Friday, May 12, 2017

First Impressions: Samsung Galaxy S7

Much as I like my 2015 Moto G for it's price, features (especially waterproofing), and performance, on recent trips I've been forced to face its limitations. In particular, it was missing several bands, which made it less than useful in Japan, the BVI and in Iceland last year. It wasn't a big deal though, as I was traveling with my wife, whose Moto X Pure had all the missing bands I didn't have (and very occasionally, the Moto G would have a band the Moto X Pure didn't have). On top of that, I started having to juggle apps on the phone --- every new app I wanted to install, I'd have to delete another app. Clearly, in this day and age, 16GB was no longer sufficient! The phone would mysteriously go from 5GB free to 0GB free, probably because of Google Photos caching, which is too dumb to use the SDCard.

For this year's summer cycling trip, however, I would be the only one with a smartphone. In addition, advice from Pamela Balalock was that in countries with dense road networks, it was a good idea to have a device capable of running ridewithgps and sending it to a GPS navigation unit so you wouldn't be stopping frequently to check directions. I tried ridewithgps on my Moto G, and it wasn't a satisfactory experience in Chrome. I would have to install Firefox for a reasonable experience, but I was pretty much out of storage. Also, Javascript websites are effectively single threaded, which meant that single-core performance is far more important for those sites than multi-core performance, so you needed a faster processor than what the Moto G 2015 had. I visited BestBuy and found that even the lowest end tablet like the Kindle Fire 8" was capable. The Samsung S7 was capable as well, though obviously the smaller the screen the tougher it is to work the website, which isn't designed for touch control.

I initially considered the Samsung S7 Active, but a recent eBay deal with granted a $50 discount on the T-mobile version of the Samsung S7 brought the price down to $290 from a reputable dealer (mywit). That much of a discount meant the phone's just $40 more than what I paid for my 2015 Moto G, and about $50 more than this year's Moto G5 Plus, which isn't even waterproof, so I jumped on it, figuring I could toughen up the S7 with an Otterbox Defender case. Carrying an external battery was a given anyway, so I was OK with giving up the additional 1000mAH battery. The T-mobile locked version was fine with me, since I have no plans to switch carriers, and it even provides wi-fi calling, a useful feature in parts of the world where WiFi is available but voice calls would cost the $0.25/minute in roaming charges.

My first impressions was that this was indeed a slick device. The glass backing, however, didn't give me any confidence, so I was glad I had an Otterbox ready. With the Otterbox, the device became wider and taller than the Moto G though much grippier. By default, the S7 weighs in at 150g, nearly identical to the Moto G (155g). The Otterbox (sans holster) adds 81g to it, confirming what I'd always known: if you don't need the higher performance of a flagship phone, the low-end phones with plastic cases (which don't need a case to improve the grip) are actually lighter, though with the demise of waterproofing across all of Motorola's phones, there aren't any mid-end phones in the current generation with that feature. While weighing the phone, I also weighed the fast charger provide. That came in at 42g with a 21g USB cable. By contrast, my wife's Motorola fast charger is 110g with an integrated cable. Both phones are micro-USB phones --- a deliberate choice --- currently, we do not have a single USB-C device, and all our cables are cross-compatible. I'm not eager to join the USB-C revolution as a result, and will put that off for as long as possible.

The default Samsung interface, TouchWiz, is horrible if you've been used to default/pure Android. Samsung insists on having its own e-mail app, etc. included (which you can disable but not reclaim storage space for). Even the icons are different, which make them a mismash of stuff on your application drawer unless you install a theme (which I recommend doing). The lone exception is Samsung Pay, which is exceptional because it doesn't just work on NFC receivers, but also traditional magnetic stream receivers as well! That meant I can use Samsung Pay at Safeway. Unfortunately, the local Costco upgraded to chip-readers sans NFC receivers, which meant that I can't use Samsung Pay there!

The camera is nice, much nicer than the Moto G 2015's. This truly could be a convergence device.

For my primary use case, I discovered surprisingly that neither Chrome nor the built-in Samsung browser gave me usable results, though Firefox does. In case your'e wondering, the RideWithGPS app cannot do route planning. Only the web-site can. Yes, it would be trivial for Google to support this sort of thing, but Google will probably never support a niche application like bicycle touring.

What really caused me to initiate the return process, however, was the piss poor battery life. With a 3,000 mAH battery, the device was not getting through the day without a charge in the middle. This was with no gaming, just occasional web browsing, taking a photo of a receipt here and there, and listening to audible via a download. No phone, no matter how feature rich, is useless with a dead battery.

By the way, not only did mywit refund my moneys, they refunded me the value of the coupon I used to buy the phone as well, which makes them top notch in my book --- I essentially got back more money from them than I paid!

Not recommended. I won't be writing a long term review of this device, as it has gone back to mywit as an RMA.

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