Samsung Galaxy Note 7 - Is Bigger Always Better?

Samsung kills the Apple iPhone 7 Plus before it was even released with their new Galaxy Note 7 smartphone.

12 minutes & 26 seconds read time


Samsung Galaxy Note history

I still remember the original Galaxy Note smartphone from Samsung, which emerged in a world of 3.5-inch iPhones, and the word 'phablet' was born. There were large groups of smartphone users who laughed Samsung off with its massive 5.3-inch screen, with Apple marketing going into overdrive with the iPhone 5 and its 3.5-inch display. Apple mocked Samsung in the iPhone 5 'thumb' TV commercial, saying that "a dazzling display of common sense" that your thumb can reach all parts of the 3.5-inch display on the iPhone 5.

Well, Apple may have said that years ago when Steve Jobs was alive, but the company changed with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus release. Apple shifted its game from a 3.5-inch display to the much larger 4.7-inch display on the iPhone 6, but it was the 5.5-inch display on the iPhone 6 Plus that had the world standing still. Apple fans loved it, Samsung fans were used to it for years, taking flak from iPhone users that their Galaxy Note smartphones were just too big.

Steve Jobs himself said back in 2010 during the massive Antennagate problems that making a smartphone so big "you can't get your hand around it" would help with reception, but he added that "no one's going to buy that." Well, fast forward a few years and Apple's entire stance on larger smartphones has changed, especially with the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6S Plus being two of the biggest smartphones you can buy.

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Why the history lesson, and why am I talking so much about Apple? Because the Galaxy Note family of smartphones from Samsung was almost the anti-Apple within Samsung's family of smartphones. The South Korean giant has been making smartphones for what feels like forever, but it was the Galaxy Note range that really set them apart from not just Apple, but all smartphone manufacturers.

Samsung made big smartphones useful, instead of just a gimmick, and made more of a professional line of smartphones with the Galaxy Note thanks to the included stylus. Having a stylus built into the smartphone was a huge win, versus a larger iPhone, which has no purpose other than a larger screen.

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Samsung continued its domination with the Galaxy Note, succeeding it with the Galaxy Note II and Galaxy Note III, but it wasn't until the Galaxy Note 4 that they began pushing the boundaries in the marketing department. With the release of the Galaxy Note 4, Samsung's marketing was saying "no one is going to buy a big phone" followed by "guess who surprised themselves and changed their minds." It was a clever tactic, and Samsung drove it home, right into the release of the Galaxy Note 5, which was a dip for the company.

The release of the Galaxy Note 5 was met with criticism, as Samsung had removed staple features like expandable storage through a microSD card slot. The bloated TouchWiz UI became an even more loathed problem for Samsung, but things started to turn around with the company in its Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge smartphones. Samsung's Galaxy Note 5 was released after the Galaxy S5 smartphone, which failed to gain the kind of traction the company was used to with its Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4 smartphones.

Samsung began listening to its millions of consumers, and put significant efforts into the Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 edge, and then the Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge, and now the Galaxy Note 7 smartphones. With each successor, they bought back the things that were missing (the Galaxy S7/S7 edge has a microSD card slot, the S6/S6 edge did not) - and the same goes for the Galaxy Note 7. Samsung has improved the Galaxy Note 7 in virtually every way it can, but it's not perfect by any means.

What's New & Improved

If you're like me, you've read countless reviews on the Galaxy Note 7 so far, which have been mostly positive. It's a great smartphone, one of the best in fact, but let's talk about what's new before we get a detailed look at the phone, and then my thoughts after a few days of using Samsung's latest and greatest smartphone.

Beautiful Display

Samsung has always been the king of displays, giving its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone a beautiful 5.7-inch dual curved Super AMOLED display with a native resolution of 2560x1440.

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It's absolutely gorgeous to look at, with colors that truly pop and brightness levels that reach dizzying new heights. The dual curved display not only looks great to the eye, it feels great in your hands as the curves taper off of the display. And while it's curved, the Galaxy Note 7 display is still mostly flat.

Iris Scanner

The iris scanner on the Galaxy Note 7 is the first of its kind, as it's an alternative to the fingerprint, password, PIN, or pattern for authentication.

