Earlier this year, Samsung released the latest installments of its successful S line of flagships, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. These devices addressed many of the issues seen in last year’s S6 line, including the lack of expandable storage and water/dust resistance. Since their release on March 11, the S7 and S7 Edge have consistently been named among this year’s best smartphones, especially the S7 Edge with its bigger screen and slight spec boost.
After the S7 phones were so critically and commercially successful, we all waited with baited breaths for what Samsung would do to top the S7s with the latest installment in the company’s “phablet” line, the Note.
Like the S6, last year’s Galaxy Note 5 was mostly a lackluster device that many fans of the Note line found disappointing. What always separated Note devices from the Galaxy S line was that the Note was always the specced-out, top-of-the-line powerhouse device, representing the absolute best-of-the-best that Samsung had to offer.
However, despite the new design language that was a much-needed rejuvenation for Samsung, the Note 5 saw the first time Samsung would get rid of two features that had long defined Note phones: (1) the removable battery and (2) expandable storage. In fact, many Note fans hung onto their Note4 handsets for an additional year, hoping Samsung would course-correct with the 2016 Note.
Fortunately, Samsung seems to have heard the cries of many disappointed Note users as this year’s Note — which completely leapfrogs over “6” and goes straight for “7” — restored Samsung’s phablet line, more or less, to its former glory. What do I mean by “more or less”? We’ll get into that in a moment.
I managed to get my hands on a Note 7 just a few days after its official launch and wanted to take a moment to offer some of my initial impressions. No, this is not my full review. Since my content has been a little thin lately, I wanted to write a sort of ‘prequel’ of sorts to my official Note 7 review. Here I’ll mostly be discussing my thoughts on the build and design of the device, some of the unique features making first appearances in the Note line with the Note 7, and whether I think — at this very early stage — the Note 7 is a worthy upgrade. Without further ado, let’s get started.
A High-Quality, Stunning Design
With all the leaks that prefaced Samsung’s official announcement of the Note 7, you probably knew what it would look like long before we knew when the Note 7 would go on sale. This time, Samsung clearly had a major problem with leaks, but in hindsight, it seems to have worked to the company’s advantage. The leaks quelled any concerns that we would have probably had after last year’s disappointing Note5 and showed that this upcoming seventh iteration promised a continuation of many of the S7’s design, which had been extremely well-received.
On the one hand, the appearance of the Note 7 isn’t a dramatic transformation compared to last year’s Note5. Last year’s Galaxy devices introduced the glass-and-metal design language with which Samsung is still infatuated today; however, the S7, S7 Edge, and Note 7 represent a major refinement of that design language, smoothing out many of the harsh angles to create something that’s at once extremely modern and completely organic.
Although the Note 7 is certainly beautiful, it’s when you hold it that you most appreciate its design. I can’t recall many other phones that feel quite this good in the hand. During the Samsung Unpacked Event — the press event Samsung held on August 2 to unveil the Galaxy Note 7 — DJ Koh (President of Samsung’s Mobile Communications Division) made a point of recognizing the symmetry in the Note 7’s design.
Both the front and back sides of the Note 7 are made of glass, and both sides feature curved edges. When you look at the Note 7 from the side, you see that both the front and back have the same curved edges, meeting the aluminum band that runs along the outer edge. As well, the aluminum has been color-matched with the glass in three of the four color iterations available; the fourth — Blue Coral (pictured below) — has a coral or pink gold-colored aluminum band that contrasts with the somewhat lighter-colored blue glass.
If you were to close your eyes and pick up the Note 7, you’d be hard-pressed to figure out which side was the front and which was the back. For being so slender and thing, it’s such a smooth, almost soft device that feels very comfortable in the hand.
But it also has some weight to it. The Note 7 doesn’t feel hollow like some other devices, but it’s not overly heavy, either. It’s weighted enough to feel substantial without being uncomfortable to use.
Like the rest of the device, the Note 7’s S Pen has also been revamped. It’s not slightly longer so that it more closely resembles a pen. The S Pen’s button is know located closer to the middle of the pen instead of at the tip, which is a smart move because now we don’t have to worry about accidentally pressing the button when holding the S Pen closer to the tip to write.
The only real gripe I have about the S Pen is that it’s still made of plastic, but that’s really just a small issue. And to prevent the S Pen from getting stuck, you can no longer put it into its slot backward. This is achieved by making the S Pen’s slot slightly thinner about 1/16th of an inch inside the slot; at that point, the clicking tip of the S Pen simply won’t fit.
Something Old, Something New
As you might have expected, TouchWiz makes a return on the Note 7 just as it has appeared on all other recent Galaxy devices. Fortunately, Samsung’s infamous skin has been slimmed down significantly despite it still looking almost nothing like stock Android. However, most of the tweaks that TouchWiz makes to Android stay relatively out of the user’s way. In some cases, the functionality added by TouchWiz is a welcome addition, which is the case — at least in my opinion — with Samsung Themes, which makes the Note 7 user experience quite customizable with very minimal effort.
