Samsung Galaxy Note7: Hands-on Impressions

Another year, another Samsung phablet flagship launch. The Galaxy Note series has long been the iconic choice for big phone enthusiasts. After the relatively confusing mix of brand-new redesign and removed features in the Galaxy Note5, does the newly-announced Galaxy Note7 represent a step forward in every way? On August 3, Samsung invited What’s a Geek to answer just that question at their local Unpacked event in SM Aura.

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After an absolute deluge of leaked images, renders, and rumored specs, we finally know what the newest Note phone will be packing under the hood. Let’s get that spec sheet out of the way to have everyone on the same page.

OS Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow)
Network LTE Cat.12 / LTE Cat.10 / LTE Cat.9
Dimension 153.5 x 73.9 x 7.9mm, 169g
SoC Octa core (2.3GHz Quad + 1.6GHz Quad), 64 bit, 14 nm process
Memory 4GB RAM (LPDDR4), 64GB (UFS 2.0)
Display 5.7” Quad HD Dual edge Super AMOLED

2560 x 1440 (518ppi)

Camera Rear: Dual Pixel 12MP OIS (F1.7), Front: 5MP (F1.7)
Battery 3,500 mAh, Fast Charging on wired and wireless

Wireless Charging compatible with WPC and PMA

Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), MIMO(2×2) 620Mbps,

Bluetooth® v 4.2 LE, ANT+, USB Type-C, NFC,

Location (GPS, Glonass, Beidou)

Right off the bat we see that the Galaxy Note7 is shipping with Android Marshmallow out of the box. No surprise, given that the S7 did the same, and previous-generation flagships have gone ahead and gotten the upgrade.

We also see that the SoC in use is identical to that found in the local version of the Galaxy S7, the Exynos 8890. The amount of RAM remains the same as well. It used to be the case that Note phones represented a CPU upgrade over the smaller S phones, but that changed with last year’s Galaxy Note5, and it appears that Samsung has decided to maintain performance parity between the two lineups.

Storage enthusiasts will be excited to learn that the Galaxy Note7 heralds the return of microSD storage (with support for 256GB microSD cards) after its very noticeable removal in last year’s S6 and Note5. The Note7 will also be shipping with 64GB of internal storage, which is certainly more than enough for many users by itself. While the Galaxy Note7 does not appear to work with Marshmallow’s Adoptable Storage feature from the menu settings, it shouldn’t be too hard to make it work just like the quick S7 hack.

The battery has gotten a sizable upgrade to 3500mAh, up from the Note5’s 3020mAh. The latter device was already very long-lasting to begin with, so this big new battery is a huge selling point in a time when smartphone enthusiasts are practically tethered to outlets or bulky power banks for their daily needs. We still lament the lack of a removable battery, but this greater capacity should make up for it.

The introduction of USB Type-C means that Samsung has finally shed the microUSB port that it’s had on flagships since the very beginning, with the exception of the Note 3’s one-off attempt at USB 3.0. This means that the phone will charge faster than ever, thanks to higher power delivery standards on Type-C, and should also allow for faster data transfer.

In a very welcome addition, the Galaxy Note7 features IP68 waterproofing, which indicates that the phone is dustproof, and capable of surviving immersion in up to 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes.

Now, on to the Note7 itself!

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The first thing to, *ahem*, note, is that the new Galaxy Note7 looks like the S7 Edge, with the gorgeous curved edges subtly tapering off to both sides. We confirmed with Samsung that the Note7 will only be sold in this curved form, without any flatscreen variants to be produced.

Upon further inspection, the total screen size of the Note7 is 5.7 inches, slightly larger than the 5.5-inch S7 Edge, and its curves are also slightly less pronounced than that of the Edge. Subjectively, the phone feels much nicer in the hand than either the S7 Edge or last year’s Note5, being noticeably less slippery. The shallower curves also prevent accidental touches on the sides of the display, a common complaint about the S7 Edge.

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The screen remains the crystal-clear 2560×1440 that the Note phones have had for three generations now, but each iteration brings subtle improvements to an already high-quality base, such as more accurate color reproduction outside of the Adaptive Display mode.

The Galaxy Note7 features the same Always On display technology that Samsung introduced with the S7, allowing the phone to show an image or readout even while locked. It’s gotten an upgrade though, with the new ability to create Screen Off memos with the S Pen without unlocking the phone, and pinning the memo to the Always On screen.

Speaking of the S Pen…

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The new S Pen has inherited the waterproofing of its parent phone, and can even be used while the phone is wet, allowing for the somewhat comical image of taking notes in the shower (but hey, the option exists!). It also feels more natural to use as well, thanks to improved pressure sensitivity and a reduction in the size of the stylus nib to 0.7mm, more accurately reflecting the feel of writing with a real pen.

Here’s an image of the new S Pen side by side with the Note5’s S Pen:

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S Pen comparison: Note5 (left) vs Note7 (right)

With the Galaxy Note7, security is taken to a brand-new level, with the introduction of iris scanning technology. Unlocking the phone is as simple as holding it to your face and aligning your eyes with a pair of onscreen circles. The dark environment of the Samsung Hall was perfect to stress-test this feature, and the Galaxy Note7’s iris scanner passed with flying colors, working in what literally felt like the blink of an eye.

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Samsung Galaxy Note7 iris scanner interface

This feature will work together with fingerprint scanning to help authenticate not only the phone itself, but other apps and services such as PayPal and Samsung Pay.

Also new to the Galaxy Note7’s security toolset is the Secure Folder feature, which provides users with a separate vault in which they can store private information behind their choice of authentication features.

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Note7 camera video sample

The Galaxy Note7 features the same 12MP Dual Pixel camera found on the S7 and S7 Edge. It has easily the quickest autofocus we’ve ever seen even in darker scenarios, as well as stellar low-light performance that is pretty much unparalleled by any other phone on the market.

Some might view the 12-megapixel sensor resolution as a downgrade from the 16M1P that were found even in 2014’s Galaxy Note 4. Rest assured that the improvements in image quality across the board are more than worth the relatively minor reduction in clarity.

In a fascinating note, the Galaxy Note7 will be supporting HDR video streaming. HDR is a new video technology that allows for vastly improved contrast in screen images, but requires both that the media be encoded in an HDR format, and that the display support it. Right now, HDR is a fairly niche product, restricted to a handful of titles on streaming services and a few Blu-Ray devices, and the displays that support it are mostly very expensive flagship televisions, but it’s definitely coming into its own. This is a strong marker for futureproofing on Samsung’s part, and a very welcome one at that.

Is the Samsung Galaxy Note7 a step forward? Absolutely. Brand-new features that greatly improve user experience work together with refinements on existing features to create a solid flagship that has delivered on every front. Is it an incremental step forward rather than a revolutionary jump? That remains to be seen, but there’s every indication that the Note7 leans towards the latter.

The Galaxy Note7 will be released on August 20, in Gold Platinum and Black Onyx color variants, priced at Php 39,990.

 

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The Machine Father
The Machine Father
It is said that the Machine Father was born when his mother swallowed a microcontroller by accident while pregnant. The reality is that he just loves to game, and learned about computers along the way.
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