Samsung's new Galaxy S7 duo more than just an upgrade

The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge (left) and the S7.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge (left) and the S7.PHOTO: SAMSUNG

It is easy to look at Samsung's new duo of Galaxy S7 devices as corrections to the mistakes made with last year's Galaxy S6 phones.

The South Korean tech giant brought back the water-resistance capability, as well as the highly favoured microSD slot for storage expansion, both of which were removed from last year's S6.

The push for the S7 edge, which has the curved display on both sides of the phone, as the new flagship is also noteworthy. Samsung's failure to recognise the popularity of the curved screen led to lost sales of the S6 edge, when its supply could not match demand.

But it would also be a mistake to think of both S7 devices as merely incremental upgrades to the S6.

Samsung has gone out of its way to improve the camera on the S7 and its success in that department makes both S7 devices worth upgrading just for it.

Instead of merely bumping up the pixel count of the S6's 16MP image sensor, Samsung has gone and revamped its entire camera module, and has actually gone with a lower- resolution 12MP sensor here.

What Samsung has done is to adopt a larger sensor size with bigger individual pixels on the S7 camera, which now allows each pixel to capture more light and details.

And instead of the fast phase detection autofocus, which some smartphone firms have moved to, Samsung has developed what it calls Dual Pixel focusing, for an even faster and more accurate focusing speed.

With phase detection, a fraction of pixels are equipped with photodiodes for focusing. With Dual Pixel, all the pixels are used for focusing, which increases autofocusing speed - not just for stationary objects but also moving ones, as well as subjects in low-light conditions.

The larger pixels are great for low-light shots, whether it is shooting in a room where the fluorescent lights are on, or in a dimly-lit restaurant which usually yields dark, grainy shots in most phone cameras.

Both front and rear cameras have an aperture size of f1.7, which further helps with low-light situations.

Late-night shots of an evening skyline showed well-defined details of the lights in the background, and colours in the foreground. The same image taken on the S6 and even on Apple's iPhone 6S, coughed up stark differences in details and colour, as well as in the areas where there are lighting and shadows.

My only quibble was that in certain indoor conditions, where the lights are the small LED spotlight types, the camera is sharp enough to capture the light trails that emanate from these small lights, disrupting the overall balance of the shot.

The camera retains all of the features found in current Samsung phones, such as Pro mode, Selective Focus and even the Live Broadcast features introduced in last year's Galaxy Note 5.

While the design of the S7 is different from the S6, the rear curve of the S7 is identical to that of the oversized Note 5, and I won't be surprised if the designs of both those phones eventually converge.

Samsung has also followed LG, Lumia and Motorola, in crafting an Always-On display, which allows users to check the phone for the time, missed calls and e-mail notifications, without waking up the device. While this feature is not as robust as that on the LG V10, it serves its purpose.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S7 EDGE

Aside from the larger screen and bigger battery, another difference between the S7 edge and S7 is the edge panel display. Users can modify the placement of a small "handle" that appears on the edge of the screen. A swipe inwards from this handle brings up sub menus, which Samsung terms edge menus, as a window overlay, for quick access.

 

Users can list 10 frequently used apps on the Apps edge menu, and 10 commonly used short-cut keys on the Tasks edge menu. The People edge menu assigns a unique colour to five important contacts, such that the phone will light up in that colour if any of the five people call.

I place the handle on the right edge of the screen, and swipe it with my right thumb to cycle through the different edge menu shortcuts. Users can also craft their own edge menu panels for calendars, weather and news.

After heavy modifications on what was initially thought of as a gimmick, the edge display seems to have finally found its mark, even if it still does not offer the most ground-breaking of uses.

To entice potential S7 buyers, Samsung Singapore has also rolled out a $38 concierge service that, aside from offering cheaper repairs for cracked screens, allows owners to save $350 in 12 months' time when they upgrade to next year's flagship model.

Another thing: Users can expect to get an upcoming feature when the Samsung Pay mobile payment service rolls out here later this year. The service will allow users to store their credit card credentials on their phones, and authorise payments with their fingerprints via the phone's fingerprint sensor.