Galaxy Note 7 review: awesome style and power to get things done

The Galaxy S7 might be the world's top phone, but its big sister turns it up to 11

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For

  • A total powerhouse
  • Superb screen
  • YES USB-C

Against

  • Highly droppable
  • Fingerprint magnet
  • Early for iris tech

We've got the Note 7 and we're loving it (mostly). We've updated this review with our initial thoughts and we'll bring you a further revision once we've spent more time with it.

The first time we saw a Galaxy Note was in 2011. And while it’s a bit embarrassing to admit now, we thought it was bloody ridiculous and Samsung was – well, crazy. After all, who needs a 5.3-inch phone?

Well more fool this writer because here we are, five years down the track. And not only does the Note now have an even bigger 5.7-inch screen (unchanged in size since 2014’s Note 4) but we all have massive phones. And we love them.

The Note has always been an interesting device. Originally pitched as being neither a tablet nor a phone, the Note’s key feature has always been the S Pen, which has been further refined with this release. The new Note 7 follows on from the Note 5. There’s no Note 6 because we now have a Galaxy S7, so it makes sense for the Note series to follow the same numbering so it doesn’t appear older than models that sit below it in the range. After all, the Note 7 is Samsung’s very best handset.

The main thing that strikes you about the Note 7 is the screen. The Note 7 is smaller than the iPhone 6S Plus in terms of footprint, yet has a screen that’s 0.2-inches larger. So much of the Note 7’s surface area is taken up by the display. It’s not that the bezels are non-existent, but they are super small. It’s also light - 169g (compared to the 192g of the iPhone 6S Plus). And it's an Edge screen, too, making it super sleek. It feels fantastically smooth in the hand and it makes our current beau, the Nexus 6P, seem weirdly old-fashioned in comparison.

As you can see, the sides are very clean and tidy, with the standard volume and on/off controls.

Of course, slipper handsets do mean they’re more likely to be dropped, and the Note 7 joins the Galaxy S7 in being infinitely droppable because of its Edge display. It is sooooo sleek and slippy and yes, we have dropped it (no harm done). The outer glass is the recently announced Gorilla Glass 5 from Corning.

Here's the handset in both blue coral and black onyx (which we wish we could pronounce).

The phone's outer is a complete fingerprint magnet and the back soon looks like you've spent all day pawing it. Which you probably have.

The first Samsung handset with USB Type-C - the S7 stuck with microUSB - the phone is able to 'adaptive' charge the large 3,500mAh battery. As you can see there are a bunch of adapters in the box. As well as a USB-C cable and charger, you also get a microUSB to Type-C adapter and one from a standard USB-A socket. That's above and beyond and it's a good touch. We haven't got round to testing the in-box headphones as yet, but it's given us renewed hope that Samsung will actually have some headphones that are worth listening to for more than 30 seconds!

Galaxy Note 7 features a Samsung-built Exynos 8890 processor (or a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 in the US and China) so the handset is able to easily handle anything we've yet been able to throw at it. As you can see, the S Pen slots nicely into the bottom right corner alongside the speaker. The headphone socket is more central than it is on many handsets.

Elsewhere, there’s 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage, so pretty much industry-topping specs there. micro SD card capability is included (supporting cards up to 256GB) despite early reports that it wouldn’t be included. The microSD card sits on the same tray as the nanoSIM card, which slots into the top of the handset.

The 3,840 x 1,920 resolution Quad HD Super AMOLED display packs a super 518 pixels per inch and, as with other recent Samsung displays looks absolute pin-sharp. The Note 7 is the first phone with the capability to playback HDR streaming video on board. HDR footage looked great, but we don't think it makes much of a difference on such a small screen. People watch long-form content on phones, of course, but there are normally other lighting considerations, such as reflections and so on. It's not the same effect as if you're sat on the sofa watching an HDR TV.

The S Pen is a stylus. There’s no getting away from it. Inititally it seemed like a bit of a gimmick, but it's become a useful tool for many - rather like Apple Pencil has become alongside the iPad Pro. As before, you can convert handwriting to text, access shortcuts and write memos. Now you can even pin a memo to the always-on display we first saw with the Galaxy S7 – maybe a door code or something else important you need to remember.

The tip has been narrowed from 1.6 to 0.7mm so it’s more like writing with a pen. You can even use it to mix colours on screen so you can more easily paint or sketch with it. We tried mixing colours together. We’ve previously tried this with the Apple Pencil and this time, as before, it’s a weird sensation.

The S Pen does have some new features this time around. You can now create and share GIF animations with Smart Select as well as convert languages by hovering above the text with the S Pen. It is even easier to access the best of the S Pen with Samsung Notes, a new unified app enabling you to jot down handwritten notes, draw, or edit memos from one place.

The whole device is waterproof, following on from the example set with the Galaxy S7. Samsung has had to work hard to get the device protected, because it needed to protect the S Pen and the slot it slides into as well. The device is IP68 rated and, as you can see here, it's perfectly able to stand up to the rigours of immersion.

Samsung has refined the interface so it’s easier to use with the Note 7, especially with one hand, while there’s a Smart Switch app for moving phones - though we didn't use this as Google transferred everything across from our other handset - and Samsung Cloud (with 15GB of free space for all).

Aside from the waterproofing, the Note 7’s headline feature is that it now comes with an iris scanner! It’s great to see awesome tech like this arrive in consumer devices. It works without issue providing you don't wear glasses (it can work with glasses, but it's not recommended) and provided you hold it high in front of your face. Looking down at it doesn't tend to work.

You'll also get blinded each time by the red iris scanner in the top left of the phone. We found that, after a while, the novelty wore off and we weren't using it to unlock our phone that much. After all, holding the phone up in front of your face takes more time than just wiping your fingerprint across the home key to unlock. Or, arguably, taking the time to tap in a four digit PIN.

There’s also a secure folder which can be unlocked with your iris. In the words of Samsung “parents will like it because they’re protected from their kids and kids will like it because they’re protected from their parents!”

This is quite a good video of the iris tech in action:

The Galaxy S7’s camera got a lot of decent reviews, especially in low light. We’re hopeful the Galaxy Note 7 camera can get close to this as it is, essentially, the same unit with 12MP, optical image stabilization and an f/1.7 aperture to let in plenty of light for those dark shots. We'll be testing this over the coming days.

Early verdict

Even though we've only spent a little bit of time with it so far, the Galaxy Note 7 is a masterpiece, like the S7 Edge (our current favourite phone) on steroids. It’s a serious device for serious productivity and should only be considered if you’ll use the S Pen for notes and memos. Otherwise, you're just not using it to its full capability. We'll bring you more details and observations over the coming days - as well as testing out the camera.

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