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Samsung Galaxy Note7 first impressions: bettering the best

|August 11, 2016 |Android Phones, Android, Samsung, First impressions

“The Galaxy Note7 isn’t about big changes, but smaller ones that create a better experience”

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‘Seven’ is considered a lucky number, and it has surely turned the Korean giant Samsung’s fortunes around, since the Galaxy S7 (review) and S7 edge (review) were its best-selling flagships. The duo also helped Samsung end its two year slump in terms of smartphone sales. This gave the company so much confidence that it decided to skip a generation with its latest offering in the Note series to christen it the Galaxy Note7. While the change in generation has surely raised our collective brows, the important thing to know is whether the device packs in enough to deserve that. 

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Well, we have mixed feelings, based on our brief session with the Note7 at the India launch event today. Read on to find out why we think so.

Samsung has continuously flirted with the idea of curved displays since 2014. While the Galaxy Note Edge (review) offered a curved display on one side, the S6 edge (review), S6 edge+ and S7 edge flaunted curved displays on both sides. Carrying forward this design ethos, the Note7 comes in a single variant with a dual curved screen, although the curves aren’t as pronounced as the ‘edge’ smartphones. Talking about the display, the screen size remains the same as previous Note devices, i.e. 5.7-inches. The resolution is also the same – 2,560 x 1,440 pixels. As can be expected from Samsung’s Super AMOLED panels, the text is extremely sharp and colours pop well. The screen is exceptionally bright, and should be readable under sunlight, and viewing angles are wide too. Just like Galaxy S7 pair, the Note7 features an always-on display.

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The Note7’s display also supports HDR, offering a wider range of colours and brightness, thanks to a mDNIE chip. Though it goes without saying that you won’t notice the difference unless you view the HDR content, which as of now is limited to some TV shows on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video (not available in India yet).

The Samsung Galaxy Note7 is the first smartphone in the world to get the protective coating of the latest-gen Corning Gorilla Glass 5. In fact, not just the front, the rear of the phablet is also protected by a layer of the Gorilla Glass 5.

In terms of the design language, the Chaebol has refined its metal-and-glass combination that debuted last year with the S6 duo for the Note7. The handset features a symmetrical design with dual curves on the both the front as well as the back.

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The fascia is dominated by the display panel. Above it, you’ll find the secondary camera(s), the reason for which we’ll come down to, in a bit, along with the earpiece and a couple of sensors. Below the display, there are navigation buttons laid out in traditional Samsung fashion – the physical oblong-shaped home button sandwiched between capacitive overview and return keys. The home button also hides the fingerprint scanner.

Similar to its siblings, the power switch is placed on the right, whereas the distinctive volume keys are on the left, and both of them offer a strong tactile feedback.

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With the Note7, Samsung has also joined the next-gen USB-Type C bandwagon, available at the base. Adjoining it are precision-grilled speaker holes, the primary microphone and a hideout for the S Pen. The Note7 also continues with the standard 3.5mm audio interface (present up top), unlike some manufacturers that are scrapping it. The noise-cancelling mic and ejectable tray for holding a primary SIM card and a hybrid slot is also present on the top.

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The rear panel of the Galaxy Note7 is made out of glass, which looks extremely shiny, but also makes it a bit slippery and attracts fingerprints like a moth. Here you’ll find the primary camera module, which protrudes slightly. There’s Samsung’s branding towards the middle. The phablet is available in the choices of black, gold or silver, but sadly the ‘Blue Coral’ version which was showcased during the international launch didn’t arrive in India.

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The refinements in design have certainly helped in handling comfort as even with a large display, we were easily able to held the Samsung Galaxy Note7 single-handedly. You might still require the use of both hands for most operations, but for basic things like accessing the notification bar or navigating the homescreen, you’ll be able to comfortably use it with the one hand. The reduction of curves also help in this case, as there are lesser chances of touching the screen with the palms inadvertently.

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Similar to its counterparts in the Galaxy ‘S’ lineup, the Note7 is IP68 compliant. It’s dust- and water-proof and can be used in water with a depth of up to 1.5m for a period of 30minutes.