The fingerprint sensor that first appeared on the Note4 makes its third Note appearance on the Note 7. After using the OnePlus 3 for quite a while, I found myself missing being able to simply touch my thumb to the reader to unlock the phone. On the Note 7, you must first wake the device in order to use the fingerprint reader to unlock; you can do this either by pushing the home button or the wake/power button on the side before touching your thumb to the fingerprint sensor. If you try to use the sensor while the device is asleep, it won’t read your fingerprint. It seems to only be able to read your fingerprint when the screen is on.
In addition to the fingerprint sensor, we now have the option of an iris scanner for biometric security on the Note 7. Although this isn’t the first time an iris scanner has been seen on a smartphone, the Note 7 is undoubtedly the most commercial device outfitted with an iris scanner.
On the one hand, there’s something about the iris scanner that just seems gimmicky. It’s already moderately inconvenient to use the fingerprint sensor (for the reason I mentioned above), but it’s even less convenient to use the iris scanner. When you wake the Note 7, you must first swipe up on the screen before the iris scanner starts attempting to take a read.
In other words, you can’t just wake the screen with the wake/lock button to use the iris scanner; even after waking the screen, you still have to use your finger to swipe upward on the screen to activate the iris scanner. Feels like you might as well just use the fingerprint reader. The only time I feel like the iris scanner might be useful would be if you’re wearing gloves, but if you have to take your glove off to swipe up on the screen and activate the iris scanner, again, you might as well just use the fingerprint reader.
Having used the iris scanner numerous times at this point, I have to commend Samsung for making it extremely quick. When you go to use the iris scanner, a box appears on the top of the screen that helps you to position your eyes appropriately for the reading. After getting used to holding the Note 7 in just the right position for a reading, there have been many times when the iris scanner took a reading before that box ever even appeared on the screen. In practice, it seemed like my swiping upward is what unlocked the screen since there was never any indication the iris scanner took a reading. It’s that blazing fast.
On the other hand, there have been times when I couldn’t seem to get the right angle or position. It seems like if the iris scanner doesn’t get a reading within the first couple seconds, it will fail even though it appears to continue trying to get a reading for a few more seconds. Obviously, it’s not a perfect technology and it still mostly feels like it was added for the sake of having some new technology to introduce via the Note line, so it’ll be interesting to see whether there are other uses for the iris scanner introduced down the line, perhaps with software updates.
Less gimmicky is the water-and-dust resistance, giving the Note 7 an IP68 designation. This means that the Note 7 can be submerged in up to five feet of water for up to thirty minutes and still work just fine. An added bonus (?) is that you can even write with the S Pen, which is also IP68 water and dust resistant, while both the Note 7 and S Pen are submerged under water. I can’t imagine a situation where the average person would need to take notes underwater, but hey, now you’ve got the option.
The Note 7 features the same 12MP rear shooter and 5MP front-facing camera that the S7 and S7 Edge had. While it might be disappointing not to get an upgraded camera over what was introduced in the S line several months ago, it’s at least reassuring that the Note 7 sports the most highly-rated smartphone camera on the market. Obviously, I’ve not had much time to use the camera at this point, but I will certainly have more to say about it in the full review.
As always, Samsung doesn’t disappoint with the Note 7 display. It’s about as crisp and vivid as a smartphone display can get, making YouTube and other streaming media an absolute joy to watch. The bottom-firing speaker is nothing to write home about, but it’s also not the worst out there, either. I’ve not yet listened to music with headphones, so I’m hoping I’ll have more to say about that in the full review, too.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7: First Impressions
Overall, I feel like the Note 7 actually has rejuvenated Samsung’s Note line and, along with the S7s, have restored Samsung as the frontrunner when it comes to Android devices. At this point, arguably the biggest gripe I have with the Note 7 is its price, which, at $850 (or higher with some carriers), is definitely one of the most expensive smartphones on the market. Due to the expense, I can’t help but wonder whether the Note 7 won’t be held back to a degree.
At this point, I feel that I can recommend the Note 7 with confidence. However, due to the price I can’t say that everyone should upgrade to the Note 7. I may have a change of heart after using the Note 7 a little more, but at this point my feeling is that if you’re using the Note4 or older device, the Note 7 is definitely worth an upgrade; however, if you’re carrying a Note5, an S7 Edge, or maybe even an S6 Edge Plus, there’s really not enough new features and upgraded specs to warrant the cost. Unless you have almost 900 bucks lying around, burning a hole in your pocket…
Have you taken the plunge and purchased the Note 7? If not, will you? And what do you think about the recall situation with the battery? Leave your comments below.