I’ve had my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge for a few days now, and I’m feeling mostly good about it. It’s not like, OMG I love this phone and it’s the best phone in the history of phones, but for what I want, I think it fits the bill. Probably. On to the review!

Just like the last couple detailed breakdowns I’ve done of why I returned an LG V20 and why I like my old Moto X Pure so much, I’m doing this as much for your benefit as for clarifying my own thoughts about whether I want to keep this phone. In the case of the V20, there were too many things that annoyed me right away that I couldn’t look past them to the good stuff. With the S7 Edge, there are some annoyances, but I’m considering the overall package.

***What’s Good***

Universal Carrier Compatibility 

I have the unlocked version of the Galaxy S7 Edge, and it includes the necessary CDMA radio for working on Verizon, plus all the US LTE bands and plenty of international ones. Right now Total Wireless (Tracfone’s Verizon MVNO) is the best option for me for many reasons, but T-Mobile has been building out their network aggressively here in Wisconsin and either them, Metro PCS or Family Mobile (Tracfone/Walmart’s T-Mobile MVNO) may be worth investigating. Except all those plans are going towards throttling video down to 480p, so maybe not. Whatever network I want to try, my phone can do it.

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Build Quality

The Galaxy S7 Edge is a beautiful shiny object. Before I got it in my hands, I thought the silver color (that’s the only color you can have on the unlocked version) would be a little cheesy. But it’s like a deep, iridescent silver finish. I have both a Spigen Neo Hybrid Crystal fancy clear case and a cheap generic translucent blue TPU case, and even though blue is my favorite color, and I love translucent blue TPU cases, I find myself gravitating to the clear one because it shows off the pretty phone. It looks fancy. I like it, even though it serves no real purpose.

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Here’s a video of someone reviewing my Spigen case in Portuguese. It was the best video I could find as far as showing off how cool the phone looks in the case. Enjoy the Portuguese!

Waterproof

Ok technically water resistant. But you can run this phone under the sink, dunk it in the tub, use it in the rain, whatever. I haven’t tested it out but it’s nice to have.

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Screen

The curved screen is a total gimmick of questionable value. The edges look a little weird. But it doesn’t bother me all that much and it makes the phone narrower. The software features that you’re supposed to do with the edge screen don’t really help. With the curved edges, without a case on, the phone is actually hard to hold. I rock a case all the time so no problem here.

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The screen itself has beautiful colors, deep blacks, all the good AMOLED stuff. The asterisk here is that this is the case after I tweaked the settings. Samsung wants to not only rely on the natural tendency of AMOLED screens to have colors that pop, they calibrate the hell out of it to make the colors ridiculously oversaturated. Thankfully there are several screen modes. The default Adaptive Display mode and AMOLED Cinema mode both have ridiculously oversaturated colors that just look stupid. AMOLED Photo is more reasonable, and Basic looks a little too drab. I’m good with AMOLED Photo. The physical home, back and recent apps buttons get you a bit more on-screen real estate.

Auto brightness works very well. I guess it’s just LG who shits the bed with auto brightness.

Camera

This is obviously still a phone, not an SLR or mirrorless camera with a large sensor. But for a phone, it’s pretty solid. The camera app is very quick in opening and taking photos. In auto mode it’s very responsive, and most of the time I leave it in auto and with HDR enabled. Unlike the LG V20, while you still can’t use HDR in full manual mode (I guess I got used to this in the app Open Camera and most stock cameras don’t do it) you can at least adjust the brightness while in auto mode with HDR. So it’s something. The manual settings are there if I want them. I haven’t messed with it in low light much yet but from all the sample pics I’ve seen online I’m confident it’ll be pretty good (for a phone). The only negative so far is that with only 12 megapixels of resolution, I can’t do the same amount of after-the-fact cropping as I could get away with the on the 21 megapixel images from my old Moto X Pure. But on balance, the image quality is still higher. This is a totally unedited picture from my recent tow truck adventure. Looks pretty good!

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Battery

Inside this nice thin phone, there’s a beefy 3600 mAh battery. Even with a ton of use, I can make it through the typical work day hours with about 30% battery remaining. On days where I don’t mess with my phone too much at work, I can easily still be at 60% when I head home. It supports quick charging, wireless charging, and quick wireless charging. Maybe I should pick up a wireless quick charger for my office.

