How will 2016's biggest flagships compare? We take a look at the rumours behind Apple's iPhone 7 and the Samsung Galaxy S7
Apple's had it easy for the last couple of years as its key rival, Samsung, has floundered with lacklustre sales performance, essentially leaving the market wide open for the iPhone 6/iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6s/iPhone 6s Plus handsets to clean up over two generations. That could change massively inside 2016, however. On the one hand, Samsung is back on form. The Galaxy S7 series Q1 performance is way up on the previous two generations, the firm's sales, shipments, profits and market share are climbing, and as a result analysts have scrambled to recalibrate their predictions for the company for 2016. Share prices have also improved off the back of this positive news. By all accounts, the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge have been well recevied by consumers, pre-orders were, according to Samsung's statements, better than expected, and in particular consumers appeared to express a preference for the Galaxy S7 edge model.
By contrast, Apple has experienced one of its worst quarters ever, the first Q1 with market share and sales declining for as long as anyone can remember. That said, as CEO Tim Cook pointed out, even with this decline Apple is still outperforming everyone else in terms of raw sales figures and profit; it's a bad quarter for Apple standards, but by anyone else's it'd be time to crack out the Champagne. Still, the future is not looking bright either. There have been plenty of rumours, leaks, and reports about the iPhone 7, but the last two notes to investors from prominent, reliable and unnervingly accurate KGI Securities analyst Ming-chi Kuo have said that the iPhone 7 will be an incremental update that will not offer any compelling selling points to consumers. He predicts that Apple's performance for the whole of 2016 will be poor, and that we will we have to wait until 2017 for Apple to completely revamp and overhaul the iPhone product.
So it doesn't sound great for Apple, but it does sound like the roles have switched to an extent and Samsung could clean up this year instead. Still, there's everything to play for and there are still a lot of rumours doing the rounds about the iPhone 7. It won't arrive until September, of course, but in the meantime we are going to look at how the rumours stack up against the current-gen Samsung Galaxy S7 that is doing so well.
Display: 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch Force Touch, but likely with a QHD display of 2560 x 1440 resolution
CPU and RAM: A10 processor, 3GB RAM
Front Camera: 5MP with wide angle lens
Rear Camera: 12MP, 4K video recording, optical image stabilization
Samsung's muddied the waters somewhat by taking a leaf out of Apple's playbook and not disclosing much information about the processor hardware at launch. We already know from earlier rumours that both the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 and Samsung Exynos 8890 SoC's are inside various iterations of each Galaxy S7 model, and we know 4GB of RAM was rumoured too. However, all Samsung has said is that the Galaxy S7 has a 30% CPU performance uplift over the previous generation, and a 64% speed enhancement to the GPU, along with the introduction of a liquid-cooled heatpipe and heatsink setup to help in high-performance situations.
The iPhone 7 will run Apple’s next-generation A10 mobile chipset and, if previous versions are anything to go by, it should be an alarmingly powerful chipset. Apple’s A8 and A9 chipsets dominated the mobile space in 2014/15 showcasing just what was possible with processing power when you have complete control over specs, hardware and software. And this is no doubt the reason Samsung invested so heavily in its Exynos solution — it wants more control over its devices’ performance and capabilities.
However, this year’s iPhone will likely be the most spec-heavy release Apple has ever pushed to market, providing it features a QHD panel. How much RAM Apple uses is also a deciding factor in the spec battle between the two handsets as well, but mostly this is just academic — the A10 and new Exynos will be super fast, regardless for whether they’re paired with 2GB or 4GB. Apple has consistently shown it can get plenty of performance out of very little memory, so the addition of more inside the iPhone 7, alongside the A10 chip makes for a pretty monstrous phone.
