Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review: Design and build
When it comes to design, Samsung has struck a nice balance of retaining the look of the Note series while bring the style of the Galaxy S7. In this case, particularly the Galaxy S7 edge as the new Note7 has the dual edge curved screen as standard.
What's quite amazing here is that the Note7 doesn't feel like a phablet despite the screen size remaining at 5.7in. It's not much bigger than the S7 edge and the device feels more manageable than ever which is very impressive.
This slab of metal and glass looks and feels great, although be wary of the rear cover as the slippery glass means the device is likely to slide out of your pocket when sitting down or make its way slowly off the edge of a sofa arm.
Build quality is up to the usual high standards which we've come to expect from Samsung with smooth flushness where materials meet, precision drilled holes and the like. The Note7 is available in a range of colours including Gold Platinum, Silver Titanium, Black Onyx and Blue Coral. The latter is an eye-catching combination of blue and gold as you can see in our pictures.
We're pleased to report that the Note7 is the first in the range to be waterproof, matching up to the S7 in more than just looks. You can now dunk your Note7 thanks to its IP68 rating (1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes and dustproof) and as we've become accustomed to, there's no need to fiddle with port covers or even make sure the S Pen is in the slot. This is even more impressive considering the S Pen is stored inside the phone. Even the S Pen is water resistant so you can carry on using it in the rain or dunk it, too.
A minor issue but one which may annoy some users (on our sample anyway) is a small groove between the glass and metal at the top of the screen which we found collects dust and dirt. This may well vary between units.
Optional accessories include a Lens Cover, waterproof battery cover and a new GearVR headset which is compatible wth the Note7 thanks to USB-C. See also: Samsung Galaxy Note 7 vs iPhone 6s Plus
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review: Hardware and specs
Note 7 screen
Sticking to tradition, the Galaxy Note7 has a 5.7in display so users of previous Note phones will feel right at home. Despite rumours of a 4- or even 6K resolution, Samsung has sensible stuck to QuadHD (1440x2560) which it uses on the S7 handsets.
It's still a gorgeous display using the firm's favoured SuperAMOLED technology with the added bonus of the dual edge. It works in the same way as the S7 edge so you have a subtle curve on either side unlike the 2014 Galaxy Note Edge which had a large curved section on one side. As you can see below, the screen looks like a glossy magazine and the lack of bezels makes it look great.
It can be used for various things such as quickly accessing your favourite contacts or apps – we'll talk more about it in the software section. Samsung has also brought over its 'always on' screen feature (which is optional). This means even when you turn the display off, it will show you some information like the time and some notifications.
You may have noticed that the Note 7 is the 'mobile HDR-compatible' so like recent TVs it offers better contrast and detail. You'll only be able to experience this with some content but with the examples we tried on Amazon Prime Video, we couldn't see any difference. It still looks great, though.
Note 7 performance
Bringing the Note range up to speed, quite literally, the Note7 is powered by the same processor found in the Galaxy S7 – that's Samsung's own Exynos 8890 which, in the S7, we found more than capable. In some markets the phone comes with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 but we're dealing with the 8890 here in the UK.
The Note 7 has 4GB of RAM despite rumours of 6GB which means the OnePlus 3 remains in its exclusive club.
While benchmark results are nice and high, see below, the phone isn't quite as tip-top when it comes to user-perspective which is more important really. We've found the phone, on occasion, to exhibit small amounts of lag and jerkiness in general use. This could be opening an app, switching to another and other things.
It's by no means a huge problem – it's smooth the vast majority of the time - but at this price, you might expect flawless performance. It's not just us either, as plenty of other publications have reported on the issue.
Note 7 storage
When it comes to storage, the Galaxy Note7 comes with 64GB as standard and retains the Micro-SD card slot for adding more (up to 256GB). A good move since the Note5 didn't have one and nor did the Galaxy S6 which wasn't met with gratitude from users.
Beyond the core specs, the Note7 is packed with tech – almost to the point where we're struggling to find something which it hasn't got.
Note 7 connectivity and sensors
Samsung has decided to finally employ USB-C (see below for more details). The phone also has fast wireless charging (WMA and PMC), 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, NFC, heart rate sensor, a fingerprint scanner and the rumoured iris scanner. The only thing missing, which has been dropped on other phones too is the infrared port which would be for using the phone as a remote control.
Note 7 USB-C and battery life
It was something of a shock that Samsung didn't make the switch to USB-C on the Galaxy S7 phones but has now done so with the Note 7. The port is reversible making it easier to plug in but also offers faster charging and, in theory, data transfer rates faster than USB 3.0.
In our charging test, using the supplied 'Adaptive Fast Charging' charger, we found the Note 7 took one hour and 15 minutes to go from 0-100 percent. That's not bad considering the large 3500mAh capacity.
In our real-world test, the Note 7 battery life is reasonable but perhaps not as stamina-tastic as you might hope with the 3500mAh battery. With a 'normal' and varied usage, we found that after 24 hours, the Note 7 has less than 15 percent juice left.
The only downside for some is the fact that it's non-removable so don't throw away that power bank if you have one.
Note 7 Iris Scanner
The iris scanner is one of the key new features of the Note 7 which used a combination of the front camera and an LED sensor to check whether your eyes are in fact yours. It works in a similar way to Windows Hello which we enjoyed on the Lumia 950 phones. It's easy enough to set up but not so much when it comes to actually using it.
There are two main issues we've found with the iris scanner which makes it somewhat irritating. The first is simple that you have to wake the screen and swipe on the lockscreen to activate it which is just far too many steps considering how easy it is to simply touch the fingerprint scanner instead.
The other is that it's simply quite flaky. When setting it up, you're presented with a huge list of warnings and caveats about not using it too close to your face, wearing glasses, lighting conditions and the like. Even though I wear glasses I tried it without and it doesn't seem to help much and it struggled indoors let alone outside in strong sunlight.
When it works, it's fast but the Note 7, more often than not, tells you to do things like hold the phone higher (why can't you look down at the phone?) and open your eyes fully – you end up pulling faces at the device while looking like you're hunting for cellular signal.
Note 7 S Pen stylus
The Note7 wouldn't be a Galaxy Note phone without the S Pen stylus which, as usual, slots into the phone on the bottom. The stylus works in the same way as previously and can be used to both replace your finger as an input device for navigation but also note taking etc. It has a new 0.7mm tip, the previously mentioned water resistance and the Air Command menu now has a new additions which we'll talk about in the software section below.
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