UPDATE 10/11/2016: Samsung has ceased production and the Galaxy Note 7 is no longer available.
UPDATE 10/10/2016: Official line from Samsung regarding the Note 7 recall and replacements:
“We are working with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to investigate the recently reported cases involving the Galaxy Note7. Because consumers’ safety remains our top priority, Samsung will ask all carrier and retail partners globally to stop sales and exchanges of the Galaxy Note7 while the investigation is taking place.
We remain committed to working diligently with the CPSC, carriers and our retail partners to take all necessary steps to resolve the situation. Consumers with an original Galaxy Note7 or replacement Galaxy Note7 should power down and take advantage of the remedies available, including a refund at their place of purchase. For more information, consumers should visit samsung.com/us/note7recall or contact 1-844-365-6197.”
UPDATE 10/09/2016: Samsung has halted production of the Note 7 amidst reports of replacement Note 7’s catching fire. AT&T has ceased exchanging new Note 7 replacement units, while T-Mobile, Best Buy, and Sprint have suspended sales.
After a troubled launch that saw a market recall, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is back on store shelves, and this could be good news for tablet users.
After all, one of the reasons small tablet sales dropped from their peak a couple years ago is that consumers are choosing large phones instead. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was created for this market, as it boasts a 5.7-inch display and comes with a stylus for taking notes.
We decided to test to see how well this Android device really performed as a 7-inch tablet alternative. Read on to see how well it stood up.
Build & Design
Large screens don’t come in small devices, which is why the Samsung’s latest measures 6.0 × 2.9 × 0.31 inches and weighs 6 ounces. That means it fits into a pants pocket, though its height and width make for a sizable bulge. Bulk is the Note 7’s biggest drawback when being used as a phone. It can take a while to become accustomed to making voice calls on something this big.
On the other side of the coin, even smaller tablets aren’t pocketable. They necessitate a bag or purse. Samsung’s phablet is much more portable than that.
The Galaxy Note 7’s overall design is a typical a flat rectangle with rounded corners, though Samsung does try to shake things up a little with four color choices: gold, silver, white, and black. The only thing that will turn heads about this device is its size. It looks professional, if a bit generic.
The phablet is IP68 rated, which means it is both waterproof and dust proof. Its rating goes beyond being splash resistant, with Samsung promising that this phablet can be immersed in up 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes without damage, as long as it’s dried off afterward.
The most prominent feature of the Note 7 is its 5.7-inch screen, which has a 1440 × 2560 pixel resolution and a 16:9 aspect ratio. The result is the amazingly high pixel density of 518 ppi, making fonts, and just about everything else, look super smooth.
This is a Super AMOLED display, not the usual IPC LCD. It looks beautiful, but in an office or home it’s not noticeably nicer looking than any other high-end phone screen. sAMOLED screens do look better in direct sunlight thanks to their deep contrasts, though, and generally use less power.
Another feature that sets this model apart from rivals is its curved display edges, which bend around the long sides of this phablet, leaving minimal bezel. This is undoubtedly a sleek look, but holding this device without accidentally touching the screen takes practice.
The 5.7-inch screen is outstanding for typical smartphone tasks. As a GPS, it is much easier to see than a smaller display, for example. Facebook and other social networking services are more convenient as well.
That said, screen size is what will keep some from choosing the Galaxy Note 7 instead of a small tablet. It’s certainly large enough for many productivity and entertainment tasks, but it isn’t well suited for all. For example, a 5.7-inch screen is fine for enjoying a sitcom during lunch hour, but it’s terrible for watching an action movie on a plane. It’s a nice way to read for a few minutes while falling asleep, but it’s too small to be a dedicated ebook reader. The Note 7 is better than a typical phone to look over an Excel spreadsheet, but a 7-inch tablet makes this much easier. And while this device is up to casual games, it’s not right for serious gaming.
