Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Review
Samsung’s latest Note seriously blurs the line between its S and Note premium phones, providing an experience that’s exceptional, if not entirely affordable.
Update: Samsung has removed the Note 7 from sale entirely following issues with its battery charging that could cause phones to catch fire. If you're in possession of a Note 7, you should return it to your place of purchase for a full refund and consider one of the Note 7 premium large-screen alternatives. We've left the review below to show where the Note 7 stood in the comparative smartphone rankings, but it's no longer an available option.
Ever since its inception, the Samsung Galaxy Note has been the "sensible" offering in Samsung’s premium phone line. If you wanted glitz and glamour, you purchased the Galaxy S phones. Galaxy Note phones also stood out because they tended to benefit from a small specifications bump over the premium S phones that preceded them.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (or Galaxy Note7 if you really must) changes that dynamic pretty markedly, grabbing style notes from the excellent Galaxy S7 Edge while retaining that slightly more work-centric focus. As such, it’s meant to hook in existing Note aficionados as well as a more fashion-centric crowd.
Also, if you think you’re going nuts and can’t work out what happened to the Note 6, given that last year’s model was the Note 5, you’re not alone. The Note 6 doesn’t exist, but the Galaxy Note 7 does, and Samsung will sell it in Australia from 19 August 2016 for an outright price of $1,349.
|Samsung||Galaxy Note 7|
|Processor||Octa core (2.3GHz Quad + 1.6GHz Quad)|
Upsides: Why you’d want the Samsung Galaxy Note 7
- No longer boxy, but still good: The biggest visual change in the Note 7 compared to the Note 5 is that the squared-off sides of the previous version have been replaced with gently curving edges on both sides of the phone. Rather than looking like the boxy productivity Note models of old, it’s a more contemporary style that’s genuinely more pleasant to look at.
- Waterproofing: The Galaxy Note 7 is IP68 rated for both the body of the phone and the S-Pen stylus. Technically that means it’s capable of surviving at up to 1.5m of water depth for up to 30 minutes. Remember that’s a lab rating based on fresh water, not a warranty to take the Note 7 into the bath with you, or run it through the washing machine. Certainly it can take a splash or a dip, and while the use cases for the S-Pen in full immersion seem somewhat niche, it does mean you can scrawl notes on the always-on display in the rain. We did have to fake some rain with a tap to do this, but it does work if you need the functionality.
- Great performance: The Galaxy Note series is meant to be all about performance, and the Note 7 doesn’t disappoint on this score, grabbing itself a solid position in the current pantheon of premium smartphones. Here’s how it performs against a range of current premium handsets in Geekbench 3’s benchmark test.
Handset Geekbench 3 Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 3 Multi Core (higher is better) Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 2169 6446 Samsung Galaxy Note7 2191 6395 Huawei P9 1736 6357 Samsung Galaxy S7 2156 6240 Huawei Mate 8 1738 6092 LG G5 2305 5243 Sony Xperia X Performance 1988 5198 Sony Xperia Z5 2076 5165 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ 1492 4893 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge 1324 4626 Google Nexus 6P 1251 4597 Samsung Galaxy S6 1347 4569 HTC One X9 892 4558 Apple iPhone SE 2538 4455 Apple iPhone 6S 2540 4410 Apple iPhone 6S Plus 2491 4391 HTC 10 1942 4191
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 acquits itself well in 3D gaming too. Here’s how it stacks up in 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test:
Handset 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result LG G5 29597 Apple iPhone SE 29276 Samsung Galaxy S7 28903 Samsung Note7 28646 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 28402 Apple iPhone 6s 28171 HTC 10 27392 Sony Xperia X Performance 26125 Google Nexus 6P 24703 Sony Xperia Z5 19197 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus 17981 Huawei Mate 8 17947 HTC One X9 16877
Benchmarks are only part of the overall performance story, but real world use does back up the Galaxy Note 7’s test speeds. In our anecdotal testing the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 rarely missed a step, even outperforming the largely similar Galaxy S7 Edge in some instances. Premium phones are being increasingly squeezed by the quality of mid-range handsets, so they really do need to stand out from the pack.
- Great battery life: Running a large high definition screen and fast processor takes its toll on your battery. Samsung throws a 3500mAh battery into the Note 7, and it’s a very capable unit. From a purely anecdotal perspective a single day’s heavy use is entirely feasible, and it’s even conceivable that you could get two full days of use out of the Note 7 if you went easy on it. That’s not our style, but it’s clearly feasible. In more comparable benchmark terms, the Note 7 also sits in the top pack of premium phones for battery life. Here’s how it compares using Geekbench 3’s battery test with screen dimming enabled:
Handset Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration Geekbench 3 Battery Score Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 11:55:00 7150 Huawei Mate 8 11:14:40 6659 Samsung Galaxy Note7 11:02:20 6623 Sony Xperia X 10:40:40 6406 Samsung Galaxy S7 10:01:20 6013 Samsung Galaxy Note 5 9:18:00 5580 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ 8:24:10 5041 Apple iPhone 6S Plus 7:48:10 4681 LG G5 7:36:10 4561 iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case 7:21:10 4407 HTC 10 6:54:30 4145 Sony Xperia X Performance 6:46:51 4068 Apple iPhone SE 4:27:10 2671 Apple iPhone 6s 3:52:10 2321
- Fast and easy-to-use camera: The optics in the Galaxy Note 7 aren’t that much different from those found in the Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S7 Edge, and that was already one of our favourite smartphone cameras of 2016. Samsung has only really tweaked around the edges, adding swipe gestures for accessing filters, video or the front-facing selfie camera on the Note 7. We’d love to see a proper shutter button on one of Samsung’s phones, but at least it has kept the double-tap on the home button to quickly launch the camera
- Improved S-Pen: If you ask Samsung, the S-Pen is the key selling point of the Galaxy Note series. With the Note 7, Samsung’s tweaked away the "wrong way around" problem that plagued the Note 5’s S-Pen. It’s thinner and has a smaller tip, which gives it a slightly more natural feel when writing on the screen. This still isn’t a paper feeling, as you’re well aware that you’re sliding across glass, but it does add precision. New features such as Scroll Capture and pinning notes to the always on display give the S-Pen more of a feeling of genuine utility though, compared to previous years where many Note users may have opted for the phone for the screen size alone.
