Galaxy Note 7 review: Samsung nearly achieves smartphone perfection

  • Editors' rating
    9.8 Spectacular

Pros

  • Incredible design and form factor
  • Stunning display with minimal bezels on all sides
  • Fantastic industry-leading camera
  • Water and dust resistant
  • Improved S Pen design and functionality

Cons

  • Back glass scratches easily

This product no longer available.

[Editor's note: Samsung Electronics is permanently ending the production and sales of the Note 7. ]

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is double the price of the latest Chinese-branded offerings, but after 10 days of owning one I think it's worth every penny.

The Note 5 was the best smartphone last year and now we see an improved curved glass design, water resistance, microSD expansion card, and usability improvements such as a blue light filter, accessible settings, and edge panels.

CNET posted its full review of the Note 7 and awarded it a high 9/10 rating.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 octa-core 64-bit
  • Display: 5.7 inch Super AMOLED at 2560x1440 pixels resolution
  • Operating system: Android 6 Marshmallow
  • RAM: 4GB (LPDDR4)
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, MIMO, Bluetooth 4.2 LE, ANT+, NFC, GPS, GLONASS, MST
  • Storage: 64GB UFS 2.0 internal and microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: Dual pixel rear 12 megapixel with f/1.7 aperture and 5 megapixel front facing camera
  • Sensors: Iris scanner, fingerprint scanner, accelerometer, barometer, gyro, and heart rate monitor
  • Battery: 3500 mAh non-removable with fast charging and fast wireless charging technology
  • Water resistance: IP68 water and dust resistance
  • Dimensions: 153.5 x 73.9 x 7.9 mm and 169 grams

see also

10 reasons to buy the Samsung Galaxy S7

A nearly perfect smartphone?

Read More

As you can see, there is nothing missing from the Galaxy Note 7. The only spec that might have been higher is the processor, but we have yet to see any phone launch with the newer Snapdragon processor.

Samsung leads with the fastest available RAM, fastest internal storage, fast wireless charging technology (we haven't seen any other manufacturer implement this yet), and magnetic secure transmission (MST) wireless payment technology. It has also included iris scanner technology, which Microsoft included in the Lumia 950.

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No other company has the advanced stylus functionality of the Note line and in the Note 7 Samsung increased the pressure sensitivity up to 4,096 levels.

Hardware

I was blown away last year by Samsung's new glass and metal designs with curved edges and since then Samsung has continued to improve on this core design. The Galaxy Note 7 is the ultimate Samsung device and while it is hard to describe in words there is something about the flat front and back combined with the new edge design that makes me want to keep the Note 7 in my hand and never put it down.

The Note 7 is symmetrical top to bottom, side to side, and front to back. This balanced design looks great and functions well. There are no side bezels and the screen goes around and over each side. The top and bottom bezels are minimal, making just enough room for the fingerprint scanner, iris scanner, front facing camera, and LED light. The design of the Galaxy Note 7 makes Apple's iPhones with large bezels and wasted space appear outdated.

You can purchase the Galaxy Note 7 in black onyx, blue coral, gold platinum, and silver titanium. I tried the silver color on my S7 Edge, but when I saw that the black model also had black metal around the edges I was sold. It look fabulous and I couldn't be happier. The blue coral one looks interesting and I am a fan of blue, but I figured it would get old after a month so I went with the more conservative black color.

The front and back are Gorilla Glass 5 with a metal edge frame around the entire phone. The front and rear glass transitions nicely into the metal frame. While I loved the Galaxy S7 Edge I did suffer from intermittent screen presses because of the edge design. After about 10 days, I have yet to inadvertently press the display and find the Note 7 much better to hold and use for hours on end.

There have been reports of people experiencing scratches on their Note 7 glass. I baby my phones and only carry them individually, without keys or anything, in my pockets. Thus, I was surprised to find about four small scratches on the lower back of my Note 7. The front remains flawless. I understand Gorilla Glass 5 is designed to provide improved drop protection, but am not convinced it's as scratch resistant as previous versions.

To protect the back, which is also a major fingerprint magnet, I installed a Stormtrooper SlickWraps cover. I don't like screen protectors and with the dual edges I am not sure I would like adding a layer to the Note 7.

The 3.5mm headset jack, USB Type-C port, speaker, and S Pen silo are all found along the bottom. I'm glad that the 3.5mm headset jack remains since I have Bose noise-canceling earbuds and have yet to find any Bluetooth headphones that can rival the quality of a wired headset.

Most Android manufacturers are moving to USB Type-C and the Note 7 is the first Galaxy to launch with this port. I prefer it as you can insert the cable in any direction and it seems to hold more firmly in place.

In order to remove the S Pen, you simply press down on the S Pen top and then pull it out. You could put the Note 5 S Pen in backwards and mess up your device, but Samsung redesigned the S Pen and silo on the Note 7 so you can't put it in backwards. I'm particularly impressed by the fact that Samsung was able to make the phone water resistant with the S Pen silo. You can even write on the display with the S Pen under water.

The new S Pen tip is 0.7 mm, compared to 1.6 mm on the previous model. It also has 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, double what was found in the Note 5. The S Pen is long and feels good in the hand with two flat sides and curved edges, similar to the form of the phone itself.

Hardware home buttons help me improve my efficiency and the one on the Note 7 is perfect. The fingerprint scanner performs flawlessly, even better for me than the iPhone 6s Plus. I've been using the double press to launch the camera and am no longer ever missing a shot. This shortcut alone is a major selling point for me.

Samsung added an iris scanner to the Note 7 in order to provide another security option for customers. You are directed to setup the iris scanner without your glasses or contacts, but since I wear contacts 90 percent of the time I set it up with my contacts in and recognition has been fine. It's slower to unlock your phone with the iris scanner than the fingerprint scanner since you have to swipe the screen and then hold the iris scanner up in front of your face so your eyes can be scanned.

You never have to use the iris scanner, but I'm fine with Samsung adding it as an option for enterprise customers. As I understand it, an iris scanner is more secure because a fingerprint could be lifted from physical things you touch. No one can duplicate your iris and its uniqueness makes it a great security option for your device.

Speaking of the camera, Samsung brings the same fantastic camera hardware as the S7 and S7 Edge with updated software. The camera software is easier to use than before with modes accessible by swiping in from left to right and then choosing a mode which is laid over the top of the viewfinder. You can swipe in from right to left to choose a filter for your image. A swipe up or down on the display switches between the rear and front facing cameras.

The flash next to the camera continues to serve as the heart rate monitor while the S Health software also helps you capture SpO2 and stress.

Software

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 launches with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, not the latest new Android 7.0 Nougat just released last week. Hopefully, we see this update in the next couple of months, but honestly many of the functions seen in Nougat are already present on the Note 7. These include the ability to use two apps on the screen at once, the ability to customize your quick controls, blue light display mode, clear all option in the task switcher, direct reply notifications, and more. The lack of Nougat is not a reason to skip the Note 7.

The settings area has been revamped and is more user friendly while still having a massive amount of customization options to make the Note 7 work how you want it to function.

The T-Mobile Galaxy Note 7 has very few pieces of additional software and T-Mobile even gives you the ability to uninstall the two video apps. You can disable others and a couple others are actually helpful for T-Mobile customers. It helps that Samsung includes 64GB of internal storage as a minimum too.

One major difference from past Note devices is that the Note 7 only comes in an edge version. As a Note 7 Edge user, I'm pleased to see the edge functionality on the device. You can customize the edge panels and the Samsung store has more options that you can purchase and install. I like using the contacts, shortcuts, and Yahoo! Sports edge panels.

The S Pen works similar to how it did on the Note 5, but one function missing is Action Memo. New Note 7 owners quickly noticed this oversight and called out Samsung on it. Samsung recently stated it will add back the Action Memo option in an update that may come later in September.

Screen-off Memo is one of my favorite parts of the S Pen since I tend to have random thoughts and ideas as I am commuting, watching videos, or hanging out. Simply pop out the S Pen and write down your note on the black display.

You can create a Samsung Note with text, handwriting, photos, and voice notes. Parts of the screen can be selected and you can even create GIFs from video content. While capturing content with screen write, you can choose scroll capture when content extends down multiple pages. Display elements can be magnified, you can quickly switch between two apps, and even use the S Pen to translate text from and into multiple languages.