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Fingerprint Sensor

One of the reasons I wanted a new phone was so I could use a fingerprint sensor. Accessing my work work email through the Outlook app requires a screen lock on my phone and even with Google Smart Lock set to keep my phone unlocked at home, at work, and when connected to my car’s bluetooth, I use the Our Groceries app for shopping lists and constantly typing in my PIN to unlock the phone and check my list gets old really quickly. I’d rather not have my office and every single one of my usual stores as trusted locations.

The S7 Edge’s sensor is generally responsive but it’s not as good as the LG V20 I briefly owned and returned (because it aggravated me even more than the S7 Edge). On both phones, the fingerprint sensor is also a button. On the V20, it’s the power button, on the S7 Edge, it’s the home button. But on the V20, you don’t have to press the button to get the fingerprint sensor to do anything. Just put your finger on the sensor and the phone wakes up and unlocks. On the S7 Edge, you have to first wake the phone up with either the home or power button and then let it read your fingerprint. This is relatively easy to do with the home button and then wait for the phone to unlock, but it’s not the absolute most accurate sensor. This even though I set up two profiles for my same finger to give it a better chance of being recognized.

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But, overall it accomplishes what I wanted to do.

Theming

One of the downsides of an AMOLED display is whites can be a little eye-searingly bright, especially at night, even with the auto brightness being generally competent. And of course Samsung made things like the quick settings pull-down menu all white. But you can download a bunch of themes that reskin most of the Samsung UI elements. There are ton of options. Some of them are nice and clean, many of them are terrible. But I was able to find a few dark ones that suit me.

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Samsung makes you sign up for a Samsung account if you want to download any themes outside of what comes pre-loaded on the phone. So...now I have a Samsung account.

Hiya Caller ID

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The dialer app integrates Hiya caller ID which does a pretty good job of identifying numbers that aren’t in your contacts. It’s not a huge feature but kinda nice. You can install the Hiya app as a dialer replacement on other phones, but sometimes using replacement dialers on certain phones gets clunky. It’s nice to have as part of the stock dialer.

Software Updates

When I first set up the phone, there were like 5 or 6 updates that needed to be installed, including the Nougat update. As of right now the phone is on Nougat (7.0) and the August 1, 2017 security patch. Samsung generally nowadays will do 2 major OS updates for flagship devices and then more security updates so there’s a decent chance I’ll get Oreo at some point and generally be on a relatively recent security patch.

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Capacitive Back & Recent Apps Buttons

They don’t take up screen real estate, which means that the total screen area that’s missing relative to my 5.7" Moto X Pure this phone replaced is negligible. And shocker, I actually like the swapped locations for the recent apps & back buttons. Having back on the right of the phone is very convenient to use one-handed.

Little Samsung Software Additions That Are Actually Handy

Samsung throws so much stuff at their phones, that even though there’s definitely bloat, there are several touches that present themselves where I’m like, “oh, cool, that’s actually kinda neat.”

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If you go to side-load an app from outside the Play Store, instead of having to turn on “allow unknown sources” and then remembering to turn it off, the phone asks if you want to allow unknown sources just this once. This is especially handy if you use Amazon’s app store which requires unknown sources to be allowed even to install updates.

When you connect a bluetooth or other audio device there’s a little Samsung Connection Manager thingie that lets you specify where the audio should play out of, which is handy if you for some reason connect multiple bluetooth devices simultaneously.

There’s a Samsung print service in addition to Google Cloud Print. My printer at home is already set up on Google Cloud Print, but my phone discovered it on my local wifi network directly, without pinging Google Cloud Print. So like, if I’m visiting my parents and need to print my return boarding pass, the phone sees their networked printer with no additional setup.

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Scrolling screenshots are really handy. When you take a screenshot, there’s a scroll button, which when you tap it the screen scrolls down and adds on to the screenshot. You can keep going even for stupid ridiculously long screens, like this.

***What’s OK***

Always-on display

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When the screen is off, you get the day, date, time, battery percentage and icons for your notifications displayed at all times. It’s nice to see this information at a glance. But unlike my old Moto X Pure, with Motorola’s fantastic Moto Display...

