Samsung Galaxy Note 7 first impressions: The next king of Android smartphones?

Samsung's new powerhouse, the Galaxy Note 7, is here and we take a quick look at the new phablet.


The Galaxy Note series has been an integral part of Samsung’s smartphone portfolio ever since the first iteration was announced back in 2011. The Korean company believed in its large sized ‘phablet’ even when everyone mocked it for being too big. Five years down the line, 5.5 to 5.7 inch smartphones have become a norm.

The latest Note skips a generation and gets the 7 moniker, which makes it more aligned with the S7 series and while we are at it, looks a lot like it too. It is priced at Rs 59,900 and will start selling from 2 September onwards. Also those buyers ordering the Note 7 between 22 - 30 August will also get a chance to buy the Samsung Gear VR for Rs 1,990.

We took the handset for a quick spin to see how it feels.

Design

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 first impressions: The next king of Android smartphones?

The glass and metal combo continues and the handset feels just like a larger S7 Edge, curved glass panels on the front and on the back meeting together at the metal frame in between. However the Note 7 has more refined curves which are narrower, so when you slide your finger across, it drops quicker. This is an important change, as personally I didn't like the curves on any of the previous Samsung smartphones, mainly because I would always end up touching the display around the edges while holding the handset.

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There are some prominent changes for instance. The USB port is out, as Samsung has finally utilised the faster and more convenient Type-C version. You also get IP68 certification which means this is the first fully waterproof Note smartphone. Oh and even the S-Pen complies to the certification, so much so that Samsung claims that one can use the S-Pen to write on the Note 7 with the S-Pen underwater or under rain. Speaking of which, the S-Pen also sees minor updates including a thinner tip and can detect 4,096 levels of pressure! Apart from the usual fingerprint scanner embedded in the home button, Samsung has added an Iris scanner placed next to the front facing camera for an extra layer of security.

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Rest of the design and looks are not very different from the Note 5 and even the placement of all the buttons and ports is similar. The bottom edge houses the headphone jack, the USB Type-C port, the loudspeaker and the provision of the S Pen. The volume buttons are on the left, the power button on the right and on the top is the slot for a hybrid SIM card tray which makes space for a microSD card. Yay for expandable storage!

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In terms of weight and overall dimensions, it is a tad bit smaller and lighter than the Note 5 but in all honesty it is a beautiful device and probably one of the best looking Android smartphones today.

Display

For the first time Samsung has used a dual-curved edge display on a Note smartphone, although it did experiment earlier on with the Note Edge with a single sided curved display. I’ve already mentioned how it is offers a gradual slope compared to the S7 Edge so let’s get on the quality and specifications. It is a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED panel with a 2560x1440 resolution and 518ppi. It is protected by Gorilla Glass 5 which also happens to be on the back for added protection.

It is indeed a solid display offering vivid colours and immense brightness to use outdoors. Text looks amazingly sharp and crisp. Samsung has also added a feature which lets you actually pull down the resolution to full HD or even HD. The feature is said to save on battery and can be set to trigger when the battery level goes down to a certain level.

Hardware and Connectivity

No prizes for guessing what the Note 7 runs on, it is indeed the same Exynos 8890 octa-core processor from the S7 series along with 4GB of RAM and a Mali-T880 MP12 GPU. The octa-core processor comes with four Mongoose cores clocked at 2.3 GHz and four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.6 GHz. There won’t be a Snapdragon version this time, although rumours have been lurking around that Samsung will launch a 6GB version with 256GB storage, which could make space for a Snapdragon 820/821.

Coming back to what we have on paper, there is 64GB of fixed storage on the smartphone and yes there is a microSD card expansion option which supports up to 256GB microSD cards. Connectivity options include LTE, dual-SIM card option (hybrid slot), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB Type-C, GPS (A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO).

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OS

You get the latest Android 6.0.1 on the Galaxy Note 7 with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI layer on top. It is pretty much similar to the last generation of smartphones, but with some minor tweaks here and there. The notification shade, addition of a blue light filter, and always on display were some of the areas that saw an update. Samsung has also added the capability to play HDR content and a quick demo made it clear that it definitely boosts the dynamic range and the overall saturation. There is also a special Secure Safe Zone on the device that can only be accessed using the Iris scanner.

I would also like to mention about the Iris scanner, an added security measure on the smartphone. At first it seems redundant as you already have a fingerprint scanner, but I realised that it is fast and even works in the dark since it scans using infrared. While Samsung has tied up with certain bank in the US to make the iris scanner a secure way of making transactions on the phone, it didn't mention anything for the Indian market.

Camera

The Galaxy Note 7 borrows the 12MP camera that featured on the S7 and the S7 Edge. So basically you get an f/1.7 aperture with OIS along with Samsung’s dual-pixel autofocus technology and crisp 4K video recording capability. Even the front camera is the same, a 5MP sensor with the f/1.7 aperture and a wide 22mm lens to take wide selfies.

The camera app is swift and sees a bit of a facelift utilising swipe gestures to switch between cameras and modes. The autofocus seemed fast and the overall image quality is similar to the S7 series. So going by test samples it looks as though Samsung has made another smartphone with good camera capabilities. We will need to test it thoroughly to confirm if it's as good as its S7/S7 edge brethen.

Battery
A crucial element for a smartphone, the battery has seen a significant update as you get a 3,500 mAh battery with fast charge as well as fast wireless charge support. Samsung claims a full day of battery life which can be further expanded using the special battery saver mode, which not only throttles down the CPU but as mentioned before, can reduce the resolution to conserve juice.

Conclusion
Of course I am going to tell you that it feels like the best Galaxy Note smartphone till date and is probably the most powerful Android device, but there is a finer point that Samsung has made with the Note 7. It is going deep into smaller details something which all smartphone makers are going to follow, sooner or later. It is priced at Rs 59,900 and will start selling from 2 September.

The couple of hours that I have spent with the device, have me convinced that Note 7 is a great smartphone. But again, an in-depth analysis is required before it can be given the title of the best Android smartphone for 2016. Stay tuned for our full review.

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