Samsung has unveiled its latest Galaxy Note phablet in India within two weeks of the global launch. The new Galaxy Note 7 gets a number of upgrades under the hood and new features compared to last year's Galaxy Note 5. Samsung has skipped the Galaxy Note 6 name and jumped to 7 so that this model is more in line with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, as explained by Samsung previously.
The Galaxy Note series has come a long way since its debut in 2011 and has seen many changes in these years. The Note models are Samsung's only smartphones which use styluses, and this has created a niche target audience. But will the new Note phablet be able to convince previous Note users to upgrade as well as attract new users?The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 features a host of improvements over its predecessor, the Galaxy Note 5. The new Galaxy Note 7's screen is curved on two sides, the S Pen stylus has been improved, and there are new camera features such as 'Dual Pixel' technology. The device is also now water resistant (IP68 certified), supports two SIMs as well as a microSD card, and packs the biggest battery yet in a Note smartphone. We spent some time with the latest phablet at Samsung's launch event on Thursday, and here are our initial thoughts.
We have to first talk about the biggest new feature of the Galaxy Note 7 - its iris scanner. Interestingly, Samsung's Note 7 isn't the first product to feature an iris scanner module. The Galaxy Tab Iris tablet had this feature, though it wasn't sold commercially. The Galaxy Note 7 can unlock itself using iris recognition, and in the time we spent getting acquainted with the device, we found that it worked really quickly. This new form of biometric security could appeal to security-conscious users as there have been reports about phones being compromised regardless of the use of fingerprint locks. This is also a new innovation for smartphones which have lately been improving only in terms of specifications.
Setting up the iris scanner took only a minute. Users will have to go to the Iris option in security settings page. On choosing the iris scanner as the unlock method, the phone will show instructions like how to hold the device so that it can recognise your irises. Ideally, the phone should be held at eye level 25-35cm away from the face. There's an indicator LED above the display to tell users when the sensor is active.
Another added feature in the Note 7 is Secure Folder, which can be accessed only after setting up the iris scanner. It basically lets users access files in private. One of the best advantages of the Secure Folder is that it allows a user to run a second instance of an app. This means that a user can use two WhatsApp accounts on a single device with the two running independently of each other, each tied to a different SIM. With the Secure Folder, users will be also able to store photos, memos, and apps privately on the Galaxy Note 7.
One of the Samsung representatives at the launch event explained that the Secure Folder will function as an independent space, isolated from any other form of access. Users won't be able to access, copy, or transmit data stored in the Secure Folder from outside. The only workaround is to move files out of the Secure Folder. Also, if the phone detects that someone is trying to root it, the contents of the Secure Folder will be locked. It's worth noting that one can use the Secure Folder feature only if a Samsung ID is registered.
The event was held in a well-lit location, and it will be interesting to test the iris scanner in low light. There's still support for pattern, password, or numeric pin locks to fall back on in unfavourable conditions which means users don't have to rely on only the iris scanner. Apart from the iris scanner, Samsung has also retained the fingerprint scanner embedded in the physical home button.
The Galaxy Note 7's S Pen has also received considerable improvements, including a new 0.7mm thin tip which is almost half of the Note 5 stylus's 1.6mm tip. Samsung, at the launch event, stressed that the S Pen also sports enhanced pressure sensors. On tapping it , the Air Command option appears, letting users quickly create notes, make selections, write annotations on screen, translate, magnify, and glance. The South Korean company stressed on the translate feature, which can recognise 38 languages and translate into 71 languages. For the Indian market, Samsung says the Note 7 will support 11 Indian languages.
The Note 7 (and the S Pen stylus) are now both IP68 certified for dust and water resistance, just like the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge from earlier this year. In the limited time we had to try out the Note 7, we were impressed with the new S Pen stylus's speed and how the device responded to all touches. We specifically liked the features such as the screen-off memo function that allows scribbling on the screen even in standby. The stylus now also makes it easier to create GIFs.