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Simply scan your eyes and your Galaxy Note 7 unlocks. It's incredibly fast, too.

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S Pen Improvements

One of the standout features of the Galaxy Note range of smartphones has always been the S Pen stylus, which Samsung has improved significantly on the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone. The new S Pen can be used to quickly get notes down, draw pictures (or add to them), and navigate through the smartphone itself. The Galaxy Note 7 allows you to create GIFs from any video with a few taps, which is a nice touch.

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The S Pen is now water resistant, at the same level as the Galaxy Note 7 itself - meaning you can make some notes to /r/ShowerThoughts, while in the shower. The pen tip itself is narrower and has twice as many levels of pressure sensitivity as the Note 5. You can't put the S Pen into the Galaxy Note 7 backward either, as it has a spring release.

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Samsung also now lets you magnify parts of the screen with the S Pen, multi-task between apps, or instantly translate text through Google Translate. Pulling the S Pen out of the Galaxy Note 7 will result in the software popping up and offering you to take a note, screenshot, and you can even edit these apps for more personalization.

Water Resistant

The Galaxy Note 7 is water resistant, which is ideal for accidental spills - and opens up the Galaxy Note 7 to being used in different places, like the beach, or on a kitchen bench without the worry of getting it wet and killing your expensive smartphone.

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Samsung has upped the ante on the dust and water resistance with the Galaxy Note 7, with the company not only sealing all of the ports from the inside, but the upgraded S Pen is also water resistant. The Galaxy Note 7 can survive in 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes.

Always-On Display

Samsung has improved the always-on display feature on the Galaxy Note 7, which now supports more calendar layouts, and includes support for all third-party app notifications. Instead of being a "here you go, it works - kinda" feature, it becomes a more ingrained part of the Galaxy Note 7 experience.

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Detailed Look

The new Galaxy Note 7 is one of the best-looking smartphones on the market, and it screams premium all the way down to the S Pen, and again up to the dual curved display which always has me turning my head. Samsung has been known, in the past, to release 'plastic-y' smartphones which don't get referred to as quality. This has all changed with the last few Galaxy smartphones, and the Galaxy Note 7 - to me at least, hits a new high note.

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Looking at the front of the Galaxy Note 7, we can see a bunch of sensors at the top, as well as the front-facing camera. The iris scanner is there, which will let you unlock your Note 7 by just looking at it.

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On the back of the phone, we have the great 12-megapixel rear-facing 4K-capable camera which is joined by the LED flash and heart rate sensor.

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On the left side of the phone, we have the volume rocker.

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On the right side of the phone, we have the power button.

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Samsung has opted for the new USB Type-C connector for charging and syncing, which is reversible - and it's awesome. There's also a 3.5mm jack to the left, microphone, speaker, and then to the right is the S Pen stylus.

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At the top of the Galaxy Note 7, we have the SIM/microSD card tray.

Comparisons - Battery, Weight, and Displays

Comparisons - Battery

Samsung has some rather large batteries in its smartphones:

  • iPhone 6S: 143g 1715mAh
  • iPhone 6S Plus: 192g 2750mAh
  • Galaxy Note 7: 169g 3500mAh
  • Galaxy S7: 152g 3000mAh
  • Galaxy S7 edge: 3600mAh

But the iPhones weigh much more than the Galaxy handsets from Samsung.

Comparisons - Weight

  • iPhone 6S: 143g (5.04oz)
  • iPhone 6S Plus: 192g (6.77oz)
  • Galaxy Note 7: 169g (5.96oz)
  • Galaxy S7: 152g (5.36oz)
  • Galaxy S7 edge: 157g (5.54oz)

Not too bad at all, with the Galaxy Note 7 featuring the biggest display, but it is 13.6% lighter than the iPhone 6S Plus. It's interesting to note that the Galaxy S7 edge weighs 7% less than the Note 7, given its 5.5-inch display.

Comparisons - Displays

Samsung makes some of the best displays in the business, so it is only going to manifest in the Galaxy branded smartphones featuring high-res, gorgeous displays.

