Samsung Galaxy J7 (2016) Review

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It was a few weeks ago, on a hot mid-May afternoon when my colleague Samir handed over the new Samsung Galaxy J7 (2016) to me. The idea was to make an unboxing video of the device and hand it over to him and let him complete the text review. Now, Samir being the upwardly mobile traveller that he has become of late (he spends more time at Delhi Airport than at office nowadays), simply did not have the bandwidth to complete this review. My other colleague, Ershad was way too busy handling the nitty-gritties of the just-launched Gear By Mysmartprice. That left me, the “video guy” in office, to take the onus and complete the text review.

And that’s what I did.

For the next three weeks, I used the Samsung Galaxy J7 as my primary phone. Call me an old-fashioned guy, but in today’s age of one-day old reviews and “hands-on” reviews, I think you need to use a phone for at least a week to get used to its finer aspects.

So, here it is, the review of the Samsung Galaxy J7 (2016).

Introduction

It was in 2015 that Samsung created this new J-series line-up. Positioned somewhere between Samsung’s near-unusable low cost phones and the mid-range A-Series, the lineup included the first generation Galaxy J5 and the Galaxy J7. The decent pricing and satisfactory performance of the phones meant that both the devices ended up being resounding successes. People lapped up these devices in hordes. A year later, Samsung decided it was time the J-Series received an update. Both the phones – the J5 and the J7 – received minor hardware upgrades resulting in the births of the J5 (2016) and the J7 (2016).

Design

Galaxy J7 HeaderLet us forget the J5 from here on and talk about the J7. As mentioned earlier, the J7 is positioned below the A-series line-up. While the A series and upwards get all-metal bodies, the J7 makes do with a metallic frame that holds together a plastic body. Also, the back panel is removable and so is the 3,300mAh battery. From the front angle, the phone has that familiar Samsung look which is sort of reassuring to the brand-conscious buyers Samsung is targeting in this price segment.

The 5.5-inch front display at the front is of the Super AMOLED type and offers a resolution of 1280×720 pixels. This results in a pixel density of around 217PPI. While this is quite low by today’s standards, I did not really miss a 1080p display once I got used to the lower resolution. The standard Samsung affair continues elsewhere as far as the design aspects go.

Galaxy J7 2016 RearAt the top is the large earpiece followed by the ambient light sensor and the camera on either sides. There is also a dedicated front LED flash for all you selfie freaks out there. Moving down to the chin, we have the home button flanked by the options and back keys on either sides. At the bottom, we have the 3.5mm audio port, the Micro-USB outlet and the primary microphone. On the right side is the power button while the volume rockers are on the left side. At the rear, we have a primary 13-megapixel camera followed by the LED flash on one side and the loudspeaker on the other.

Removing the back panel reveals the large 3,300 mAh battery and the twin SIM card slots that accept Micro-SIM cards. I did, however, manage to use the phone with a Nano-SIM – even without an adapter! Below the SIM card slots is a microSD card slot. I am extremely happy with Samsung’s decision to go with a removable battery and the fact that the you don’t have to deal with the inherently stupid hybrid SIM card slot craze that seems to be at its height nowadays. The phone weighs a hefty 170g but somehow doesn’t feel really heavy. The overall feel is solid except for the flimsy back panel which seems to be the only chink in an otherwise strong armour.

Hardware/Performance

Internationally, the Galaxy J7 comes in two variants – one powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 chip and the other one with Samsung’s own Exynos 7870 chipset. In India, we get the latter. The Exynos variants packs in an octa-core 1.6GHz Cortex-A53 processor mated to a Mali-T830MP2 graphics processor. While this processor-GPU combo does not scream performance, it is by no means a laggard. Apps open fast and even after filling up the internal memory to the brim, the phone offers zippy performance. Browsing on the phone is also a breezy affair. I, however, did not use the inbuilt browser but Chrome all the while, which performed well – unless you are on some really content heavy page which did cause the phone to stutter and occasionally freeze. Note that the handset does not support dual band Wi-Fi. One surprising addition to the phone was the support for NFC. However, you are very unlikely to find a use of this feature in India.