On the S7 you can’t interact with the ambient display notifications at all. You see a little notification badge, and then you unlock the phone. There’s supposed to be this function of the curved edge of the screen where you swipe back and forth on it while the screen is off and it shows you your notifications, but I’ve yet to get this to work consistently. Half the time I do the edge swipey motion and nothing happens, and when I do activate it, it says I have no notifications even when I do have notifications.

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So, points for effort, and for at least having what it does have, but I’ve had better.

EDIT: Actually, DrivesaWRXandWantsYoutoKnowAboutIt pointed out that you can double-tap the little teeny notification badges on the AOD to open their respective apps. But it’s still not as good as Moto Display, because you can’t get any details on the notification from the AOD.

For example, just now, a Facebook Messenger notification popped up on my AOD, but I barely use Facebook Messenger, except for when my wife sends me random links she sees on Facebook through it, because Facebook defaults to sharing links through messenger and she never feels like jumping through the extra hoops to send it to to me in Hangouts instead. Also certain less-close acquaintances of mine message me on there. So it’s low priority. Rather than double tap to open the app, I pressed the home button to wake up the phone to the lock screen, where I saw that it was in fact my wife sending another link.

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So...overall it’s useful, and maybe if I hadn’t been exposed to Moto Display for so long, I’d list this AOD in the “good” section instead of OK. I’m spoiled. Sue me.

Speaker

It’s there. It works. The sound is generally decent. Notifications sound nice. But for watching videos it’s a noticeable step down from the front-facing stereo speakers on my Moto X Pure. The reality is, I don’t watch a ton of videos using a phone’s speakers, so it doesn’t bug me too much.

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Audio Tweakability

Even though the S7 Edge doesn’t have a fancy DAC like LG’s V-series phones, it has a bunch of software audio tweaks. Most of them just make the sound different, but not actually better. The one exception is UHQ Upscaler. It compensates for lower bitrates on digital audio and it makes a noticeable difference. It’s subtle but good.

The problem is that UHQ Upscaler only works with wired headphones, or bluetooth headphones that support Samsung’s proprietary UHQ-BT bluetooth protocol. Guess who makes those? Yeah, it’s Samsung. The only gym-type headphones that support UHQ-BT are the Samsung Level U Pro neckbuds. No, I will not wear neckbuds.

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The other audio tweaking options work with my PowerBeats 2 bluetooth headphones, but like I said, the other tweaks don’t really do much good.

UI Stuttering & Touch Response

Even though this phone has a Snapdragon 820 and 4 GB of RAM, sometimes the UI just doesn’t have that nice smooth fluid feel of other Android devices, even ones with less powerful hardware. It happens most frequently when opening a whole big stack of Chrome tabs. Other phones handle this better.

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The touch response is sometimes a little weird too. Sometimes scrolling is a little too fast or too low in relation to what you want. The transition animation from one card to the next is sort of sproingy and bouncy instead of the nice smooth flow in stock Android. It’s a little harder to end up on the app you want, sometimes the sproinging goes one app farther than you want.

Power Saving

Samsung took the Doze power-saving function that was added to Marshmallow that puts inactive apps to sleep and tweaked it.

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Doze itself isn’t perfect, because generally you have to manually whitelist your assorted messaging apps to make sure you get notifications from them, and unless you know to check the battery settings menu and dive into the Doze function, you’d never know why, and just be like, “why the hell am I not getting text notifications?” Samsung sorta kinda improved upon this because there’s a tiny little ‘i’ icon in their redone version of the Doze screen that tells you if an app gets put to sleep, that may affect its notifications.

But by default, the phone also nags the crap out of you with notifications if it detects an app using what it determines is too much standby power. The process for whitelisting apps is no big deal to figure out when you get used to it, but it’s just different from stock Android for the sake of being different with no real benefit.

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***What’s Bad***

Bloat

This is an unlocked phone. There are no carrier apps, but Samsung decided to add a lot of their own apps. These include Samsung calendar, clock, contacts & dialer, a goofy launcher & mediocre keyboard, Galaxy Apps store, Gallery, Internet, Memo, My Files, S Voice, Samsung Health (there’s a heart rate sensor next to the camera), Samsung Pay, Samsung+ for tech support, and WhatsApp.

