Editors Note: Samsung has now officially stopped production of the Galaxy Note 7 after recalling the phone once worldwide and attempting to replace those units with safe models. At this time Samsung is still unsure of exactly what caused some Note 7 devices to catch fire, and while it seemed initially it was due to a batch of poorly designed batteries, it's entirely possible that the design itself was the cause of the issue. Samsung will no longer be selling the Galaxy Note 7, and given the inherent danger that owning one poses we highly recommend never buying one, even at a discounted rate.
As the single biggest name in all of tech, not to mention smartphones as a whole, Samsung has a lot to live up to with every major release. The Galaxy Note is easily recognizable as the original huge phone, setting the bar for plenty of major device releases since then and constantly raising that bar. There have been a few times where Samsung has faltered over the years here and there, but this year is looking to be their most successful yet. As the first water resistant entry into the Galaxy Note series, the Galaxy Note 7 brings about some fine tuning to the formula introduced with last year’s Galaxy Note 5, but is it enough of a change to warrant skipping an entire number generation altogether? Let’s find out.
Cream of the crop is what you should always expect when buying a Galaxy Note device, and for a base price of around $800 or so depending on your country or carrier of choice, the Galaxy Note 7 is easily one of the most expensive premium smartphones around. Shipping in four different colors including black, blue coral, silver and gold, there’s likely a version that will satisfy most people’s tastes. On the front sits a 5.7-inch Quad-HD Super AMOLED display with dual curved edges, sporting Corning Gorilla Glass 5 atop to protect it. Under the hood sits either a Snapdragon 820 quad-core CPU (dual-core 2.15GHz Kryo CPU and dual-core 1.6GHz Kryo CPU) with Adreno 530 GPU for the US model, or an Exynos 8890 octa-core CPU (quad-core 2.6GHz Mongoose CPU and quad-core 1.6GHz Cortex-A53 CPU) with Mali-T880 MP12 GPU for the international model. You’ll also note that 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM is inside along with 64GB of UFS 2.0 internal storage, with microSD card support up to 256GB.
The front-facing camera sports a 5-megapixel sensor with f/1.7 lens, while the back of the phone features the same 12-megapixel sensor as the Galaxy S7. This sensor features large 1.4-micron sized pixels, optical image stabilization (OIS), Dual Pixel focusing technology with Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF) and an f/1.7 lens. Next to the camera lens on the back you’ll find the usual pair of LED flash and biometric sensors that have accompanied Galaxy devices for generations now. On the front of the phone sits a brand new Iris scanner that’s designed to allow users to authenticate with their eyes rather than their finger, but of course there’s also a fingerprint scanner here too if you’d rather use that. A rather large 3,500mAh battery powers the whole experience and this time around Samsung is utilizing USB Type-C for its connection point at the bottom. The whole package is IP68 water and dust resistant, and the new S Pen also features the same water resistance as well as increased sensitivity over previous generations. Measurements sit at 169 grams in weight, 153.5mm high, 73.9mm wide and 7.9mm thin.
In The Box
$850 isn't exactly cheap when it comes to a modern smartphone, but Samsung helps this price tag feel a tad bit better by including some extras inside the box. Inside a box that looks and opens identically to the Galaxy S7's box, you'll find the phone itself as well as a SIM/microSD card tray removal tool, as well as the 9v/1.67a wall charger and USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable. In addition to these you'll find a set of 5 S Pen tips with a tool to help replace them when they get worn out, as well as a pair of pretty good Samsung earbuds in a plastic carrying case, a USB Type-C to microUSB adapter, and a Samsung Smart Transfer dongle for quickly and easily getting those old files and other remnants from your old phone onto your brand new Galaxy Note 7.
Samsung's displays are a thing of legend, often surpassing even the best displays out there with every new release. While the 5.7-inch panel on the Galaxy Note 7 remains largely the same as the one found on last year's Galaxy Note 5 in many ways, there's one big feature this display has that we haven't seen on a Note device yet: dual curved edges. Just like the Galaxy S7 Edge, which features a smooth curve on both the left and right edges, the Galaxy Note 7's display is curved on each side. Unlike the Galaxy S7 Edge, however, these curves are much more acute in their nature, and are designed this way to help relieve tension on the glass as well as provide more surface area for the Note's biggest single feature to work on: the S Pen. At the announcement event Samsung confirmed that the S Pen will still work on these edges as it does on the rest of the screen, representing a big breakthrough that Samsung has been able to make in not only bending the screen itself or the glass, but also that special Wacom digitizer found atop each Galaxy Note's screen.
To be completely honest though the curved edge found on the Note 7 is more for looks than actual functionality. It's just such an acute curve that the "purpose" of an edge display becomes essentially completely moot, and even the edge display features like the news ticker only display on the top rather than the side as we saw with the Galaxy S7 Edge this year. It does still help make pulling the edges of menus and other objects on the side of the screen easier, and it gives the phone basically zero bezel on the sides, but if you were hoping for some big improvements to the Edge features that Samsung has been improving for years you're going to be in for a disappointment. Where the display doesn't disappoint is in quality, and this panel is absolutely the greatest mobile display ever conceived on any device. It's not just that it's big and high resolution, we've seen that for years and it's no longer a feature, but more an expected part of the spec list. Rather Samsung is pushing a brand new display technology on the Galaxy Note 7 that thus far has been reserved almost solely to 4K TVs: HDR.
This display utilizes the HDR10 standard, which means it can display ultra bright pixels at 540 nits or higher, all while maintaining those infinite black levels we've all come to know and love about AMOLED panels. This Quad-HD Super AMOLED panel is among the absolute brightest displays available, and thanks to the new HDR mode, and the support of content providers like Netflix, Vudu and Amazon, will display the widest range of colors and brightness levels of any mobile display on the market, bar none. Everything here is absolutely gorgeous, and there are few adjectives to describe just how well rounded every aspect of the display truly is. This is truly the new benchmark for mobile display quality, and it holds true to the quality expected of Samsung at this point in their company's rich display history.
Always on Display
Samsung introduced the always on display feature with this year's Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, and that feature has been carried over to the Galaxy Note 7 as well. You'll get the same incredibly handy always on display that only lights up the pixels required to show the time, date and any notifications you've got waiting for your viewing pleasure below these elements. You can also customize this screen to display a number of different objects on here too, from any picture of your choosing to your daily calendar, or even one of the many themes available on the Galaxy Apps store too. While it won't actually show you a preview of the notifications that are incoming, it will show you the app's icon below the clock in the right mode and help you decide whether or not you actually need to turn the screen on to read them. It will also occasionally show some additional info too, like the partial title of any music playing on the phone, but this is only specific to some content.
This time around they've also added a brand new feature that's exclusive to the Galaxy Note 7: always on notes. Always on notes gives users the ability to add a note to the always on screen and leave it up for their viewing convenience; something like a grocery list or other some such checklist, or just a friendly reminder to do something. Making an always on note is pretty simple in execution, but it's a bit confusing at first. With the always on screen displayed you remove the S-Pen and start writing. The trick is to make sure to click the pin button before placing the S Pen back in its silo or hitting save, otherwise it's incredibly difficult to get it back. To display the note you just double tap on the little note icon on the screen under the clock or calendar, and the note will stay there until dismissed or deleted.
Hardware and Build
Last year Samsung showed us what a truly premium Galaxy Note phone could feel like, and this year they’re stepping it up a notch with a device that features dual curved edges. Unlike the Galaxy S7 there’s no flat version of the Galaxy Note 7, rather the dual edges are now a standard part of the Note design language, yet ones that have been toned down a bit from the Galaxy S7 Edge’s design. This less angular curve still looks as stunning as you would expect a curved edge display to look like, all while helping to prevent the glass from breaking under pressure and still supporting all the S Pen functions users have come to expect from the Galaxy Note series. The whole device will feel incredibly similar to any of Samsung’s premium line in the last year, including the Galaxy S6 family, Galaxy S7 family and the Galaxy Note 5, but with some added benefits of an evolved design over time.