The J7 is capable of playing games that are not very graphically taxing. So, titles like Temple Run and Subway Surfers run extremely well with no sign of lag. However, that is not the case with titles like Asphalt 8 or Modern Combat 5. You can, however, play these games at lower graphics settings. I do however believe that the performance offered by the J7 is satisfactory for the price you pay for the handset. If you are really keen on benchmark figures, here are a few from the test results. We ran the AnTuTu, Vellamo and Geekbench tests on the Galaxy J7. 

Samsung Galaxy J7 Benchmark Scores
Benchmark results for AnTuTu, Vellamo and geekbench

Moving on to call quality, I did not face major issues with voice calls. The earpiece was fairly loud and even in crowded environments (like our team meetings) I could hear the person at the other end fairly clearly.

Software/Multimedia

The Samsung Galaxy J7 runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow out of the box in India. This is not the case in some markets elsewhere where the phone is just receiving an update to Android 6.0. The phone also runs a slightly watered down version of Samsung’s latest TouchWiz UI – although the company seems to have stopped referring to the UI as TouchWiz. This is the same interface that runs on Samsung’s more expensive phones, albeit on the J7 you get lesser features. You do, however, get unique features like the much talked about data saving mode and the S-Bike mode which Samsung has been promoting big time.

Galaxy J7 SoftwareThe S-Bike mode is an useful application in case you happen to be a safety conscious biker (or even a cyclist like me). When you enable the S Bike mode, the phone basically goes into a pseudo flight mode where it will not accept any calls. However, instead of a monotonous tone, the users at the other end would hear a message saying that the owner of the phone is currently riding a bike. In case the call is urgent, the person at the other end can press “1” and the call does eventually go through. The receiver will however need to stop his vehicle in order to take this call thanks to something known as motion lock which detects that the owner is still in motion and hence it would not be safe for him to answer the call. While the feature does look promising, it needs to be activated each time you plan to travel on a bike. I am unsure how many people would be bothered to do that every time. The S Bike mode can be used along with the NFC feature, however, the phone does not come with NFC tags in the box.

The ultra data saving mode on the device is basically a customized version of Opera Max for Samsung. If you are a heavy mobile data user, this feature will help you save a few MBs worth of data. Very useful.

The phone also supports themes. A small selection of themes is available via the themes section under the settings menu.

Galaxy J7 Software
The data saving app, themes store and the music player on the J7

Moving on to the music playback capabilities, the J7 ships with Google Play Music as the default music player. While we found the audio playback to be decent, the supplied earphones/handsfree unit is not that great. A lot of sound also tends to leak through the earphones. You are better off using a better pair of headphones with the phone. The barebones music player doesn’t even have an equalizer option and to customize your sound settings you need to go into the “sounds” menu under settings where you will find options for toggling the SoundAlive and the TubeAmp options. The J7 also supports Adapt Sound which will customise the sound according to your surroundings.

The phone supports FM radio as well – however, you need to plug in the earphones in order to listen to radio broadcasts. The FM Radio interface is easy to use and it also gives you the option to record radio broadcasts. Thanks to support for Radio Text, the station information is automatically shown. You, however, need to switch this option from inside the settings menu. As for video playback, the phone can natively record and playback Full HD videos. It also played Full HD video files we threw at it with fair aplomb.

Overall, the software on the J7 is very usable and thanks to the overall zippiness, is a pleasure to use.

Camera

Samsung Galaxy J7 2016 CameraThe Galaxy J7 gets a 13-megapixel main camera at the rear which takes good pictures during daytime. While night time images tend to wash out a bit, the night mode does help improving the image quality slightly. Nevertheless, do not expect great night time images from the main camera.

Samsung Galaxy J7 Low light sample
Low light photography is not recommended on the J7 unless REALLY necessary

I was, however, impressed with the performance of the front camera in lower light conditions. This 5 megapixel camera also gets an LED flashlight at the front which does help during low light selfies. Note that this is different from a traditional LED flash. This LED flashlight remains on all the time when you toggle the flash menu before you take selfies. For additional light, the screen also flashes white when you click a selfie.

The main camera also offers several shooting modes including a Pro mode that lets you customise the exposure, ISO and white balance settings. There is also a panorama mode which is pretty easy to use. As expected, a beauty mode is also present – even with the rear camera. The HDR mode also does a decent job during difficult lighting conditions although I noticed that the colour reproduction was slightly off. But this is not something that you’d be really worried about. Both the cameras can capture Full HD videos. Again, this works well in good lighting conditions.

