Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review

Samsung's latest phablet leaves its rivals standing

Editor's Choice
  • Best-in-class battery life; Elegant design; Strong productivity features
  • Expensive; Iris scanner has problems with glasses

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is the company's long-awaited return to the phablet market. While Samsung released the Note 5 last year, it only did so in certain territories, much to the dismay of productivity gurus and power-users worldwide.

Thankfully, however, the company is releasing the Note 7 globally. This is great news for Note fans.

There's even better news too: Having spent some hands-on time with the device, we feel that not only is the Galaxy Note 7 the best Note device Samsung has ever released, it might just be the best smartphone the company has made to date. Read on for our full review...

Design

At this point, Samsung's design chops are more than proven, but the Note 7 feels like the pinnacle of the company's smartphone design to date. It's effectively identical to the Galaxy S7 Edge, aside from the fact that it's now perfectly symmetrical the front and back.

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In theory, this doesn't make much of a difference, but in reality the Note 7 feels much more comfortable in the hand than the S7 Edge, which occasionally feels like it's liable to slip out of your hands. The gently rounded edges, by contrast, also feel much more secure.

What's most interesting, however, is how similar the two devices feel. While the Note 7 is slightly bigger than the S7 Edge (which isn't exactly small to begin with), the two devices feel almost identical in terms of size and weight. What's more, using the Note 7 doesn't come with nearly as much of the uncomfortable thumb-stretching that we've come to associate with phablets.

This could be because larger phones have now become commonplace, but the fact that such a massive device doesn't feel uncomfortable or unweildy is incredibly impressive nevertheless.

The glass front and back do have an unfortunate tendency to pick up fingerprints, but that's hardly the end of the world. Our unit came in silver, but we admit to having a covetous eye on the sleek new Blue Coral version as well.

Performance and battery life

The Note range used to be for power users that wanted a little extra 'oomph' out of their smartphone. As such, Note devices have traditionally had a little more under the hood than the flagship Galaxy S phones.

This is no longer the case. In fact, the Note 7 and the Galaxy S7 are basically identical on a component level. They've got the same 4GB of RAM, and the same octacore Exynos 8890 CPU. The only discernable difference is that Samsung has upped the storage for the Note 7, opting for a basic level of 64GB rather than 32GB.

The upshot of this is that the Note 7 is no more or less capable in terms of performance than the S7 was. While it's tempting to look at this as a bad thing, it's also worth bearing in mind that the S7 remains one of the best-performing devices on the market, and both the S7 and the Note 7 are consistently blazing fast. We didn't notice any stuttering or slowdown, even when flipping between multiple high-intensity apps and with background processes running. The Note 7 is capable of coping with anything even the most demanding power user can throw at it.

One area where the Note 7 does beat its stablemate is in battery life. Despite actually having a smaller capacity than the S7 Edge, the Note 7's 3,500mAh cell held out for a mind-boggling 21hrs 57mins in our battery benchmarks, beating out the S7 Edge by more than three hours.

That's the best battery life we've ever seen on a phone. That's a claim backed up by real-world testing too as we rarely needed to charge it midway through the day. If you do need to, however, the Note 7 has a USB Type C port and fast-charging, meaning it's quick and easy to juice up. Samsung has even included a microUSB adapter, so you can also use all your old cables with it.

Display

The Note 7's fitted with a 5.7in screen. It's 0.2in larger than the Galaxy S7 Edge, but - as noted above - the difference in size is hardly noticeable in terms of practicality. At the same time, however, it definitely feels like you have more screen real estate to play with and using multiple apps in split-screen mode feels a lot less cramped than on the S7.

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Elsewhere, it's got the same curved screen as the S7 Edge and the same 1,440 x 2,560 QHD resolution. The increased screen size means that it takes a negligible dip in PPI, but even the most eagle-eyed graphics nut would be hard-pressed to spot the difference.

Samsung's Super AMOLED technology remains on top form, too. Colour accuracy and contrast are both perfect, and the maximum brightness has also been seriously boosted, which is very handy for outdoor use in direct sunlight.

S Pen stylus

The thing that sets Samsung's Note range apart from other phablets is the S Pen stylus, used to make notes or scribble a quick drawing. The company has been working with graphics tablet specialists Wacom and, as a result, the S Pen is now better than ever.

It has more than 4,000 levels of pressure sensitivity, which means it's as smooth and fluid is you could hope for, and writing is precise and responsive. There's also inbuilt palm rejection, which means you can write on it just like you would with a pen using paper.

Jotting down notes with the Note 7 on a desk is absolutely fine, but during our use it felt a bit awkward when holding it, almost as if there wasn't quite enough space to be comfortable.