One criticism people had of the always-on display of the S7 and S7 Edge was the limited notification options. Samsung has expanded these to include support for all app notifications, with the control you need to toggle these notifications on and off.

Samsung continues to make serious efforts to offer a secure Android platform for the enterprise. A secure folder option is present on the Note 7 so that you can store documents, photos, videos, and apps in the secure folder to keep things locked behind Samsung Knox.

Samsung Pay is the most widely supported smartphone payment system available and continues to improve with new banks added every month. My bank, USAA, stated it will finally support Samsung Pay in the next month or two and when that happens the Note 7 will be an even more essential tool for my daily needs.

Pricing and competition

The 64GB iPhone 6s Plus is $849 and the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is priced the exact same. Samsung also offers a 256GB microSD card or Samsung Gear Fit 2 to make the deal even sweeter. You cannot expand the storage of your iPhone, but you can easily add a microSD card for serious storage capacity at a lower price.

There is no other competition when it comes to a true phablet that integrates the use of a stylus. Primary large screen flagship competitors include the Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, LG G5, HTC 10, Apple iPhone 6s, and Apple iPhone 6s Plus. The Note 7 has more to offer than all of these.

There are plenty of excellent Chinese-branded smartphones available now in the $400 range, such as the OnePlus 3, Honor 8, Nexus 6P, Axon 7, and more. These $400 phones provide much of the same functionality as the Note 7 and most people probably will be satisfied with one of these. However, I want the best and there really is nothing that beats the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is not an inexpensive phone, but it's priced the same as a 64GB Apple iPhone 6s Plus with the option to add a lot more storage via an inexpensive microSD card. The Galaxy Note 7 offers more innovation and advanced technology than the iPhone. While the masses don't seem to mind paying the high price for Apple's smartphone, I have seen many more Samsung Galaxy phones in the hands of family and friends over the past year and all of these people have told me they love their Samsung phone.

You may have read my Galaxy Note 7 performance post last week where many Note 7 owners, including me, were suffering from some lag and performance issues. I performed a hard reset and chose not to restore settings from Google, apps from other phones, or data from Samsung Cloud and since then have had a flawless experience with the Note 7. If you are seeing performance issues after your initial setup, I highly recommend trying a full hard reset before you return the phone. I'm keeping mine and am very pleased to have finally found a single phone that does it ALL!

In the past, I used the S Pen for a few weeks after purchase, but then would keep it in the silo most of the time. However, I think I'll use the Note 7 S Pen more than ever before because of the improved functionality and a better understanding of what it can do. In addition to all of the S Pen quick actions, the S Pen is a fantastic mouse alternative and I've been using it extensively since I purchased my Note 7.

While many people use their phones for email, texting, and social networking, these are still phones first where communications are important. The Galaxy Note 7 call quality has been outstanding with HD voice support, excellent favorites page, informative contact status pages, and easy one button (or no button if you have raise to call setup) calling from within the text message application.

The display is very important to the smartphone experience and an independent third party, DisplayMate, has awarded the Galaxy Note 7 the best smartphone display ever. It's stunning to watch video content, play games, and enjoy VR content on the new Gear VR.

Adding water resistance to the Note 7, in addition to the return of the microSD card, are important upgrades to me. I use my phone everywhere and am often in wet environments where water resistance is essential. The Note 7 gives me absolutely everything I want in a smartphone and sets the bar for all others once again.

Update (2 September 2016)

Samsung to halt Galaxy Note 7 sales and replace phones following battery explosions

Update (11 October 2016)

