Samsung’s Galaxy Note narrative is among the most interesting in the smartphone industry. What started out as a science project in 2011 has not only become the face of the big-phone trend, but has also served as the motivation behind making devices larger than they need to be to accommodate a larger display.
And what’s most fascinating is that Samsung didn’t even come up with the idea of a phone-tablet hybrid (it didn’t coin the term “phablet” either), and yet the Galaxy Note series has inspired countless devices from companies far and wide and has spawned Samsung-branded tablets and Note sequels.
The latest of which has just been launched today, August 2, in New York City. Now on its sixth iteration (we’re not counting the Galaxy Note Edge — another science experiment, albeit one that ended in disappointment), the new Galaxy Note 7 is here, bearing an edgy yet refined look that’s in line with Samsung’s other premium phones, while also introducing a number of features that fans and those new to the series will like.
But before we get to the good stuff, let’s explore the reasons behind the generation skip. Samsung has already come out with a statement that the “7” moniker unifies its flagship offerings and eliminates confusion that could arise from the Galaxy Note 7 coming out in the same year as the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge.
If it isn’t clear to you by now, the latest Note is by no means behind the curve; in fact, we could argue that it’s Samsung’s best effort to date. Which says a lot considering how smitten we’ve become with the S7.
It turns out there’s even more to love about the Galaxy Note 7.
First and foremost is its design. This phone is unmistakably Samsung’s, as it borrows heavily from both the S7 and Note 5 playbooks. Stop us if you’ve heard these before: two sheets of strengthened glass are held together by a slim metal frame; the home button, still flanked by two capacitive buttons for back and recent apps, has an embedded fingerprint sensor; the S Pen stylus has been refined, and is even more functional.
This year, however, the carryovers tell only half the story.
Sharp and flat lines are out; symmetrical curves are in. As the leaks revealed, the Note 7 has a dual-curved display, similar to that of the S7 edge.
The curvature isn’t as pronounced, but it definitely makes for a more ergonomic grip and a more natural feel — even more so than the slight difference in thickness and weight. The gentler curves of the display also reduces unintended taps and pinches, which are too commonplace with the S7 edge. And they make the screen appear bezel-free and narrower than the numbers suggest.
We wondered how Samsung could ease the market into curved displays, and we got the answer.
The new Note looks and feels like the middleground between the familiar and relaxed beauty of the S7 and the aggressive stylings of the S7 edge. It’s a bold move — putting a curved screen on a well-loved product line — and it shows Samsung is willing to make the hard choices to sustain its profit growth.
The bezels, if you’re concerned about them, are even thinner this time around; the camera bump is barely noticeable; and USB Type C, with fast-charging support, is the new Note standard. But even more noteworthy is the entire device feels like one continuous slab of metal and glass rather than a sum of parts.
Another thing we appreciate about the Note 7 is how rugged it actually is. Despite its fragile appearance, the phone should be able to take a beating and live to tell the tale. The IP68 rating means it can withstand being submerged in depths of five feet for up to 30 minutes; meanwhile, the Corning Gorilla Glass 5 panels on the front and back provide drop protection up to 1.5 meters. Samsung, no doubt learning from past errors, has also made the device a bit more idiot-proof, with the S Pen slot no longer allowing backwards entry of the stylus.
The Note 7’s rear and selfie cameras have been improved to match the megapixel count and performance of those on the S7 and S7 edge. While that may not seem like a huge step forward for quality photos and videos, they are upgrades nonetheless. And unless you’re coming from a 2016 Samsung flagship, you’ll be hard-pressed to say there’s no real improvement here.
Then there’s the iris scanner — a first for any Samsung device. While this isn’t the first time a phone has sported iris-recognition technology, Samsung says it wants to be the first to get it right and make it popular. Based on our limited time with a test unit, we think the company is on the right track. Iris scanning on the Note 7 isn’t a gimmick — it’s quick, and more importantly, reliable.
Our only gripe so far is that the phone can only store information from one set of irises at a time, as opposed to fingerprinting, which accommodates up to five fingerprints. You can still unlock the phone with your thumb or a password, whichever is more convenient for you.
Across the board, you’ll find improvements over last year’s Galaxy Note, some of them we think won’t be felt by most users.
The 5.7-inch AMOLED screen is just as big and sharp as on the previous model — only now it supports high dynamic range, or HDR, and has always-on functionality, which works best to display notes without unlocking the device; the S Pen has a much finer tip, making it a more desirable tool for creative expression; the phone’s Android Marshmallow-based software is cleaner and more functional and less cluttered; and key internal components have received incremental upgrades to bring the Note 7 up to par with what’s out there today. Internal storage now starts at 64GB. Better yet, microSD expansion is back and now holds up to 256GB cards.
We like the Samsung Galaxy Note 7; it looks great, and feels even better. It won’t win the performance crown this year, but maybe it doesn’t need to. If Apple has taught Samsung and the rest of the world anything, it’s this: User experience is paramount. Fortunately for the company, the Note 7 nails it in the head.
The Galaxy Note 7 will be available in black, gold, silver, and blue with gold accents. Samsung is making the phone available starting August 19th, a little over two weeks from now. It’s already available for preorder in select markets. Off-contract pricing has yet to be announced, but it will likely retail for around $850.