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Welcome to 2016’s biggest smartphone fight

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Written by Kamil Arli

Forbes Columnist Gordon Kelly wrote an article on iPhone 7  and  Galaxy S7 

Welcome to 2016’s biggest smartphone fight. In the red corner: the Galaxy S7 – arguably one of the best smartphones Samsung has ever released. In the blue corner: the iPhone 7 – arguably the most controversial smartphone Apple AAPL +0.12% has ever released. Both amaze and frustrate, but which should you buy?

Design – Desirable Durability

Finally. After years of pleading, it seems Apple and Samsung have finally grasped that customers want smartphones that are as practical as they are stylish and both companies have gone big on durability in 2016.

Galaxy S7 Vs iPhone 7 is arguably the biggest smartphone battle of 2016. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Galaxy S7 Vs iPhone 7 is arguably the biggest smartphone battle of 2016. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Consequently you’ll find the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 each sport tough Series 7000 aluminium chassis as well as water and dust resistance – Samsung bringing it back to the range after it bizarrely went missing on the Galaxy S6, Apple adding it for the first time.

Differences? Technically Samsung has achieved the slightly higher rating (IP68 vs IP67) which means it can survive submersion for up to 30 minutes in 1.5 metres of water while the iPhone 7 also survives 30 minutes but at a depth of 1 metre. It’s not a game changing difference, but if your phone falls into a swimming pool the Galaxy S7 has a fractionally better chance of survival.

Both the iPhone 7 (pictured) and iPhone 7 Plus are certified to withstand full submersion in water but Samsung's Galaxy S7 is even higher rated while keeping the headphone jack. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Both the iPhone 7 (pictured) and iPhone 7 Plus are certified to withstand full submersion in water but Samsung’s Galaxy S7 is even higher rated while keeping the headphone jack. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

An interesting development is Apple claimed removing the headphone jack (more later) was necessary to achieve this rating, but clearly Samsung found a way around this.

Durability aside, the two phones couldn’t be more different. And here I give the edge to Samsung. The iPhone 7’s design may be iconic, but it is looking long in the tooth. Now three generations old, the large top and bottom bezels waste valuable space making the 4.7-inch handset larger than it needs to be compared to the more compact 5.1-inch Galaxy S7:

  • iPhone 7 – 138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm (5.44 x 2.64 x 0.28 in) and 138 g (4.87 oz)
  • Galaxy S7: 142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9mm (5.61 x 2.74 x 0.31in) and 152g (5.36oz)
SEE ALSO:   The bad news: iPhone sales are up

THE IPHONE 7 IS ALSO MORE SLIPPERY TO HOLD 

The iPhone 7 is also more slippery to hold and though the Galaxy S7 also lacks grip, its tapered back provides better purchase making you less likely to drop it. If you put your phones in a case this won’t matter, but they are tangible pros and cons out the box.

When it comes to the smaller details, however, Apple fights back. Both phones are beautifully made, but the Galaxy S7’s plastic home button is an oversight – especially compared to the iPhone 7’s new ‘taptic’ sapphire home button (complete with convincing vibration feedback). The iPhone 7 also has better external audio after Apple cleverly amplified the earpiece to create stereo audio. It doesn’t beat dual front firing speakers, but it easily outguns the rather muffled speaker of the Galaxy S7.

But of course it’s impossible to evaluate iPhone 7 design without spending some time on its most controversial aspect: the removal of the headphone jack. For some this will be a deal breaker, for others no big deal, but what I will say is Apple’s reasons for excluding it (water resistance, bigger battery, age) are nonsense.

The iPhone 7 has lost its headphone jack but gained dual speakers, the Galaxy S7 has a single mono speaker but a headphone jack. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

The iPhone 7 has lost its headphone jack but gained dual speakers, the Galaxy S7 has a single mono speaker but a headphone jack. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Samsung has outdone Apple on both water resistance and battery capacity (be sure to check out the Battery Life section further down) while age is irrelevant – the headphone jack is universal, reliable and delivers incredible quality. But contrast the Lightning port is proprietary (a licensing cost) and its digital audio requires a DAC integrated into every pair of headphones to convert it into audible analogue sound waves (another cost).