Instead of only curving the front or back, Samsung has opted for a perfectly symmetrical design on both sides of the phone, making it feel even and taut in the hand. This gives the phone a more balanced feel, although that slight camera hump on the back will make it rock ever so slightly when using it on a flat surface. Button placement is exactly where you would expect it, and the metal clicks of each button feel quality in every respect. The power button is located on the right side slightly above the mid-point of the phone, while the volume rockers are placed up high about ¾ of the way up the left side. On top you’ll find the ejectable dual-SIM/microSD card tray and unfortunately no IR blaster. The bottom of the phone holds a bevy of options including the 3.5mm audio jack, centered USB Type-C port, single 1-watt speaker and of course the S Pen.
This year’s S Pen is spring loaded like the Galaxy Note 5’s was, however unlike some previous Note designs this one is designed so it can't be inserted backwards. This was a massive problem on last year’s Galaxy Note 5 as it would literally break the clips inside of the S Pen silo if you accidentally (or purposefully) inserted it backwards. Now that Samsung has fixed this, Note 7 users won’t have to worry about making such a fatal mistake. The S Pen is also water and dust resistant this time around, just like the phone’s IP68 rating, however its glass front and back will not continue to be resistant to the elements if dropped and cracked. Putting a case on this one is unfortunately going to be a big deal because of the construction, but if it helps retain the water and dust resistant nature of the device, it might be worth it. It also makes the phone infinitely easier to hold, and a minimal case like this Choetech one, for example, might satiate users like myself who hate using cases but would rather not drop their phones because of its lack of friction on their palms.
Performance and Memory
For year's Samsung's traditionally heavy TouchWiz UI Android skin has bogged down its top-specced phones, causing them to lag behind competitor's devices in many areas when it comes to day-to-day performance. Samsung seems to have eliminated these issues with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, but they appear to be reintroduced with the Galaxy Note 7 in a way that's incredibly disappointing given the price tag of this phone, not to mention the specs. With a Snapdragon 820 or Exynos 8890 SoC and 4GB of RAM (or 6GB depending on which version you get), we simply should not be seeing lag the way it appears on the Note 7, however there were more than enough times in any given day that the phone would chug like it was a 2013 device during simple tasks. Switching between apps, opening the camera and typing were all common tasks that I found the phone lagging behind other flagships this year in a remarkable way, and it resulted in many times of pure frustration on my end when using it.
There was even a time where I took a video of my son playing on the playground for about 6 minutes, only to figure out at the end that the camera app froze halfway through and never recorded more than a few seconds of video. It was also common for the phone to take several seconds to navigate back home after pressing the home button, or just to move between apps and change tasks in general, it really is quite awful. These sort of performance issues feel as though something in this new iteration of Samsung's UI might have been rushed or not tested fully, as again we saw none of these problems on our Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S7 Edge units and haven't had these sorts of issues on any other Snapdragon 820 powered device either. Monitoring the status of the system's RAM, battery and CPU usage paints an interesting picture, and one that ultimately shows something funky is going on in the background keeping the CPU usage abnormally high and forcing the phone to work harder than it should be. Hopefully Samsung can get these things ironed out, because the raw performance of the phone is nothing short of astounding, and even multi-tasking is the absolute best we've ever seen on any Samsung device, ever.
Aside from the tried-and-true multi-window split-screen functionality, the Galaxy Note 7 features a new S Pen controlled multi-tasking mode called Glance. Glance works by pulling up the Air Command menu by pulling out the S Pen and clicking on the Glance button. This will minimize the currently active app into a small thumbnail that can be dragged to any of the 4 corners on the screen, and can only be brought up by hovering the S Pen over the window. Hovering the S Pen or touching elements in the app keeps it up as the active window, and within 3 seconds of moving the S Pen away from the screen the app automatically minimizes back down to its thumbnail in the corner. It's a brilliant way of multi-tasking any app while still leaving apps fullscreen.
