Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Review: Possibly the most complete smartphone ever made

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Editorial Note: The Note 7 is going through a major recall due to reported cases of exploding batteries under certain conditions. We recommend you hold off on buying one for a couple of weeks until the matter has been definitively solved.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is a far cry from its early predecessors.

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When Samsung first introduced its oversized flagship line, there was nothing else like it. The first Note’s 5.3-inch screen was huge, and much of the press saw it as a one-off gimmick. But users liked having such a large screen in their pockets, and now 5.3 inches is just about standard for Android devices – even Apple was forced to make the iPhone 6 Plus.

Gadgets

But mainstream adoption of big phones also means the Note series can no longer survive on size and specs alone. That’s what makes the Note 7 something of a gamble: the spec sheet doesn’t immediately offer anything competitors can’t match or trade blows with.

Thankfully, the Note 7 is much more than its spec sheet. Taking what it’s learned over the previous six devices, Samsung has refined the Note 7 into not just a great big phone, but possibly the most well-rounded, productive, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink smartphone ever made.

Specs

Let’s get those specs out of the way. On paper, it’s basically an S7/S7 Edge with a few extra bells and whistles afforded by its larger size. Here are the key bullet points:

  • Snapdragon 820 or Exynos 8890 (regional, like the S7)
  • 4 GB of RAM
  • 64 GB of (UFS 2.0) storage
  • Dual curved, 5.7-inch display AMOLED display
  • Quad HD Resolution (2460 x 1440, 518 pis) with HDR support
  • Gorilla Glass 5, front and back
  • MicroSD Slot (tested up to 256 GB)
  • 7.9 mm thin
  • 3,500 mAh battery
  • Wireless charging and quick charging
  • 12 MP camera (same as the S7)
  • Fingerprint sensor and an iris scanner
  • IP68 water-resistant (including the S-Pen!)
  • Thinner S-Pen tip (0.7 mm)
  • 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity
  • USB-C (3.1) with OTG support (comes with a micro USB adapter)
  • Android Marshmallow 6.0.1

Unlike last year’s Note 5, the Note 7 has the same processor and RAM as its S series siblings. You won’t be seeing any speed and multi-tasking improvements other than what’s afforded by the software.

Not only are these are the same basic specs as the S7 duo, but they’re also the same as almost every single Android flagship being sold in the US. Off the top of my head, a QHD display, 4GB of RAM, and a Snapdragon 820 are the same specs you’ll find in the LG G5, the HTC 10, Moto Z and Z Force, and the ZTE Axon 7  – which only costs $400. The also-$400 OnePlus 3 has ‘only’ a 1080p display but offsets with 6 GB of RAM.

The Note 7’s advantages are in other areas. Gorilla Glass 5 is supposed to be 1.8 times harder to crack than Gorilla Glass 4, and should survive “80 percent” of shoulder-height (~1.6 m) drops onto concrete. Having 64 GB of expandable storage as the stock configuration is a beautiful thing. The HDR screen is a thing of beauty, and waterproofing adds a good deal of peace of mind.

Android die-hards might long for the days when the Note series was as overpowered as it was large, but this phone makes its mark in other ways.

Design: How did they make it this small?

The Note 7 continues Samsung’s refined design language introduced with the S6, but you have to hold the phone to really appreciate what Samsung’s design team has done here.

The Note 5 was already more compact than most 5.7-inch devices, thanks to minimal bezels. But the Note 7 manages to be even smaller and, more importantly, feel smaller than a 5.7-inch-screen phone has any right to.




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