THE MOVE ALSO CONDEMNS EVEN THE BIGGEST APPLE FAN TO A LIFE OF ADAPTORS

The move also condemns even the biggest Apple fan to a life of adaptors for as long as the company refuses to update its MacBooks to offer Lightning audio or forces them to buy wireless headphones – another compromise in sound quality and yet another device that requires regular charging.

One final tip: nice as it looks do not buy the ‘Jet Black’ iPhone 7. It is both a fingerprint magnet and woefully prone to scratches, and if your counterpoint is you’ll put it in a case then you’re not seeing the jett black finish anyway.

SEE ALSO:   The leaked image seems to confirm the various rumors about the S8

Winner: Galaxy S7 – a closer match than you might expect as stereo speakers and a better home button bolster the iPhone 7’s ageing looks, but Samsung has the more modern, compact, water resistant design all while keeping the headphone jack (for now).

iPhone 7 Vs iPhone 7 Plus Review: Should You Upgrade?

Displays – Peak LCD Remains No Match For OLED

It has been argued iPhones are “too popular” to have OLED panels because companies cannot make enough of them to meet Apple’s demand. On the one hand that’s a nice problem for Apple to have, but on the other: it’s still a problem.

  • iPhone 7 – 4.7-inch LED-backlit IPS LCD, 1334 x 750 pixels (326 ppi), 65.6% screen-to-body ratio
  • Galaxy S7: 5.1-inch, 2560 x 1440 pixels, 534 pixels per inch (ppi), Super AMOLED

Simply put the iPhone 7’s LCD is no match for the Galaxy S7 OLED. Apple has worked wonders to get a 750p panel to look this good (it’s 25% brighter than the iPhone 6S with excellent colour accuracy) but OLED is the future for a reason.

The Galaxy S7 has a brighter, sharper and more vivid display than the iPhone 7. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

The Galaxy S7 has a brighter, sharper and more vivid display than the iPhone 7. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Sit the two phones side by side and the Galaxy S7 is an easy winner. It’s dramatically higher pixel count results in a much crisper (and VR-ready) display while the jet blacks OLED excels at result in a contrast ratio the iPhone 7 simply can’t match.

What the iPhone 7 does have going for it is 3D Touch, but it still requires better integration with iOS. The ‘press and guess’ system for discovering what is and isn’t 3D Touch enabled stops it from being intuitive and turns usage into a memory game which many users won’t bother playing. There’s potential here, but a generation on from its debut in the iPhone 6S, we’re still waiting to see it.

Winner: Galaxy S7 – I still hold out faith for 3D Touch, but the reality is Apple’s best ever LCD display is blown away by Samsung’s class leading OLED.

Performance – Two Supercars, But One Clear Winner

But the roles reverse when it comes to performance because, try as Samsung might with both Qualcomm (US) and Exynos (international) variants, Apple reigns supreme:

  • iPhone 7 – Apple A10 Fusion chipset: Quad Core 2.34 GHz CPU, six-core PowerVR GT7600 GPU, 2GB of RAM
  • Galaxy S7 (US) – Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core chipset: Dual-core 2.15 GHz Kryo & dual-core 1.6 GHz Kryo CPUs, Mali-T880 MP12 GPU; 4GB of RAM
  • Galaxy S7 (International) – Exynos 8890 octa-core chipset: Quad-core 2.3 GHz Mongoose and quad-core 1.6 GHz Cortex A53 CPUs, Adreno 530 GPU, 4GB of RAM
SEE ALSO:   Apple has been working with Broadcom on a customized wireless charging system

Yes on paper the Galaxy S7 appears to post the bigger numbers and it is extremely fast out the box, but it still has all Samsung’s familiar failings. The result is it feels quick but rarely smooth so, for example, webpages load quickly but then stutter when scrolling – just the kind of flaw which is no longer acceptable after Google proved Android can provide a super silky experience with the Pixel and Pixel XL.

Samsung's customisation of Android remains needlessly bloated and lacks smoothness. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Samsung’s customisation of Android remains needlessly bloated and lacks smoothness. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

There’s also still far too much bloat. TouchWiz looks much better these days, but you still get about 50 pre-installed and non-removable apps (excluding any garbage your carrier adds). I say it every generation, but why-oh-why Samsung thinks it’s smart to offer two email clients, two photo apps, two voice control systems, two app stores, two SMS apps, three media players, is beyond me. Again perhaps the lean and mean Google Pixel can scare Samsung into stepping up its game here in 2017.

