A few weeks back, England had a Bank Holiday, which means a lot of people get Monday off. 3 days of drinking or DIY normally ensues. I was hoping for the former, but my wife had other ideas. We ended up taking an extra few days leave and walking the London stretch of the Thames from Teddington Lock to the mouth of the River Darent on the Kent border.
Despite filling several checkboxes on the geek stereotype list, I actually love getting out into the world. We walked about 63 miles and saw several of London’s famous landmarks and many fantastic hidden gems along the way. It also meant I could put my newest piece of mobile tech, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge through its paces! (See? Geek.)
Before the S7 Edge, I had a Samsung Note 3. Despite its age, the Note 3 is still a capable device with enough horsepower to run any app you throw at it. It also has a lovely 1080p screen and a decent 13mp camera.
On previous similar breaks, my Note 3 has always had to be accompanied by other gadgets. I’d start by bringing a spare battery and a power pack, to make sure it sees the day through. This is always a particular risk when needing to use the GPS and maps, which suck the battery dry.
I always took a separate camera with me. The Note 3’s is fine, but if the English weather plays its usual hand, then there will be plenty of low light situations and the slightest hand tremor will always result in blur.
Finally, I’d want a tablet loaded up with videos for evening entertainment, extended surfing sessions or a bit of light blogging.
Looking at the above gadget list - there’s nothing there that the Note 3 couldn’t do all by itself. But there’s a common reason why the other gadgets have to be present too. Range anxiety. It’s not the end of the world if they run out of battery, but no one likes it when their smartphone does. A spare battery might only get you so far, if you remember to charge it.
Range Anxiety Not Just For Electric Cars
If there is any technological breakthrough needed at the moment it’s batteries. Modern electric cars have just about shaken off their ‘milk-float’ image and are starting to look like tech powerhouses. They’re quick off the line and filled with gadgets like posh stereos, multi-zone climate control and have clever touch-screen displays. Many even have their own apps!
But range anxiety is a huge problem. The typical range of an ‘affordable’ electric car is about 80 miles. Far less than we’re currently used to with fossil fuel burners. So people worry about making sure they make it to the next charge point, especially as they’re currently few and far between and take a relative age to ‘refuel’. To get the most range possible, drivers end up switching off all the lovely gadgets to conserve power and so the experience is dampened.
I see the same thing all the time with smartphones. They’ve long been powerful enough for what we need. HD and QHD mobile displays are amazing and the cameras now rival their dedicated point and shoot cousins - but I know lots of people that, when away from a power source, will use them as little as possible, with battery-saving enabled (dropping the speed of the processor) and bringing the screen brightness right down. Yes, there are workarounds like spare batteries and power packs, but managing them and carrying them around is a hassle.
Samsung S7 Edge - Leave the Charger at Home at Last?
Times may be changing. My experiences of the new Samsung S7 Edge suggest this range anxiety may be a thing of the past. Despite being only a shade thicker than its S6 predecessor, it has a much larger battery (3600mah) and might actually stand up to a full day of being used how the designers intended.
For our trip along the Thames then, I decided to leave all the accessories at home and put my faith in the S7 Edge to help inform and entertain us as we explored, without needing a bunch of other gadgets in the bag.
Besides, it’s waterproof, so English bank holiday weather shouldn’t hold it back.
I’ve never liked putting a case on a phone. I’ve always chosen phones in part for their design, so it seems a shame to cover them up in cheap plastic immediately afterwards! The Samsung S7 is a beautiful piece of design. The glass and metal shape feels as premium as its price would have you expect and the curved edges of the screen are striking, if not massively practical. I didn’t want to cover it up, but I felt I had to.
There were two reasons for me picking up a Spigen ‘Tough Armor’ case. Firstly because the S7 Edge attempted to slide off pretty much any surface I dared to put it on and second, I kept accidentally registering touches on the screen’s edge when attempting to press buttons elsewhere! This got very frustrating, making one-handed use totally impossible. Samsung did release an update which improved matters, but the Spigen can has solved the issue completely. I’m actually still very happy with how it looks - so I do recommend a case, but don’t settle for a £2 piece of plastic.
The Samsung S7 Edge’s screen is gorgeous. Professional reviews suggest it’s the best on the market and I’ve certainly not seen anything as eye-popping. QHD screens are so sharp that you’ll have a job seeing the individual pixels (unless you don the Samsung Gear VR, which I reviewed here) but it’s the colours that really leap out.