  • iPhone 6S: 4.7-inch (1334x750)
  • iPhone 6S Plus: 5.5-inch (1920x1080)
  • Galaxy Note 7: 5.7-inch (2560x1440)
  • Galaxy S7: 5.1-inch (2560x1440)
  • Galaxy S7 edge: 5.5-inch (2560x1440)

The Galaxy Note 7 Experience

4 Days With The Galaxy Note 7

After three months of exclusively using the iPhone 6S, moving from its 4.7-inch display up to the massive 5.7-inch display on the Galaxy Note 7 should've felt gigantic, but it didn't. My wife and nephew both have the Galaxy S7, which feels like the in between in terms of size between the iPhone 6S and Galaxy Note 7. The Galaxy S7 feels cheaper in comparison, with the Note 7 feeling like a more premium device. I think this comes down to the slight change in design and the dual curved display which flows off of the edge of the smartphone.

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While the Galaxy Note 7 has a dual curved display with the same 'edge' features that the Galaxy S7 edge has, the top of the display is virtually flat. The curves are subtle, tapering off the edge of the Galaxy Note 7 so that the phone feels smooth and soft on all sides. It's a smartphone you want to run as naked as possible, without bulky cases that take away from the beautiful design and craftsmanship of high-end smartphones these days.

I found the size of the Galaxy Note 7 wasn't a problem for me, as the weight is distributed incredibly well through the smartphone, allowing you to use it one-handed and not feel like it's unbalanced or heavy.

You'll have to personalize the keyboard for two-handed typing, as your hands and finger sizes will be different to others who might find harder or easier to type on depending on the size of the keyboard. You can adjust this with the stock keyboard, but SwiftKey is an excellent software keyboard that works across iOS and Android and has five different keyboard sizes to choose from. This is an incredibly important thing to personalize, as one of the most-used parts of our daily smartphone use is typing into the phone.

Notes on the Galaxy Note 7

Instead of the usual style of review, I've chosen to move into a more 'experience' path with the Galaxy Note 7. These are some of the things that are noticeable to my experience with the Note 7:

Battery Life

I was using the Galaxy Note 7 as my daily for four days before writing this review, and it has definitely improved over the days, where I'm now achieving around a full day of use.

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In that, I'm doing 30-60 minutes of video, 1-2 hours of social media (personally, and for the site), 1-2 hours of chatting and emails, and another hour or so general browsing in between those various apps. The iPhone 6S definitely has better battery, especially when it comes to lasting throughout the day, but only by 1-2 hours - and that's a lot these days.

Fast Charging

On the first day, I charged the phone up from its out-of-the-box 41% charge, right up to 100% charge in just 41 minutes. I had it down to 32% at 10:07 pm, and had it sitting on 100% by 11:10 - 53 minutes for a full charge from 1/3, not bad.

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But if we consider that the Galaxy Note 7 has a larger 3500mAh battery, and can charge it within an hour or so it's good, but bad at the same time because even with the larger battery, I don't get a full day with it.

Wireless Charging

If Apple released their new iPhone and it had wireless charging capabilities, it would be heralded as the next big thing in smartphones. Well, Samsung has had wireless charging technology in the last couple of generations of smartphones, with the new Galaxy Note 7 included.

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It doesn't come with a wireless charger in the box, but it is well worth it for convenience, especially if you have more than one Galaxy smartphone owner in the house.

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword

You know what? I actually used the S Pen more than I thought I would, and it's for two main reasons. Firstly, I have been pushing into Instagram Stories quite a lot - and the stylus is perfect for drawing or writing on my Stories. I also found myself using the S Pen for quick reminders, with the Note 7 letting you quickly pull the stylus out and write on the locked homescreen, leaving a quick note or reminder for later.

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That's right, you can write on the locked homescreen without swiping or using the fingerprint or iris scanner to unlock your phone - just draw on your display. I was out the front of my house just before writing this review putting my rubbish outside in the bin, and I remembered about that feature and wanted to remind myself to write it in my review - a perfect way of displaying a non-forced, reaction to a new but very useful feature on the Note 7.

