Samsung invented the phablet back in 2010 when it revealed the first Galaxy Note. Fast-forward six years later, and the Note series is still going strong. It survived the onslaught of other large smartphones and the birth of Samsung’s Edge series without a hitch, and now, it’s at the top of its game. Based on our limited hands-on time with the phone, the Galaxy Note 7 is the best smartphone Samsung has made in 2016.
It combines the screen size and S Pen of the Note series with the slim body and Edge panel of the Galaxy S7 Edge into one helluva great phone. It really is the best of both worlds. Here are our hands-on impressions.
Samsung took all the lessons it learned from the Galaxy S7 Edge and put them into play on the Note 7. When you hold the Note 7 next to the Note 5, it looks so much smaller, even though the 5.7-inch screen size is the same. The body of the phone is slimmer, sleeker, and more comfortable to hold. Samsung shaved off a couple of millimeters from the Note 5’s width to make the Note 7 nearly as slim as the S7 Edge.
If you thought the S7 Edge was comfortable in your hand, wait until you get your hands on the Note 7. It’s one of the most comfortable phones we’ve ever held. Samsung fused together two identical pieces of curved glass onto the back and front of the device, so that it curves perfectly into your hand – no more sharp edges.
The aluminum frame is super slim on either side of the device, so you barely notice that it’s there — all you feel is the cool curve of glass warming against your hand. The perfect symmetry of the Note 7 adds to comfort, grip, and style. It also looks stunning, especially in the new blue color, which I would almost describe as periwinkle (shh, don’t tell all the men who will love this color).
Of course, you’ll quickly mar the Note 7’s perfect surface with fingerprints. It is still an all-glass phone, so if oily smears bother you, you’ll need a case. The fragility of glass is another matter, especially now that the metal frame is slimmed down; the glass is even more exposed to danger if you drop your phone. We highly recommend you buy a case to keep your Note 7 safe – even if Gorilla Glass 5 is supposedly super strong. Luckily, though it’s fragile, it is waterproof (“resistant” is the technical term) thanks to the IP68 rating.
Regardless of our quibbles about the glass, the Note 7 is a sight to behold, especially in the silver and blue color options, both of which hide fingerprints a bit better than the black one. Sadly, the gold version is not U.S. bound at the moment, because each market only gets three colors.
In terms of specs, the Note 7 is a powerhouse just like the Galaxy S7 series. The Note 7 boasts the same dual-edged Super AMOLED screen as the S7 Edge with a Quad HD 2,560 x 1,440 pixel resolution, but it’s size is 0.2-inches bigger at 5.7 inches.
The new Note is powered by a top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM, just like the S7 Edge, so it should be equally speedy. Samsung did simplify things in terms of storage. You can only buy the Note 7 with 64GB of storage, but it is expandable with a MicroSD card up to 256GB, so you should be fine. Like most recent Samsung phones, the Note 7 supports Samsung Pay.
The same 12-megapixel back camera and 5-megapixel front-facing camera that graced the S7 Edge are present on the Note 7, too. In our S7 Edge review, we found the camera to be just as good if not better than the iPhone 6S Plus’ camera. We have to test the Note 7’s camera to be sure, but since the specs are the same, we expect similarly strong photography from the Note 7.
Rounding out the specs is a 3,500mAh battery, which charges up wirelessly or via a USB Type-C port. The Note 7 is the first Samsung phone to sport a USB Type-C port, and the company even made a new Gear VR headset for it that uses either Type-C or a Micro USB port to connect to your phone.
Security is more important than ever on our phones, so Samsung doubled up on biometrics with the Note 7. It has both a fingerprint sensor and an iris (eye) scanner. You can choose to use either one, both, or neither when you set up the phone. The iris scanner is super fast and we saw it demoed with glasses, so it appears to work around some obstructions. However, we’ll have to test it out to see how well it does in real life. Iris scanners are finicky, after all.
Luckily, the fingerprint sensor is a nearly fail-safe backup if the iris scanner fails. Samsung pointed out that you could use the iris scanner when your hands are wet and the fingerprint sensor can’t read your print.
The iris scanner is also supposed to be more secure and less easy to dupe than a fingerprint scanner, so Samsung put it to work on a new security-focused feature called Secure Folder, which is protected by Knox.
Basically, the idea is that you can put documents, notes, pictures, and even apps into the Secure Folder when you don’t want anyone to see them. The folder uses Knox and encryption to keep your most sensitive data safe. It is locked even when your phone is unlocked, and you have to use the iris scanner or fingerprint sensor to unlock it. It’s easy to remove or add files to the folder.
While most companies that make Android phones have taken pains to tone down or even eliminate the customized user interfaces they put on top of stock Android, Samsung has stuck stubbornly to TouchWiz. Anyone who’s exclusively used a Samsung phone over the past few years has seen a whole lot of TouchWiz and very little Android. There’s nothing wrong with the UI, but it doesn’t look terribly modern and Android purists tend to grimace when they look at it.
Not anymore. Samsung revamped TouchWiz to make it look more modern and polished. The changes are subtle and very tasteful. Honestly, we barely even noticed what was different until we opened the Settings menu. Because we’re total nerds, we literally oohed and ahhed when we saw the changes.
In the new version of TouchWiz, all your settings are tastefully organized on a white background with great pops of color here and there. It’s so beautiful to look at and easy to navigate. After we discovered the new Settings menu, we started poking around the device for more changes.
Beyond a few new apps and Samsung app updates, the biggest visual changes can be seen in the Samsung app icons. Gone are the cartoonish app icons of the past, and in their place are colorful, flat, simple, and attractive icons. They almost look like the kinds of icons you see on iOS, which is to say, they’re works of art in their own regard.
Related: Whip out that S Pen! 6 apps to use with the Galaxy Note 5
The changes to TouchWiz are very welcome, and for once, we’re almost glad Samsung isn’t a fan of Google’s stock version of Android.
Since the Note 7 is technically an Edge phone, too, it has all the same Edge panels as the S7 Edge. You can download new ones from the Samsung app store or just use the app shortcuts, contacts, and other edges Samsung has pre-loaded on the device. The Edge is much more useful than it used to be and we’re glad to see it on the Note 7. It’s a stronger device with both the Edge panels and the S Pen.
Samsung made the stylus cool again with the first S Pen, and the latest one is better than ever. The Galaxy Note 7’s stylus supports 4,096 points of pressure, which is double the amount that most styli offer. That means more pressure sensitivity, so the S Pen will know whether to make a sketchy fine line or a bold strike. Extra accuracy will certainly appeal to artists, but it’s also beneficial to note takers. The pen tip is closer to ballpoint size, too, at 0.7mm. It doesn’t drag, either, so the S Pen slides smoothly across the surface when you’re writing or drawing.
Samsung also made the S Pen water resistant with an IP68 rating, so you can write underwater. Of course, Samsung fully understands that you won’t go scuba diving with your Note 7 to sketch some coral, but you may need to use the S Pen when it’s raining or your fingers are damp.
Other new features include the ability to pin notes to the Always-on display for quick access, create scrollable notes, make and share GIFs with Smart Select, translate text into 38 languages with Air Command, open a magnifying glass to increase text size up to 300 percent, and click a single button to erase. All of these features take the S Pen to the next level.
Finally, there’s an improved S Notes app, which houses all you S Pen creations in a searchable, simple app. You can create new notes right in the app instead of having to pop your S Pen in and out to conjure the Notes app. When you create a new note, you get several options, including one for artists, which now supports color blending, so that your paintings look more like real oil paintings.
You can even share your creations in the Pen Up social community for S pen artists. Apparently, PenUp has been around for a while, but Samsung is actually highlighting it now with a cool new app icon on your home screen.
The S Pen has always been my favorite Note feature, but now it’s better than ever.
The Galaxy Note 7 looks like a very promising device. It is as beautiful as the S7 Edge, but it’s as functional as every other Note before it. The Note series is one of our personal favorites and we’re glad that Samsung is folding the Edge into the Note. It makes for a truly unique and well-rounded device. Obviously, we can’t pass much judgment on the Note 7 yet, so stay tuned for our full review.
Samsung hasn’t divulged pricing info at the time of writing, but here is the info on how to get your hands on the latest Note.
In America, the Galaxy Note 7 will be available in Blue Coral, Silver Titanium, and Black Onyx. You’ll be able to pre-order one at AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless stores on August 3, but the Note 7 won’t hit stores until August 19. It’ll also be available at Best Buy, Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, Car Toys, Sam’s Club, Target, and some Walmart stores.
Samsung also has a new deal for those who buy a Galaxy Note7 or Galaxy S7 Edge. You can get a free Gear Fit 2 or a Samsung 256GB memory card. We personally recommend the Gear Fit 2, which we considered better than a Fitbit in our review.