Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review: The best phablet yet
When it comes to phones with big screens, Samsung’s Galaxy Note range has always reigned supreme, which is pretty impressive given the last Note phone that came to the UK was the Galaxy Note 4 back in 2014. The Note 4’s had a good run, but now it’s time for something new, and its latest phablet, the Note 7, is better than ever.
Taking several cues from this year’s Galaxy S7 range, the Note 7 is arguably one of the most practical phones on the planet. Its trademark S Pen stylus is probably the main reason why you’d choose this over Samsung’s slightly smaller Galaxy S7 Edge, but when the Note 7 also comes with waterproof protection (up to 1.5m of fresh water for 30 minutes), a microSD card slot to expand its already quite sizable 64GB of internal storage up to 256GB, extra security from its fingerprint and iris scanner combo, a colossal 3,500mAh battery and Samsung’s gorgeous curved edge display, you quickly realise that’s not it’s only strength.
Despite measuring 7.9mm at its thinnest point, the Note 7 feels like a chunky slab of technology. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The combination of its curved display and gently rounded sides make it more comfortable to hold than more angular S7 Edge. It’s a shame its glossy front and rear attract fingerprints so readily, but this has been a recurring theme with Samsung’s smartphones ever since it decided to follow in Sony’s footsteps and use glass on both the front and back. Fingerprints aside, it’s a stunning phone, and its metal frame adds that extra touch of class you’d expect from such a high-end handset.
The stylus is tucked away on the bottom right corner. It’s spring-loaded, so you’ll need to push in to release it from its little cubby hole and click it home when you replace it. The phone vibrates when you take it out, too, so you always know when it’s not secure, and an alarm will sound if you accidentally leave it behind.
As with previous Note devices, removing the pen automatically conjures up Samsung’s Air Command wheel on the screen, providing quick, easy access to its myriad of different note-taking tools. You can swap these out for up to six apps of your own, but the default S Pen features do have their uses.
Smart Select and Screen Write let you crop or annotate what’s currently onscreen to share with friends, while Translate – arguably the best new S Pen feature – will translate text for you. Simply hover the pen over the word in question.
It’s a shame there aren’t as many source languages available as target languages – Japanese and Chinese were notably absent from the source list at time of writing, for example – but hopefully, Samsung will keep adding new languages with future software updates.
Magnify uses the stylus’ current position to enlarge a portion of the screen up to 300% to make it more legible, and Glance is the lazy man’s answer to the Recent Apps button. This creates a small thumbnail of the app you’re currently using so you can flick between two different things very quickly. It’s a fraction more convenient than tapping the Recents button, but if you really need to constantly switch between different apps, you’d probably be better off using Samsung’s Split View feature and having both apps open side by side.
Glance aside, most of the dedicated S Pen apps do make good use of the stylus, and the pen itself is brilliant for jotting down the odd scribble. It picks up every pen stroke almost instantaneously, making it feel very quick and responsive, and the screen has built-in palm rejection as well, so you can rest your hand on the screen while you write. There’s no other phone that does this so well, so if the idea of having a portable notebook in your pocket sounds appealing, the Note 7 certainly won’t disappoint.
Another big draw of the Note 7 is its huge 5.7in Super AMOLED display. Its resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 might give it a coarser pixel density of 515ppi compared to its S7 cousins, which both pack the same resolution into smaller 5.1in and 5.5in screens respectively, but the difference in sharpness wasn’t visible to my eyes when I compared them side by side.
As I’ve come to expect from Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology, image quality on the Note 7 is excellent. The screen covers a full 100% of the sRGB colour gamut, and its pure 0.00cd/m2 black levels ensure text remains dark and inky when you’re browsing the web or reading a book. Likewise, with effectively perfect contrast, images have plenty of detail and viewing angles are excellent.
As with most phones, the Note 7 alters its screen brightness levels depending on the level of ambient light; Samsung’s technology is different to most, however, in that it goes into a kind of “overdrive” mode in really high ambient light conditions, boosting the brightness above normal levels.
I tested this by shining a bright torch directly at the phone’s light sensor. Here, the screen’s peak brightness jumped from its usual maximum of 363cd/m2 (the maximum when in manual brightness mode) right up to 489cd/m2, giving it near-IPS levels of brightness. This is extremely handy when you’re outdoors and need that extra boost to combat glare, and it makes it a lot more versatile than other AMOLED displays.
Even better, when I ran the same test using a smaller patch of white, the brightness maxed out at around 872cd/m2, which is an incredible result for this type of screen technology. It’s by far the highest level I’ve ever recorded, and it means that lighter parts of the screen will truly shine if you’re looking at images or videos outdoors.
