What's behind Galaxy S7 sales so far? Battery life, camera - and deals

Samsung's latest flagship is outperforming last year's model. But what happens when the promotions end?
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

When it launched in March, the Galaxy S7 was praised by many for addressing some of the issues with the Samsung's previous flagship smartphone, the S6 -- notably the lack of expandable storage and water-resistance, and the small battery.

The battery on the S7 is larger than on previous iterations (although, according to some, battery life is not significantly improved), and ships with fast and wireless charging (reaching 50 percent of the battery life in 30 minutes). But are these features selling the handsets?

According to Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, the Galaxy S7 was the fifth best-selling phone in the US in the first quarter of 2016 with 5.8 percent of sales, despite only being available for the last few weeks. In contrast, the Galaxy S6 was only 10th best-selling smartphone, with 3.2 percent, in the three months after its launch.

According to Kantar's research among Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge customers who bought the devices in March, the number-one draw was battery life, with 53.5 percent citing it as the main driver of handset choice.

Camera quality was also an important driver for S7 buyers, with 50.9 percent citing this compared to 33.5 percent of all smartphone buyers for the period. Storage was an issue for some S7 buyers, cited by 36.5 percent versus 17.8 percent among all buyers, as was processor speed at 39.8 percent versus 23.9 percent of all buyers.

While Galaxy S7 buyers responded to the improved specs, there was another big influence behind these purchases: good deals. Over a third (38.8 percent) of Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge buyers were influenced by an exclusive phone promotion or offer, 12.2 percent by a free or discounted product, 11 percent by a trade-in scheme, and 10.3 percent by free or discounted accessories.

"The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge appears to be one of the most heavily promoted phones, ever," said Lauren Guenveur, mobile analyst for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

If you had ordered an S7 before 18 March, one deal offered a Gear VR and six VR games for free. AT&T and T-Mobile offered buy one, get one free deals for a time, while Best Buy included a Gear VR and a 64GB SIM card with the purchase of an S7: buyers at Costco were offered a 32-inch Samsung HD TV.

"And that's barely scraping the surface of the promotions and trade-ins available for this device," said Geunveur, who noted that heavy promotion means the S7 is expected to become the best-selling phone in the second quarter of this year. That's something the S6 never managed, remaining in second place behind the iPhone 6, and then the iPhone 6s.

The S7 may have made a strong start, but there's every indication that the smartphone market is going to get even more competitive as markets like the US become completely saturated. But it's a complicated picture: Android is growing at the expense of iOS and Windows Mobile, but there is less and less to differentiate the high-end models from mid-range. Meanwhile companies such as Huawei are increasingly looking to offer a rival Android experience.

As Guenveur notes: "As the big promotions subside and are replaced by smaller and subtler deals, how will the S7 fare?"

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