With the introduction of the Galaxy Note 7 came a brand new Gear VR headset designed specifically with the new USB Type-C connection in mind. While we won’t be covering the actual Gear VR unit in this review, it’s obvious that Samsung has been hard focused on delivering a solid VR experience with its phones, and the Galaxy Note 7 follows in the successful footsteps of its predecessors. The Galaxy Note 7 is absolutely the best VR performer on the market next to the Galaxy S7 Edge, and this has almost everything to do with the screen on board. While there are plenty of Snapdragon 820 powered devices out there that run VR content incredibly well, Samsung's displays are second to none, and the new improved aspects of this display play directly to the strengths of a pro-VR machine. Everything from the low persistence rate to the incredibly wide range of colors and brightness levels help immerse you into the VR world, and Samsung's Gear library of VR titles only helps to bring this out to be the best mobile VR experience you can get at this moment.
Is there any reason to expect less than the best performance from a Samsung flagship at this point? Even in difficult years we've seen Samsung surge ahead, either with their own Exynos line of SoC's, or even with the current lineup of Qualcomm's SoC's as well. This year is no exception, as you'll see from the suite of benchmarks run below.
Wireless Connectivity and Sensors
Samsung is selling many different models of the Galaxy Note 7, and all of them vary almost entirely based on the spectrum supported in each country. Specific models are made for each US carrier, as well as models for Europe, India, China and other countries internationally. In addition to these spectrum there are a massive amount of other wireless protocols supported, including Cat. 12 LTE (600Mbps), dual-band WiFi up to 802.11ac speeds, Bluetooth v4.2, ANT+ and aptX. Sensors run the gamut of functionality including a fingerprint sensor in the home button, as well as a host of biometric sensors found next to the camera lens on the back including a heart rate sensor and an SpO2 sensor, as well as an internal barometer. Don't forget too that NFC (Near Field Communication) and the all important MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) are here too to enable Samsung Pay to reach an estimated 90% of all card readers out there for the best mobile payments system around.
With an even bigger battery than before it's pretty disappointing to see that battery life overall is just average. I got through most days with no issue, using the phone in a normal way and eventually dropping it on the charger near the end of the day, but any days where I needed to keep the screen on for more than 3 hours or so at a time needed a charge by around 5pm. I averaged about 12 hours off the charger before needing to top-up again, which is definitely a bit disappointing, but ultimately not an issue in most cases. Samsung provides a ton of different ways to quickly and conveniently charge the phone too, including fast wireless charging via its official peripherals, and of course fast USB Type-C charging.
Regular wireless charging takes about 3 hours to charge from near empty, while fast wireless charging brings this down to about 2 hours to get a full charge. Regular 10W wired charging takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to fully charge the battery, while the included 9v/1.67a charger will charge it fully in just slightly over an hour. This is some excellent charging performance, and if that's not enough Samsung also offers a water and dust resistant charging case that charges the phone wirelessly and without taking up any connectors, which you might have seen in our Galaxy Note 7 accessories hands on video the other week.
Over the years Samsung has developed a pedigree for quality sound output on their phones, often times using some seriously high quality chipsets and DACs from Wolfson and sometimes even their own in-house chips as well. This time around it looks like Samsung is sticking with the same formula they tried with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge; Snapdragon powered models will stick with the Qualcomm chipsets and DAC, while Exynos powered models will use Samsung's own in-house created DACs and chipsets. Qualcomm's audio chipsets have improved significantly over the years, but aren't considered the best on the market for a number of reasons including lots of crosstalk and quite a bit of analog noise. Samsung's chips and DACs appear to be better for sure, but nowhere near the caliber of audio quality we've seen from Samsung phones in the past that used Wolfson units, like the Galaxy S6 for example. Still most users likely won't have issue here, as most people don't have high enough quality audio systems to really pick up on these sorts of things.
