Samsung gets it right the second time around. The Galaxy S7 Edge ($792 for 32GB as tested on Verizon Wireless; $799.99 unlocked) is a striking standout of a smartphone, bringing back several fan-favorite features that were lost in last year's successful S6 Edge. While we also like the smaller Galaxy S7, the Edge manages a bigger battery and Samsung's signature curved glass in a package that's not much larger. As I tested the two phones together, I found that they benchmarked the same and have pretty much identical camera performance. The only major differences are in battery life and design, but that's enough to push the S7 Edge into the lead, and make it our Editors' Choice for Android phones.
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The S7 Edge borrows ideas from a whole bunch of last year's Samsung phones, and puts them together in the right combination. It has the tight efficiency of the S6 Edge, a bigger screen like the slightly bloated S6 Edge+, and superior edge functionality from the older Galaxy Note Edge. Elegantly curved, the S7 Edge measures only 5.9 by 2.9 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.5 ounces. That's considerably narrower, and considerably less heavy, than other competing large smartphones like the Google Nexus 6P (6.3 by 3.1 by 0.3 inches; 6.3 ounces) and the iPhone 6s Plus (6.2 by 3.0 by 0.3 inches; 6.8 ounces).
The 5.5-inch, quad-HD screen on the front is the same resolution, and the same quality, as the S7's screen, even though the S7 Edge uses a flexible plastic OLED, while the S7 is on a traditional glass substrate, according to DisplayMate Labs. While that means it has a slightly lower pixel density than the S7 does, at resolutions like this, that really doesn't matter in practice. What's more important is that this screen is brighter than the panel on either the Galaxy S6 or the Galaxy Note 5.
Below the screen is a combination Home button/fingerprint scanner (the same as on the S6, which is accurate most of the time) and a standard micro USB port for charging and syncing. Samsung decided not to go with the newer USB-C so S6 users could keep their chargers and accessories.
Like the S7, the S7 Edge is IP68 rated, which means it's waterproof and sealed against dust. I had no problem dunking and rinsing it, which is a major advantage over competitors like the iPhone and the Nexus.
Networking, Voice Quality, and Battery
The S7 Edge has the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset as the S7, which makes for the same performance. I didn't find that the larger body improves signal capture or performance in weak signal areas, which were better on both phones than on the S6 or the iPhone 6s.
I tested the Galaxy S7 Edge on Verizon Wireless. I was unable to get it to a location with a very fast Verizon connection, but I was able to test it in a weak signal location, where it maintained an LTE signal more consistently than an iPhone 6S did. Wi-Fi performance is also excellent. It's obviously dual-band 802.11ac (I mean, c'mon), and it had no trouble with a 150-megabit, symmetrical connection.
The phone supports voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) and Wi-Fi calling. The unlocked model works for CDMA, GSM, and LTE on every US carrier, even Verizon and Sprint. If you buy a carrier version, it will have all of the LTE bands on your carrier, but exclude some of the bands that the other carriers use. So it's best to get the unlocked version if you want to move it between carriers.
Voice quality is fine. The earpiece is solidly loud, with no distortion. The bottom-ported speaker is a little too easy to cover with your thumb, and it isn't boomingly loud given that this is a larger phone. In my test calls, I found the earpiece audio to be tuned a little sharper and less harsh than on the S7, but I suspect that was just an artifact of changing conditions on the Verizon network. Noise cancellation is excellent, but that's table stakes on phones in this price category. The S7 Edge, like the S7, supports both Wi-Fi calling and voice-over-LTE.
Battery life on the sealed-in 3,600mAh cell is excellent. I got 10 hours of video streaming, which matches the excellent Nexus 6P. Leaving the phone in standby mode for eight hours only drained 7 percent of the battery, which is also on par with the Nexus, and churning updates for half an hour only dropped the battery by 4 percent, which is frankly pretty killer. The phone supports fast charging and wireless charging, and fills the battery in about two hours of fast charging. You can be confident in the Edge's battery life, which is one reason we prefer it to the Galaxy S7 (which still manages a very respectable 9 hours of video streaming).
Software and the Edge
The S7 Edge's major unique feature is the edge, of course. The edge is Samsung's most notable, and most useful, addition to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow here.
Samsung's curved edge first appeared on the Galaxy Note Edge, and I love it because it's configurable. You could download and load various apps on the edge of the screen to check the weather or play a word game. On the Galaxy S6 Edge, the edge became a mere design feature—you could pull out some frequently used contacts, but few people ever did, and instead it was just pretty.