That said, even a 7-inch tablet isn’t ideal for most of these. A 10- or 12-inch tablet is an even better option.
Ports, Buttons, & Speakers
Much has been made of the fact that this is the first phone from Samsung with a USB Type-C port. Unfortunately, this can do much, much less than the same port on a tablet like the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S. We tested it with Dell’s USB-C Adapter with no success, even though this accessory has worked with every Windows 10 computer we’ve tried. This means there’s apparently no connecting an external monitor or Ethernet network to the Note 7, a significant blow for those who want to use it like a tablet.
However, this phablet comes with an adapter that allows it to use some USB Type-A accessories. We successfully tested it with a flash drive and an external keyboard. There’s also a micro-USB adapter in the box.
On the top of this device is a tray that holds both a SIM card and a microSD card. Samsung says this supports cards up to 256MB. We tested it with 64GB card from Lexar and it performed as expected.
Samsung continues to ignore Google’s suggestions to use on-screen buttons by instead including a physical Home button on the this device, plus capacitive Back and Recent Apps buttons built into the case on either side of it. It’s nice that these never take up valuable screen space, but there are occasional drawbacks. For example, it’s up to the user to remember that they need to press the Back button to hide the on-screen keyboard. On a regular device, this button’s icon would change to indicate this, but the Note 7’s button can’t do that.
The Home button also serves as a fingerprint scanner. It can be trained to recognize multiple fingers, and functioned fairly well in our tests. It’s not unusual for it to take a couple tries to recognize a print, though, especially if the finger is held perpendicular to the scanner. Also, the scanner can’t seem to recognize a wet finger. These minor hassles aside, it is very convenient to be able to unlock the Galaxy Note 7 just by touching the Home button, and this same function can be used to enter secure information into websites.
There are physical volume controls too, and a standard audio port, as Samsung hasn’t yet taken the leap Apple has with the iPhone 7.
There’s just one speaker on this phablet, but it puts out enough sound that we had no problems hearing a TV show playing in a moderately noisy environment with the device 2-3 feet away.
Unlike most tablets, the Galaxy Note 7 is a comfortable size to take pictures. There’s a 12 MP Dual Pixel auto-focus camera (Sony IMX260) on the back, with flash. This is capable of recording 4K video at 3840 × 2160 and 30fps.
There is a front-facing camera dedicated to iris scanning, which can be used to unlock the phone similar to the fingerprint scanner. This only works indoors, not in direct sunlight, but other than that is really quite reliable… possibly even more so than the finger scanner. It didn’t matter that our test subject was wearing contacts.
There’s also another 5 MP camera on the front for video conferencing.
A feature that helps set the Galaxy Note 7 apart from other extra-large phones is its built-in stylus. The S Pen fits neatly into a slot on the bottom edge, and unlike the one in its predecessor, it can’t be inserted the wrong way. It uses Wacom’s technology, and supports 4,096 levels of pressure.
Samsung worked hard to integrate this active pen into its phablet’s software. Just pulling it out with the device off automatically opens an application for scribbling a quick note, like “Pick up dry cleaning”.
Once the device has been unlocked, removing the S Pen opens a menu of apps/functions, including a notepad where text typed with the on-screen keyboard can be combined with drawings. This is quite useful, making the addition of the stylus more than a gimmick.
That said, it would take a desperate person to use the Note 7 to take an hour-long class’s lecture notes, or take the minutes from an important meeting. The screen is just too cramped for this to be practical. A 7-inch tablet is barely large enough for these tasks, and a 10-inch one is a much better option.
The version of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 available in most of the world is powered by an Exynos 8890 processor that has eight processor cores, which it uses in a complex arrangement to increase battery life and performance. The U.S./Canada/China/Japan version of this phablet has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor.
We tested the Qualcomm version with the Geekbench 3, and the device pulled in a 5426 score in the multi-core CPU section. The Samsung Galaxy S7 scored just about the same on this benchmarking test. To compare it with some tablets, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 9.7 scored a 1450, the HTC Nexus 9 scored a 3210, but the Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a 5410 score. What this means in real world terms is that the Note 7 is quite as fast as high-end phones and tablets.
