Samsung’s seventh heaven

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THE tech calender is a highly predictable one – each year Samsung releases the latest iteration of its flagship Galaxy smartphones in March, the ­latest generation Note or tablet ­(sometimes both) mid-summer, and usually one more device before September.

This year is no different as Samsung used Mobile World Congress (MWC) as a launchpad to unveil the much-anticipated Galaxy S7 and its sibling, the Galaxy S7 Edge, plus one more portable device, the Gear 360, in Barcelona.

Speedier smartphones

With a CPU that’s claimed to rev up ­processing speed by as much as 30% and a GPU that’s more than 60% better than the S6, the South Korean ­electronics giant has pulled out all the stops to make its latest smartphones among the most powerful on the market.

One of the more ­exciting updates was to the camera, which now incorporates Dual Pixel technology – a first for smartphones – to deliver brighter and sharper pictures even in the most unflattering low-light conditions.

Samsung claims that each and every one of the pixels on the image sensor has two photodiodes instead of one, allowing the ­professional-grade ­sensor to focus as quickly and accurately as the naked eye. This is achieved by fully utilising every single pixel on the Dual Pixel Sensor for phase detection, enabling fast and seamless autofocus that can capture even the most sudden ­movements.

The company claims that in contrast, less than 5% of the pixels on the iPhone 6s Plus’s sensors are used for autofocus, thereby rendering it slower than the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.

In addition to all that, both the image sensors for the 12-megapixel rear and 5-megapixel front cameras have been updated with brighter f/1.7 lens and larger 1.4µm pixels, which means the camera can now capture much more light.

Samsung went to great lengths to showcase the superiority of its ­smartphone cameras in the requisite “compare and contrast” footage which took aim at Apple’s iPhone 6s Plus, with side-by-side comparisons zooming in on how the Galaxy S7 fared much better at capturing more detail thanks to faster shutter speed and more ­accurate autofocus.

In addition, a new camera mode called Motion Panorama adds the ­sensation of movement to traditional panoramic shots – instead of a flat ­panorama shot, the S7 and S7 Edge ­capture several frames of each angle as you pan and then stitches the clearest frames together in a seamless sequence.

Can’t imagine how this works? Picture a roomful of ballerinas standing along a wall, all gracefully twirling and dancing in position – as you pan the phone around the room, the camera captures several still frames of each ballerina in motion so that when you relive the shot, each ballerina performs a little twirl or jump. All you have to do is swipe the screen or pan your Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge sideways to see the action.

As if that weren’t enough, the S7 and S7 Edge also come with a mode called Motion Photo, which captures the three preceding seconds before you press the shutter – for instance the three seconds prior to your sister ­blowing out the candles on her ­birthday cake, or the glorious three seconds before your child crosses the finish line – and then allows you to choose which moment you want to preserve as the still photo.

Good looks

Aesthetically speaking, the glass and metal Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge look much the same as their predecessors, except for some minor tweaks – the rear camera bump has been reduced to a negligible 0.46mm in both phones, and the seamless design now also boasts water and dust resistance that meets the IP68 rating, which in layman’s terms means it can be immersed in 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes.

Samsung claims this was done by sealing the ports on the inside rather than on the outside for a more logical approach to the “how to make phones waterproof” conundrum, and indeed it seems a more sensible solution than having to fiddle with special seals for every single port on a device.

As usual, the display remains one of the best features of the Galaxy smartphones, with both devices having a Quad HD Super Amoled screen with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels. The 5.1in Galaxy S7 has a slightly higher pixel density of 577ppi compared with the S7 Edge’s 534ppi, as it has a smaller screen.

This is now augmented by a new Always-On Display (AOD) feature which promises to provide ever more discreet ways to use your phone. If you’ve ever, for instance, wished you could check the time in the middle of a droning meeting without being so obvious as to rotate your wrist to check your watch or touch your phone, AOD will be your lifesaver.

You will be able to view the time, notifications and your calendar even when the screen is off, all without you having to lift a finger or waking up the phone.

Plus, it’s intelligent enough to automatically disable the feature when the phone’s in your pocket or bag, face down or when the battery’s running low. You can even download themes to further personalise your display.

It may not sound like much, but apparently more of us use our phones just to check the time than we realise, particularly millennials who’ve eschewed wristwatches for just this reason.

If you’re wondering about how the phones fit in the hand, we can tell you that the S7 weighs in at 152g – a little more than its 138g predecessor – with dimensions of 142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9mm, while its bigger brethren the S7 Edge clocks in at 150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7mm and 157g, again a tad more than the S6 Edge’s 132g.

This could be due to the phones’ bigger batteries (3,000mAh for the S7 and 3,600mAh for the S7 Edge), which the company touted as having an improved battery life of up to 15 hours for the S7 and 18 hours for the S7 Edge, with the fast charging feature previously introduced with the Galaxy S6 carried over here.

Additional features

If you’ve got your heart set on the S7 Edge, you’ll be pleased to hear that the Edge UX has been improved to make better use of screen real estate. For example, Apps edge allows you to create up to 10 app shortcuts, and Quick Access lets you create shortcuts to specific functions of your favourite apps or contacts on the edge screen.

Gamers will be excited to know that the S7 and S7 Edge both come with built-in support for Vulkan API which is expected to revolutionise the gaming industry as it’s cross-platform and uses less resources.

The new devices also give you one-touch access to tools that let you take screenshots and record gameplay, as well as turn off alerts for uninterrupted gaming.

And, in perhaps the most telling sign that Samsung has been listening to its customers and what they want, the company has brought back the expandable storage function, upgradeable to 200GB via microSD, on both the S7 and S7 Edge.

In fact Samsung has gone a step further and improved useability by adding the option of a dual SIM function, available for the first time in one of its top-of-the-line flagships, via a hybrid tray that allows users to either use two SIM cards at once, or one SIM card and one microSD memory card. However, this means that users will have to choose between having dual phone lines or expanding the phone’s memory.

Surprise device

Despite rumours that Samsung would be launching a new virtual ­reality device at MWC, it instead brought out a new portable device, the Gear 360. The cute white round ­camera features front and rear view lenses that each capture 180° footage horizontally and vertically to create a seamless 360° field of view.

All you have to do is shoot with the Gear 360, then edit, stitch, view and share the footage online with a Galaxy smartphone – the Gear 360 is currently only compatible with Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, S7, S7 Edge and Note 5 with the Gear 360 Manager app– or PC with the Gear 360 ActionDirector ­software.

Its dual CMOS 15-megapixel sensor and dual f/2.0 fisheye lens means you’ll get 3,840 x 1,920-pixel videos and 30-megapixel photos.

In terms of specs, the Gear 360 comes with WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, 1,350mAh battery and 1GB RAM (expandable up to 128GB via microSD card).

At 153g (including battery) and a diminutive size of 66.7 x 56.2 x 60mm, it’s the perfect size to take with you on the go.

Plus, as it’s also certified IP53 (for protection against harmful deposits of dust and against any water sprayed at any angle up to 60° from the vertical) – it may not be as rugged as an action camera but is good enough to take outdoors to record action shots.

The S7 Edge is slated to launch first on March 18 (pre-orders will be available March 7 to 11) with the S7 to come later at an undisclosed date, while the Gear 360 is expected to be available in the second half of the year. No prices have been announced yet.

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