-of-the-line handsets, as evidenced by the spectacularly high price points.
Unlike most phones in the market, the GS7 and GS7 Edge are waterproof. They have earned an IP68 rating against water ingress, which means they can survive a 30-minute bath in water several feet deep. You can drop them in the pool and not worry. Thankfully, Samsung engineered the phones in such a way that bulky hatches and clunky ports aren't needed. The phones are protected from within, which allows them to keep their pretty exterior designs.
Samsung brought back one feature the GS6 and GS6 Edge lacked: memory card support.
The new phones can make use of microSD cards up to 200GB in size, thanks to a tray tucked into the side edge. The batteries, however, are not removable. Samsung improved the size of the batteries from ~2,600mAh to 3,000mAh for the GS7 and 3,600mAh for the GS7 Edge. The batteries support Quick Charge 3.0, which is 45% faster than Quick Charge 2.0. They also support wireless charging and rapid wireless charging with the appropriate charging pad.
[A case of "you get what you pay for"? Read Smartphone Pricing's up, But Customers Are Happier.]
As expected, Samsung dropped the number of pixels in the camera from 16 megapixels to 12 megapixels. In order to make up for the loss in raw pixel count, Samsung increased the size of the pixels significantly in order to help with low-light imaging. Impressively, the lens practically scoops up light with its f/1.7 aperture. Samsung claims the phone focuses in less than 0.3 seconds.
The GS7 has a 5.1-inch AMOLED screen, and the GS7 Edge has a 5.5-inch AMOLED screen. Both include quad HD resolution. This gives the smaller phone a small advantage as far as pixel density is concerned, but only a small one. Samsung cooked up a feature that allows the screen to remain on at all times -- albeit in black-and-white. It displays the time and incoming notifications so users always have the latest information with just a glance at the screen. The curved display of the GS7 Edge has been improved with more content, more usable apps, and easier control over its behavior.
The two phones run Android 6.0 Marshmallow and the latest software from Samsung, but that's not saying much. Samsung generally spends as much time talking about its apps and software as it does the hardware. Not so this year. Samsung didn't spend any time talking about its software innovations.
Several segments of the presentation required attendees to wear the Gear VR headset.
Toward the end of the Feb. 21 event, the audience gasped in surprise to find Zuckerberg on stage after taking off a Gear VR headset. Samsung snuck him in without anyone noticing. Zuck talked about Facebook's commitment to VR and rattled off a number of impressive stats. For example, there are more than 20,000 VR videos stored on Facebook and hundreds more uploaded every day. Facebook expects to see a lot more VR in the years ahead.
As if to cement its own commitment to VR, Samsung debuted the Gear 360, a small camera that can capture 360-degree video.
The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge will go on sale in the US March 11, with preorders kicking off Feb. 23. All the major carriers are selling the phones, including AT&T, Cricket Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon Wireless. The GS7 costs $670 and the GS7 Edge costs $780.
As impressive as the GS7 and GS7 Edge are, it's worth pointing out that the company did essentially what Apple did with the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Samsung took last year's designs and made them that much better.
Rising stars wanted. Are you an IT professional under age 30 who's making a major contribution to the field? Do you know someone who fits that description? Submit your entry now for InformationWeek's Pearl Award. Full details and a submission form can be found here.