One thing that can be expected for sure is that the iPhone 7 will likely come in 32, 64, and 128GB models. Thankfully Apple should drop the 16GB iPhone version this time around. However there are rumors the iPhone 7 could also come in a 256GB model…something that seems far too good to be true at present. Nevertheless, should Apple get rid of the 16GB version — something it really needs to do, as 16GB is just pathetic these days — then it stands to reason it will have to replace it with something at the top-end to bump everything down a peg and make 32GB the standard model, before 64GB and then 128GB and finally 256GB.
Again, Samsung has sort of glossed over storage capabilities, aside from the microSD slot, and even then it hasn't disclosed how big the cards can be. We believe, based on earlier benchmarks and leaks, that the Galaxy S7 series starts at 32GB onboard, and may have 64GB and 128GB models too, but Samsung is yet to confirm this.
What we do know is each Samsung model packs a hefty battery pack, either a 3000mAh cell inside the Galaxy S7 or a 3600mAh setup in the Galaxy S7 edge - both should provide plenty of juice on a single charge. There's little info about Apple's battery hardware at this stage.
Samsung Galaxy S7 vs iPhone 7: Design
At this stage information on the iPhone 7's possible design is fairly limited. Given Apple's usual MO we're fairly confident it will be a significant overhaul, as the firm tends to keep things incremental on the 'S' models (like 2015's iPhone 6s) and then puts in big changes on the lone number models, with the iPhone 7 of course being one of the latter. On top of this we've heard rumours Apple plans on making the handset incredibly thin, thin enough to warrant the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack and the adoption of built-in stereo speakers and a proprietary set of headphones (Bluetooth and/or Lightning connector compatible, allegedly), if the rumours are true.
There’s also strong hints that Apple is working on doing away with the physical home button and embedding a virtual home button and Touch ID in the screen itself, but that might not come until the iPhone 8. The iPhone 7 will almost certainly retain the same size display as this year's models with 4.7in and 5.5in models to choose from - although there is talk of a 4in iPhone 6c dropping in April.
Other whispers say we'll see a "streamlined" design with fewer obvious antennae bands, a thinner bezel around the display, and the absence of any camera bump whatsoever - the sensor will reportedly fit flush. There are also some murmurings about waterproofing.
Generally though we're expecting an extremely sleek and distinguished new iPhone that's super-thin and entirely made out of metal.
Although different from their predecessors in some ways, the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge are, on the whole, quite similar to the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge in terms of design. The overall shape, build quality, and materials (metal and glass) are all pretty much a repeat of last year - not that this is a bad thing of course, as last year's Galaxy S6 series was gorgeous. The most notable improvements include the addition of IP68 waterproofing and a microSD card slot. It's also worth noting that while the Galaxy S7 is pretty much the same size as the Galaxy S6, the Galaxy S7 edge is not only distinguished by its unique curved edge display, but also by being much larger than both the Galaxy S7 and the last-gen flagships, with a 5.5in display.
Samsung Galaxy S7 vs iPhone 7: Camera
The iPhone 6s received a major camera upgrade over the iPhone 6—getting a 12MP rear camera and 5MP front one. Don’t expect any megapixel boosts in the iPhone 7 since Apple usually holds the MP-rating for a few years. However, year-on-year Apple has consistently tweaked other parts of the camera setup to incrementally improve imaging performance, and that's not something we expect it to stop.
There aren't many rumours at this stage about the iPhone 7's camera hardware, but we can perhaps expect things which seem to be trending in the industry such as wider apertures, larger pixel sizes, and more complex sensors with higher-quality lenses. One rumoured feature though is the introduction of optical image stabilisation (OIS). If the rumours of a flush-fitting camera sensor are true, what we may see is Apple simply keeping its camera hardware similar to the current-gen, but making it thinner to fit in with the new design.
Details of a patent Apple applied for back in January surfaced online recently, revealing details about the one of the iPhone 7's big USPS -- its camera.
The patent application shows a dual-lens camera interface aboard an iPhone, complete with diagrams and annotations. The patent shows a dual-camera system that consists of one standard wide-angle lens and a second telephoto lens that are capable of capturing zoomed-in video and photos at the same time.
