Monday, September 12, 2016

Samsung flagships comparison: S7 vs. S6

I'm very new to Samsung devices, not so long ago I was sure that expensive phones are not worth it. You have to replace them every year or two anyway, they don't provide new features to justify the price tag, cheaper devices come in better variety and you don't feel bad throwing them away if you don't like them, etc. So for a few years I used whatever cheap Chinese brick was on the market. And before that, well before that I didn't actually own a smartphone. And it was quite all right, comparing notes with friends I thought that annoying bugs and lags from time to time are universal, even if you have four CPU cores and 2 gigs of RAM, that it's mostly a software thing and Java is a bad language for mobile platform, and all that. And then, quite recently, I changed my mind about those things. Partly because my income situation changed slightly.

It all started when I needed a birthday present for my lovely wife last year and S6 was out for just a couple months. I love gifting electronics, she mentioned that she likes how AMOLED displays look, and I suspected she'd never buy an expensive phone for herself but she'd love it. It turned out I was right, she totally loved it. And then I noticed something: she always have bunch or recent apps open like it never lags enough to bother closing them (yeah, I know that minimized apps are not actually active, but "close all" is a thing everyone does first when their phone is slowing down). So I played with it a few times and noticed more stuff. Whatever lags I was used to (you open browser or switch apps and wait for fraction of a second before everything is drawn, or click into an input field and wait a couple seconds for keyboard to pop, take a photo and wait for it to save) and never actually felt were virtually non-existing there. And once you start seeing them, you cannot unsee. Way more powerful hardware multiplied by somewhat optimized soft equals less frustration and less wasted time. And both of them are important to me. Fingerprint lock also saves time while keeping your stuff more secure.

True, everything comes with a price. Battery life in S6 was also almost non-existing as well :) That's mostly why I didn't consider buying one for myself. Fast charge helps but even fast charge is inconvenient to use more than once a day. Plus a few other things I didn't like. Then S7 was announced and I almost immediately decided that it's what I want. It had everything S6 had plus bigger battery and water resistance (and slightly better CPU and somewhat more RAM but beyond certain point you just stop worrying about that, unless you host a database server on it, I honestly don't remember exact numbers fore either phone). So after a few considerations (along the lines of "Free Gear VR?! I must have it!") I preordered it and then picked up... well, local Samsung store is so crappy that they didn't actually have stock to cover preorders, I guess without advance payment not everyone comes to pick them up, but I still don't like those people. So, a week after the official release I picked it up (for that free Gear VR I had to wait one more week) and immediately went to test IP68 protection by submerging in a beer mug (it held well, to my mild surprise, but you must let it dry completely before charging).

Using S7 for several months alongside someone with S6 gives you an unique perspective, I guess. Battery life of the former is definitely much better. While I could charge my S7 to 60% (quite fast with fast charge) and go about my day my wife had to wait much longer until her S6 is on about 90% (charging speed is not constant, much slower after 50-60) and then pack the charger for future use despite always having power saving turned on. True, she's a more active user, but not that much more active. If you play Pokemon GO or something like that, neither will be enough for the whole day, get yourself a charging cover or a generic power bank. Performance is about the same, although I never did a side to side comparison (look for one on youtube). S7 is more ergonomic with slightly curved sides (both are non-edge, by the way, I hate those curves on Edge) but if you use any kind of cover you won't notice it anyway.

Gorilla Glass 4 did live up to my expectations, I must admit. After just a few days of cautious use I found a few microscratches (you usually can't make them with metal so I suspect microsand or something). They don't have any significant impact on usability but at certain angles you can see them and it's annoying. With those slight curves you can't use a traditional tempered glass protector and film protectors just feel wrong, nothing compared to bare glass (bare Gorilla actually feels better than glass protectors I tried). I think nowadays you can find curved protectors for everything if you look on aliexpress though. Display also has oleophobic coating and that's a reason why you should never clean it with alcohol or IPA and absolutely never, ever try to fix microscratches with polywatch (yeah, I tried both, obviously). There are substances on the market to restore that oleophobic coating, I tried proteger which had good reviews, but after polywatch it didn't help to any noticeable extent. Maybe it works better on IPA damage or coating worn with time, as far is I know at least it doesn't make it worse.

AMOLED matrix, on the other hand, is everything I expected. Vibrant colors, deep blacks, good view at angles. Once you try it, I don't think you can ever do without. And it has quite good resolution too, although 4k would've been better with Gear VR but nobody makes 4k phones yet anyway (maybe S8 will be 4k?). Overall, it's the best way to read comfortably and avoid excessive eye strain short of going e-ink (I never read books on my phone, I have a kindle for reading books).

Gear VR is about as I expected, not too bad but nothing fantastic. 1440p display divided by two eyes equals about 720p per eye. Multiplied by large virtual screen, pixels are very noticeable. Not helping are significant gaps between pixels (Oculus Rift uses some very special displays to overcome this particular issue, I believe). So, yes, you can totally watch 3D porn on it but not for too long. And not only because someone can walk on you without you noticing, at least my eyes strain a lot. I never managed to watch a whole 3D movie in a single sitting. They don't recommend using it for more than 20-30 minutes or so and it's a sound recommendation, you simply can't dive into the virtual reality just yet. Augmented reality is no better, you'd need two cameras on your phone for it to work well and somewhat less bulky gear. Or maybe to stop using phone's display, and connect like Rift, using HDMI over USB or whatever (cleaning dust of both display and lenses is an inconvenience). Lack of standard interfaces doesn't help either, we already have dozens of incompatible VR devices on the market. Anyway, a funny toy but we are not there just yet, let's enjoy the ride.

Camera it S7 is way better than in S6. Doesn't matter that much for your vacation photos but lack of blur is more aesthetically pleasing on anything. It also can do microSDXC card for your photos and videos, unlike S6, which is kinda important since base storage is smaller. Especially if you install all the Oculus apps and download a couple 3D movies. But downside is that the second sim card and sd card share a slot. You can't use both. I even googled some guide and tried to superglue sim card's chip to the sd card and almost broke the slot. I guess if you could file a millimeter or so from the sd card, it would be better but I never tried again, even after I bought a replacement sim tray.

In some situations for whatever reason S6 has more stable LTE data connection than S7. When you roam about and not every cell tower has LTE connectivity, it forces your handset to switch to 3G and for some reason S6 handles it better (yes, the some carrier) while S7 completely loses network for a few seconds. You can help it by switching to 3G only or by switching to a better carrier (moving to a better country ultimately, because I never had any troubles while in Thailand), but the fact that another device does it better is somewhat disturbing. Maybe it's a software bug and it gets fixed someday? Maybe it's my specific hardware revision and you won't experience it? Let me know in the comments if you did.

Should anyone upgrade from S6 to S7? Hardly, especially if you are ok with what you have, it's just not that different. Buy a power bank if don't have one yet and wait till next year for something even more better.

Anyway, one thing that I didn't like about either of those phones is their size. I have large palms, and tapping on a tiny screen is not that good, you can get used to it but I've had better. Yes, Huawei MediaPad X1 was a bit too big, but surely there can be some compromise. I even briefly considered not getting an S7 and waiting for the next Note instead (Note5 wasn't for my liking) but decided against it for some reason. But more about that in the next post tomorrow.

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