By contrast the iPhone 7 remains the smartphone industry’s speed champ. For all its failings (and more are to come) it blows the Galaxy S7 away in terms of raw grunt (particularly when multitasking, even with 2GB of RAM) and there’s a level of unbreakable silky smooth responsiveness that even the Pixel is a fraction behind.

The new fixed 'taptic' iPhone 7 sapphire home button is of higher quality and greater accuracy than the Galaxy S7's plastic home button. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

The new fixed ‘taptic’ iPhone 7 sapphire home button is of higher quality and greater accuracy than the Galaxy S7’s plastic home button. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

The other major iPhone 7 performance win is the fingerprint sensor. While many manufacturers have caught up to the speed and accuracy of TouchID (notably Google and Huawei), Samsung still hasn’t nailed it and there are too many times when the Galaxy S7 fails to read your finger with multiple failings locking you out the phone. Samsung will likely bring its gimmicky iris scanner to the Galaxy S8 next year but it isn’t the answer, fitting a better fingerprint reader is.

Winner: iPhone 7 – Samsung continues to throw good hardware at weak software. Customisation of Android is fine, but there’s too much needless bloat and it risks not only Apple’s ongoing dominance but now Google showing it how Android should be done.

Read more – iPhone 7 Vs iPhone 6S: What’s The Difference?

Cameras – The Industries Best? Not anymore

For several years now Apple and Samsung have stood out from the pack, though their roles have reversed with Samsung overtaking Apple with the Galaxy S6 and it holds onto that lead with the Galaxy S7.

  • iPhone 7 – Rear: 12 megapixel wide angle sensor, f/1.8 aperture, Focus Pixels, Optical Image Stabilisation, quad-LED (dual tone) flash, 4K video recording. Front: 7MP sensor, f/2.2 aperture, 1080p recording
  • Galaxy S7 – 12 megapixel Sony IMX260 module, f/1.8 aperture (some Samsung ISOCELL variants exist), OIS, LED flash, Dual Pixels, 4K video. Front: 5MP f/1.7 camera, 1080p video
Samsung has again bested Apple's iPhone camera in 2016 while also making it more flush into the body of the phone. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Samsung has again bested Apple’s iPhone camera in 2016 while also making it more flush into the body of the phone. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

On paper you’ll spot the two phones are significantly closer this year than ever before. In fact Apple even has a higher resolution front camera than Samsung, a major shift from a few years ago when Galaxies regularly had twice the megapixels of iPhones (16 vs 8). Apple has also finally added optical image stabilisation (OIS) to the 4.7-inch model and introduced a much faster f/1.8 aperture, though Samsung still holds a slight edge here offering f/1.7.

So has Apple closed the gap with the iPhone 7? Yes, but not enough and even the dual camera iPhone 7 Plus falls short.

Composite photo - garden path. Galaxy S7 (left) vs iPhone 7 (right) is a clear win for Samsung with a richer, more detailed photo. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Composite photo – garden path. Galaxy S7 (left) vs iPhone 7 (right) is a clear win for Samsung with a richer, more detailed photo. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Key factors are that colours in Galaxy S7 photos are notably richer with more detail – as you’ll see in both the photo of the garden gateway and tree. The iPhone 7 also has a nasty tendency to wash out shots making them look grey – this comes up in both very bright and very low light shooting conditions.

A composite picture showing the iPhone 7 (left) vs iPhone 7 Plus (right) and Galaxy S7 (bottom) shows Samsung to be a clear winner. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

A composite picture showing the iPhone 7 (left) vs iPhone 7 Plus (right) and Galaxy S7 (bottom) shows Samsung to be a clear winner. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

The latter is particularly apparent in the streetlights comparison. While the Galaxy S7 correctly produces inky blacks in the darkest areas of the shot, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus turn these areas grey and are more susceptible to blowing out brighter areas of the photo.

