The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge was always going to be 2016’s last word in smartphone style. A year before, the S6 edge had been the most dramatic departure from standard smartphone formats in years.
The S7 maintained the curved edges, while adding to the screen size, RAM and battery size. Going from a 5.1” to 5.5” display was almost less significant than going from 3GB to 4GB RAM and from a 2600 mAh to 3600 mAh battery. But it mattered in a world in which looks can kill market share. The S7 lorded it over the main competitor, the iPhone 6s Plus, with the latter’s 5.5” display in a flat and – dare we say it of Apple – “traditional” screen format.
As Apple prepares to rejoin the battle with an iPhone 7, set for release next month, Samsung has just raised the stakes. The release in South Africa last week of the Galaxy S7 edge Injustice Edition is not only a dramatic style statement, but also evidence that a smartphone truly can be a thing of beauty.
The unboxing experience is a rare example of a device’s industrial design being aligned with package design and the thematic concept behind the device. The square black box unravels like a mystery unfolding (see http://www.samsung.com/global/galaxy/events/injustice to see what emerges), revealing the main attraction: a deep black version of the S7 edge with gold inlays, a gold Batman logo carved into the back of the phone, and an adapted version of the phone’s interface with icons in deep gold on black backgrounds, a Batman-themed wallpaper set with several iconic images for different interfaces, and a cool Batman-inspired dialling interface.
The box includes a black Injustice edition of the Gear VR headset, along with Injustice game credits and Oculus VR content vouchers. This delightful package ostensibly celebrates the third anniversary of the Injustice: Gods Among Us mobile game, but is really a tribute to the Batman legend. In this sense, it is the Batman fan’s dream phone, but it is also arguably the most beautiful phone ever to go into general production.
“A lot of work has gone into this product and it has been carefully crafted and designed in terms of its size, colour and texture,” says Craige Fleischer, Director of Integrated Mobility at Samsung Electronics South Africa. “Ultimately, we hope more people will come to appreciate the Samsung and Galaxy brand through our fresh approach to a well-known product and via this special edition’s emotional appeal.”
One of the most striking aspects of the phone, its rich black body, turns out to have been carefully thought through not only as a design element, but also as a metaphor.
“Samsung aimed to find a unique black hue for the Injustice Edition,” according to an explanation provided by the manufacturer. “Black encompasses the whole body, including the metal frame, unlike the standard Black Onyx version of the S7 edge. This matt-finish black represents Batman’s suit. Gold, on the other hand, was applied on the logo, edge of the home button and rear camera to make these stand out. A number of image samples were examined for the Batman logo on the back, with consideration given to size and dimension.”
Even the special edition’s Gear VR and phone case that comes in the box were part of this metaphor:
“The phone case is a reinterpretation of Batman’s suit and an effort was made to visualise this in a metaphorical sense, rather than make it too obvious. We chose a material that is both comfortable to grip and durable, but that also maximises the matt texture. The case needed to combine great aesthetics and optimum protection.”
While the overall package and design makes a powerful impact, it is the finer touches that count. For example, the Apps icon, behind which users can find their non-Samsung apps, is a stylised version of the Batman mask, in gold against a grey background.
The one jarring experience comes when non-Samsung apps are brought onto the main screens: their colours clash violently with the gold, grey and black colour scheme that helps give the phone such style. There is a solution, however: when apps are grouped together into folders on the home screens, the folders themselves adopt the gold-and-black look, and don’t look out of place.
Normally, the practical and pragmatic approach would be to ditch the style imperative, and simply stick WhatsApp, Gmail and the like on the home screen in all their colour-clashing glory.
This is one phone, however, where most owners will sacrifice one-click convenience, and relegate their key apps to a folder or a secondary screen. Eventually, the aesthetic impact will diminish, but it is unlikely this handset will ever be treated like just another phone.
* Only 100 sets of the Galaxy S7 edge Injustice Edition package have been brought into South Africa, at a recommended retail price of R22 999 per unit.