Well, the functional edge is back, and it's more functional than ever. Swipe in from the right side of the screen to bring up an edge panel. There are about a dozen possible edge panels, along with an open SDK so that hopefully more will come in the future. By default, you get favorite apps, favorite contacts, and a panel for some macros, like starting a message to one of your favorite people. You can add news services, weather, a ruler, memory status, or various other applications.
I also like the always-on screen, which displays the time, date, and basic notifications when the phone is locked; it can also show a calendar or a few custom images based on your phone's theme. It doesn't seem to drain the battery much and you can always disable it if it doesn't suit you.
All that software functionality just adds to Samsung's bloatware load, alas. US carriers only sell a 32GB version of the Galaxy S7 Edge, and 9.23GB on our Verizon model were taken up by Google's OS, Samsung's software, and more than a dozen preloaded Verizon and Amazon apps you can't move or delete.
You can add a microSD card up to 200GB, though, by sticking it in a tray that's part of the SIM card slot. Samsung doesn't support Google's Adoptable Storage, which lets the microSD card be seen as part of the phone's internal memory, but you can move downloaded apps to the card one by one using the phone's settings screen.
The 2.15GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor delivers excellent performance, identical to the Galaxy S7. It easily outclasses the Nexus 6P's Snapdragon 810 on both standard performance benchmarks and graphics benchmarks. It's outmatched by the iPhone 6s Plus when it comes to gaming frame rates, but that's not an apples-to-Apple comparison, as the iPhone has much lower screen resolution. High-intensity games like Asphalt 8 play perfectly smooth here.
Camera and Video
The S7 and the S7 Edge have the same camera module, which has a much more subtle exterior bump than on the S6 generation. Samsung says it dropped from a 16-megapixel unit on the Galaxy S6 to a 12-megapixel unit with larger pixels here to improve low-light performance; it also added more focus pixels to improve low light focus. We saw the focus improvements, but not the low-light improvements on this camera.
Double-tap the Home button and the camera opens in about 0.6 seconds, just like on the Galaxy S6. The quicker focus is immediately evident, and the shutter is pretty much instantaneous. In one of my several low-light tests, the S7 Edge took a much brighter image than the S6 did. But I didn't find that in other tests, and whether my hand was shaky mattered far more than anything else. Both the S6 and the S7 outperform the iPhone 6s, with sharper and less noisy images.
The 5-megapixel front camera is also very good, but a minor improvement over the S6; mostly, images are a little less noisy. The bigger improvement for selfies comes in the addition of a Selfie Flash mode, which lights up the screen when you're shooting an image in the dark.
Video now records at up to 4K resolution at 30 frames per second on the main camera, and 1080p on the front camera. Video recording is excellent, and maintained 30 frames per second even in very dim conditions.
In terms of audio and video playback, the Snapdragon 820 can handle any content you can throw at it. There's no cabled way to attach the S7 to a big screen any more, though; you need to use wireless screencasting.
Comparisons and Conclusions
Competition in the realm of larger premium smartphones is intense. The Nexus 6P, the Galaxy Note 5, the LG V10, and the Motorola Droid Turbo 2 all have unique advantages, and I could easily recommend any of them. There's also the iPhone 6s Plus, which frankly doesn't put Apple's best foot forward with its relatively low-res screen, but has many games and social networks that are unique to the iPhone platform. So why am I making the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge our Editors' Choice? You're getting the most phone per square inch, and more importantly the biggest battery.
The Edge gives you a big screen in a relatively small phone: 5.5 inches in a 2.86-inch wide device, as opposed to the 5.7-inch competitors, which are generally 3 inches or wider. The curved glass makes the Edge not just stylish, but easier to hold as well. Combine that with a killer processor, a faster modem, and a 3,600mAh battery, which is bigger than all the competition, and you get a large, waterproof smartphone with long battery life.
That said, you'll want to get the Galaxy Note 5 if you want to scribble on the screen with the S Pen, and you'll want the Nexus 6P if you prefer a simpler, pure Android experience with no bloatware. The Nexus 6P is also a lot cheaper. So that's a tough decision.
But the Galaxy S7 Edge is current state-of-the-art. It's the best-crafted, most powerful smartphone on the market, with the biggest battery, and the most cutting-edge components you can get. That's enough to make it our Editors' Choice.