There can be little doubt that Samsung is the current global leaders in Android phone design, manufacturing and sales. In fact, it could be argued that Samsung has leapfrogged the entire mobile industry with their current Galaxy 7 family of devices.
If you were unsure about this, Samsung has just released the Galaxy Note 7 to ram home that point. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is an unashamedly premium device, and with a $1349 AUD price tag, it would want to be.
The hype around the Galaxy Note 7 was intense, from its symmetrically curved design, to its iris scanner to its IP68 weather protection, every element of this phone has been magnified to the max. Can the Galaxy Note 7 live up to that hype? Read on to find out.
Galaxy Note 7 Hardware
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (which we’ll be calling it the Note 7 from here on), is not a small phone, nor is it an overly large phone, the Note line has always been on the larger side, however, this year Samsung have delivered a 5.7” phone that feels more like a 5.5” device.
How is this voodoo achieved? The symmetrically curved glass panel on both the front and rear of the device. The Note 7 appears to have almost no bezel whatsoever. This allows the 5.7” device to be smaller in width to some 5.5” phones. I compared it to my LG G4 and the Note 7 was slimmer and just a touch taller, impressive to say the least.
Inside we see a familiar hardware package, with the Note 7 sharing many specs with the rest of the Galaxy 7 family. That’s not to say the specs are in anyway old, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge remain two of the best Android devices on the market today.
Some distinctions the Note 7 has against its siblings include 64GB internal storage as standard, USB C (hooray), MicroSD cards up to 256GB (up from 200GB), a barometer and of course the iris scanner – more on that later.
For the full device, specs click the link below to see the table.[showhide type=”detailedspecs” more_text=”Show Detailed Specs” less_text=”Hide Detailed Specs”]
|Samsung Galaxy Note 7||Release date||August 2016||Screen size||5.7-inch||Screen technology||Super AMOLED||Resolution||2,560 x 1,440||PPI||518||Rear camera||12MP||Front camera||5MP||Chipset||Exynos 8890||Core config||2.3GHz Quad + 1.6GHz Quad||Ram||4GB||Storage||64GB||MicroSD||Yes, up to 256GB||Battery||3,500 mAh||Battery removable||—||Connector||USB C||Headphone Port||Yes||Headphone Location||—||Speaker Configuration||—||NFC||Yes||Android OS||Android 6.0.1||Vendor skin||Samsung UI||Dimensions||153.5 x 73.9 x 7.9mm||Weight||169g||Colours|
In the box, you get the phone, obviously, an adaptive fast charger, a USB A to USB C cable, a USB A to USB C dongle, a Micro USB to USB C dongle and a set of very nice headphones with inline controls. Even the attention Samsung gave to the packaging and opening experience is evident.
This is by far the most gorgeous phone I have ever seen or held, bar none. No words or images can convey just how this phone feels in your hand. The Note 7 wasn’t manufactured; it was crafted.
I encourage every one of you to seek out a Note 7, out of its case, out of those retractable security devices and feel the simple elegance of the device in your hands. Even if the phone is “too big for you”, or there are other elements of it that do not meet your needs, you need to hold this phone, a new benchmark across the entire mobile industry has just been set.
The phone is simple and yet elegant, the major elements of the device are the curved all glass front and back that offer a completely symmetrical look and feel to the device. The curved sides of the glass are perfectly balanced by a slightly rounded chamfer to the edges and top and bottom.
The side curves of the Note 7 are far tighter and more subtle than those on the S7 Edge. This not only makes the curve of the display less disruptive to the screen viewing experience, but it seems to have completely resolved the issue that many people had with accidental presses on the S7 Edge screen.
The glass meets a beautiful strip of rounded anodised aluminium that almost seamlessly interfaces to the front and back glass. There is an almost imperceptible ridge that actually serves to provide a frame or bounds to the glass. The gentle curve and rounded corners of the aluminium sides house the typical power and volume buttons, headphone jack, speaker grills, combined SIM and MicroSD tray, S-Pen and of course the new USB C port.
I often find myself removing the Note 7 from its case just to hold it. Let’s face it, I’m an Android fanatic and a smartphone nerd, but I’ve never been so enamoured by the design or hand feel of a device as I am with this one; Samsung has knocked the design and build of the Note 7 for 6.
There’s not much to be said about the AMOLED 2,560 x 1,440 display on the Note 7 except it is gorgeous. Samsung know hoe to make a display and their mastery of AMOLED is really beginning to yield excellent results. The colour saturation, contrast and overall look of the display is something you have to see. At this stage, and in a $1349 device we’d expect nothing less from Samsung, and they have delivered.