Both can be used together simultaneously and users will be able to merge images together in “unique” ways.
“As described by Apple, images from both lenses can be displayed on the same screen in the Camera app through a split-screen view that shows a standard wide-angle image on one side and the zoomed image on the other side,” notes MacRumors. “When capturing a video or a photo, users are able to transition between both lenses seamlessly, tapping on a spot in the photo to zoom in with a second lens. Apple's system would work similarly to digital zoom does today, but because it's using a lens with a longer focal length instead of zooming in through software, there's no loss of detail and the zoomed in image is much more crisp and clear.”
Samsung has made some big changes to the Galaxy S7 camera. For one thing, the megapixel rating has actually gone DOWN to 12MP, but this is a deliberate choice and Samsung is instead focusing on other areas of the hardware to improve image quality. Things like a wider f/1.7 aperture, a larger 1.4um pixel size, and the world's first dual-pixel sensor with 100% phase detection autofocus. Correspondents at MWC are raving about this new camera setup, and the low-light performance as well as focusing speed is reportedly quite remarkable.
Samsung Galaxy S7 vs iPhone 7: Display
The big news for iPhone fans is the iPhone 7 will probably get a higher resolution display, specifically a QHD one with a resolution of 2560 x 1440—as many Android handsets already have. This will match the resolution of the Galaxy S7. As far as sizes, the iPhone 7 should come in the standard 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch (Plus) models.
Both Samsung's Galaxy S7 handsets to indeed have QHD display resolutions for their Super AMOLED panels. For the 5.1in Galaxy S7 this results in a pixel density of 577ppi, and for the larger 5.5in Galaxy S7 edge an ever-so-slightly lower, but nonetheless sharp, 534ppi. Both also feature Samsung's new Always On Display (AOD) capabilities, which is where the OLED display selectively powers on a few specific pixels to show certain information while in a sleep state. This is a low power solution and allows it to show the time, date, and a few notifications.
The Galaxy S7 edge naturally has the curved display edges we've seen on a few Samsung phones now. With Android Marshmallow and the new TouchWiz build Samsung has literally expanded how much of the edge of the screen utilises the edge functions for things like shortcuts and widgets. It has also allowed you to store more applications in the hotbar.
Samsung Galaxy S7 vs iPhone 7: Specs & Performance
We can’t really make any claims re: the iPhone 7’s performance as the handset is still very much under wraps at Apple HQ. But, based on prior history, we can make a few intelligent guesses about where Apple will make improvements over 2015’s iPhone 6s.
Likely candidates include display resolution, imaging, battery performance, connectivity and water and dust proofing. These are the areas we expect Apple to focus on later this year when it announces its three, new iPhone 7 models.
The Galaxy S7 may look and feel a lot like last year’s Galaxy S6, but in practice — and in terms of performance — this couldn’t be further from the truth. Samsung has smashed the ball out of the park with this year’s flagship, which boasts excellent battery performance and a market-leading CPU in the form of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 (providing you can get that version, that is).
GSMArena has also benchmark tested both the Galaxy S7 Exynos 8890 variant and the Snapdragon 820 variant, and similarly the site said that both phones came up with very fast results.
"It seems both Samsung's and Qualcomm's custom processor cores turned out for the better and we like where things are going. It was about time the CPU race switch from core count competition to actual processing power and optimisations. Both new entries came very close to Apple's 1.84GHz Twister CPU champ, which means Apple's first spot in this department will be threatened in the months to come."
In Geekbench 3 Multi-core testing the Exynos Galaxy S7 came "top of all devices we've tested so far", meanwhile AnTuTu 6 "puts the Galaxy S7 trio on top of all smartphones we've put through the same test," though with the Snapdragon 820 powered S7 edge at the top.GFXBench tests on the two GPU variants also found more-or-less equally impressive performance.