Samsung ends Galaxy Note 7 production and sales, for good

Specifications

Cellular
Technology CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS)
Type Smartphone
Integrated Components audio player, front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation BeiDou, GLONASS, GPS, Galileo
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900 / CDMA2000 1X 1900/800
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, MetroPCS
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 6.0 Marshmallow
SIM Card Type nano SIM
Input Device Multi-touch
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, proximity sensor, barometer, gyro sensor, hall sensor, RGB sensor, heart rate, geomagnetic sensor
Additional Features TTY compatible, software updates FOTA (Firmware Over The Air), multitasking, S Pen multi-input, Noise Cancellation Technology, Multi Window, MIMO technology, Ultra Power Saving Mode, Wireless Emergency Alerts function, Alarm Clock, SideSync 3.1
Security Devices Fingerprint reader, eye scan
Details
SAR Value 0.58 W/kg (body) / 0.65 W/kg (head)
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, audio player, voice recorder, navigation
Body Color Platinum gold
Miscellaneous
Sensors RGB sensor, accelerometer, barometer, geomagnetic sensor, gyro sensor, hall sensor, heart rate, proximity sensor
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services Google+ Hangouts, MMS, SMS
Supported Email Protocols IMAP4, POP3
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Google+
Communications
Data Transmission EDGE, EV-DO, FDD-LTE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, TDD-LTE
4G LTE Band Band 1, Band 12, Band 29, Band 3, Band 30, Band 38, Band 39, Band 4, Band 40, Band 41, Band 5, Band 7, Band 13, Band 8, Band 17, Band 18, Band 19, Band 2, Band 20, Band 25, Band 26
Data Transmission Operating Frequency LTE 700/800/850/AWS/900/1800/1900/2100/2300/2500/2600
Wireless Interface ANT/ANT+, Bluetooth 4.2, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
Bluetooth Profiles Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), Phonebook Access Profile (PBAP), Device ID Profile (DIP), HID Over GATT Profile (HOGP), Hands-Free Profile (HFP), Headset Profile (HSP), Human Interface Device Profile (HID), Message Access Profile (MAP), Object Push Profile (OPP), Personal Area Networking Profile (PAN)
Processor
Clock Speed 2.3 GHz
Type QUALCOMM Snapdragon 820
Manufacturer Exynos
Processor Core Qty Quad-core
64-bit Architecture Yes
Display
Technology Super AMOLED
Display Resolution 2560 x 1440 pixels
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Diagonal Size 5.7 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 14.39 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.7 in
Color Support color
Camera
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Features Dual Pixel technology, Fast Motion mode, Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS), Panorama, Pro mode, Selective Focus, Slow Motion mode, Virtual Shot, picture stabilizer, video recording
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards MKV, FLV, AVI, MPEG-4, WMV, ASF, 3GP, M4V, WebM, 3G2
Supported Digital Audio Standards WAV, WMA, AAC, AMR, MP3, FLAC, XMF, OGG, MIDI, OGA, 3GA, AWB, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, MP4
Memory
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDXC - up to 256 GB
User Memory 51.5 GB
Battery
Run Time Details Talk (CDMA): up to 2280 min
Active online usage (WCDMA): up to 11 hrs
Active online usage (LTE): up to 14 hrs
Active online usage (Wi-Fi): up to 14 hrs
Playback (audio): up to 60 hrs
Playback (video): up to 18 hrs
Playback (audio (Always On Display Off)): up to 94 hrs
Wireless Charging Yes
Digital Camera
Lens Aperture f/1.7
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Video Recorder Resolutions 3840 x 2160 (2160p)
Features Dual Pixel technology, Fast Motion mode, Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS), Panorama, Pro mode, Selective Focus, Slow Motion mode, Virtual Shot, picture stabilizer, video recording
Header
Brand Samsung
Product Line Samsung Galaxy
Model Note7
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Features
Sensors RGB sensor, accelerometer, barometer, geomagnetic sensor, gyro sensor, hall sensor, heart rate, proximity sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Security Devices eye scan, fingerprint reader
Additional Features Alarm Clock, MIMO technology, software updates FOTA (Firmware Over The Air), Multi Window, Noise Cancellation Technology, S Pen multi-input, SideSync 3.1, TTY compatible, Ultra Power Saving Mode, Wireless Emergency Alerts function, multitasking
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards 3GA, AAC, OGG, OTA, RTTTL, RTX, WAV, WMA, XMF, AMR, AWB, FLAC, IMY, MIDI, MP3, MP4, OGA
Supported Digital Video Standards 3G2, 3GP, ASF, AVI, FLV, M4V, MKV, MPEG-4, WMV, WebM
RAM
Installed Size 4 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 64 GB
Max Supported Size 256 GB
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDXC
User Memory 51.5 GB
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 12 megapixels
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 5 Megapixel
Lens Aperture f/1.7

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