Composite photo - in isolation the iPhone 7 (left) and iPhone 7 Plus (middle) look good, but the Galaxy S7 (right) brings an extra level of clarity and detail in low light. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Composite photo – in isolation the iPhone 7 (left) and iPhone 7 Plus (middle) look good, but the Galaxy S7 (right) brings an extra level of clarity and detail in low light. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Sealing its victory, the Galaxy S7 is also significantly faster in both opening (thanks to its nifty double tap home button shortcut) and focusing (thanks to its Focus Pixels) meaning you’re more likely to capture spontaneous moments.

But there’s a but and it’s a big one.

The Galaxy S7 may best the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus but it has been beaten itself to the title of 2016’s best smartphone camera by a newcomer: Google and its first true smartphones – the Pixel and Pixel XL. In fact for all the lead Samsung holds over Apple, Google holds an even bigger one over Samsung.

Right now the Google Pixel is clearly the best smartphone camera with the Galaxy S7 second and the iPhone 7 falling behind. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Right now the Google Pixel is clearly the best smartphone camera with the Galaxy S7 second and the iPhone 7 falling behind. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

This can be scene in the three way comparison shot above where only the Pixel is able to balance all details of the sky on a very hot and sunny day, while also retaining details lost by the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 in the low light parts of the bushes. The Galaxy S7 is clearly second best but stumbles in the tree line, sky and exaggerated greens of the grass while the iPhone 7 struggles in all departments losing detail in low and bright areas and that disappointing grey filter it brings to photos again surfaces. It’s a similar story in low light as well:

The Google Pixel again retains better colour and detail than its acclaimed rivals. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

The Google Pixel again retains better colour and detail than its acclaimed rivals. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

The good news for Apple and Samsung is a lack of brand awareness will keep the Pixel from stealing any significant market share from the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 for now, but both companies will know they have to significantly up their camera game in 2017.

So where is the win achieved? In the same place the Galaxy S7 takes its win from the iPhone 7: pixel size. While all three phones have 12 megapixel sensors, their pixel sizes vary significantly (iPhone – 1.12µm, Galaxy S7 – 1.40µm, Pixel – 1.55µm) and larger pixels can take in more light more quickly – something that’s a major advantage regardless of the shooting conditions.

So we’ve had megapixel wars in the past that meant nothing. A battle over pixel size (microns) would be far more productive.

Pixel photos in sunny shooting conditions balance colour accuracy and high and low light areas much better than the competition. Again the iPhone 7 displays a grey filter to its images which destroys detail. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Pixel photos in sunny shooting conditions balance colour accuracy and high and low light areas much better than the competition. Again the iPhone 7 displays a grey filter to its images which destroys detail. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

So what about video? In bright daylight the Galaxy S7 still holds the advantage over the iPhone 7 as it again produces richer colours and a slow mo mode that’s finally a match of Apple’s gold standard. The Pixel is more hit and miss here with the best bright light video (thanks to super steady image stabilisation via tying the camera to the gyroscope rather than OIS) but this method suffers worst in very low light.

Winner: Galaxy S7 – Samsung holds onto its smartphone lead over Apple. But in the wider context both phones have been eclipsed by the Google Pixel and Pixel XL

Pixel Vs Pixel XL Review: Should You Upgrade?

Battery Life And Charging – Two Upgrades, One Clear Winner

2016 is about Apple and Samsung fixing their battery mistakes of 2015.

Both the Galaxy S6 (2550 mAh) and iPhone 6S (1715 mAh) foolishly shrunk their battery capacities from the Galaxy S5 (2800 mAh) and iPhone 6 (1810 mAh). Why? It was part of a ridiculous battle to chase thinness – something the average customer couldn’t care less about at this stage. Now things have improved:

  • Galaxy S7 – 3000 mAh
  • iPhone 7 – 1910 mAh

I actually expected more from Apple here given the noise it made about how much internal space the headphone jack wastes and its subsequent removal. But instead teardowns reveal Apple filled most of that space with the taptic motor used in the new fixed home button.

So how do the duo perform? It turns out to be an easy win for the Galaxy S7. While the iPhone 7 has fractionally improved on the iPhone 6S, it still struggles to get through a full working day, and you have no chance of that with heavy use – something the Galaxy S7 has next to no problem with. If you travel a lot, this could prove decisive.