As with previous Note devices, the S Pen features a bunch of neat touches to make users' lives easier. The Note 7 will vibrate when you take it out of its housing, for example, and will flash up an alert if you're in danger of leaving the S Pen behind without slotting it back into the phone.

In addition to just writing things down, the S Pen also has a range of inbuilt shortcuts to make you more productive. Launched via the Air Command menu, they include magnifying sections of screen up to three times, translating words in text and images, annotating an instant screenshot and cropping out specific sections of the screen, which you can then edit and share.

Combined with the new S Pen, the Note 7 is the most satisfying writing experience we've ever had with a stylus-enabled phablet. It really does make on-the-go note-taking an absolute joy.

Security and iris scanner

Samsung has an excellent reputation when it comes to mobile security, and with good reason. Not only is its KNOX security software trusted for enterprise-grade protection, the company was one of the first to introduce biometric authentication in the form of a fingerprint reader.

Now that fingerprint readers are effectively becoming standard, the company has raised the stakes again, fitting the Note 7 with an iris scanner. The Note 7 requires that you also set up a backup pattern, PIN or password in order to use the biometric authentication, however. This undermines any security benefits that biometric verification may have offered the phone, as criminals can still fall back on these traditional, easily crackable security methods.

It is incredibly convenient, though. You just need to look at the device and it will unlock instantaneously, including with contact lenses. It won't work with glasses though, which is a real shame, as it's one of the Note 7's most interesting features.

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As a side note, there's a cool feature that allows users to add a Snapchat-style overlay to how the iris scanner shows your eyes. It includes a Terminator-style targeting reticle and cutesy animated animal eyes, but Samsung has apparently only enabled it in some territories.

Features and camera

Aside from the S Pen, the Note 7's biggest feature is full IP68 water and dust-proofing. While the S7 reintroduced this level of protection to Samsung's Galaxy S range, this device is the first in the Note series to be fully waterproofed at this level. We tested it out ourselves with several thorough rinses, all of which it survived with no ill effects whatsoever.

Elsewhere, Samsung has added a blue-light filter (similar to Apple's 'Night Mode') to make late-night use easier on the eyes. This is a welcome addition, and one that we're hoping the company brings to its other handsets via a software update.

Samsung's Edge shortcuts are back, having appeared on previous generations of flagship as well as the Note 5. Some people have complained that the Apps Edge and People Edge shortcuts (which let you access your favourite apps and contacts with one swipe) aren't that useful, but we've found ourselves using them on a daily basis, both with the Note 7 and with other Samsung devices.

The Always-On display makes a return too, allowing you to check the time, date and notifications without waking up the screen. The Note 7 also has the added benefit of letting you scribble down notes without waking the screen up, which are saved to the S Pen's notes app.

The Note 7's camera is the same component used in the Galaxy S7, so it's one of the best Android cameras to date straight out of the box. If you want a more detailed rundown of the camera's performance, check out our full Galaxy S7 review, but rest assured that it's still among the best smartphone snappers around.

Verdict

In a lot of ways, the Note 7 feels like the Galaxy S7.5; it's essentially the same phone, but tweaked, refined and sporting a couple of extra features. That's not a bad thing by any means, though, as the S7 is an amazing phone. This, by extension, makes the Note 7 an even better device.

Samsung's latest phablet is packed with features, comes with top-of-the-line hardware and blistering performance, and has the best battery life we've ever seen. More impressively, it packs all of this into a form factor that comfortably fits into both the pocket and the hand.

This all comes at a fairly steep premium though, so if you're watching the pennies you might want to go for the slightly more affordable Galaxy S7. If you're after the absolute bleeding edge of smartphone technology, however, you won't be disappointed with the Note 7.

It's Samsung's best phone yet in terms of design, battery life and productivity, and even with the launch of the iPhone 7 just around the corner, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is looking like a very strong contender for phone of the year.

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NB: As of 2 September, the Galaxy Not 7 is not on sale in the UK or anywhere in the world due to a product recall, following several Note 7 batteries catching fire or exploding. More information on this and other Note 7 news can be found on our dedicated page.

Verdict

Samsung's latest phablet has top-flight performance and battery life, with heaps of productivity features - and it's all squeezed into a sleek, attractive package that's as comfortable in the hand as anything we've tested.

Display5.7in Super AMOLED, 2,560x1,440  
CPUOcta-core 2.3GHz Samsung Exynos 88
RAM4GB
Battery3,500mAh
Storage64GB (expandable)
Port typeUSB Type C
Dimensions154 7.9 x 74mm
Weight169g
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