Manufacturer: Samsung Electronics
Release Date: 8/19/2016
Colors: Coral Blue, Silver Titanium, Black Onyx
Android Version: 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Carrier: T-Mobile US
The Good: Removeable storage is back, perfectly designed body, gorgeous QHD AMOLED screen, excellent new S-Pen features, fast and beautiful software design, iris scanner really works, best camera on the market
The Bad: So many features it can be overwhelming for newcomers, battery life may not be the absolute best (but software updates can fix this)
UPDATE: 9/1/16 — Do not drop this phone! I have dropped phones in the past and they were fine, but this is obviously not very shatter proof. It shows that the glass around the body is not Gorilla Glass 5, but only the LCD. I honestly am doubting the durability of Gorilla Glass 5 as the glass over the LCD has cracked.
The phone was dropped face down on cement and did not come out unscathed. It suffered a huge spider-web shatter on the lower left corner going up into the screen. The next day the phone has accidentally dropped again and the entire top side of the front was shattered leaving large cracks running through the entire face of the phone. On top of that, the glass shattered so little tiny slivers were getting stuck in my fingers and flaking off. I will have a replacement here tomorrow, but I highly advise a sturdy case or something to protect this delicate phone.
Well here we are six years after getting my first Android phone and the Android environment has grown and changed faster than any other technology I can think of. In the early days of Android, it was obviously trumped by iOS and rightly so. The operating system didn’t’ do much, was extremely buggy, very ugly, and not streamlined at all. I remember the early days before Google Play was the Android Store and it was full of awful apps that either crashed your phone, were spam, and there was no organization what-so-ever. Not a single major developer wanted their app in this untrusted “iOS clone”, but I stuck by. It wasn’t just the operating system that was unable to keep up with user demands, but the hardware. Apple had perfected their hardware and software with the iPhone 3S, and it hasn’t changed much since. Motorola was one of the best headliners for Android, but their phones were awful, slow, and the custom Android ROM was terribly designed. Trust me, I owned the original Droid and Bionic — worst phones I have ever had.
I then switched to Samsung with the release of the Galaxy S4. The issue with Android phones back then was that the manufacturers would master the current OS version and then create the phone around that. Once the new OS was released the phones were slow and buggy and unusable. My S4 turned into an overheating paperweight and I hated it. With the Note 4, it was a little faster and more streamlined with KitKat, but once Lollipop was released it ruined the entire phone. It became slow and buggy and also unusable. It wasn’t until the Note5 that Samsung perfected their hardware and got a strong grasp on Android. Google even stopped adding features and released Lollipop as mostly a speed and battery upgrade and it did wonders.
Motorola Droid. I had this for two whole years and hated it after about 6 months.
Motorola Droid Bionic. One of the first phones to have a dual core CPU and 4G LTE. Hated it right out of the box.
Samsung Galaxy S4. The first step in getting Android phones right, but all the gimmicks drained the battery.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4. A great step in perfecting the phablet, but future Android versions ruined this phone.
Samsung Galaxy Note 5. Nearly perfected. Future updates just made the phone better.
So, here we are in 2016 with a brand new set of Android phones. It’s no longer about being bigger and solely relying on who has the highest screen resolution and best camera. These things are all standard and easy to come by even on budget devices. Samsung is pushing the envelope with design. That’s right, we’re over new hardware features so much now that we can worry about how a phone looks. When you whip out a phone you get judged as much as the car you drive these days. The Note5 was one of the sleekest phones ever released and the Note7 trumps that. It takes the basic body design of the Note5, slims it down a tad, and adds a curved display. It may not seem like much, but it’s so much more enjoyable to view a curved screen. It creates a much more immersive experience and it’s easier on the eyes. It’s a true edge-to-edge display and looks better than Samsung’s other flagship S series. The new glass and aluminum body that was carried over from the Note5 is perfected in every single way.
Hardware – External
Outside of the sleek look and colors (which look gorgeous — especially Coral Blue), you will start to notice the actual hardware design features. They’re additional round circles at the top which are the new iris scanner and the physical home button has been perfected. Yes, I’m bragging about the home button which has been a Samsung staple since the first Android smartphone. It’s not a solid piece that clicks down, but it’s softer and rocks with your finger. You can roll your thumb over it and it forms to your thumb so it’s a smooth press. It also no longer clicks, but just presses and feels “mushy” which is a good thing. So one thing down so far that was perfected.
Next, you will notice the usual bottoms stuff like the 3.5mm headphone jack, speaker, mic, and S-Pen. This is the same S-Pen used in the Note5, but more on that later. On the top is your SIM card and micro SD card carriage (yes it’s returned!) and the side feature the same power button and separated volume buttons (not a rocker) like the Note5. So, as for the outside of the phone, it’s perfect and everything fits in your hand just right. Oh yeah, and this phone is water resistant meaning you can submerge the phone and it won’t get ruined. It’s not waterproof as you can’t go a certain depth or have it wet for too long, but a quick dip in a toilet won’t hurt this baby a bit.
As for a setup experience, Samsung has gotten this down pat and was even easier than with my Note5 last year. Samsung’s new Smart Switch app allows you to plug in a cable to each phone (an OTG adapter is included) and allows you to select what you want to transfer. Files, photos, documents, videos, and apps. You can also select each individual file if it’s to your liking. The downside is it’s a slow transfer and impatient people who are excited to mess around with their new phone may bypass this. I chose just a few apps and it still took 15 minutes to transfer everything. It’s still a great feature and puts your mind at ease on whether you backed everything up or not.