The Galaxy Note 7, with its curved screen, looks very similar to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge from front. However, thanks to the bigger screen and overall rectangular shape, the Note 7 is easily recognisable. Despite its 5.7-inch display, the Note 7 didn't feel too heavy or uncomfortable to use with just one hand. We particularly liked that the phone's design offers a comfortable grip. In fact, the Galaxy Note 7 at 169 grams is marginally lighter than the Galaxy Note 5 (Review) which weighed 171 grams. For the sake of comparison, the Galaxy S7 Edge (Review) weighs 157 grams. At 7.9mm, the Note 7 is slightly thicker than the Note 5 (7.6mm) as well as the Galaxy S7 Edge (7.7mm).
The front of the Note 7 somewhat maintains the design language first seen on the Samsung Galaxy S6. There is the Home button below the screen which as before also has an integrated fingerprint scanner. The capacitive buttons for Back and Recents are placed on either side of the Home button, and light up when touched. The new USB-Type C port is on the bottom, alongside the speaker grille, 3.5mm audio jack, microphone, and S Pen silo. There's a hybrid SIM tray on top, and so users will have to choose between using the two SIMs and using one SIM and one microSD card. The device supports up to 256GB of expandable storage.
The screen is a 5.7-inch Super Amoled panel with a resolution of 1440x2560 pixels (QHD). It's protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5, which was only recently launched. The screen looked stunning with vibrant colours and good black levels. Viewing angles were never an issue. An added feature that allows users to choose different screen resolutions is also a highlight of the Note 7. One can access this feature via the Power saving option in the drop-down notifications shade.
On selecting this option, the device offers to change its screen resolution. Users can choose from HD, full-HD, and QHD. Samsung stressed that this is an industry first for a smartphone, and will let users decide the resolution that suits them best. A company representative claimed that lower resolutions can reduce battery usage.
The Note 7 runs the company's custom UI on top of the Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Lately, the Samsung skin has gone through a lot of cosmetic changes and the result is now an interface with less bloatware. As before, Google's suite of apps can be found inside a single folder. Apart from these, there are Samsung's own apps including S Health, S Voice, Galaxy Apps, Pen Up, and Samsung Gear amongst others. The device also comes preloaded with several Microsoft apps. We will have a detailed look at the software of the Galaxy Note 7 when we get a chance to put it through our review process.
Under the hood, Samsung uses its own Exynos SoCs. In this case, the Galaxy Note 7 is powered by the octa-core Exynos 8890, which has four cores clocked at 2.3GHz and rest clocked at 1.6GHz. There's 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM. It seems that the company has decided that it won't launch its devices with Qualcomm processors in markets such as India. Some regions including the US will receive a variant powered by the Snapdragon 820.
In the limited time that we could spend with the Galaxy Note 7, we found that it was amazingly fast, whether using the camera or the S Pen or during multitasking. Samsung has used the same camera module that the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have. There's a 12-megapixel sensor with Dual Pixel technology which is claimed to improve shots taken in low-light conditions. Other features include phase detection autofocus (PDAF), optical image stabilisation (OIS), an f/1.7 aperture, a dual-LED flash, and auto-HDR. The Galaxy Note 7 also packs a 5-megapixel front camera with an f/1.7 aperture. Images captured with the Galaxy Note 7 looked stunning, with a great amount of detail. The images didn't lose quality even when zoomed in. The front-facing camera was decent for selfies.
We will however reserve our verdict on the Note 7's cameras and performance till we get a chance to put it through the paces in our detailed review.
At Rs. 59,900, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is now Samsung's most expensive smartphone offering in India. The number of unique features easily justifies this price. The Galaxy Note 7 will be available in India in three colours - Gold Platinum, Silver Titanium, and Black Onyx - starting on September 2. At this price point, we don't really believe that the Note 7 has any competition, but users who don't particularly care for a stylus could still be very happy with the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which boasts of nearly identical features and specifications.
Stay tuned for our detailed review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.