What makes the Note a ‘note’ is the S Pen and that’s also been improved with the Galaxy Note7. Now, it supports 4,096 pressure levels – double of what its predecessor boasted. To avoid the 'Pengate' issues of its predecessor, the Chaebol has also ensured that the S Pen can only be inserted in one direction. What’s even more admirable is the fact that you can use the stylus underwater. The Note7 also unifies the numerous S Pen-related apps under Samsung Notes, making it easier to unlock its potential. There are some useful additions too, such as the ability to translate text on the fly, or magnify a certain area on the screen by simply hovering the S Pen. The Instagram and Tumblr generation would love the ability to create GIFs out of the videos with a click of the S Pen.

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Software-wise, the Note7 continues with the TouchWiz interface layered on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The UI is clean and minimal, with a very few preloaded titles in the form of Facebook and Instagram. The clean UI continues to the settings menu as well. You get usual Samsung goodies in the UI… pop up window and multi window, to name a few. The edge functionality remains the same as the other ‘edge’ offerings from Samsung – it lets you quickly access apps, people or tasks along with setting up some panels. Sadly, due to smaller curves, bringing up the edge menu requires some effort.

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As mentioned above, the Note7 features two cameras in the front and one them acts as the iris scanner. With it, Samsung has also played up the security quotient of the Galaxy Note7. Not only does it scan your iris to unlock the phablet, but it can also be used to login to certain websites and access the Secure Folder. The iris scanner works as advertised – its fast, and secure too, although it requires good lighting to work properly.

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In the performance aspect, the Samsung Galaxy Note7 is exactly same as the S7 flagships – an Exynos 8890 chipset managing the processing (the global version features the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820). The SoC is made up of two quad-core clusters tuned at 2.3GHz and 1.6GHz respectively. The processor is clubbed with 4-gigs of RAM – which might be disappointing for those who were expecting 6GB of RAM. Having said that, 4GB RAM should be more than enough to handle multiple apps together or heavy games. Additionally, the Mali GPU promises superb graphics and gaming would also be helped by Samsung’s support for the Vulkan API.

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Being targeted at productivity aficionados and multimedia enthusiasts, Samsung has doubled the default storage on the Galaxy Note7 as it ships with 64GB memory on board. While some of the space is taken up by the OS and related resources, end users would get around 43.5GB storage, which should be sufficient for most needs. Users can further top up the storage with the use of a microSD card of up to 256GB.

The Korean behemoth impressed us with the S7’s imaging capabilities and the Note7 has been entrusted with the same hardware – a 12-meg ISOCELL sensor with a wide f/1.7 aperture at the back and a 5MP camera at the front. The primary camera also comes with dual-pixel technology which offers better low-light performance. An LED flash is also available to illuminate the dim environments. The camera interface is packed with modes and options ranging from auto to pro, selective focus, slow mo, hyperlapse and more.

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Powering the Samsung Galaxy Note7 is a 3,500mAh battery – a significant bump up from the 3,000mAh battery available on the Note5 (review). If the battery is optimised as the S7 duo, then it should easily last a day’s worth of usage. The phone also supports fast charging, both with the bundled adapter as well as wirelessly (the wireless charger needs to be purchased separately).

As noted in our comparison between the Samsung Galaxy Note7 and Note5, the latest offering does offer some much-needed improvements and refinements. However, we couldn’t help but notice that the Note7 is quite similar to this year’s S7 edge, which makes us difficult to see how the Korean brand is differentiating its Note range. If you don't need an S Pen the or iris scanner’s promised security, there’s little sense in opting for the Galaxy Note7, which is priced higher at Rs 59,900.

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That said, one thing is clear – the Galaxy Note7 isn’t about headlining changes, but the small things that lead to a better experience – and maybe, that’s a good thing. We’ll know if the device is worthy enough to deserve the generational skip when it hits our labs. So keep an eye out (pun intended) for our review of the Iris scanner-toting Note7.

Pictures by Deepak Dhingra



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