Samsung’s latest Note has an edge. In fact, it has two of them, along with new S Pen capabilities, security features, and perhaps the sleekest design ever molded into a smartphone. It’s called the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, and it combines a modest spec bump with a host of new software tricks and elements, including some ported from the Galaxy edge line.
It feels like an augmented smartphone compared against its predecessor, the Galaxy Note5. Maybe that’s why Samsung skipped the Note 6 for the Note 7. Officially, it’s a branding move to bring the Note series in line with the other Samsung 7s; including the S7, S7 edge, and Notebook 7 devices. This is more than an evolutionary update.
At the highest level, the Note 7 merges the S Pen with the Edge UX. It has both capabilities, woven into Android 6.0.1. Samsung put its attention to improving the S Pen this time, with two new Air Command actions: magnify and translate.
Magnify works as it’s named, enlarging a portion of the display at the pen tip. Samsung obviously had business users and unwieldy PDFs in mind here, but it works anywhere, including images, exposing otherwise hidden details, and the camera viewfinder.
Translation is based on Google’s Translate API, and it translates from 38 languages, and to 71 (the discrepancy is based on word spacing in certain languages, which can throw off Google Translate).
Also new to the S Pen is a GIF creation and editing tool through Smart Select, which works by recording a portion of the display into 15 second clips (no word on the number of frames per second). And Samsung added the ability to pin those screen-off memos we loved on the Note5 to the always-on display we loved on the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. Finally, Samsung streamlined its literal note-taking capabilities by combining Action Memo with S Note to make for a cleaner note interface.
Samsung altered the physical S Pen by moving the button up the shaft (to prevent accidental presses), and refining the .7mm magnetic tip with more screen grip, making it feel more like pen on paper than previous Notes. It now supports 4,096 points of pressure, and measures 4.25 x .22 inches, weighing 3 grams (just .0066 pounds).
In testing, the new S Pen felt great. The button placement eliminates one of our biggest complaints about previous S Pens, and the added friction provides a little more control for note taking and scribbling.
Maybe Note artists will disagree, but the added pressure seems like overkill to us (we couldn’t discern any difference in use), but compared side-by-side with the Note5 S Pen, the Note 7 S Pen provides a better overall experience. And it’s impossible to insert backwards, fixing a flaw that affected early Note5 models.
The Note 7 and S Pen are both IP68 rated for water resistance, meaning the S Pen works underwater. This is ideal for certain use cases outside of pools and underwater Pokemon Go. Think of field workers outside in the rain, delivery persons, and caterers on a job site. Touchscreens don’t work with a wet finger or wet display, but Note 7 users will still be able to navigate the device using the S Pen.
Samsung simplified its overall Android TouchWiz navigation scheme, making it flick and swipe based. This is part of an effort to improve one-handed operation — no easy task considering the Note 7’s large 5.7-inch display.
Helping in that task are the curved edges, which result in a thinner smartphone (about .1 inches thinner than the Note5), and the symmetrical design. The smartphone feels entirely rounded, while the front and back pieces are identically sized and shaped. It’s very sleek, measuring 6 x 2.9 x .3 inches, and weighing .37 pounds. And those willing to shirk a protective case (brave souls!) will find it easier to grip than any previous Galaxy Note handset.
The Note 7 is the first Galaxy to feature USB Type-C for data and charging, and sports an iris scanner. Otherwise the hardware isn’t much different from the 2015 Galaxies. The Note 7 has either a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 or Samsung Exynos 8890 processor, 4GB RAM, and 5.7-inch 1440 x 2560 Super AMOLED display. It has the same excellent camera as the S7 and S7 edge (now with HDR video), and ships with 64GB capacity (up from 32GB), supports microSD cards, and has a 3500 battery with Quick Charge and wireless charging.
The iris scanner acts as another form of biometric security (the fingerprint reader is still there). It has a dedicated camera and is based on infrared LED, meaning it can work in low-light conditions. After initial setup, it can also work through eye glasses. Samsung included two safety precautions: it only scans for 9 seconds at a time, and it won’t scan if it senses the face is too close to the camera.
We didn’t get a chance to test it out during our brief hands-on time, but it worked quickly and flawlessly in demos. Samsung even included a fun on-screen iris camera overlay, giving the entire feature a sci-fi vibe.
The iris scanner pairs with Samsung’s new Secure Folder. This is an uber-locked section hiding behind an additional security layer where users can store sensitive and private materials, including emails, notes, pictures, and even apps. Its security is entirely user-focused; not even a corporate IT department can access or disable it. Here users can keep banking apps or even an email app tied to a private account. It’s an interesting approach to security, given the IT focus of similar features. We look forward to testing its limits when we have a demo unit in the NotebookReview test lab.
New Gear VR
The Note 7 launches alongside a new Gear VR, which is much like the old Gear VR. Samsung slightly altered its VR headset, giving it more padding and a longer headstrap for added comfort, along with a bottom connector for future peripherals. It also slightly expanded the field of view from 96 to 101 degrees. It supports now both USB Type-C and microUSB through swappable dongles, making it backward compatible, and it’s available in “blue black.”
Price & Availability
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 launches August 19, with preorders beginning August 3. It will be available in blue coral, silver titanium, and black onyx for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless. Pricing has not yet been revealed, but previous Samsung Galaxy flagships ranged in price from about $670 to $800 at launch.
(Update 8/3/2016: A Samsung Galaxy Note 7 will retail $879.99 on AT&T; or $29.34 per month for 30 months, or $36.67 per month for 24 months.
The Verizon Note 7 costs $864, or $36 per month for 24 months.
The Note 7 will retails for $849.99 on T-Mobile, or $69.99 down and $32.50 for 24 months.
U.S. Cellular also charges $849.99, or $27.80 for 30 months.)
Samsung has a Note 7 promotion, offering up a new Gear Fit 2 fitness band or 256GB microSD card with preorders.
The new Gear VR is also launching August 19, for $99 (same as the previous Gear VR). The previously-announced Gear 360 VR camera is launching August 19 alongside it for $349.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 looks like the next great smartphone, and it’s certainly more than the slightly upgraded specs suggest. We called the S7 edge “near perfect,” and raved that the Note5 “excels at just about everything it does.” Think of the Galaxy Note 7 as a slicker S7 edge with a larger display and S Pen productivity.
Of its new features, Secure Folder impresses the most. We can imagine Apple cursing Samsung, wishing instead the brains at Cupertino thought of it first. So in addition to its literal edges, our early time with it suggests the Note 7 has the figurative edge in a very competitive smartphone market.