Back out on the Thames Path in Teddington, the Bank Holiday sun was shining and I was surprised at just how readable the display remained. I left it on auto-brightness the whole time and, although you could criticise it for being a bit reflective (especially along the curve), I never found myself running off to the shade, or cupping my hands over the screen like a lot of the other walkers were having to do with theirs.
Not Quite Total Confidence in the Mobile Internet Yet
I have to confess, we didn’t rely solely on the Samsung S7 Edge. We brought along a much older technology. Paper! A printed route that would give us a basic guide and would make sure we didn’t miss some of the hidden gems that lay along the path. For example, there were several times we used Google Maps to see if there was a nearby cafe or bathroom. They’re not always listed and some of the historical pubs I managed to get a cheeky craft ale or two down in, were only discovered because of the guide. However, we did regularly use maps and Google Now to learn a bit more about some of the spaces we were visiting and the near blanket 4G connection we enjoyed along the route never let us down. In the right places, the mobile internet and location based services really have come of age.
Whilst I’m making confessions, there is a second. I brought along a camera. Not because I doubted the S7, but because there is one feature of a camera that the smartphone has not yet equalled - zoom. My Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ71 matches the S7 Edge’s megapixel count of 12, but also has an optical zoom of 30x. Onboard WIFI and an Android app meant it was still easy to connect to my phone for backup and sharing, so I saw no reason to leave it behind. In fact, it helped my phone-testing to have something to compare to.
S7 Edge Camera Keeps Up With My Panasonic
Whilst the Panasonic did a fine job of getting me those zoomed shots, throughout the walk, it started to dawn on me that generally, I was much happier with the results I was getting from the Samsung. You can also be ready to shoot in a split second, by double-pressing the home-key, whereas the Panasonic was a little slower, especially if you wanted the zoom.
The powerful sunshine was creating strong contrast between light and shade and this was producing disappointing results from the Panasonic. Where we had taken shots of ourselves with big skylines in the background, the foreground was left dark as the Panasonic set the exposure to favour the landscape. Scenic shots could be even worse. Where the Panasonic detected the differences in light, it would take three photos in quick succession at different exposures and merge them together. This was fine if nothing moved, but my shots of London buses crossing the bridges over the Thames were spoilt completely by ‘ghosts’ of the bus trailing after them.
The S7 faired so much better, with the automatic HDR doing the job with aplomb. The S7 is capable of taking 100 photos in a 6 second burst, so I’m guessing it’s faster than the Panasonic when creating HDR shots. I took shots where I was standing in the sun looking into the shade and vice versa, but the resulting photo always came out well balanced.
If it wasn’t for the zoom, I think I’d have stopped using the Panasonic completely. Even the low light shots were comparable. So good test! But my Panasonic may stay at home more often now, which is a shame as it cost not far off half what the phone did at launch.
We were pretty tired at the end of each day, but we retired to some nice hotels to rest our aching feet each evening. I particularly recommend CitizenM to gadget fans. Here’s a whole room you stay in controlled by an iPad. It was great fun!
After dinner and a few drinks, I’d wind down watching a few videos on YouTube, playing Tomb Raider and The Silent Age and looking up interesting places to stop off the next day. Not one day did I have to plug in to top up, inspite of having taken dozens of photos and regularly used maps and the web to look things up, not to mention the social networks.
Whilst on paper, other phones may manage similar standby times, for the sheer amount of time you can leave the screen on with the S7 Edge and still get to the end of the day, I wonder if this is a tough one to beat? I’m certainly using it as much as I want all day every day with plenty of battery to spare when it goes on charge for the night.
Samsung S7 Edge Verdict
It’s funny really, strictly speaking, the Samsung S7 Edge does nothing new. The design is a slight refinement of that started on the S6. QHD screens have been around a while now and it may have the fastest processor on the market, but that won’t translate into faster games or apps unless the developers want it to.
Where the upgrade really counts is it does all these things effortlessly. You have to really push it to make it hot and you’ll rarely have to dial up the power saving settings to make it last until bedtime. Of course we all use our phones differently and gamers and YouTube addicts may still want more than the S7 Edge can deliver, but then fast charging (also now supported wirelessly) is there to give you hours of extra play for a few minutes at the socket.
As with electric cars, there are plenty of affordable machines that do the job, like the BMW i3 and the Nissan Leaf. All the toys, but not enough of the range.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, is the expensive Tesla. Big glorious screen, big performance and it’ll get you there with confidence and a smile on your face.