When it comes to phones with big screens, Samsung’s Galaxy Note range has always reigned supreme, which is pretty impressive given the last Note phone that came to the UK was the Galaxy Note 4 back in 2014. The Note 4′s had a good run, but now it’s time for something new, and its latest phablet, the Note 7, is better than ever.
Taking several cues from this year’s Galaxy S7 range, the Note 7 is arguably one of the most practical phones on the planet. Its trademark S Pen stylus is probably the main reason why you’d choose this over Samsung’s slightly smaller Galaxy S7 Edge, but when the Note 7 also comes with waterproof protection (up to 1.5m of fresh water for 30 minutes), a microSD card slot to expand its already quite sizable 64GB of internal storage up to 256GB, extra security from its fingerprint and iris scanner combo, a colossal 3,500mAh battery and Samsung’s gorgeous curved edge display, you quickly realise that’s not it’s only strength.
Despite measuring 7.9mm at its thinnest point, the Note 7 feels like a chunky slab of technology. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The combination of its curved display and gently rounded sides make it more comfortable to hold than more angular S7 Edge. It’s a shame its glossy front and rear attract fingerprints so readily, but this has been a recurring theme with Samsung’s smartphones ever since it decided to follow in Sony’s footsteps and use glass on both the front and back. Fingerprints aside, it’s a stunning phone, and its metal frame adds that extra touch of class you’d expect from such a high-end handset.
The stylus is tucked away on the bottom right corner. It’s spring-loaded, so you’ll need to push in to release it from its little cubby hole and click it home when you replace it. The phone vibrates when you take it out, too, so you always know when it’s not secure, and an alarm will sound if you accidentally leave it behind.
As with previous Note devices, removing the pen automatically conjures up Samsung’s Air Command wheel on the screen, providing quick, easy access to its myriad of different note-taking tools. You can swap these out for up to six apps of your own, but the default S Pen features do have their uses.
Smart Select and Screen Write let you crop or annotate what’s currently onscreen to share with friends, while Translate – arguably the best new S Pen feature – will translate text for you. Simply hover the pen over the word in question.
It’s a shame there aren’t as many source languages available as target languages – Japanese and Chinese were notably absent from the source list at time of writing, for example – but hopefully, Samsung will keep adding new languages with future software updates.
Magnify uses the stylus’ current position to enlarge a portion of the screen up to 300% to make it more legible, and Glance is the lazy man’s answer to the Recent Apps button. This creates a small thumbnail of the app you’re currently using so you can flick between two different things very quickly. It’s a fraction more convenient than tapping the Recents button, but if you really need to constantly switch between different apps, you’d probably be better off using Samsung’s Split View feature and having both apps open side by side.
Glance aside, most of the dedicated S Pen apps do make good use of the stylus, and the pen itself is brilliant for jotting down the odd scribble. It picks up every pen stroke almost instantaneously, making it feel very quick and responsive, and the screen has built-in palm rejection as well, so you can rest your hand on the screen while you write. There’s no other phone that does this so well, so if the idea of having a portable notebook in your pocket sounds appealing, the Note 7 certainly won’t disappoint.
Another big draw of the Note 7 is its huge 5.7in Super AMOLED display. Its resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 might give it a coarser pixel density of 515ppi compared to its S7 cousins, which both pack the same resolution into smaller 5.1in and 5.5in screens respectively, but the difference in sharpness wasn’t visible to my eyes when I compared them side by side.
As I’ve come to expect from Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology, image quality on the Note 7 is excellent. The screen covers a full 100% of the sRGB colour gamut, and its pure 0.00cd/m2 black levels ensure text remains dark and inky when you’re browsing the web or reading a book. Likewise, with effectively perfect contrast, images have plenty of detail and viewing angles are excellent.
As with most phones, the Note 7 alters its screen brightness levels depending on the level of ambient light; Samsung’s technology is different to most, however, in that it goes into a kind of “overdrive” mode in really high ambient light conditions, boosting the brightness above normal levels.
I tested this by shining a bright torch directly at the phone’s light sensor. Here, the screen’s peak brightness jumped from its usual maximum of 363cd/m2 (the maximum when in manual brightness mode) right up to 489cd/m2, giving it near-IPS levels of brightness. This is extremely handy when you’re outdoors and need that extra boost to combat glare, and it makes it a lot more versatile than other AMOLED displays.
Even better, when I ran the same test using a smaller patch of white, the brightness maxed out at around 872cd/m2, which is an incredible result for this type of screen technology. It’s by far the highest level I’ve ever recorded, and it means that lighter parts of the screen will truly shine if you’re looking at images or videos outdoors.
The Always On Display makes a welcome return as well, allowing you to see the time, date and notification icons onscreen even when the phone is locked or in sleep mode. This is useful if all you want to do is find out the time, and it doesn’t use a lot of battery, either, as Samsung’s Super AMOLED screen technology means it only illuminates the pixels it needs rather than the entire backlight like IPS-based displays.
Of course, since the Note 7 has the same curved display as the S7 Edge, you also get all of Samsung’s additional Edge Screens as well. These are activated by a simple thumb swipe on the small translucent tab on the side of the screen. Admittedly, I never found the Apps Edge, which lists up to two rows of additional shortcuts, particularly useful. I found it quicker for me to just swipe to their location on the home page.
The People Edge is a bit more practical, providing instant access to your most used contacts, allowing you to call, text or email them with a couple of taps. However, while you can also place similar shortcut widgets directly on the home screen, it does make you wonder whether the Edge Screens really make things more convenient. It can be a little awkward to wrap your fingers around it when you’re holding it in just one hand.