The Galaxy S7 is slightly thicker than the iPhone 7 this year to accommodate a larger battery. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

The Galaxy S7 is slightly thicker than the iPhone 7 this year to accommodate a larger battery. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

The other key difference is charging. The Galaxy S7 has fast charging and wireless charging while the iPhone 7 lacks both and highly significant, particularly if you don’t have long to top up your phone. For example, a 15 minute charge with the Galaxy S7 results in a circa 30-35% charge (from flat) while the iPhone 7 gains about 6-8% during the same time. Meanwhile a full charge takes about 55-65 minutes on the Galaxy S7 and about 1 hour 50 minutes for the iPhone 7.

Combine this with the iPhone’s missing headphone jack (meaning you can’t charge it and use wired headphones at the same time) and there has never been a greater disparity in the ease of charging these two phones. Apple urgently needs to address this in 2017 and fast charging is essential, but at least the rumours are encouraging.

Winner: Galaxy S7 – there’s no competition here. The Galaxy S7 lasts significantly longer on a charge and charges in less than half the time.

Storage And Price – Apple Steps Up

Get your party hats on because with the iPhone 7 Apple has finally scrapped the 16GB entry level model. In fact Apple has doubled the storage capacity at every step creating some monstrous options: iPhone 7 – 32GB ($649), 128GB ($749), 256GB ($849)

Compared to this the sole 32GB $699 Galaxy S7 looks limited, but it has a trick up its sleeve: the return of expandable storage. Samsung was pilloried for its removal in the Galaxy S6 and, like the battery life boost, Samsung has learnt its lesson this year.

The Galaxy S7 and larger Galaxy S7 Edge now integrate microSD slots into their sim trays which makes storage upgrades easy and cheap. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

The Galaxy S7 and larger Galaxy S7 Edge now integrate microSD slots into their sim trays which makes storage upgrades easy and cheap. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Consequently Galaxy S7 owners can spend less upfront (and you’ll find many deals reducing the Galaxy S7’s price right now) while adding up to 512GB of storage through microSD at any time. But it’s not all good news since expandable storage is significantly slower than internal storage meaning it’s only really good for photos and video.

Then again 32GB (circa 25GB user accessible) should be enough for apps, though hardcore mobile gamers may disagree making it baffling that Samsung doesn’t offer the Galaxy S7 in larger sizes. Given profit margins increase as capacities increase, Samsung is only hurting itself and its customers in not offering larger internal memory sizes.

Winner: A Draw – iPhones don’t come cheap, but they offer huge amounts of internal storage while the flexibility of the Galaxy S7’s expandable storage is a big draw but Samsung misses a trick by not offering larger capacities.

Read more – iPhone 7 Vs iPhone 7 Plus: What’s The Difference?

Bottom Line

The iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 show Apple and Samsung have learnt from some mistakes, but keep on repeating others.

Samsung has learnt the most in returning water resistance, a larger battery and expandable storage to the Galaxy S7. But Samsung hasn’t learnt to stop filling its phones with bloatware and they still don’t perform as smoothly as they should, especially with the Google Pixel showing Samsung how it should be done.

The Galaxy S7 is a more balanced than the iPhone 7 and the better buy, in my opinion. But the Google Pixel beats them both. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

The Galaxy S7 is a more balanced than the iPhone 7 and the better buy, in my opinion. But the Google Pixel beats them both. Image credit: Gordon Kelly

Similarly Apple has responded to criticism adding water resistance to the iPhone 7, a larger battery and found a solution to the home button weaknesses of past iPhones. But the iPhone 7 design is ageing, battery life remains disappointing, fast charging is still inexcusably missing, the screen resolution remains ridiculously low, the camera hasn’t caught up to Samsung (and now the Pixel) and the headphone jack has gone for very little benefit.

Consequently for me it is the Galaxy S7 which comes out on top in this annual battle of titans, especially as its strengths (design, display, camera, battery life, charging) are weaknesses of the iPhone 7. But performance/software remains Samsung’s Achilles heel and Apple nails this every single year.

And yet the biggest smartphone story of 2016 involves neither company because, while I’d buy the Galaxy S7 over the iPhone 7, I’d buy the Google Pixel over both. And that promises to make for a very exciting 2017 indeed…

About the author

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Kamil Arli

Editor of DigitalReview.co. Digital Media Consultant

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