- Retina scan to unlock: There’s something undeniably cool about unlocking your phone with your eyes. It’s not just a parlour trick either, as there have been instances during testing where flicking to select the PIN/Retina option was faster and easier than using the fingerprint reader. We can neither confirm nor deny that we hummed the theme from Mission Impossible while doing so.
- USB C adaptors included: This is a super-smart move on Samsung’s part. One of the big issues with USB C phones has been that they’re still fairly thin on the ground. As such, if your phone starts going flat and everyone else only has microUSB chargers nearby, you’re out of luck. The Note 7 ships with both USB C to USB A and USB C to micro USB adaptors, meaning that it’s trivial to connect it up to just about anything, whether for power purposes or data transfer.
Downsides: Why you might not want the Samsung Galaxy Note 7
- S-Pen translate is terrible: Making your own animated GIFs is cool for a while, but it’s a very niche function. That we can live with, but one of the S-Pen’s lauded functions, being able to translate between languages, is borderline unusable. It relies on Google’s Translate feature, which means you must have an Internet connection to utilise it. Where it ends up being functionally useless is that it only translates a single word at a time. By the time you translate that "Wrong Way Go Back" sign in Estonian on the Note 7, the truck will have already flattened you.
- Retina scan is hit and miss: The idea of being able to unlock your phone with your eyes has some serious appeal. When retina scan works it’s lovely, because you only have to swipe right and line up your eyes to unlock. When it doesn’t, it’s frustrating, whether it’s because you’re wearing glasses, or your eyes are more or less closed due to sunlight, tiredness or the existing shape of your eyes in the first place.
- EDGE UX still lacks meaning: Samsung has been slowly iterating on the Edge UX found on the Note 7, as well as previous curved edge phones. There’s nothing functionally wrong with having a slide out tray of contacts, apps and other information panels, but as yet, nobody’s come up with a use case where doing so is actually more efficient than a standard app or widget. Indeed, having the Edge UX enabled can be a real pain in some situations: if you accidentally touch the edges of the phone, the app and the UX can occasionally have a little battle over who has supremacy. There’s the core of a decent idea in the Edge UX, but Samsung needs to come up with some kind of solid reason why it’s better, not just present.
- The S7 Edge may be better: Previous Notes have essentially been that year’s Galaxy S/Edge phones on slight steroids. It’s not quite the case for the Note 7, however, because while it’s a great phone, the S7 Edge beats it in every one of our benchmark tests. So you might deem it a question of taste, were it not for the fact that it’s already possible to score a Galaxy S7 Edge for under $1,000. The Note 7, being brand new, sits at a $1349 price point with the same feature set and slightly worse (but not bad) battery life. As such, you might just be paying that extra cash purely for the S-Pen functionality. Based on existing Note user habits, that might be too much to pay.
- No cobalt blue for Australia: Samsung produces the Galaxy Note 7 in four colour finishes. White, blue and silver are officially available in Australia, but not the sexy and definitely differentiated cobalt blue finish. What’s the story, Samsung? Haven’t you heard of being True Blue?
- Slippery, even when not wet: An increasing trend in premium phones is the inclusion of smooth sides and backs to give them a refined feel. That you do get, but along with it comes the worrying sensation of the Galaxy Note 7 sliding out of your hands. Given the asking price, a case for the Note 7 would be a very sensible buy.
- It’s not exactly inexpensive: The Galaxy Note 7 continues the trend of quite high priced smartphones, retailing at $1,349 outright. Yes, the iPhone 6s Plus 128GB is even more expensive, but that big bucks price tag might be enough to put you off the Galaxy Note 7 straight away.
Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?
If you look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 as an evolution of the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, it’s easily a better device in every respect. Anyone coming from, say, the Note 4 or earlier would find the Note 7 an immense upgrade in speed, functionality and battery life. The stumbling block for the Note 7 as an outright proposition is that outright $1349 asking price.
Another member of the Samsung Galaxy family already offers many of the same functions and performance points as the Galaxy Note 7. The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is less expensive for only a small dip in screen size and the lack of S-Pen functionality, but if the Note 7 entices you and you rarely use the S-Pen, it’s well worth considering.
In the premium large screen space, you could also consider Huawei’s Mate 8, which is markedly less expensive than the Galaxy Note 7. On the iOS side of the fence the obvious comparison phone at the time of writing is the iPhone 6s Plus, which (if you opt for the 128GB version) is actually even more expensive than the Note 7. The 6s Plus would be a poor outright buy right now, however, with its replacement, tentatively the iPhone 7 expected to be launched within the next month.
Where can I get it?
Short answer is that you can't. Not anymore, anyway – after being recalled, then replaced, and then recalled again, Samsung has stopped selling the Note 7. That's probably for the best – experiencing the thrill of an exploding phone probably isn't a great idea. But Samsung's Galaxy S7 Edge is probably the closest device to the Note 7 in terms of specs and performance (although it doesn't offer a stylus). If you want to grab the S7 Edge on contract, here are the plans you should be considering: