Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – Before the fires, this was likely Samsung’s best phone ever

A little while ago Samsung released their Galaxy Note 7, which I ended up receiving for review and writing my thoughts below on it. Since then, there was a massive recall due to many units exploding and catching fire, but everybody moved on. Now, even replacement units are beginning to explode, and that has some people not trusting in the device or even the brand anymore and even has some carriers pulling sales of the device. I know not everyone out there is having problems, not everyone will switch devices, and some people will even still buy the phone if they can find it, and for those people I share with you my thoughts on a (non-exploded) Galaxy Note 7.

The Galaxy Note 7 was one of my most anticipated devices of the year, especially after my disdain of Samsung’s previous large flagship (read about that here). With it comes a design and style more in line with the rest of Sammy’s 2016 lineup, updated S Pen features, waterproofing, and specs to keep the competitors worried. Yet, with all these new features, is the Note 7 everything I wished for or is it the successor that didn’t shake the field as I hoped? Let’s take a look.

Specs

  • 5.7″ Quad HD dual edge Super AMOLED
  • US: Snapdragon 820 Quad Core (2.15GHz Dual + 1.6GHz Dual), 64 bit, 14 nm process
    International: Octa-core (2.3GHz Quad + 1.6GHz Quad), 64 bit, 14 nm process
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB Storage (microSD Card Slot Available)
  • Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Grace UI
  • Camera Rear: 12MP Dual Pixel, f/1.7
  • Camera Front: 5MP, f/1.7
  • 3500mAh (Fast Charging on wired and wireless via WPC and PMA)
  • USB C
  • IP68 Dust and Water Resistance

Looking at the above specs, the Note 7 has all of the realistic specs that Samsung could’ve added ─ I’d be hard-pressed to say that you’d even need all that’s included above. Without asking for frivolous things like 6GBs of RAM, slightly-necessary-but-doesn’t-fit-their-design front-facing speakers,  or unavailable pieces like Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 821 processor, the only thing Samsung forgot was the kitchen sink.

Now, as you’ll find out later, numbers don’t mean everything, and no I’m not talking about the camera. Even with all the new and flashy materials, something is a little off with the Note 7, BUT most people won’t notice or get frustrated with the quirks.



Before diving into all the numbers, though, let’s take a moment just to look at this beauty.

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Build and Design

As hard as I try, there’s nothing wrong about Samsung’s design here. It’s gorgeous. Not only is it a big phone, sandwiched by two curved pieces of glass, but it’s also compact. If I didn’t KNOW that the Note 7 had a 5.7-inch display I would’ve said it was a 5.5-inch — yes the .2in difference is that huge. It feels like a small phone, and that is heaven when speaking about ergonomics.

The small and bezel-less appearance is partially due to the curved edges that taper the sides of the phone, but still, many props have to be given to Samsung for perfecting the design as they have. The sides also aren’t as steep as with the S7 Edge, which was one of my main complaints with that device, so the phone doesn’t cut into your hand like a knife, and instead, you get to experience the cold aluminum siding.

Display

Just like the S7 and S7 Edge, the Note’s display is superior to anything else on the market. The quality is the same as the older flagship, but that’s not a bad thing at all. The colors are bright and (slightly overly) saturated to make everything you watch, take a picture of, or just look at while browsing, a beautiful experience. Should we expect anything less from Samsung at this point?

The amount of detail is also great for watching those high-quality movies from Netflix or just catching up with your favorite Youtubers. Yet, on the Galaxy S7 Edge, the Edge screen is one of the things that kept me from using it. On the Note, however, Samsung has refined things and with the edge being not as steep, using the display is much easier than before. It doesn’t make pictures and video run off as much before, and that’s great. If you couldn’t tell, I’m not an advocate of edge screens/displays, but if they are like this one, then I won’t complain too much.

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Software and Grace UI

Samsung even went through its TouchWiz software to update and rename it to Grace UI. That doesn’t really mean much, though, as this is still the next generation TouchWiz that I’ve grown to tolerate. Plus, you’ve (or maybe the everyday consumer) has to appreciate the sheer amount of extra features and options that a Galaxy, especially the Note 7, provides.

Grace UI is a heavy skin, but most of it is a good thing — unless you have a Verizon Note 7 and let Big Red cherry pick which features appear. Some of the features that should be noted when looking at the Note 7 include the ability to alter screen density, activate a ‘night-light’ blue light filter, and double pressing the home button to quickly launch your camera. You can adjust the home launcher with themes and grid sizing.

One of the bigger things that has been added to the Note 7 is the edge screen. With the edge screen you can quickly swipe over a half-screen that has apps, contacts, actions, weather, and much more pinned to it to quickly multitask and accomplish other tasks. So, all the features from the Galaxy Edge series has now been added — furthering the question of why are they both active series.

Performance

With a more refined software experience and some of the best specs you can get on a smartphone nowadays, you’d think that this thing performs like a champ, and for the most part, it does. Yet, every now and then I’ll see a stutter, or a jump, or the phone will temporarily freeze up and I can’t do anything with it. This happens far too much for me to give the Note 7 a top spot in performance and multitasking. I’ve had multiple people tell me that it’s due to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820, as the Exynos version has much better handling, but I can only speak on what I know and what I’ve used.

If you can look past the hiccups, like I did, then the phone was just fine, especially when gaming. Actually, gaming on this slim behemoth was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had on a phone in a long while. I guess the GPU picked up on where the CPU slacked? It’s possible that whenever the Android Nougat update drops, then it will help the performance issues of the Galaxy Note 7.

This happened more often than I would've like, with various apps.

This happened more often than I would’ve like, with various apps.

Battery

Speaking of slight disappointments, when people heard that the battery capacity on the Note 8 was smaller than the S7 Edge, everyone freaked. I’m not the biggest battery nut out there since I’m near a charger 90% of my days, and even with the 100mAh drop in the battery within the Note 7, it lasted just fine. I could get around a day’s worth of use on the phone, and without charging it overnight, I got to use it a few hours into the next day. Now it definitely wouldn’t last me two days, but I don’t need a phone that does.

If you need that extra life, there are several battery saving modes that can be found and customized in the Note 7. You can change syncing behaviors, display brightness, and even screen resolution to achieve whatever desired battery life you want. Overall the battery life is solid, just not overly impressive.

S Pen

Now, what makes the Note a Note and not just another Edge? The S Pen. The S Pen has been improved slightly since last year, and a few more features have been added as well. Plus, the S Pen (like the rest of the phone) has been waterproofed so that you can ….take notes in the shower? Draw a picture in the pool? I haven’t found a legit reason to use the S Pen near/in water.

Some software additions you can see with the S Pen include the new GIF maker, which allows you to make up to a 15-second GIF of anything on the screen, pin notes to your lockscreen, use it magnify content, and help you multitask a little easier. Every time I get a Note, I rarely touch the S Pen, and this year is no different, but I do appreciate that it’s there for those sporadic moments when I need to quickly jot something down or edit a screenshot.

Camera

One of the biggest areas on the Note 7 (and rather any new-age smartphone) is the camera, which is rather fantastic. Samsung takes their cameras seriously, just like their displays, and the Note 7 doesn’t disappoint. You get pretty much the same camera as in the S7 Edge, which was no slouch. Not only do you get great detail and clarity, but you also get vibrant color, a fast focus and shutter, and a new clean UI.

Here are some untouched camera samples from the Note 7. These are standard, auto pictures, no messing with manual settings or special lighting. As you can see the detail is impeccable in all types or light and colors are full and vibrant. I easily and quickly pulled out the Note 7 if I knew I was about to take a couple of shots.

Different from yesteryear, all of the buttons and mode changes are removed from the main screen and now require you to swipe left and right to get to filters and settings. You can also swipe up and down to switch from front- and rear-facing cameras. This new interface creates a simpler and cleaner experience which I came to love — especially more than what was found on previous Samsung devices.

Security

Among all the praise in displays and camera quality, Samsung has also been gathering attention for their security features. Besides Knox, you can use your fingerprint or your iris to unlock and secure your phone. The fingerprint isn’t the fastest that you’ll find around, but it works most of the time. The key new feature is using your Iris, and it surprisingly works very well. Using an infrared sensor to detect/check your eyes, it’s very quick, accurate and can even work in low-light or dark conditions. I never used it until later on in my review process only because I felt it’d be gimmicky, and still kind of feels that way. Also to use it to unlock your phone you need first to turn on your phone and then swipe on the screen if I’m doing all that I might as well just unlock the phone with my thumb.

Another thing you have on the Note 7 dealing with security is private files and folders. These folders are hosted on a different partition on your phone, so it’s literally a secure place to keep your…..whatever secrets you’ve got. I won’t judge. These folders also can be locked using your thumbprint and iris. This is also another feature that you may or may not use, just depends on your lifestyle, I didn’t find a real need for it.

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As far as calls and quality goes, everything was top notch as expected. I used the Note on Verizon’s network, so I was able to access their latest LTE-Advanced coverage, and the Note held signal just as well as any other 2016 flagship. Kudos to Verizon for the network, boo to the settings changes.

One last, and major, feature that the Note 7 brings is water resistance, which escaped the last generation of Galaxy devices. This is a feature I whole-heartedly love, as subtle as it may be. Whenever Ben messages me to tell me about a review I need to be hurrying up on, I love responding that I can do it right now as I’m literally taking a shower. (Editor’s Note: Can confirm this happens)

Or…you can just use your phone in the rain or not worry about using it (and the S Pen if you so choose) in the pool or wherever. I fully endorsed and tested the Note 7’s ability to withstand water, and it worked. So now if your Note 7 catches fire, all you need to do is hose it off….

Availability

Speaking of which, as I said the Galaxy Note 7 was having a battery issue/recall and now after the recall has kinda subsided, units still having issues. Most retailers are still selling the Note 7 and they are also allowing you to switch out the device if you’re a little worried about yours catching fire ─ except for T-Mobile and AT&T. Verizon and Sprint will likely follow in “pausing” sales. Updated: All retailers, Samsung them selves, and Best Buy has actually halted sales (and production) of the Note 7.

It comes in Black (the sexiest shade available), Silver (the mirror color), Blue (gaudy), and Gold (if you’re in Korea); and it’d only set you back $850. What a deal! Seriously though, you do get a lot, more than you’ll probably be able to handle, in that sleek package, so of course it’s going to cost some money.

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Final Thoughts

I wish I were able to use the Galaxy Note 7 for more than I did, I’d probably have a lot more to say, but due to the recall and potential safety issues, I was pretty much forced to return it. I didn’t even get to take any sweet water pictures for you guys. Even still, I’m not here to tell you to take your Note 7’s back (although you might want to seriously consider doing that), just tell you about the experiences I’ve had with the device. At the very least, we definitely don’t recommend buying a Note 7, at least at the time of publishing.

All in all, the Note 7 is a fantastic phone that receives the highest marks in most areas. I’d love it if it ran stock software like a Nexus, and had a bigger (safer) battery, but those are just extras that I don’t need ─ aside from a safe battery of course. The display, camera, and overall build, plus it’s bevy of features more than make up for the slight shortcomings. If you can handle a bigger phone and don’t need stock, definitely check out the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. In black. When it’s safe…