Samsung offers a number of software enhancements to its audio output to helps things out a bit too, including a competent equalizer that features a basic and advanced mode, as well as options for presets. There are also a few audio enhancements that can be toggled to your liking, including a "UHQ upscaler" that's supposed to enhance the general structure of the audio being output via the 3.5mm audio jack, as well as virtual surround, tube amp emulation and concert hall reverb. Only the equalizer and concert hall reverb are available to the bottom-facing speaker on the outside of the Galaxy Note 7 though, which is fine because the overall mediocre quality of this speaker won't do much for quality audio anyway. The speaker here isn't any different from the one on the Galaxy S7/S7 Edge, and in general is loud and clear, but doesn't offer a great range of audio and sounds a bit flat, especially when being compared to other phones that specialize in higher quality audio output like the Sony Xperia Performance, HTC 10 or even the Nexus 6p.
Samsung's phones all have one major thing in common; they come with a bevy of pre-installed software that's designed to add value to the device you've purchased. While many of these apps may be considered bloatware, especially if you're buying a carrier variant in the US, there are still a number of incredibly useful pre-installed apps that we should discuss that are different on the Galaxy Note 7 than on other Samsung phones. First and foremost are the note-taking features of the Galaxy Note 7, a key set of features that not only defines the Note series as a whole, but sets them apart from all other smartphones on the market. Beginning by pulling out the pen from the chassis of the phone, the Galaxy Note 7 makes writing notes incredibly easy and effortless. As we went over in the always on section you can even write on the screen without having to unlock the device, a feature that can be invaluable when needing to constantly look at your note without having to turn the phone back on.
Removing the S Pen when the screen is on brings up the Air Command shortcut section, which features 6 different customizable shortcuts that enable you to quickly perform actions pertaining to the S Pen. The main actions that can be performed on the Note 7 include creating a quick note, smart select, screen write, translate, magnify and glance. Smart select allows you to crop a portion of the screen for sharing, and even allows information to be extracted from it, like plain text and other rich content for posting into notes or sharing with others. Screen write lets users draw on a screenshot, while magnify gives you a magnifying glass to see elements on the screen up to 300% closer. Glance is the latest in multi-tasking solutions from Samsung, which we covered earlier.
Samsung Notes is the brand new note-taking app from Samsung that combines a number of different apps from previous generations of Galaxy Note devices into one single app. This means all your artwork, notes, pie charts and graphs can now be curated into one simple, easy to use app that makes finding these notes super easy. Every note can be named and categorized, and Samsung's powerful search features make finding specific notes among a swath of them incredibly easy. Even the user interface is easier to use and less convoluted than S Note became at one point, providing obvious options for users to see, and automatic UI elements that intelligently appear and disappear to help you add more pages, switch tools, etc. The only thing I could find that wasn't an improvement, however, was the inability to freely move images around a note the way S Note can. This caused some frustration for me when trying to take notes and add images in for more rich content, but thankfully S Note is still around on the Galaxy Apps store, and I found myself going back to that after a while to take certain kinds of notes. This is disappointing when Samsung Notes is intended to be the ultimate note taking solution, and hopefully Samsung will add this functionality in sometime in a future update.
One of the most exciting new features on the Galaxy Note 7, however, is the translate feature, which allows users to use a Google-powered translation solution to translate dozens of different supported languages into a language of your choice. Hovering over words automatically translates them into your chosen language, and some of these languages even support audible playback of the word so you don't look so embarrassed when trying to speak another language. While the hover translate feature appears to work every single time, the voice translate option was very hit or miss, and I found that most of the time it would just read the English version of the word on the screen rather than the translated one, which made the feature pretty useless for trying to sound things out properly.
