Samsung's Galaxy Note phones have always taken the successful elements of the Galaxy S line, made them bigger, and added a pen. This year, that's a great idea: The Samsung Galaxy S7 has been a smash hit, with high-quality, crowd-pleasing features. But with the Galaxy S7 Edge nearly matching the Galaxy Note 7 in size, what does the Note have to differentiate itself? The S Pen, for sure, but also a range of waterproof features that I find really interesting.
Sizing Things Up
With its 5.7-inch, Quad HD screen, the Galaxy Note 7 is bigger than the 5.5-inch Galaxy S7 Edge, but not by much. It measures 6.0 by 2.9 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.0 ounces, which is only a few hairs larger than the Edge (5.9 by 2.9 by 0.3 inches, 5.5 ounces). And like the Edge, it has a dual-curved glass screen on a glass-and-metal body. The glass is now Gorilla Glass 5; this may be the first phone with Corning's latest glass technology.
Specs largely remain the same as the Galaxy S7. Here in the US, the Note 7 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a 3,500mAh battery. Samsung has also confirmed that the 12-megapixel rear and 5-megapixel front cameras are they same as in the S7. The phone is waterproof and dunkable, has a microSD memory card slot, and you can move apps to the SD card if you want.
Taking a Dip
Let's talk about the IP68-rated waterproofing for a minute, because there are actually a bunch of features that work in tandem here. Even on waterproof phones, a wet phone or wet fingers can make the touch screen and fingerprint sensor unusable. But the Note 7 can also use an iris scanner for authentication, which works when the phone is wet, and the S Pen lets you scribble on the screen or use it when the phone is underwater. It's probably the best phone for wet environments we've seen yet.
This is also the first major Samsung phone with a USB-C port on the bottom (unlike the Motorola Moto Z Force Droid, it still has a headphone jack). That means you may need new accessories. Samsung has a new, USB-C Gear VR headset, as well as some USB-C external batteries you can see in the slideshow below. The new Gear VR has thicker padding around the face, longer straps, and a flatter touchpad that allows for freer movement within VR games.
Samsung's Android, Not Google's
The Galaxy Note 7 runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with a presumed but not firmly promised Android 7.0 update. Samsung's software customizations remain heavy as ever, though some changes make various screens simpler to use. For instance, you can swipe down in the camera to flip between the front and rear cameras, and the Wi-Fi toggle in Quick Settings lets you select a network. You can also tune the Power Saver settings in precise ways, like lowering screen resolution but keeping location awareness on if you want to squeeze out the best battery life for Pokemon Go.
Samsung has consolidated its four gallery and memo-taking apps into one new memo and drawing app, which is a central hub for your S Pen activities. That's long overdue (what was the difference between Action Memo and S Note anyway?), but unfortunately, Samsung did away with the ability to sync with Evernote, which means pro-level note takers are going to be a bit frustrated. Fortunately, the S Pen works in the Evernote app.
The new S Pen feels a lot like last year's, although the tip is narrower (at 0.7mm) and feels like it has more friction. According to Samsung, it now has twice the pressure sensitivity of the Note 5's pen, with 4,096 levels. That's good. Hovering it over the screen lets you translate languages, magnify screen elements, and even create animated GIFs from videos, which are all nice tricks. And as mentioned earlier, it works underwater! But the biggest, best change, is simple: If you try to put the pen into the phone backwards, it doesn't damage anything.
Using the Note 7 for half an hour, I didn't feel huge differences from the Note 5—or, for that matter, from the S7 Edge. But Samsung has fixed some of the niggling annoyances about the Note 5. As we saw with the Galaxy S7, people really like a microSD card slot and waterproofing, and those changes are only improved here by the Note 7's other water-friendly features and Samsung's new 256GB microSD cards. Would I like to have seen a Snapdragon 821 processor? Sure, but the 820 is still the gold standard in terms of speed, as well as modem and Wi-Fi performance.
The Note 7 will come to all of the major US carriers with pre-orders starting August 3, and sales on August 19. As part of a launch promotion, Note 7 buyers will get either a Gear Fit2 fitness tracker or a 256GB microSD card with the phone. As with the S7, each carrier's version will likely be slightly incompatible with the other carriers. Samsung hasn't announced prices or a timeframe for an unlocked model in the US, but check back for more information and a full review soon.