Samsung’s latest large-screened phone, the Note 7, is the latest addition to the stylus-toting premium phone line. Samsung provided The Washington Post with a review device. Overall, this phone is gorgeous and a productivity machine. But its high price tag may put some people off.
In terms of features, the Note 7 offers smartphone users the full package. Samsung’s screens are known to be stunning and this phone is no exception, with deep blacks and bright colors that give a vivid — if not always natural — picture.
Its 5.7-inch screen is noticeably big, making video viewing a pleasure. Even with a big screen, the phone doesn’t feel too bulky in-hand. I’m a rather small person, and while I definitely can’t tap the top of the screen while holding the phone one-handed, it didn’t feel too heavy to use. The phone’s call quality was good, as was the overall audio performance.
The Note 7 boasts a battery life similar to the Galaxy S7. I didn't get as much time with this device before writing as I have with others, so it's hard to make a final determination on the accuracy of that claim. But I feel safe saying that the Note 7 will get you through a normal day of use. But if you're doing something battery intensive — say, Pokémon Go? — you may still want to take an extra charger.
Like its older siblings, the Note 7 can be charged wirelessly using Samsung’s charging pad. It also has a “fast charging” mode that gives you a lot of juice in a short period of time. One key difference, however, is that the Note 7 has a USB-C charger. The upside of this is that you can plug the cord in either way — the cord will never be upside-down for the port. The downside is that you can’t use the old cords from your other Samsung devices to power it up directly.
The Note 7 also boasts a waterproof design. I dunked my review unit in the sink, and also used it (with the stylus, even) under running water with no ill effects. I wouldn’t recommend making a habit of using it underwater — the phone does pop up a little warning if the power port gets wet — but you don’t have to freak out if you drop your phone in a puddle.
The retina scanner
One of the big new features on the Note 7 is a retina scanner. To activate, you have to swipe up from the lock screen. When you scan your eyes, an LED light blinks — but don't worry, it doesn’t blind you at all. The phone still scanned fine with my contacts and my glasses, though the glasses did take a little longer. Still, it was faster than typing in a password — which the phone does still ask you to set up as a backup security method.
Is the retina scanner any better than the fingerprint scanner? Honestly, not really. The retina scanner works well, but so does the fingerprint scanner. This is a big phone, so the retina scanner does make unlocking it feel a little more stable, but if you're happy with your fingerprint you probably won’t see a compelling reason to switch.
The standout feature of the Note line in general is the S Pen, or stylus, that tucks neatly into the bottom of the smartphone. Samsung has made the pen more and more useful over the years, and Note 7 users can easily take handwritten notes, or annotate images on their phone.
The pen is fast and fluid, and almost as good as taking notes by hand in terms of responsiveness. I’m still faster with pen and paper myself, but it’s hard to deny the convenience advantage of being able to jot down a note on your phone. The Note 7 (like its predecessor) also lets you take notes directly on the lock screen, in case you have to write something down very quickly. If you like having a pen on hand, this may be the greatest selling point of the Note 7.
As compared to ...
Many reviews have hailed this as Samsung’s most beautiful phone yet, and that’s a fair assessment. I’d agree that the Note 7 is, all-around, better than the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge, just in terms of features it offers.
In terms of performance, the Note 7 is on par with the top smartphones out there. There is a video going around showing the iPhone 6s beating the Note 7 in a speed test. My own benchmarking gave the out-of-the-box Note 7 a slight edge over my year-old iPhone overall. In practical terms, I noticed that the Note 7 opens and (in particular) switches between programs with a less snap than the iPhone or the Galaxy S7 — but not enough to call it “lag.”
Not to mention, a phone’s worth isn’t solely in its numbers. It’s hardly enough to discount what is an otherwise gorgeous phone. Its only real drawback? The price. The Note 7 is up to $900 unlocked though carriers are offering deals of their own. At that price, you may reasonably expect it to blow past all other competitors. And while it edges out other phones on the market, that price tag may give you pause.