The edge screen from the Galaxy S7 Edge is here and features all the same options as that phone, so be sure to check that review to see everything you can do with the Edge features. The big issue here is that the screen on the Galaxy Note 7 isn't curved quite like the Galaxy S7 Edge in that it doesn't feature more than a handful of pixels over the side of the screen. While the curve makes for a beautiful aesthetic on the phone, it ultimately makes the Edge features feel less rich, and quite honestly completely ordinary, acting more like a regular flat screen phone for these features because of the slight curve of the screen rather than a more dramatic one.
Last but certainly not least is the Samsung+ service, an app that's built into the phone and helps monitor your device for regular device health issues, as well as provide a single hub for accessing live support and getting feedback from other Samsung users for common problems. This particular service is something the vast, vast majority of smartphone companies out there simply don't offer, and the live video support offered in this app are second to none in terms of sheer simplicity of use. It's these kinds of features that really make the whole package feel much more worth it, and will certainly make plenty of users happy.
Over the years Samsung's user interface looks, feel and functionality have varied drastically, sometimes in seriously major ways between their usual 6-month release cycles between the Galaxy S series and the Galaxy Note series. This Galaxy Note 7 release marks one of those monumental years, and although it's not quite sporting something as extreme as Android 7 Nougat support out of the box, Samsung has gone quite a ways to bring the style of the UI closer to what Google's vision is in the latest Nougat betas. Grace UX, as it's called, starts with a completely redesigned notification shade that's not just stunningly beautiful, it's actually far more functional too. Gone is the awful horizontal scrolling row of icons up top and in its place is an expandable list of quick tiles that both present vital information fast, but allow you to quickly change things like WiFi and Bluetooth connections without having to navigate away from the app you're currently in. Not everything here is new to Samsung phones, but the overall change represents a more complete and ultimately better package.
These changes continue to the rest of the user interface, which received a slight tweak on the Galaxy S7 and continue to do so here. Samsung's apps all flow together quite nicely, representing a very succinct vision of simplicity and capability by clearly labeling options and making things visible and usable up front without having to delve through menu after menu of options. Everything from brand new transitions between apps and windows, new animations for common tasks such as multi-window and turning the screen off for example, and even the style of icons, fonts and backgrounds play a key role in making things feel new and fresh. Most of the icons have been refreshed or completely redone, and some apps like Samsung messaging have finally gotten a completely new app that looks like a messaging app instead of an email app. Everything here is gorgeous, easy to use, and absolutely hands down the best UI Samsung has ever crafted, placing it among the best UI designs on the market right now.
Fingerprint, Iris, Security and Payments
Samsung was one of the first big Android OEMs to put fingerprint scanners on their phones, so it makes sense that they would be the first Android OEM to add an iris scanner to their lineup as well. Long has the idea of authenticating with our eyes been an idea mostly relegated to science fiction, and while Samsung wasn't the one who invented iris scanning on a smartphone, they seem to be the ones to perfect it. This doesn't mean perfect in every aspect, but the base notion of authenticating with your eyes in a quick, effortless and most importantly accurate way has absolutely been achieved here. Enrolling your iris in the scanning engine is done much in the same way fingerprint enrollment is. The exception here being that you can only enroll a single pair of eyes in the iris scanning program, while you can register up to 10 fingerprints in the fingerprint scanning system.
This ensures that only you can access information locked by the iris scanner, and provides a more secure method of locking your private personal or business information from prying eyes. The downside to the iris scanner is more of a speed and convenience factor than anything. While fingerprint scanning can be done from any angle and any registered finger, and easily unlocked with a single tap of the home button, unlocking with the iris scanner is a far lengthier process. First the screen needs to be turned on, then you'll need to swipe up on the lockscreen to activate iris scanning. This keeps things more secure, but adds additional steps that many users likely won't be willing to take after a few tries. Thankfully though iris scanning isn't just for unlocking the phone, it's also for securing information in Samsung's new Secure folder.
