There are plenty of reviews for new phones. This makes sense: people are shopping for new devices, so they look online to learn more about the devices on the market. While this provides information about the device at the time of first use, it doesn’t tell you how well the same device will behave over time. A phone on day 1 is not the same phone two or three years later.
What changes is not only newer models coming out. It is that applications that run on the phone keep getting more CPU, memory and resource intensive. The device also may run low in storage, slowing down the user experience. Newer operating systems may compound this, if the phone in question is lucky enough to receive these upgrades in a seamless and timely manner. This review covers a Galaxy S7 I had for two years and the overall user experience, not just having the device for a week, but in the fullness of time.
The reliability you can expect from a device is the result of the build quality, together with how well the user took care of it. Samsung does a very good job with hardware. Having had desktops, laptops, tablets, a variety of phones from Apple and Android vendors (and a Palm Pre smartphone prior to that), the S7 has been rock solid. I often mount it on my road bike to use as a Strava display or a GPS, and in spite of the vibrations from the road, the phone has remained flawless physically. It generally lives in a TPU case and falls very, very rarely.
I had two issues with hardware. The first was a wear and tear from the home button, which became stuck within 10 months. Samsung Support took care of the warranty service and fixed it. Not only that, Samsung Support ran a complete hardware diagnostic in their facility, and found that the battery was getting weak, and replaced it as part of the repair on their own initiative without me asking for it. This was an outstanding service experience.
The second issue was my testing of the phone’s water resistance. We went to the Galapagos islands and I filmed about a half hour of wildlife under water. The phone stayed around the surface and never went deeper than a couple of feet. While the internals resisted, the charging port remained humid with “moisture detected in charging port” warning. This lasted for over 48 hours, in spite of letting the device dry in the sun and using a hair dryer to finish the process. The S7 was the first phone to feature water resistance, so I might have pushed the limits.
Perhaps my main gripe with the device, is the slowness in receiving operating system updates. When you compare most Samsung phones to iOS devices, most iOS phones receive the latest OS update the day it is released, or even before when enrolled in Apple’s beta program. Samsung’s beta program existed for a while for this device, but it was difficult to enroll and only for a single OS release, after which it closed. The bigger issue is that Samsung phones receive Android updates months, sometimes almost a year after the new version is out. My wife has a Pixel. She was running Android 9 when I barely got Android 8 on my Galaxy S7.
Security updates, or minor updates, are also scarce and after two years, the phones no longer receive new releases.
Unlike the OS, apps are mostly up to date and the process is seamless from the Google Play Store. Almost every day, updates are installed. I wish Samsung did not preload so many of their own applications as well as third party apps on the device. It uses storage un-necessarily. If as a user I want the apps, invite me to download and install them. But please don’t force them, as it turns them into bloatware.
It can be expected that a computer, no matter which kind, gets a bit slower over time. This is because new apps consume more resources, and so do newer OS versions. But phones seem to have this planned obsolescence thing pushed to an extreme. Take a laptop that’s 5 years old. If it has a SSD and enough RAM, it will run just fine after 5 years. Take any phone, not just a Samsung one, from 5 years ago: it crawls to the point of being un-usable. Even after 2 years, my Galaxy is becoming too slow and laggy to operate, so I am forced to replace it and from a customer standpoint, it feels not right. Having performed all the device maintenance recommended, such as clearing the disk cache, removing apps not being used, and so on, nothing really makes a difference. The device is also becoming close to its storage capacity, which is a known cause for slow smartphones. But I need these apps, which have just gotten bigger and bigger.
How to buy a lasting phone
The experience from this Galaxy S7 and other devices I used before point to the importance of selecting a phone with quick software updates, as Google for example is doing with its Pixel product line, or Apple with the iPhones. It does take staffing resources for phone companies to invest in keeping existing devices up to date, but by not making the investment, they will likely lose some customers to other vendors.
The next element for a lasting phone is the amount of data storage and RAM on the device. Since these specs are never upgradable after purchase, buy a phone with plenty of headroom not only for you to put all the apps and new OS versions in the future – remember, every app tends to grow in size over time as it gets more updates and new features, which will take more and more storage on your phone. Buy extra headroom also to leave blank space on the solid state (storage) drive, because this headroom will help your phone avoid slowdowns caused by the “disk almost full” syndrome.
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