The Camera

Samsung has been leading the camera game for a little while now, with the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge having some truly great rear-facing cameras, with the work continuing into the Galaxy S7, the S7 edge, and the new Galaxy Note 7 smartphones. I was comparing the Note 7 against the iPhone 6S and Galaxy S7 and noticing that the Note 7 is a gigantic leap better in color and low light conditions than the iPhone 6S.

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Comparing the same 12-megapixel cameras in the Galaxy S7 and Note 7, taking pictures on the Note 7 looked just a bit better in low light, especially with HDR enabled. During the day both of the cameras were virtually identical, they just appear a little clearer than the S7 because of the larger, much brighter display than the Note 7.

TouchWiz UI

I forced myself to use Samsung's custom Android skin that ships on their smartphones, TouchWiz UI, for the first two days before switching it out for Nova Launcher. The custom launcher is much better on the eyes and the hands, as you can adjust the amount of icons in the taskbar, or on the screen itself.

As for TouchWiz UI, it wasn't as obtrusive as I thought it would be. It has definitely been scaled down since the Galaxy Note 5, but I experienced bloat slowing down the Galaxy Note 7 at times - and I'm sure this will only get worse. Major points off here, Samsung.

64GB + 256GB Expandable Storage

Samsung has the base model of the Galaxy Note 7 packing 64GB of fast onboard memory, while providing a microSD card slot at the top of the phone that can take a 256GB microSD card. Take that, Apple.

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Dem Feels

The Galaxy Note 7 feels awesome to hold, with a premium feel that weighs perfectly - it's not too heavy, and it's not unbalanced. I used to walk around with my iPhone 6S in my hands at times, but I don't think I'd do that with the Note 7.

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It's a little too big to be constantly holding, but when you do use it, it feels amazing. The dual curved display just falls off the edge into nothingness, with the premium feel going right around the phone to the way that the S Pen can be pressed and ejected out.

Final Thoughts

Wrapping it up

After my four days with the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, it's clear to me that Samsung has performed some significant changes to its predecessors. It's a thinner, more powerful Note smartphone with the S Pen including more features, and the mistakes Samsung made on the Note 5 have been rectified. Bringing back the microSD card slot goes a long way, especially when you consider there's 64GB base storage, meaning you can buy a 256GB microSD card and enjoy over 300GB of on-the-go storage.

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The comparison between the iPhone 6S and Galaxy Note 7 is an interesting one, as I'm moving from a 4.7-inch to 5.7-inch display, and I'm someone who despises the size and feel of the iPhone 6S Plus, which has a 5.5-inch display. But the Galaxy Note 7 and its 5.7-inch dual curved display was nothing but bliss to hold, use, and draw on.

I need some more time with the Galaxy Note 7, but my first impressions from the few days I've had it now are nothing but good. There are some smaller downsides - such as being scared of my screen getting scratched, or scuff marks on the body - but other than that, it's a great phone. There were times when TouchWiz felt slow and laggy, but these events were few and far between for me. Once I had switched TouchWiz for the custom Nova Launcher, most of those lagging issues disappeared.

If you're a fan of larger smartphones, then the Galaxy Note 7 should be on your radar, and if you're using an iPhone 6/6S Plus, then it's a no-brainer. The Note 7 is a glorious phone, with some crazy specifications, features, and selling points - like the S Pen, the phone being waterproof, and the glorious 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display. The fast-charging capabilities alongside the wireless charging goodness is another thing worth raving over, with Samsung seemingly adding features and awesome sauce (hey, Kyle - or BitWit now rather) in its stride.

Samsung has knocked it out of the park with the Galaxy Note 7, plain and simple. It's an amazing phone, and a great upgrade over the Galaxy Note 7 - and even the newly-released Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge. A no regrets smartphone purchase.

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Anthony joined the TweakTown team in 2010 and has since reviewed 100s of graphics cards. Anthony is a long time PC enthusiast with a passion of hate for games built around consoles. FPS gaming since the pre-Quake days, where you were insulted if you used a mouse to aim, he has been addicted to gaming and hardware ever since. Working in IT retail for 10 years gave him great experience with custom-built PCs. His addiction to GPU tech is unwavering.

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