Once the phone was setup and everything transferred I started to notice how beautiful this screen is. Being QHD (2560×1440) and curved is just mesmerizing. This is the most beautiful smartphone screen I have ever seen. Everything is bright, crisp, and just so true to their real colors. Before I talk about more software features, though, let’s see what’s under the hood.
Hardware — Internal
For the first time in a while, Samsung ditched their own Exonys chipset for a Snapdragon 820 (for North America anyway). It’s a huge difference as Samsung’s chipsets aren’t really the best and Snapdragon already has very fast and reliable chipsets. The CPU may have fewer cores and lower clock speeds, but it’s more streamlined which makes it faster on the software side. The Snapdragon 820 sports 4 cores: 2 running at 2.15Ghz and 2 running at 1.59Ghz. Again, don’t let the low numbers make you think this phone is slow. The GPU is the Adreno 530 which is the latest and greatest for gaming. It sports a whopping 624Mhz clock speed for maximum gaming compared to the Note5’s Mali-T760 which ran at an even 600Mhz. I was able to notice games running at 60FPS which were done through the software as it was streamlined enough to allow this. Samsung has a great gaming suite ( discussed later).
The phone also has Bluetooth 4.1, the latest cellular bands and Wifi, 64GB internal ROM across the board, and 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM which is lightning fast and plenty for all your apps. The phone features a snapper from Sony again which is the new Sony Exmor R IM260, but Samsung’s own front camera which is their ISOCELL camera. This is the first phone that actually records video in 720p at 240FPS which looks phenomenal on the screen. If you thought 60FPS at 1080p was amazing (which is standard now) 240FPS is something else.
Write Like a Pro
With that said let’s get to the S-Pen. It’s not just a copied Note5 pen with a new color. It looks slightly smaller and the button is located higher on the pen like the Note5. It also has a much finer tip and this is due to the pressure points being bumped up from 2,056 to 4,096 which is double the sensitivity rate. There’s a huge difference in the way it writes as it feels like an actual pen on paper. There are also several new software features that make upgrading well worth it. For starters, the screen-off memo has been improved. The phone supports the always-on display and the AMOLED screen allows software to control each individual pixel to save battery power. The screen off memo is now actually truly off and the pixels turn on as you write saving power. The Note5 just had a black screen that you wrote on, but the screen was always on.
There’s also a new GIF animation feature that is an upgrade for Smart Select. You can draw a square marquee around a video and record a short GIF and then later edit it. This is exciting for people who want to send goofy things to their friends. The next brand new feature is the translate button which allows you to hover over a word and it will pop-up with the translation and audio from Google. This works very fast, but I’d like to see an ability to be able to do more than one word at a time.
There are several other software features that make the Note7 a perfected Android and Samsung phone. Samsung completely redid their TouchWiz custom ROM and it looks fantastic. The new pull-down shade, menus, and overall look is gorgeous and compliments the curved display and AMOLED screen. I personally don’t like any manufacturer home launchers, but for those who hated TouchWiz should take another look. Second, the phone features several new settings such as a blue light filter if your eyes hurt you when looking at the phone for too long, better Wifi calling, fingerprint scanner (it’s more accurate), more accurate smart screen features such as swiping for a screenshot, smart stay, and quick view. The new gaming suite is awesome and I love it so much.
Gaming Taken Seriously
There are two new tools called Game Tools and Game Launcher. The Game Launcher is a streamlined app that shows all of your games and auto detects everything (haven’t had a game that it didn’t detect) and allows you to customize the power save features for that game. Already, most games run at 60FPS on the Note7, but to save power you can cut it down to 30FPS and even turn off various features of the phone. This is great for lower-end games like Clash of Clans that don’t need to run the phone at max capacity. The new Game Tools is a small little red icon (you can move it around) that opens up into a wheel that allows you to take a screenshot, record footage (with audio commentary), turn off notifications, lock the menu and back keys, and minimize the game into a small icon. All these features work smoothly and wonderfully and I take full advantage of it all the time. I can now record my best hits in Golf Star, or make some funny jokes while raiding a village in Clash of Clans and send them to my friends via a Dropbox link.
Biometrics of the Future
I’m saving the best for last, I haven’t forgotten about the iris scanner. Now, this thing works better than I originally thought. The fingerprint scanner in the Note 4 was awful, and I thought the first outing for a new biometric security feature would be the same. I’m dead wrong. The iris scanner works so well that I don’t quite understand how it works. I look at the top portion of the screen and it just scans my eyes in some sort of night vision type camera. Sometimes the iris scanner works faster than the phone can display what’s going on which isn’t a bad thing. It’s neat, the first of its kind, and a whole new layer of technology. I had someone tell me that it just recognizes the shape of my eyes, but I used three people to unlock my phone and they couldn’t do it. It can actually read your iris and won’t unlock for anyone else. This is a wonderful technology and I feel ever more secure that no one will be able to access my phone. Now we just need third party apps to start implementing it into their software.
Overall, the Note7 is a perfect phone. I mean perfected to a T. I even had a hardcore Apple fanboy comment that Samsung has finally done it and created the perfect phone (he’s currently sweating out the long back orders). From the physical design to the software design the Note7 is the pinnacle of smartphone technology. With the return of the micro SD card, water resistance, a larger battery, and overall better design, it’s just the perfect phone. It’s fast, powerful, secure, and gorgeous all at once. I know each phone iteration becomes more and more perfect, but the Note5 wasn’t quite perfect, but I can happily say the Note7 is.