Galaxy Note 7 Note Features
The signature of the Galaxy Note series has to be the inbuilt stylus, the S-Pen. As a passive stylus, the S-Pen never needs to be charged and is always ready to write when you are. I have to admit, I often forgot the S-Pen was there and would go about my day just using the device as I normally would. However, in several circumstances, I needed to very quickly take down a note, and that’s where having a stylus, and good software, became a very useful inclusion.
Compared to previous S-Pens I have used the writing experience was smooth, somehow less “scratchy”. It also seems more precise and gave me finer control over stroke width than I had previously experienced. This is thanks to the 0.7mm tip which seems to be made of a softer “rubbery” material, and the 4,096 levels of pressure sensitive built into the screen/ stylus combination.
The Note 7 brings back with it many of the popular S-Pen features including; screen off memo (a very useful feature), air command including translation and screen magnify and Smart select GIF creation. All of these features and more are now bundled into a single app, Samsung Notes. Notes are the central hub for all things S-Pen and provide an easy interface into the stylus-enabled apps and services.
Samsung has achieved an IP68 water and dust ingress rating on the Note 7 allowing it to be submerged in up to 5 feet of fresh water for up to 30 minutes. Thanks to the design of both the headphone jack and USB C port neither require a cap to achieve this rating.
The S-Pen is also IP68 rated, as is it’s inbuilt slot on the phone, allowing you to take the S Pen out and use it to control your device either while wet or submerged. I have to admit, outside of the Samsung launch event, I just haven’t had the guts to try it. The Note 7 is too beautiful and too new for me to bring myself to dunk it in the drink. Perhaps in few days we will bring you a video?
I think it’s worth noting that while the device is rated to survive submersion, I’d caution people to only use this as an accident mitigation feature and not a daily use activity. If you just must catch Pokemon in the bath at least if you drop it you’ll still be able to catch it with your S-Pen and your phone won’t be dead!
The Note 7 is not the first mobile to feature an inbuilt Iris scanner for biometric authentication. However, from all reports of previous devices, it is the first one to come close to getting it right. First things first, to use the Iris scanner you have to enrol your eyes just like you do fingerprints on a fingerprint scanner. The process is simple, remove any glasses and stare at the camera. The combination of infrared LED and front facing camera will capture your unique iris patterns.
From there when you power on the device you can stare at the screen and it will automatically unlock the device. I wear glasses 24/7, and I’ve found that while wearing the glasses the Iris scanner works 90% of the time, occasionally with repositioning and normally with a slight delay (compared to the instant glasses off response), but it works.
A new software feature that is tied into the Iris scanner, from a marketing perspective at least is the Knox based Secure Folder. The secure folder is worth a post on it’s own. The overall idea is you have a folder on your desktop that can only be access by scanning your Iris (or in fact any security method you choose). Once in the secure folder you are actually in a new instance of Android where any apps and data are sandboxed just within the secure folder.
Once in the secure folder you are actually in a new instance of Android where any apps and data are sandboxed just within the secure folder. This allows you to either have a secure place for confidential material or have a second account for apps that don’t support multi-user profiles. This only scratches the surface of the features of the Secure Folder.
The Iris scanner has taken some heat since it was first rumoured as being a gimmick. After consideration, I disagree. It works, it works as advertised and I have actually found myself using it when using the device one-handed and my fingerprint fails for some reason, that’s useful not a gimmick.
Is the Iris scanner a killer feature that will skyrocket the Note 7 to instant success, nope – the Note 7’s design and build should do that. But it is genuinely useful in some circumstances and in time I can see it being even better. If you offered me the Note 7 $50 cheaper without the Iris scanner I’d pay for the iris scanner, every time.
Galaxy Note 7 Camera
The Note 7 brings along the excellent cameras found in the S7 range. The 12 MP OIS f/1.7 rear facing camera is generally accepted to be one of the best, if not the best, smartphone cameras available. The front facing camera provides a 5 MP f/1.7 set up for competent selfies.
What’s important in a camera? Everyone would give you a different answer to that question, perhaps it would be some combination of MP, aperture, OIS or some other spec. I’d argue it’s the total package. What’s important is that when you take a photo (a) you actually capture the thing you were after and (b) the image turns out in focus, well exposed and at a decent resolution that you can either crop some of the image or print a decent enlargement.
Launching the camera on the Note 7 is fast and easy. Simply double-click on the home button, from any state, and the camera interface routinely loads in less than a second and is ready to capture. From there you can either use the volume buttons or the on-screen button to snap to your hearts content.
