Leaks and rumors suggest Samsung's Galaxy S7 will challenge the iPhone 6s

Early reports point to improved battery life, better sound, and a camera that tops the Galaxy S6.

Mobile fans and followers mark the seasons with Samsung's announcements of its new flagship Galaxy S phone, at Mobile World Congress in February, and Apple's iPhone announcements in September. As each announcement approaches, the leaks and rumors surface and ripple throughout the news and social media.

Instead of adding a ripple with another report, greater clarity may come from a look at the rumors as a whole to gauge what Samsung is trying to accomplish.

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Samsung plans its product cycles to optimize its manufacturing and distribution costs so it can increase demand by cutting the price of its phone earlier in its lifecycle. Last August, for example, Samsung cut $100 to $200 off the price for its S6 and S6 Edge just a half year after they were introduced, with the intention of helping the company compete with the iPhone 6s. Samsung still takes a similar approach for older versions of its Galaxy smartphone – the S4, S5, and S5 Mini – as well as many of its TVs and consumer appliances.

Samsung isn't Apple. It neither enjoys luxury brand status nor is it constrained by investor pressure to maintain 40% gross margins, giving the company the flexibility to cut prices to manage demand.

The premium-priced S7 has a few important milestones to reach in its first year. It must be incrementally better in performance and build quality than last year's Galaxy S6. It must compete with the iPhone 6s and stand up to competing top-tier Android flagships from Motorola, Google, HTC, and LG.

Rumored hardware improvements for Galaxy S7

Three S7 models have been rumored or leaked. Two models, the 7S and 7S Edge, will have a 5.1-inch, 1440x2560 pixel display at 577 ppi, according to the rumors. The 7S Edge+ will reportedly have a 5.5-inch, 1440x2560 pixel display at 534 ppi.

These screens feature the same resolution of the S6 family. The Edge models include the rounded-glass edges introduced last year. These displays top the display resolution of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, at 326 ppi and 401 ppi, respectively. However, the difference in resolution may be imperceptible to most consumers.

Rumors that the S7 will be powered by either an Exynos 8890 or the latest Snapdragon 820 Octa-core SoCs make sense because it's a big boost over the S6 and matches that of the iPhone 6s. Both the Snapdragon 810 and Exynos 8890 SoCs perform very favorably against the Apple's A9, and should boost performance by 60% over the Galaxy S6's Exynos 7420.

However, SoCs have become so fast that, once again, consumers can't really perceive relative performance improvements. But the 14nm feature size of the S7's SoC can theoretically reduce power consumption by up to 60%. Even if that expected power reduction isn't achieved, better power management may be the only processor improvement consumers notice.

If LTE Category 12 support is fully enabled (and used on a network that supports it), the S7 will feature twice the data download speeds (600 Mbps) and three times the upload speeds (150 Mbps) of either the S6 or iPhone 6s. This may not be realistic, though, as the $10 cost per Gigabyte of mobile data would likely make it unaffordable.

Photos of S7 prototypes haven't leaked yet. Perhaps, like the marginal difference in the design of the iPhone 6 compared to the 6s, there may be little difference in the design of the S6 and its successor. Samsung did, however, make significant changes to S6 design last year, upgrading the materials and build quality compared to the Galaxy S5, helping it remain fresh through another product cycle.

Rumored S7 features consumers will appreciate most

Many expect the Galaxy S7 to feature Samsung's impressive new Britecell camera. The Britecell camera module is designed to improve images taken in low light and feature faster phase detection autofocus and faster HDR and WDR (presumably using the S7's faster hardware).

Expected improvements to battery life and the cycle time to recharge the battery will delight consumers, especially those upgrading from the S6. The S7 has been reported to have a comparatively larger 3000mAh battery, and the S7 Edge+ a 3600mAh battery. It should also feature fast-charging USB Type-C that will store a day's charge in about a half hour.

Though Samsung has not returned to a removable battery, many reports say that a microSD card will be included, which will add at least 200GB of storage to the base 32GB and 64GB of ROM. This will certainly appeal to people who don't want to store their data, music, photos, and videos in the cloud.

A few reports said that the S7 will be waterproof and dustproof, meeting the IP67 specification. It may indicate that the S7 may be more rugged, a response to the shatterproof Motorola Turbo 2 and Apple and HTC's broken screen exchange programs that have attracted consumers' attention.

Enhanced audio has been a repeated rumor. Many sources predict that the S7 will include the high-performance Sabre 9018AQ2M chip to power headphones and Bluetooth speakers with sound that extends beyond the smartphone category.

The cycle begins again next month. Samsung hopes to repeat the success of the S6 with the same year-long exercise of product management with the S7.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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