Samsung included 4GB RAM, a decent amount for an Android device, though not outstanding. There’s just 64GB of built-in storage, which means that many people will need to invest in a microSD memory card for additional capacity. Fortunately, Android allows users to store applications as well as files on a removable card.
Our Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review unit has the following specs:
- Display: 5.7” Quad HD Dual edge Super AMOLED 2560 x 1440 (518ppi)
- OS: Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow)
- Network: LTE Cat.12 / LTE Cat.10 / LTE Cat.9
- Dimensions: 5 x 73.9 x 7.9mm
- Weight: 169g
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Quad Core (2.15GHz Dual + 1.6GHz Dual), 64 bit, 14 nm process
- Memory: 4GB RAM (LPDDR4) , 64GB (UFS 2.0)
- Cameras: Rear Dual Pixel 12MP OIS (F1.7), Front 5MP (F1.7)
- Battery: 3,500mAh, Fast Charging on wired and wireless Wireless Charging compatible with WPC and PMA
- Payment compatibility: NFC, MST
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), MU-MIMO(2×2) 620Mbps, Bluetooth v 4.2 LE, ANT+, USB Type-C, NFC, Location (GPS, Glonass, Beidou)
- Sensors: Barometer, Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, HR Sensor, Iris Sensor, Proximity Sensor, RGB Light Sensor
- Audio support: MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA
- Video support: MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, WEBM
- Price: Starting at $849.99
The Galaxy Note 7 debuted with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, which launched last year. Google has since introduced Android 7.0 Nougat, and Samsung has promised to have a Note 7 upgrade to this version available in a few months.
One of the reasons this upgrade isn’t already available is Samsung modifies the standard Android user interface, and adds its own applications. The unit we reviewed was thankfully nearly free of pointless bloatware, and even better, some very useful apps had been added. This includes the Secure Folder, which holds a couple of web browsers, two email clients, a contact list, a notepad, and more (anything the user wants, really), all of which can only be accessed with a password, fingerprint, or iris scan.
To see how well the Note 7 functions as a business tablet alternative, we tested Microsoft Word for Android. This productivity application is certainly usable on this phablet, but it isn’t an ideal solution because of the 5.7-inch display. Naturally, an external keyboard makes entering text easier, but there’s no getting around the cramped screen. This is a task where a 7-inch or larger tablet is a better option than a phone, even a large one.
Samsung built a 3500mAh non-swappable battery in the Galaxy Note 7, and says the device is good for up to 14 hours of web surfing on Wi-Fi or 4G LTE. To test for ourselves, we set the phablet to streaming Netflix over Wi-Fi with the display brightness set to max. It lasted 9 hours and 12 minutes, which is an impressive length for a phone.
The device supports fast charging. In our testing, a Note 7 got a 36% charge in 30 minutes, with the device on but the screen off. This was using the charger and cable that came with this model.
The phablet supports wireless charging, both the WPC and PMA standard.
The list price for the Galaxy Note 7 is between $850 and $880, which is a high for a phone and very high for a mid-size tablet. For comparison, the retail price for the Samsung Galaxy S7 is about $670, or the Samsung Galaxy Tab A is $299.99. Of course, the Note 7 tries to take the place of both of those devices, theoretically saving the user about $100.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 boasts a beautiful screen, a useful stylus, and an excellent camera. It functions quite well as a phone, albeit a hefty one. It is also one of the best phablets on the market, especially for those who want to be able to easily take quick handwritten notes.
That said, anyone who’s thinking about downsizing from a 7-inch or larger tablet to the Note 7 should think carefully before they do. They must be willing to give up many of the productivity tasks they now perform on the larger screen, or accept that these will become more challenging on a 5.7-inch display.