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I immediately replaced the stock launcher & keyboard with Nova Launcher & Gboard. The Samsung calendar app can’t be disabled but I at least turned off its notifications, and WhatsApp can be disabled. The Galaxy Apps store updates many of the assorted Samsung apps outside the Google Play store so I guess I should leave it. Maybe I’ll do more of a Samsung-ectomy later.

Samsung Pay might be kinda good if I try it out. I guess it works in all sorts of places, but by default there’s this little floating Samsung Pay whosiwhatsit on the bottom of the screen that you can’t disable unless you first go into Samsung Pay, sign up for it (thankfully you don’t need to add payment methods), and then turn off the little floaty thingie. Go away floaty thing!

Not every single Samsung tweak is bad, and several of them are handy, as mentioned in my “what’s good” section. But they could be more selective.

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In addition to the bloat apps, there are the different subtle little things that Samsung tweaked because they wanted to and they either don’t add any value, or are noticeably worse than the stock Android version. These include...

Quick Settings

Samsung adds more stuff to the quick settings toggles, and lets you rearrange it to your liking. You can also change the size of the grid to have more or less toggles per page. Some of the added toggles are genuinely useful like NFC, and while there are several that are pointless, but anything you don’t want there cluttering things up can be put in a drawer of unused toggles. Which is all well and good, but Samsung also removes one of my favorite things about stock Android’s quick settings: the ability to interact with those settings in more detail, like hitting the down carrot under bluetooth or wifi to connect to a specific device or network. It’s not a huge deal, because you can long press on a quick settings toggle to get to the full menu for that item. But still, why couldn’t the stock down carrots stay around? Down carrots are good dammit!

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Do Not Disturb

This is the most egregious removal of something from the quick settings menu, and in general. The stock Android DND function, starting in Marshmallow, is extremely versatile, and all of the little DND tweaks except for setting an automatic DND schedule can be done from the quick settings pull down.

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Samsung’s DND quick settings is a simple on/off toggle, with no ability to specify any of the stuff in the screen above. Just on or off. You can long press to get to the main DND settings, but once you’re there, the DND scheduling is also worse than stock Android, because in stock Android you can set different rules for different days. Samsung only lets you specify which days the schedule applies to. There’s no way to do different schedules on different days.

At least the scheduling actually does in fact turn DND on and off at the scheduled times, unlike the LG V20 which let you customize the DND schedule’s start and stop times for different days like stock Android, but didn’t actually do any turning the DND on or off.

With the DND schedule set and working, the only issue I really have is that right now I have my DND set to turn itself off at a time that makes sense for week days, and I’d like to have it expire later on weekends. WHICH I COULD DO IN STOCK ANDROID IF I WANTED, SAMSUNG.

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Lock screen notifications

I use Google Smart Lock to keep my phone unlocked at home and when it’s connected to my car’s bluetooth. Unlike every other Android device I’ve ever used, to open the app for a lock screen notification, on this phone you have to first swipe down on the notification to expand it, tap on the notification to open it, and then it opens the notification. When the phone is locked, it prompts for a PIN or fingerprint. But when Google Smart Lock has the phone unlocked, at this stage, the screen pauses and says “swipe screen to open,” you swipe down, and then you get to the app you wanted.

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What in the actual fuck? THERE IS NO GOOD REASON TO MAKE USERS GO THROUGH THIS SWIPE TAP SWIPE DANCE GODDAMMIT. The phone is already unlocked! Don’t make me pause just so I can do a totally redundant swipe.

If you double tap a notification from the ambient display when the phone is unlocked by Google Smart Lock, you still get this goddamn “swipe screen to open” pause screen.

On top of this, I just don’t like that double tapping to open a notification is entirely disabled. Sure, it’s nice I can expand lock screen notifications by swiping down on them, but more often than not, the un-expanded notification is enough information for me to decide I do in fact want to open this app. Let me double tap to open, and get rid of this swipe pause screen.

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Seriously.

At least I know I’m not crazy and this is how Samsung intended the lock screen notifications to work, and I’m not the only person who hates this bullshit.