The Always On Display makes a welcome return as well, allowing you to see the time, date and notification icons onscreen even when the phone is locked or in sleep mode. This is useful if all you want to do is find out the time, and it doesn’t use a lot of battery, either, as Samsung’s Super AMOLED screen technology means it only illuminates the pixels it needs rather than the entire backlight like IPS-based displays.
Samsung’s Note phones have always had excellent battery life, but the Note 7 takes it to a different level entirely. With the screen brightness set to our usual measurement of 170cd/m2, the Note 7’s 3,500mAh battery lasted an astonishing 21hrs 57mins in our continuous video playback test, which is the longest I’ve ever recorded by quite some margin. The only other phone to even come close is the Galaxy S7 Edge, which lasted 18hrs 42mins under the same conditions.
With this kind of stamina, you could easily stretch to two days of use before you need to recharge the Note 7. Just bear in mind that the Note 7 has a USB-C port rather than a standard micro USB connection, so you may need to take your charger and plug with you when you’re away from home.
In addition to the front-facing fingerprint reader, the Note 7 also comes with an iris scanner. This is arguably more secure than a fingerprint reader, as no one can replicate your own eyes and the unlocking procedure doesn’t leave any marks on the phone – unlike your mucky fingerprints. It’s surprisingly quick once it locks on, too, with the whole process taking only a couple of seconds.
It warns you during the initial setup that people who wear glasses or contacts might have trouble using it, but as a contact lens wearer myself, it only failed to recognise me twice throughout my entire testing period. Tests on a glasses-wearing colleague were less successful, with the scanner failing roughly 50% of the time.
If you’re not particularly fussed about the stylus or iris scanner, then you might be better served by the Galaxy S7 Edge, as both phones (along with the regular S7) share exactly the same internal hardware. Armed with an octa-core 2.3GHz Exynos 8890 processor and 4GB of RAM, the Note 7 is every bit as fast as its S7 cousins, posting scores of 2,114 and 6,175 in Geekbench 3’s single and multi-core tests.
It’s extremely zippy in everyday use, and web browsing didn’t pose any problem whatsoever. It breezed through our gaming tests as well, rendering 2,545 frames in the GFX Bench GL offscreen Manhattan 3.0 test for an average of 41fps. Again, this puts it on par with the rest of the S7 family, and it handled everything from Hearthstone to Threes! without any problem.
It’s worth bearing in mind that you’ll get better performance from smartphones with Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chips inside them, such as the OnePlus 3, but the Note 7 shouldn’t disappoint.
Another common feature between the Note 7 and S7 family is its rear 12-megapixel camera. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as the S7 and S7 Edge already have one of the best snappers on the market.
As you’d expect, image quality was nigh on identical. My outdoor shots were rich, punchy and full of detail, and indoor shots had plenty of crisp definition, even in low light. Up close, you can see Samsung’s noise reduction processing in action – plain backgrounds tended to look a little bobbly in places – but on the whole, I had few complaints.
^ Just like the S7 and S7 Edge, the Note 7’s capable of producing some excellent shots
^ Indoor performance was good, too, with bright, rich colours and lots of fine detail
To see how this compares with this year’s other top flagships, make sure you read our smartphone camera shootout article which puts the Galaxy S7 (and by definition the Note 7), HTC 10 and LG G5 head to head.
There’s no denying the Note 7 is a brilliant phone. It’s fast, has an incredible battery life, the camera is excellent, and the new S Pen gives it that special extra something to set it apart from everything else. However, that excellence does come at significant cost. Contracts start from at least £50-per-month if you don’t want to pay anything upfront. That could drop to £38-per-month if you’re willing to pay £150 upfront with Three, for example (bear in mind you get £50 back in the form of an Amazon gift card), but that’s still a sizable sum of money.
If you’re not fussed about the stylus, then I’d recommend the S7 Edge instead, as that still looks fantastic and shares many of the same great traits as the Note 7. Its battery life might not be quite as good, but it’s still one of the best I’ve ever seen. The S7 Edge is also cheaper, with contracts starting at around £36-per-month without any upfront cost. If money’s no object, though, and all you want is the latest and greatest smartphone, it doesn’t get any better than the Galaxy Note 7.
Processor: Octa-core 2.3GHz Samsung Exynos 8890, Screen Size: 5.7in, Screen resolution: 2,560×1,440, Rear camera: 12 megapixels, Storage (free): 64GB (52.8GB), Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Dimensions: 154x74x7.9mm, Weight: 169g, Operating system: Android 6.0.1
Source: Software – ExpertReviews.co.uk