As you change the focal length of your frame the autofocus works remarkably fast and is reliably accurate. The image will typically take less than a second to refocus and I was rarely able to ‘trick’ it into being out of focus, unless I was taking macro photos. As with most cameras UIs you can also tap on a specific subject to ensure that is the primary focus, but I found that less necessary than I normally do.
The Note 7 will take photos as fast as you can click the button, and if you want to create that perfect slide GIF just hold down the shutter button and you’ll get a crazy rapid fire mode. So the Note 7 meets my first criteria, you can open the camera app and start shooting all but instantly, any delay in getting the shot you want will be because we humans are a little slow to respond.
How about my second criteria, that the images are actually usable? The Note 7 has you covered there as well. Inadequate lighting the images routinely turn out fantastically, I had actually started to use the S7 Edge for my review photos as my Canon 6D was simply overkill, and with the same sensor in the Note 7 it’s giving the same great performance.
Images from the Note 7 were routinely in focus, well exposed and even action shots had no motion blur. When you have time to frame your shots, choose the focal point and balance exposure the images were so good that I think we are now at a point where Smartphone cameras, like the Note 7’s can replace you point and shoot for almost all photography.
Low light focus
I know, you’re all screaming what about low light photography. Yes, the low light images were not as good as the well-lit photos were. This should come as no surprise, photos need light and when there isn’t much of it the images will show that.
That is not to say that the Note 7’s camera didn’t perform well for a smartphone, or even against some mid-tier point and shoots, but it can’t hold a candle (see what I did there!) to a full or micro 4/3rds device. Low light images will capture just as fast, however, you will get a little noise and graininess in the final images.
The edge between well lit and low light probably falls a little more into the brighter side of what some people may expect. If you shoot images in partially lit room at night you’re going to see that little bit of noise and graininess. That said the Galaxy 7 family of devices provide the best Camera phone experience I’ve ever had, bar none.
I have little to say about the front facing camera. Samsung hasn’t marketed this as a selfie camera so you won’t find some crazy front facing sensor. And I’m ok with that, for me selfies is something I send to my family when I left home before they were awake of we’ve been apart for a little while. If you’re a selfie person, the Note 7 will give you a great selfie experience.
Samsung has included their latest camera app which provides a basic clean interface for shooting images. The basic UI give you options for photos and videos, switching between cameras, and toggles for HDR and the flash as well as settings and gallery short cut.
Swiping right brings over the shooting mode features including Auto, Pro (manual) panorama, slow motion and a host of others. You can also download additional shooting modes, Samsung may even be readying to open the market up to 3rd party developers. Swipe left and you are able to select an image filter to apply to your shots. Again you have the option to download more filters.
I have to admit, I’m a meat and potatoes, point and click photographer (the Note 7 is perfect for this). Apart from the panorama shots, the only time I use any mode other than auto is when I’m showing off Android’s awesomeness or reviewing a device. But the features are there for those that want them, which is a good thing.
Overall the Note 7’s camera experience was excellent. With the Note 7, and the rest of the Galaxy 7 family, we have achieved a turning point in smartphone photography. No longer will you have anxiety about will my camera get this shot, most of the time it will. Does it get every image every time, no, but NO camera will.
Now we have crossed this line in the sand the challenge for sensor and phone makers alike is to bring this quality and reliability into the mid and low tier phones. Not everyone can afford a $1000 plus phone, that shouldn’t mean they miss out on reliable cameras. I hope the technology isn’t artificially held back to promote the sale of higher end and much more expensive devices. With Samsung’s diverse market share across countries and market segments, I hope they know it’s in their competitive interests to roll these cameras down their line as soon as the technology/ cost issues are addressed.
The camera on the Note 7 feels very similar to the other Galaxy 7 device, and that’s a good thing. Here are some sample images, all shot on full auto settings.
Unfortunately, my device suffered a minor catastrophe, as such these were all the images I had taken. When we get a new unit we will complete a full Note 7 Shoot out.
Galaxy Note 7 Software
The Note 7 is running Android 6.0.1 out of the box. While Samsung hasn’t yet commented on the timelines for the as yet unreleased Android 7.0 rollout they have traditionally been in the mid range with getting the latest OS updates out to their high-end devices.
From the security patch perspective the review unit I had was on the June 2016 patch, which for a technically unreleased device being reviewed in early August is pretty good. Samsung has had a reliable history of late with keeping their flagships on the latest security patch fairly swiftly, lets hope this continues and can roll down their line a little. I would love it if Samsung committed to both OS and security update support periods for their devices, even if those time periods varied between device tiers.
Samsung’s Android ROM has traditionally been a point of much consternation in the Android enthusiast community. Often criticised for being too childish in appearance and too heavily modified it’s not uncommon to hear people say they would love Samsung hardware with a stock ROM, I know I’ve said that before today.
However, we have also been hearing for several iterations now that Samsung has been paring back their ROM UI. Previously known as TouchWiz, the Samsung UI loaded onto the Note 7 is a galaxy away (pardon my pun) from their previous software on devices like the S5 from just 2 years ago.
The skin is lighter, stockier (as in more like stock, not fatter) and a lot of the strange fonts and ‘natural’ sounds have been removed and replaced with a sleek and modern looking UI. Samsung UI is not stock, so if you are a stock or nothing fan then the UI may not appeal. However, if you open your mind and evaluate the software you may just find it’s something you can use, and perhaps even like, yes I am taking about a Samsung skin, this is a new Samsung people.
In the end with Android’s customisability, an OEM ROM has 3 components that presently we can’t easily tweak (let’s hope these get broken out like the launcher has been in future builds), the settings menu, the lock screen and the notification shade.
The Settings menu has adopted Samsung’s new font and a lighter aesthetic that looks much cleaner and more modern than even on the S7 range. The cartoon-like look is gone and you are left with an easy to navigate and logically set out menu. Samsung has created thoughtful and useful groupings of settings, most of them following standard UI flow, I rarely had an issue finding a setting on the first go. Once again the design attention Samsung has paid to even the settings menu is obvious and appreciated.
Once again the design attention Samsung has paid to even the settings menu is obvious and appreciated. It is not better than stock settings but importantly it is not worse either. Sure if you’re used to Nexus, or HTC, or brand X’s settings then perhaps you’ll have a learning curve but it will be a visually pleasant and very easy curve to learn.
The lock screen technically starts with the always on display. Thanks to the OLED screen Samsung has a default option for the time, date, battery percentage and notification icons (up to 4) to be displayed on the screen at all times. The claim is this only take 2% of your daily battery charge and is definitely a handy feature.
Jump past the always on display and assuming your fingerprint didn’t unlock the phone or your irises weren’t scanned and you’ll see one of the systems that it looks like Samsung left untouched. It is just a simple lock screen, down the bottom you have a left and right quick launch icon, customisable of course, up top you’ve got the time and date. This is one area I actually wished Samsung had modified the lock screen more. The option to have up to 5 app shortcuts at the bottom of the screen is something I have enjoyed on other ROMS and thing would be a great little power feature for Samsung.
What’s left in the middle? Your notifications of course. The notifications support inline response when the apps support it and look and feels like a standard lock screen.The lock screen has all of the usual security settings for those who wish to ensure their notification privacy.
The notification shade, like the rest of the ROM, has taken a lighter approach. The quick settings have lost their bold circles and you’re left with ‘thinner and lighter’ looking set of icons. Like everything else, it’s not a massive change but it makes a big difference to the overall look and feel of the ROM.
Samsung has also done away with the long press to launch into a setting menu in exchange for a tap on the setting title. This is designated with a ^ next to each title which intuitively tells anyone vaguely familiar with mobile UI design, hey click here it does something.
To reduce space the brightness controls have been dropped down into the second tier quick settings. Of course all of the quick settings are customisable – within a predetermined set of shortcuts. Unfortunately you have to have 3 rows of 5 icons, to be honest that’s about 5 more quick settings than I need. An option to customise this, or even have an uneven amount would be a nice additional feature.
The notification shade itself follows the traditional flow you’ve come to expect. Notifications stack from single apps and can be pulled down individually to expand them, and were supported and allows an inline reply, deletion etc.
To be honest, outside of the number of quick settings Samsung implementation of the notification shade is excellent. I would like more customisation around how many quick settings I have and the ability to have more settings and even apps available as a quick setting, but these things are hardly deal breakers.
The Note 7 comes with a wide array of support apps and software as well as a limited number of 3rd party apps pre-installed, mostly from Microsoft. With, 64GB internal storage whatever was pre-installed simply didn’t put a dint in the memory.
Samsung’s apps like S Health, S Note, S Voice, notes etc have become a mainstay of Samsung devices, and unless you initialise them they won’t interrupt you in any way. It seems Samsung really has been listening to their users.
Too many Samsung users would rely on these apps for them to simply kill them off so by bundling but de-emphasise them seems to be a compromise I can live with.
