Hands-On with the Samsung Galaxy Note7
Samsung's Galaxy Note7 is its most refined and most advanced smartphone yet. This glass-and-aluminum slab adds features such as an iris scanner and water resistance to the fabled phablet series from Samsung. Here are Phone Scoop's first impressions.
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The Samsung Galaxy Note7 is an impressive handset in every respect. Now in its sixth generation (despite the name), the Note7 shows Samsung has learned how craft a masterful piece of hardware and bestow it with powerful software.
The Note7 treads the same path set by the Note 5 and S7. The phone is made from two pieces of glass that sandwich a metal frame. The two slabs of glass are Gorilla Glass 5, according to Samsung, and are symmetrical in their shape. Both pieces are curved near the edge to give the side edges a round profile. This helps make the profile narrower and the phone easier to hold. It's not as curved as the display on the S7 Edge, but is still enough that Samsung gave the Note7 its Edge UX features. The glass is fitted into the metal frame perfectly; the seams are tight all the way around. The materials and build quality are best-in-class.
The Note7 is still a phablet — thanks to the gorgeous 5.7-inch display — but Samsung has done a respectable job of shrinking the footprint as much as possible. The bezels along the side edges, for example, are practically non-existent. The bezels above the screen are minimal, too. The phone is more comfortable to hold than its predecessor and other Samsung handsets such as the S6 Edge+. It is weighty, but in a way that communicates the high quality of the build. The Note7 is not for every hand, but more hands will find it usable than previous generations of Note. You can slip it into pockets easily.
The screen is incredible. The quad HD resolution produces hella-sharp text and images. The brightness is quite good, as the screens were easy to see and read despite sun-like lighting in the event space. The iris scanner, selfie camera, and sensor are fairly easy to spot next to the earpiece above the screen. A single physical button rests below the display and doubles as the home and fingerprint reader. It has a nice chrome rim, a find-able profile, and pleasant travel and feedback. Capacitive buttons for "back" and "multitask" are to either side. This is a pretty standard configuration for a Samsung handset.
You'll find the volume buttons on the left side. They are small and separate, but still easily located and used. The same is true of the screen lock / power button on the right edge. The SIM / memory card tray is tucked into the top edge, and the bottom is where you'll find the headphone jack, USB Type-C port, and S Pen stylus. Samsung is including a USB-C-to-microUSB adapter with every Note7, which is good news.
The S Pen is almost identical to last year's model. It sits more flush with the bottom edge, which I appreciate, and pops out with a quick press. I found the stylus easier to hold and use thanks to its squarish profile. Writing on the screen feels great. and the software to go along with the stylus is very slick. As before, a set of hovering shortcuts appears every time the S Pen is removed. These let you take notes, scribble on screenshots, select on-screen items, and even instantly translate text. Probably the coolest new tool this year is an instant GIF creator.
The phone's rear glass panel is sealed up tight, so you won't be able to access the 3,500mAh battery. This shouldn't be too much of a deal breaker, as the phone supports rapid charging and rapid wireless charging. In fact, one of the official accessories from Samsung is a wireless battery that clips onto the back. The camera module is the same as that of the Galaxy S7. The module pokes out a bit from the rear surface and the flash / heart rate monitor are positioned to its right.
The hardware is quite fantastic. I am very impressed. Samsung has come a long way in recent years, and the Note7 is the culmination of its research, design, and engineering.
The software isn't bad, either.
Disappointingly, the Note7 ships with Android 6 and not Android 7. Moreover, Samsung hasn't said if or when the Note7 may be updated to version (Nougat). Grrr. Samsung's user interface offers new icons and fonts that more closely mimic those of a certain fruit-named company's device. The simplified icons are meant to be easier to read/understand. It's pretty clear where Samsung found its inspiration.
You'll find the Edge UX tools along the left or right side of the screen. These allow you to access shortcuts to certain contacts, apps, and widgets. The Edge UX is the same one that's on the S7 Edge and S6 Edge+, and you can do as much or as little with it as you want.
My favorite app is the camera. Samsung made the camera far simpler to use, and that's a good, good thing. For example, swipe the camera UI up or down to change to the selfie camera, or from side-to-side to see the alternate shooting modes. Swiping is easier than finding a small button within the camera UI. The app performed quickly, and focuses/shoots rapidly. The actual shooting modes mirror those of the S7 and include time-lapse, slow-motion, panorama, HDR, and the like.
The Note7 includes some other Samsung tropes, such as themes, moving wallpapers, and highly-configurable menus. The Quick Settings drawer, for example, can contain/control just about any app on the phone.
The iris scanner is a neat new feature, even if it is one we've seen before. The software used to record your iris worked quickly and accurately. It was much simpler to use than similar software I've seen on other phones. Once your iris is recorded, you can use the Samsung Pass app to lock specific folders, files, and even web sites, meaning they can only be accessed by the owner. That's pretty cool.
I was pleased with the speed of the user interface during the event. The phones on hand were final hardware, but non-final software. Even so, the software ran lightning quick. I didn't see any problems.
The Note7 is Samsung's masterpiece. It's one of the finest, most advanced handsets available. It will surely be a hit with shoppers when it reaches stores later this month.
Alongside the Note7, Samsung introduced a refreshed version of its Gear VR headset. This viewer has a handful of improvements worth discussion.
First, the Gear VR is now compatible with microUSB and USB-C handsets thanks to a swappable module. The kit comes with both, so the VR can be used with the Note7 and older S7, S6 and similar handsets from Samsung.
Second, the straps are a bit longer and have more padding. The idea here is to make the headset more comfortable to wear. I tried one on soon after wearing the original Gear VR and couldn't really tell any difference in head feel.
Third, the controls are more accessible. The touch pad for controlling the UI is easier to find because it is set deeper in a recessed panel. The Gear VR also gains a dedicated button to launch the Oculus store for VR content. It's a cool accessory for the Note7.
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Samsung today announced Samsung Pass, an identification tool that combines the iris scanner and fingerprint reader to verify identity. Samsung Pass will be able to replace passwords for select apps.
Contacts not customizable
Qualcomm quick charge?
It has a Snapdragon 820 processor, so it could be QC 3.0.