This secure area can only be accessed with an enrolled fingerprint or iris and allows users to place sensitive information that's stored at a different level of the OS than the rest of the information on the phone. In addition to this Samsung has built in the ability to use its browser to sign in to websites using the iris or fingerprint scanner, and verify your Samsung account doing the same. Let's not forget Samsung Pay either, the premiere mobile payments technology that Samsung has been pushing since it launched the program with last year's Galaxy S6 family of devices. Samsung Pay isn't just an NFC payment solution as Android Pay and Apple Pay are, it also uses Magnetic Source Transmission (MST) to effectively fool existing card readers into thinking you've swiped a magnetic card. The goal here is to achieve as close to 100% throughput rate for mobile payments as quickly as possible, and while not all readers will support the MST method, the vast majority of readers do and will enable Galaxy Note 7 owners to use their phone far more often for payments than not.
Part of the new Grace UX is a tweaked camera experience, one that has some subtle changes while others are a little more noticeable. Many elements on screen will be familiar to folks who have used Samsung's phones before, including the row of quick options up top as well as the dedicated shutter and video record buttons along the bottom. Changing modes is as easy as swiping to the right to pull up a grid of installed modes, of which more can be added from the Galaxy Apps store via a quick link in the camera app, while swiping to the left from the main screen toggles live filters to make your photos a little more interesting. Unlike previous Galaxy Note camera experiences, however, the top row of toggles cannot be customized, and there don't appear to be any ways to add additional on-screen buttons for more toggles like the edge screen on the original Note Edge did.
There are about a dozen pre-installed modes including auto, pro, panorama, selective focus, slow motion, hyperlapse, food, virtual shot, video collage and live broadcast. Most of these modes are only going to be useful in certain situations, but all of them are very practical in their execution, eschewing the more gimmicky modes of some of Samsung's previous phones. In the options for the camera you'll find the ability to save in JPEG and RAW modes in one single shot, helping folks who care about the raw qualities of photos use those later for editing or printing. There's no built in RAW viewer though, which is unfortunate given that other phones with RAW shooting capability include a gallery that can view RAW photos, meaning you'll be stuck with downloading a third party app just to see these pictures on your phone.
The manual mode is as good as ever and is essentially identical to the one found on the Galaxy S7/S7 Edge. This includes manual controls over ISO, shutter speed, exposure, filters, while balance and manual focus. Samsung's manual focus mode performs a 100% zoom temporarily when focusing, ensuring that you get the right elements in focus the first time if you use this mode. ISO and shutter speed adjustments aren't quite as useful though, as there's an arbitrary restriction to a maximum of 800 ISO and a minimum of 1/10th second shutter speed. Folks hoping for great low light manual photos need not apply here, as these settings simply don't go up high enough for such scenarios.
Camera Performance and Results
In general the performance issues with the Note 7 extend to the camera as well, and can be found throughout the experience. It's extremely likely that once Samsung fixes these overarching performance issues system-wide the issues with camera performance will also be fixed, but this is yet another area where the Galaxy Note 7 lags behind the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. Camera launching speed is at least double the speed of the Galaxy S7, taking between 3 and 4 seconds from button press to the moment you can take a picture or start a video recording. This isn't a "long" time per say, but it is much longer comparatively than Samsung's other major 2016 flagships, and longer than some other flagships on the market as well. Occasionally these performance issues will also transfer over to capture speed of pictures, but not too often.
They did, however, cause some issues with video recording, and I even had a number of times where the video recording would completely freeze the phone and I lost the video. I also ran into times where the recording wouldn't start right away, or it would hitch a bit in the beginning before finally catching up with whatever it was doing in the background. Either way these performance issues absolutely need to be fixed, as they affect more than just switching between apps or other common things. Thankfully though the quality of the photos and video from the Galaxy Note 7 are absolutely among the top tier of any smartphone on the market. Capture speed of the shutter is usually instant, and there were only a handful of times I saw the shutter hold itself open a little too long to capture all the action blur free. The biggest issue is that Samsung doesn't seem to like pushing the ISO level above 1250, and instead utilizes a longer shutter speed, as slow as 1/4 of a second in extreme cases, and causes unnecessary blur to enter the frame from moving objects.
