Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Review

It's pricey, but it's Samsung's best phone ever.

22/08/2016 15:50 | Updated 23 August 2016
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The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has arrived at a difficult time. Whereas before Samsung’s massive phones were always in the Note category tastes have changed and phones as a whole are becoming larger and larger.

It was clear by the time the iPhone 6 Plus had arrived that big phones had gone from the specialist into the mainstream, and this was seemingly cemented when Samsung released the big-screen Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+.

With so many gargantuan screens around, where does this leave the Note? Has it lost its niche as the inventor of the ‘phablet’ category or can it still prove to be a phone that we would choose to want over the upcoming iPhone 7 or the HTC 10.

As we noted in our preview earlier this month, even just a short time with the phone has suggested that it can, however now we’ve been able to use it day-to-day the answer has become clear.

This is probably the best Android phone you can buy right now.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Design

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The Note 7 is a fabulous looking phone, we’ve been using the Onyx Black version which seamlessly blends black glass, with black metal, black plastic and just about everything else on the phone.

All this black makes it look like the kind of accessory that would come as standard with a tailored Hugo Boss suit. That’s unsurprisingly a good thing.

The gently curved glass screen blends into the aluminium frame which keeps the phone sturdy and then continues round onto the curved glass back.

It’s a lot of glass which means that yes, there are going to be a lot of fingerprints so unless you’re planning on carrying a small cloth around with you it’s just something you’ll have to get used to.

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With a large 5.7-inch screen the Note 7 is not a small phone so if you’re someone who’s always going to struggle then this isn’t going to win any arguments in that regard. For those that are already sold on the ‘phablet’ then we have some good news.

This is by far and away the most compact big-screen smartphone we’ve ever used. Despite its large screen and integrated stylus the Note 7 is thin and only around a cm or so taller than the iPhone 6s. Samsung’s achieved this by decreasing the size of the bezel which thankfully means more screen, less phone.

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The Note 7 also comes in a slightly less attractive Silver (just our preference) and a refreshingly unique Blue/Gold blend which we actually really liked.

The end result of all this is a phone that looks better than just about any other you can buy and personally, puts even Apple’s minimalist design genius to the test.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Camera

A quick double-click of the home button brings up the camera almost instantaneously. Sporting a 12MP lens and a much-improved interface we’re happy to report that the Note 7 is more than capable of replacing your camera on holiday.

The autofocus is excellent, images are clean with very low noise (impressively, even in low-light) and the interface is fantastically intuitive to use.

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While it’s easy to then start diving down into the complexities of why it’s all very good the simple truth is that most of us just want to know that it works, and works well enough for Instagram or being thrown up onto our huge TVs.

Having done both, we’re happy to report that it does. If you’re looking for something more professional then don’t panic, the Note 7 shoots video in 4K and at Full-HD 60fps. There’s also a Pro mode which lets you tweak just about every setting under the sun.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Screen

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Keeping in line with the rest of Samsung’s flagship phones the Note 7 has a eye-watering display. The 5.5-inch Super AMOLED panel boasts a resolution of 2560x1440, that’s more than most TVs can achieve. The culmination of all this is a smartphone that has one of the best displays available on a phone, colours are rich while contrast ratios means blacks are piercing and dark while bright whites seem clean and crisp.

It’s also one of the first smartphones to offer something called High Dynamic Range (HDR). It’s a new technology standard which looks to drastically improve the brightness and contrast of a display, so rather than focusing on the pixels it’s focusing on making sure those pixels work better.

There’s barely any HDR content available for TVs and even fewer TVs that actually offer HDR so the idea of having it on a smartphone seems bizarre, however this is Samsung and if there’s one thing they like doing it’s adopting a feature before anyone else.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Security

This rather conveniently leads us onto the next major feature of the Note 7: The iris scanner.

Positioned just above the screen is an infrared camera which, upon learning the owner’s iris, can then recognise it and unlock the phone without needing either a fingerprint or passcode.

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It’s a feature which again, is very much in its infancy when it comes to mainstream adoption and as such isn’t entirely perfect. While we found the reaction time between recognition and unlocking to be fast in the product demo, in day-to-day usage it can be much slower.

Conditions like poor lighting, moving objects behind you, glasses and more all are potential problems for the scanner and there were a few times when we gave up staring intently at the phone and just put in the password.

Is it a game-changing feature? No, but in a world where biometric security is now more needed than ever it’s good to see Samsung’s at least investing significant resources into it.

In addition to the Iris Scanner the Note 7 comes with a secure folder which will allow high-level executives (and spies) to stash documents in an encrypted location within the phone. Again it’s not essential, but for the considerable number of Note customers who will use the Note 7 as a work/personal device it’s incredibly useful.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 S Pen

The S Pen has always been the major selling point of the Note range so it’s interesting to note that in our time using the Note 7 the S Pen simply felt like business as usual.

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There’s no denying that Samsung have refined the experience of using a stylus to near perfection. The S Pen is incredibly precise, works under water (along with the phone, naturally), and comes with a number of features which allow you to manipulate what’s on the screen.

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You can capture live GIFs of what’s going on, take screengrabs, edit documents and even, should the mood take you, let you take handwritten notes.

While we might have the artistic talents of a small lump of moss, even we can recognise that this is Samsung’s most polished S Pen experience yet.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Battery

Thanks to a large 3,500mAh battery the Note 7 easily lasted us a full working day. If you’re a heavy user and want to go out in the evening then we would recommend charging it, which thankfully isn’t an issue either.

The Note 7 has a feature which allows it to be charged incredibly fast, and we really do mean incredibly fast. Just 15mins should be enough to last you through for the rest of the evening.

There’s also wireless charging for those who don’t like the idea of having wires clogging up their desk.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Performance & Storage

In today’s world, the actual specifics of a phone’s processor simply aren’t important anymore. All you really need to know is this: a) does it get too hot during use b) will games and apps struggle to run?

Rest assured neither of these problems were encountered during our time with the Note 7. While it gets warm during intense sessions of video recording or app downloading the phone remained cool during everyday use.

The Note 7 comes with 64GB of storage as standard which should be more than enough for most of us, however if you’re going to cram your phone full of boxsets and movies then a MicroSD card slot allows you to increase that by up to a whopping 256GB.

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Who Should Buy The Galaxy Note 7?

Anyone who wants the best Android smartphone right now. Samsung have taken what could have become a relic device category and kept it relevant. It’s stunning to look at, powerful, waterproof, secure and manages to do all of this in a form factor that feels just right. It could even persuade some people to switch over from Apple’s ecosystem.

Who Shouldn’t Buy The Galaxy Note 7?

If you’re on a budget then the Note 7 could be a problem. It’s incredibly expensive at £749 and with all that beautifully formed glass it could well prove a nightmare to repair. The S Pen won’t be for everyone either. Instead think of the Note 7 as the absolute pinnacle of what Samsung can offer in much the same way that its best TVs cost upwards of £5,000. If that’s for you then great, but if not don’t fear, the Galaxy S7 edge is great, as is the Sony Xperia X or Nexus 6P.

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