Samsung's Newest Phones Beat The iPhone In One Major Way

Photo: Courtesy Ken Yeung/VentureBeat.
Today's smartphones are all incredibly powerful. For the most part, they load apps and websites almost instantaneously and they take photos just as well as an actual camera. But they have one major flaw: They're damn fragile. One slip onto a tile floor — or a dip in the bathtub — and your phone may never work the same again.

Samsung has fixed part of that equation with its latest pair of phones, the just-announced Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. The 5.1-inch S7 and 5.5-inch S7 Edge are both completely dust and water resistant — they can withstand being submerged in up to five feet of water for half an hour. This is how phones should be.

Inside, both phones are essentially the same. They start with 32 GB of storage for apps, photos, and the like, with a processor that's up to 64% faster and more efficient than last year's Galaxy phones. They have built-in wireless charging; if you visit a Starbucks, you can just set it on a wireless charging pad for some extra juice. And it's got Samsung Pay built-in, too, so you can also take advantage of speedy mobile payments at a long list of retailers.

From our hands-on time with the devices, the 12-megapixel camera was really impressive. Samsung vastly improved its low-light performance, largely by upgrading to an f/1.7 aperture lens, which is on par spec-wise with a lot of professional camera lenses. (The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, by comparison, have an f/2.2 lens, which despite the larger number, lets in less light when you snap a photo.) In a side-by-side comparison, the Galaxy S7 Edge could take bright, crisp, usable photos in far darker scenarios than the iPhone could. So if you're constantly snapping photos at dimly lit restaurants and parties, Samsung's new phones could be a compelling buy.

The Edge also has a useful feature courtesy of its namesake — it's called the Edge because it retains touch sensitivity not just on the front display, but also on the side edges of the phone. When you swipe from this edge, you pull up a customizable shortcut menu with Yahoo's News feed, Twitter, stock quotes, or shortcuts to your favorite apps and contacts. It's a lot like Apple's Spotlight Search screen, but accessible anytime with a swipe from the edge of the screen. Just about everything about this screen is customizable: from what's featured, to where on the phone you swipe it open from, to its transparency level.

And to facilitate 360-degree videos you can watch on the Samsung Gear VR, the company is debuting another product: the Gear 360, a small, spherical camera that uses two lenses to capture 360-degree video. While it seems distant right now, Samsung thinks that this kind of super-immersive video is the future of photo and video sharing. Today, you can share a snap of what you're up to, or even Periscope everything that's happening around you. But with something like the Gear 360, you could set it up on a tripod in the center of the room and share exactly what's happening with friends or parents across the country, like Skype on steroids.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge will be available for pre-order through all major U.S. wireless carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular) on February 23 and will ship March 11. The Gear 360 will go on sale later this spring.

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