Samsung Galaxy J7 Sample Image
Colours look washed out in this landscape image taken using the J7

The quality does go down drastically in low light. I do not really recommend using this camera for videos in low light. You can launch the camera quickly by toggling the ‘double press home button to launch camera’ option hidden in the settings menu. Overall, the J7 does offer a very decent camera for the price you pay for the device. Except for issues with low light imaging. 

J7 Image sample
An HDR shot taken using the J7

Battery Life

This is the part I was really impressed with on the J7. While the handset comes with a 3,300mAh battery, I did not really expect it to perform the way it did. At medium brightness and under normal usage pattern involving a few calls, a 30 minute gaming session, usual WhatsApp and Facebook usage, the phone lasted an incredible one day and six hours without charging! This, with over six hours of screen-on-time!  In fact, I documented the entire thing on my Twitter account – tweeting updates as I ran the battery test. Needless to say, the phone will easily last you an entire day even of normal usage. Even if you tax it too hard, the phone will definitely last you at least eight to nine hours. In case you are the frugal kind, and tend to use devices at low brightness settings, the J7 will easily last you two days without charging the device. Expect a screen-on time of over seven hours. This is impressive any way you look at it. Also note that I ran the rest without optimizing any of the apps. This is to add that you can expect even better  battery life with the J7 than what we have mentioned here.

Samsung Galaxy J7 battery lifeOne of the reasons for this impressive battery life is the fact that the phone uses a 1280x720p display instead of a Full HD panel. But, as mentioned in the beginning of the review, I did not really mind the lower resolution. Like its more expensive siblings, the Galaxy J7 also gets the ultra power saving mode which will extend the battery life even further. Once this mode kicks in, the display changes to the grayscale mode. Background apps – except the ones you choose will stop running. Mobile data would also be turned off when you turn the display off.

The only thing I was not really happy with was the fact that the phone took almost three hours to charge from zero to full. Samsung should really have given a fast charging option on this device. That said, I would recommend users to charge the device overnight to avoid noticing this “flaw”.

Conclusion

The all important question. Should you buy the Galaxy J7? This is a tricky question to answer. When you look at it as a standalone device, the J7 ticks almost all the right boxes. It is from a trusted brand, offers decent performance and has an impressive battery life as well. Currently, the Galaxy J7 is being sold for just under Rs.16,000 – and atypical of a Samsung, it is only available online.

However, there are a lot of other devices vying for your attention in the 10 to 15k price bracket – including the likes of the Redmi Note 3, the Lenovo Z1 Zuk and the recently launched Motorola Moto G4 series.  The Motorola G4 Plus, for example, gives you an equivalent performance, but with the additional options including a Full HD display, a fingerprint scanner and a higher internal memory for less than Rs.15,000. Also, there are some glaring omissions on the J7 like the absence of an ambient light sensor and a magnetometer/compass. The latter might not be a very huge problem – until you start using turn by turn navigation, that is.

If you can discount these niggles, and ignore the fact that there are better spec’d and lower priced devices available in the market, you should definitely get yourselves the Samsung Galaxy J7 which, like I mentioned earlier, is a good phone.

Samsung Galaxy J7 (2016)

₹15,990
7.9

Design

8.0/10

Display

7.5/10

Software and Cloud Integration

8.0/10

Camera

7.5/10

Performance

8.0/10

Battery life

9.5/10

Value for money

7.0/10

What Is Good?

  • Great Display
  • Rock solid build quality
  • Removable battery
  • Amazing battery life
  • Fast software with no bloatware
  • Acceptable image quality

What Is Bad?

  • On the heavier side
  • No ambient light sensor
  • No magnetometer/compass
  • Takes a long time to charge
  • Better options available for lower price
  • Poor low light pictures


Having spent the better part of the last decade writing about technology, Rahul is among the most experienced tech journalists in India. His writing career began back to 2006 when he started off as a member of the Microsoft PYPC (Protect Your PC) team. At Microsoft, most of his time was spent on creating and updating Microsoft’s Knowledge Base articles. In 2008, thanks to his proclivity for consumer technology, he joined Techtree, then India’s most popular consumer tech website. In his decade-long career, Rahul has contributed to several Indian and International publications including GQ Magazine, Onlygizmos, iPhoneHacks, and The Inquisitr.

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