Lock screen wallpaper

Remember how I liked that theming functionality because it allowed me to make the quick settings pull-down menu and lots of the rest of the UI dark? Well, there’s a glitch with it where it blocks the Google Wallpapers app from setting the lock screen wallpaper. Google Wallpapers is neat, because it auto-downloads a new wallpaper every day. On all my other devices, you can set it to also change the lock screen. But thanks to Samsung digging their hooks into the lock screen with their themes, Google Wallpapers only changes the home screen wallpaper.

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I figured out that there is a convoluted way to create your own wallpaper slideshow for the lock screen. You can add up to 30 pictures, and it changes the picture every time you unlock the phone. So...I’m still probably going to get used to these 30 pictures, but at least it’s some kind of lock screen wallpaper rotation.

But still, it’s a glitch!

Share Menus

One of the best things about Android is being able to press a share button in basically any app and open a file in basically any other app. But of course, Samsung had to mess with the damn share button. Samsung has assorted gimmicks for sharing files between Samsung phones or Samsung TVs. There’s something called Link Sharing that persistently shows on every single damn share menu in every app when you press a share button.

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When you press the share button in the Gallery app, you get another couple of persistent buttons at the bottom for transferring files to another device, or viewing files on a Samsung TV. There’s no way to make that damn Link Sharing thing go away. Depending on what app I want to share a file to, I have to swipe through 3 or 4 pages before I get the app I want.

And why the hell is this share menu still white when I installed a black theme, Samsung? I dunno if that’s a problem of the specific theme or it’s just themes don’t affect share menus. I’ll have to investigate further.

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Default App Setting

Normally in Android if you tap on a certain type of link that can open in one or more apps, you get the option to select which app to open, and whether to do this by default, or just once. Samsung decided to sorta simplify this by giving you the same popup, but removing the “just once” option. Whatever app you select, it gives you a popup that you’ve just set a default app for this action. If you want to remove this default app you have to go into the Apps settings menu and clear out the defaults for this particular app.

That Stupid Charger Plug-in Sound

When you connect the phone to a charger, even when it’s set to Do Not Disturb, it makes a stupid noise and has a little like, electrical ray animation that radiates out from the bottom of the screen where the USB port is. The animation is somewhere on the border of cool and cheesy but the damn sound is terrible. I don’t want a damn beepy sound. At least I found how to disable it.

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Gmail bugginess

I don’t know if it’s just something with the latest version of the Gmail app or what, but it doesn’t want to play nice with this phone. Opening an email from a notification more often than not doesn’t clear the notification, and sometimes it just straight up doesn’t get notifications. I noticed that for some reason, in Samsung’s app power saving menu, Gmail doesn’t show on the list of apps. There’s no way to whitelist it, or do anything with it, because it’s not on the list at all. I think this is maybe the source of the problem. I installed Inbox by Gmail which Google’s other official gmail app. It shows in the power saving menu, I whitelisted it, and notifications seem to behave properly. This is both a solution, and not.

What’s the verict?

I know I have a lot of niggles with the software, but none of them, even the swipey tappy lock screen notification dance (GAHHHHH) are dealbreakers. Would I prefer they weren’t there? Absogoddamnlutely. But there’s nothing in the software that’s blatantly just straight up broken like the LG V20, although the Gmail situation would qualify if not for the Inbox app. And while I can nitpick with the best of them, in daily use, these little nits don’t actually bug me all that much.

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On the flip side, there are a lot of positives, and I don’t have a lot of other options when it comes to high spec, unlocked, Verizon-compatible phones. What’s left?

ZTE Axon 7 - mediocre camera, new and different software things that would bug me

Huawei Nexus 6P - 32 GB, no microSD, it’s 2 years old and has reliability issues

Moto X4 - screen is too small and it only has a midrange Snapdragon 630

LG G6 - too small, has the same software quirks that pissed me off so much on the V20

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Pixel XL, Essential PH-1, LG V30, Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+/Note 8:

Is the S7 Edge a perfect solution? No, but nothing else is either. I could rid myself of these software aggravations with a Pixel XL, but my wife already thinks the $475 I spent on the S7 Edge was too much. I know what’s good for me. I’m keeping the S7 Edge.