I like big screens — but not big phones — with lots of screen estate to make up for failing eyesight. The Note7 is not so much big as cleverly small, with a 5.7” screen in a 153.5 x 73.9 x 7.9 mm body — it is a scant 2.6mm taller and 1.3mm wider than the 5.5” Galaxy S7 Edge — and only 12g heavier. That is due to the record-breaking 78% screen to body ratio (Edge is 76.1%). This is good design.
It has S Pen; AMOLED, HDR (High Dynamic Resolution), 2560 x 1440 resolution; IP68 water resistance; 4/64GB, MicroSD slot to 256GB; the best smartphone camera; 3500mAh battery, wireless and fast charge; and now USB-C.
In comparison, Apple’s 5.5” iPhone 6 Plus is 158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm – that’s 4.7mm taller, 4mm wider and 23g heavier with a very low screen to body ratio of 67.7%. Its screen is 1334 x 750 pixels; no microSD; no IP rating; very much lower specified camera; 1715mAh battery; no wireless or fast charge – this is not good design.
I made the rather unflattering comparison because Apple is considered the epitome of design and technology. Frankly, phones from OPPO, Huawei, et al., — some at less than half the price — offer much more. Let’s hope the iPhone 7 ups that ante because Apple’s iPhone sales are haemorrhaging.
Week 1 – initial impressions are all systems go
The switch from the Galaxy S7 Edge was painless. Once one boots up and uses NFC or a USB cable (USB-C to USB-A and micro-USB to USB-A adapters are in the box) to connect both phones, Smart Switch kicks in and transfers all music, clips, photos, contacts, messages, call logs, documents, email, calendar, paid and free apps, and more. The process is easy and flawless although Norton’s AV recognised it as a new device, and I had to manually transfer the licence.
Smart Switch also works with most modern Android devices that support OTG USB transfer. So it is painless to trade up from HTC, Sony et al.
It will also move everything from an Apple iPhone, including iTunes music just as easily using a USB cable, Ditto for a PC/Mac or iCloud.
Even though it has USB-C charging, it also uses wireless charging (as does the Edge) so it was simple to swap over. I have Samsung wireless fast chargers in the bedroom, and my home/office and I have not yet had to plug in the USB-C charger.
I would like to report on battery life, but the convenience of wireless charging makes that a non-issue – it simply tops up. At the end of a long day, it has over 80% left. I will test this further in the full review.
It is the same camera as all the GS7s and I consider it to be the best of all the current flagship smartphone crop – certainly of all I have tested, including the LG G5, Lumia 950XL, Huawei P9, Sony Xperia X, HTC 10, Moto X Style, BlackBerry PRIV, and the iPhone 6S Plus. Why?
Technically it has the best low-light capability with f/1.7 lens, 12MP 1/2.5” sensor, 1.4 µm “big pixels” and optical image stabilisation. The sensor also uses 100% of the pixels to produce blazingly fast phase detection auto-focus.
I base all comparisons on auto mode – manual mode on any camera may produce better shots if you master it. But each phone has its strengths.
- Samsung is the best all-around performer producing amazing daylight and low light shots. If there is one niggle it is that the single LED flash could use more grunt, but the big pixels seem to compensate.
- LG G5 is the next best all-around camera with f/1.8 lens, 1.12μm pixels, laser autofocus, OIS and it has an additional 8MP wide angle lens that is great for holiday snaps.
- The Lumia 950XL is amazing in daylight, and the 20MP detail is enormous. Great f/1.9 Zeiss lens, 20MP, OIS, great app. Low light is good with a triple (RGB) LED flash.
- Huawei P9 with its 2 x 12MP, Leica dual lenses, f/2.2, 1.25 µm pixel, has potential but lacks OIS, and the firmware needs a little work to get it there.
- Sony has very fast autofocus but does not produce the best shots due to lack of OIS – and it should be better given its heritage.
- HTC 10 with 1.55um, f/1.8 lens, a smidgeon behind the GS7 but early firmware let it down.
- Moto X Style is also a stunning daylight performer.
- BlackBerry PRIV is good but has a f/2.2 lens that knocks it around in low light.
- iPhone 6S Plus with OIS trails a long, long, long way behind which is ironic given its “Shot on iPhone campaign".
Android Marshmallow 6.0.1 – Chewy Nougat 7 coming
There is a difference between the GS7 Edge and the Note 7. It has a new, lower fat, Touch Wiz User Interface (UI) that is cleaner, has consistent iconography, and is closer to pure Android than before. It is called Grace. I have no doubt that it will roll out with the Nougat upgrade for the S7/Edge.
Placing the Edge beside the Note shows some redesigned icons, a slightly different Quick Panel, and some rearranged settings – but it is not a big visual change.
The new UI, however, is to allow things like an improved always on display (AOD) which you can draw on, iris recognition, blue light filter, better recognition of your face (display lights up when you tilt it towards you), improved Edge interface (it is an Edge+Pen), gesture-based camera app (very nice), better power saving through app sleep management, iris and fingerprint pay authentication.
You can have a totally separate secure folder of documents, media, contacts, emails and notes that are visible only to you after you use a finger, iris scan, password, or PIN pattern to access it. In theory, it a separate user profile.
So while it looks similar, it has hundreds of new, seamless features to make your life easier.
The S Pen
The aim is to make the experience of S Pen on glass equivalent to a pen on paper. It is not there yet, but it is streets ahead of the Note5, and that was not too bad.
The S Pen is the prime reason you buy this device – otherwise, save a few dollars and buy the Edge. Firstly, there is no #pengate – you cannot put it in backwards as you could on Note5.
Next, the pen has been redesigned – it is IP68 (in case you want to take notes in the shower), has a smaller .7mm tip, it supports 4096 pressure levels (thanks to the Wacom Digitiser panel), and it feels better to use.
But a pen does not a writing implement make. It is the new Samsung Note app that is the star. For convenience, I will refer to the app as S Note that has been totally upgraded and offers:
- additional pen styles (fountain, calligraphy, ballpoint, pencil, highlighter, marker);
- brushes (watercolour, oil, calligraphy, crayon, airbrush);
- text with spell check, checkboxes, bullet points, bold, italic, underline;
- a range of primary as well as a complete sRGB range of colours;
- write on lock screen when the phone is off;
- annotation on photos and web pages;
- animated GIF making;
- voice recording (and note taking);
- hover commands;
- glance (minimise one note while working on another) – cut and paste; and
- more including social media sharing.
Frankly, in week one I was only able to test a small percentage of its features. You can read more about S Pen here.
- Iris scanning – it works well and fast although I prefer using a fingerprint.
- HDR video playback – fine, if you can get content. I used the Wi-Fi AC, dual band, 2 x 2 MU-MIMO (fastest on a current smartphone) to stream a 4K, HDR movie, and a GS7 Edge – the colour difference was evident but not significant. The Edge was very good at the start. The difference is in the contrast and details in the shadows. You will be happy with either.
- Gorilla Glass 5 screen – that’s the toughest yet.
At the end of week one I am very happy with the Note7 (Australian site here). It is almost the same physical size as the GS7 Edge and offers just that much more.
It costs $1349 and if you hurry and pre-order before 18 August you can get a free 256GB microSD card valued at $299.
Yes, it has the crown as the best Android smartphone with or without an S Pen – but that is the primary reason to buy.