Thankfully though these issues were few and far between, and in general the shots taken with the Galaxy Note 7 were of higher quality overall than the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. White balance is phenomenal in all but the darkest environments, where it can sometimes carry a very warm tone, but overall seems to have less of a problem in this area than the Galaxy S7/S7 Edge did. Colors are excellent and extremely accurate in the vast majority of situations, and even dynamic range is nothing short of incredible. It helps that HDR mode is instant and takes no additional processing or time to actually capture the shot, lending to one of the best picture taking experiences around. Even zoom detail is excellent and seems to be an improvement over what we saw on the Galaxy S7/S7 Edge, which had some big issues with zooming in to objects, particularly if there was fine distance detail in the scene.
The front-facing camera is back and definitely an improvement over the pretty abysmal one found on the Galaxy S7/S7 Edge. It's still a bit low resolution when compared to some other flagships on the market, but the light levels captured by the camera thanks to the larger sensor inside and that f/1.7 lens on the outside, not to mention the wide angle and auto HDR mode available, end up making this one excellent selfie camera in any light. Video mode is pretty mind blowing to say the least. Ultra crisp 4K video is the norm here with automatic HDR functionality as well, lending to quite possibly the single most crisp, clean and clear imagery you'll find on any smartphone on the market with some absolutely incredible dynamic range as well. Again the performance issues seem to mar this functionality a bit right now, but if Samsung can get these solved this will absolutely claim the top tier spot on the market for smartphone cameras in almost every single arena.
One debatable piece of functionality on Samsung's water resistant phones, including the Galaxy Note 7, is whether or not you can take underwater pictures and video with the phone. Yes it can be submerged up to 1 meter for 30 minutes thanks to the IP68 rating on the device, however there's no way to turn off the screen and still take pictures, or at least keep the screen from being pressed by the inherent electrical current that contact with water yields. This means that the instant you stick the phone in water with the screen on, the water that comes in contact with the phone will essentially randomly press elements on the screen. There's a chance you can get video or pictures for a little while doing this trick, and in fact you'll see that I did in the gallery below, but unlike the Sony Xperia line you cannot turn off the digitizer on the screen, meaning there's no way to use the phone underwater for longer than a few seconds without interruption. Still it's amazing to be able to take this in the pool or ocean with your family and take pictures and video, even if you have to finagle with it a bit. Check out our gallery below for all the pictures and video we got during the review period.
Gorgeous, quality build
Best screen on the market
Above average sound reproduction
Iris scanner is amazing
Lots of new security options including Secure Folder
S Pen provides tons of functionality
IP68 water and dust resistance
Always on display and notes saves time
Excellent VR performance
Significantly improved UI and Software experience over previous generations
Huge performance issues
Super high price
Curved screen isn't a "real" edge screen
There are definitely very few negatives to the Galaxy Note 7, and while it would be nice to say these are small problems, they simply aren't. First off the performance issues we're seeing here are a big problem. Spending this much money on a phone, upwards of $900 or so, should never result in a phone that feels like one that's years old and is near the end of its life, but that's what we're dealing with here on the Galaxy Note 7. From everything we can see in our analysis of the issue there seems to be a software issue that's keeping the CPU running more often than it should be, therefore causing the base performance of the phone to drop significantly. These issues are not found on the Galaxy S7/S7 Edge phones just released a few months ago with the same hardware, and it's clear Samsung has some fixes to implement to get these issues back on track. Once these are solved this could quite possibly be the best phone ever made in every single way, but such a large issue keeps the phone held back more than it should simply because it makes the user experience a frustrating one.