There is so much to the Note 7 Software that I could easily write a half dozen reviews of some of the included systems. The easy wrap up is Samsung has taken a heavy axe and a light brush in cutting back and rebuilding their apps and overall feel of the OS.
My prejudges may still prefer stock but I’d happily use this software for a long time. The trick for Samsung will be to maintain this lighter approach whilst innovating on the usability and features offered if their latest software is any indication they just might pull that off.
Galaxy Note 7 Performance and Battery
Overall the Note 7 was a great performer, it seamlessly switched between apps and tasks and apart from where network speed affected performance was a lightning fast experience. The real world usability of the device was a good as the best Android phones I’ve used.
For those who like Benchmarks we’ve run the Note 7 through our standard PC Benchmark tests, check out how it fared against the competition.
|Device||PC Mark Score||Battery Life|
|Samsung Galaxy Note 7||5,095 (Exynos 8890)||9h40m|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 (SD 820)||5,860||8h25m|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 (Exynos 8890)||4,793||8h08m|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (Exynos 8890)||4,808||9h06m|
|HTC 10||—||~ 6h *|
|Huawei Nexus 6P||4,380||6h50m|
Overall the performance is near the top of the pack with only the Snapdragon 820 scoring higher. Remember getting a high mark in a benchmark means that device is good at completing the tasks included in that benchmark. In the end, the Exynos 8890 in the Note 7 is a great performer, as is the Snapdragon 820.
The battery life performance was an amazing result. Due to the short time I’ve had the device, and the amount of some AR based game I may or may not have been “testing” I haven’t got a solid impression of the Note 7’s battery performance as yet.
Unfortunately due to the minor disaster my device suffered I wasn’t able to complete my typical daily usage tests. What I can say is that it was feeling that the device would last me from raising to getting back home again. With incidental charging, in the car, office desk etc the device deemed to live at 80% or more thanks to the quick charing support.
Galaxy Note 7 Connectivity
The Note 7 comes with all of the connectivity you could ever want. With dual band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2 LE and the now necessary NFC all present there is nothing missing from a wireless connectivity standpoint.
The big connectivity story is the switch to USB C in the Note 7, if we want this painful period of change from the Micro USB to the USB C standard to be hastened as much as possible than having a big brand like Samsung adopt type C is crucial.
The Note 7 rounds out its connectivity features with not one but two wireless charging standards built in. The device supports both Qi and the PMA standards and includes support for Samsung’s fast wireless charging accessory. We plan to put the fast wireless charger through its paces at a later date.
Galaxy Note 7 Conclusion
By now there should be little confusion as to if I thought the Note 7 was a great device or not. From the overall design, to the mastery of glass engineering to the thoughtful and well-executed redesign of the software everything Samsung has put forward is a well crafted improvement on their legacy, Samsung have redesigned more than just a phone with this offering.
With a device so clearly high quality and able to deliver a consistently good experience the question turns from what compromises does this device have, because honestly unless the Note 7 is too big for you I just don’t see any compromises with the phone, to what do you want them to do next?
From a personal perspective I would love to see a premium Samsung phone with on-screen buttons and a rear touch sensor. I could ask for more software customisations like I listed above. I could even ask for a Google Play edition of the device – completely ignoring that without the Samsung software the camera experience would not be as good. But honestly, I would be happy to use this phone, as is for the foreseeable future, can Samsung make it better? Yes they can, and that’s why I’m already looking forward to the Galaxy S8 release next year.
At $1349 the Galaxy Note 7 is an expensive device, you can get higher end laptops for that price. It’s hard to know if the price is justified. As far as I am concerned this is the best Smartphone, Android or otherwise, on the market today, bar none. However, that distinction comes at a high price tag.
[Update: considering the continuation of issues with the Galaxy Note 7 with recall replacement devices Ausdroid does not currently recommend consumers purchase a Galaxy Note 7 device. If you do have a Galaxy Note 7 phone power it off, and contact Samsung for advice. See our PSA announcement.]
If you can afford the Note 7 then I have absolutely no issues with telling you to go out and get one, they are available on contract all the major Australian Carriers as well as at retail store outright. If you get in early you will also receive a 256GB Samsung SD card taking your total storage above 300GB, that’s a lot of photos, videos and music.
The Samsung Note 7 denotes a line in the sand, a dropping of a gauntlet or another other metaphor you care to conjure. Sure the design may not be for everyone but I think the entire smartphone industry will be forced to step up their game in response to the Note 7 and what ever follows it. For me I think the Note 7 just could be the best Android phone of 2016, we’ll find out in our December wrap up.