The Galaxy Note line was already terrific for productivity, but Samsung has really stepped it up this year. As was heavily suggested by their teaser video last week, the Galaxy Note 7 is adding an iris scanner, one-touch translation, and water resistance to an already top-of-the-line phone. Add in an Edge display and some more special security features, and you’ve got the last word in 2016 smartphones (well, aside from a certain phone due in September).
Like its predecessor, the Note 5 (the Note 6 got skipped over), the Note 7 is a 5.7″ smartphone. In previous years, Samsung gave the Note series a slight spec boost over the Galaxy S line, but this year, it looks like the specs are the same (not that that’s a bad thing). As usual for the Note, its truly defining feature is the S Pen, the stylus tucked away in a slot on the underside of the phone. We’ll get to that a little later, but as expected, it’s more useful than ever this year.
Like the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, the Note 7 has a 2560 x 1440 Super AMOLED display with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC (in the U.S.), 4 GB of RAM, and a 3,500 mAh battery. The battery is just slightly smaller than the 3,600 mAh battery in the S7 Edge, but we figure that was inevitable to make room for the S Pen. The good news is that it works with both a fast charging adapter and wireless charging (both Qi and PMA) While there’s only a single Edge display on the Note 7, there’s curved glass on both edges, which just happens to be the new Corning Gorilla Glass 5 we heard about not too long ago. There’s also curved glass on the back of the phone, giving the Note 7 a nice, symmetrical look. The biggest physical change from the Note 5 is that the Note 7 is IP68 water-resistant, which extends to the S Pen, as well.
The camera is also the same as the one on the S7 and S7 Edge, which again isn’t a bad thing — we don’t think we’ve used a better smartphone camera this year. It has a 12 MP sensor with optical image stabilization, phase detection autofocus, LED flash, and, crucially, an f/1.7 aperture lens — that’s one of the things that helps this camera perform so well in low light, along with Samsung’s excellent camera sensor. That camera is capable of recording 4k video and taking 9 MP stills simultaneously, so there’s no doubting its power. The rear camera is paired with a 5 MP front camera, which also has an f/1.7 lens.
Besides Bluetooth 4.2 and Wi-Fi 802.11ac, the Note 7 has NFC and MST connectivity for use with Samsung Pay. MST is particularly important, as it allows Samsung Pay to be used with terminals that only have magnetic stripe readers. The U.S. version of the phone has a single SIM slot and a microSD card slot. Samsung is also making the jump to USB Type-C for charging, which they didn’t do on the S7 and S7 Edge. Looks like there’s a good explanation for that, too — Samsung is also releasing an updated, lighter version of the Gear VR headset that works with USB Type-C. The fingerprint scanner on the home button has returned, as well. Oh, and Samsung took special care to mention that yes, the 3.5 mm audio jack is still there — a jab at the upcoming iPhone 7.
But, it’s the extras that put the Note 7 over the top. The iris scanner is the first of its kind we’ve seen on just about any device — a sensor on the front of the phone scans your eyeballs to create a map of your iris, which is then used for authentication. For now, you can use it to sign into your phone, but Samsung has bigger plans. In the near future, Samsung will add the iris scanner as an option for authentication of payments using Samsung Pay. It’ll also eventually be usable with Samsung Pass, a Windows Hello kind of master authentication system that can be used to sign in to several different apps and services. Rounding out the new security features is a dedicated secure folder that can be used for sensitive material that needs to be encrypted or protected in case of theft or a security breach.
Samsung’s done a great job with the S Pen, too. The hover menu, which appears when the S Pen is held just above the screen, now has a translation option. Highlight words in a foreign language, and with a click of the pen, they’ll be translated into your native language. Machine translation is a tricky business, so results will vary, but the feature itself looks slick and very easy to use. The S Pen can also be used to take notes on the always-on lock screen, which should be much better for day-to-day things like grocery shopping, to-do lists, and reminders. Meanwhile, the S Pen itself has gotten an upgrade, with a smaller 0.7 mm tip that gives it ballpoint pen-level accuracy.
But, we haven’t even mentioned the killer app yet. For the consummate gif poster, the Note 7 is nothing short of revolutionary. While watch a video, the S Pen can be used to trace a box around a part of the screen. If you see something that needs to be immortalized as a reaction gif, you can draw a box, click to capture, and there you go — instant gif, no effort.
Most expensive Android smartphone? Most expensive Android smartphone. We’ll know pricing for sure tomorrow when preorders start at all the major carriers, but we know it’s going to be near $800 retail. If you do choose to preorder, you have the choice of a free Gear Fit2 fitness tracker or a free 256 GB microSD card. The Samsung Note 7 will ship out on August 19 and will come in silver, black, and a spectacular blue coral color unique to the Note 7 — we can appreciate the importance of a good colorway.