All images: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

Update (9/13/16): Since publishing our original review of the Galaxy Note 7, Samsung issued an unprecedented recall of the phone amid fears of exploding batteries. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC) also issued a statement urging consumers to stop using the Galaxy Note 7. Samsung created an exchange program to replace any hazardous Note 7s. You can exchange your Note 7 by calling visiting the retail outlet where you purchased your device or by dialing 1-800-SAMSUNG.


You’ve probably seen something like the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 before. Its screen is huge, the camera takes ridiculously sharp photos, and it has a dorky little stylus that pops out of the phone’s bottom. Since it was first released, the Note has become a staple for people who need (or want) a gigantic phone. But as I’ve found over the last week, the Note has evolved into a phone that almost anyone can love.

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This wasn’t always the case. When the Galaxy Note debuted in 2012, it was widely criticized for being too big, and everyone laughed at the nerds hunting and pecking with a stylus. Yet in just a few years, all of the things that made Samsung Note phones so geeky have become part of the mainstream. The styluses, the huge screens—they’re socially acceptable. Hell, Microsoft and Apple have both embraced the stylus now as a central feature of their top hardware products. (Yes I know, these also happen to be much larger hybrid laptops that would never be confused for smartphone.) Today, the Note 7 could easily be a legitimate choice for almost any smartphone user.

The best attributes of the $850 Note 7 are taken straight from Samsung’s S7 Edge—to the point that you actually have to wonder why the S7 Edge still exists. Both phones have the same processor, camera, and basically the same screen size (the Note’s 5.7-inch display is 0.2-inches larger that the S7 Edge’s screen). It’s got the same waterproof, and drop-resistant glass and aluminum design. Indeed, Note 7 looks, feels, and performs almost identically to the S7 Edge.

The Note 7 has three features that set it apart from the S7 Edge: The S-Pen Stylus, an iris-scanning security system, and a USB-C port.

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Despite having been one of the central features of the Note from the very beginning, the S-Pen remains an inessential accessory. Which makes sense in a way. Who really NEEDS a stylus for their phone? That said, it’s not entirely pointless. I faithfully pulled mine out anytime I could find a few minutes to play with the phone. Sure enough, it made the phone easier to use for long periods of time, and it came in handy when I wanted to be precise, like when I was doodling on my Snapchat messages.

Typically, I would not be a fan of a phone with removable parts. The S-Pen is just another thing for me to break or lose. But the Note 7's stylus never felt like a liability because it was pretty easy to keep track of (either tucked away in the phone or not). Even if I did lose the stylus, I knew that the phone would continue to work without it. The phone’s waterproofing also works without the stylus locked into place.

I happily dunked the phone in a cup of water at a bar for laughs, and I even took it in the shower to see if I could cycle through songs. The phone worked fine in in the shower, though it’s safe to say I will not be adding it to my morning routine. Still, it’s nice to know that if I needed to reach out and use my phone while taking a shower in a pinch—I could definitely do it.

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The iris scanner worked a hell of a lot better than I ever expected, too. It takes less than a minute to set up and works instantly when you hold the lock screen up to your face. I could easily see myself using it all the time, but I ended up reverting back to the fingerprint scanner because it’s a tiny bit faster.

The USB-C port is also a huge bonus. While it doesn’t mean much to people now, it’s an important consideration for anyone worried about buying a future-proof device. The phone also supports fast charging, so adding juice in a hurry is super easy. I never had any issues with the battery during my week of testing.

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Samsung has also included a handful of tasks and apps that can be activated by swiping the right edge of the screen, but I didn’t find any of them to be helpful. Launching an app by swiping from the side of the phone didn’t really save me any time. It was almost always easier to choose an app from the recently used carousel by hitting the button on the bottom left side of the phone.

This is one of the few recurring issues I experienced with the Note 7: There are redundancies littered throughout the Samsung’s Android-based TouchWiz OS, and there’s almost always more than one way to accomplish a task. TouchWiz remains one of the weaker points of Samsung’s offerings, which despite some neat tricks still doesn’t feel as polished as Google’s stock offering.

The Note 7 also displays a special menu when you remove the stylus from the phone. A list of options lets you choose from taking handwritten note, or my personal favorite, create a GIF of anything on the screen. There are only about five major features that require the stylus, but my guess is that you’ll probably never use any of them. Again, the stylus is more fun than it is functional.

Honestly, the only thing that matters to me on phones anymore is the screen and camera quality. The Note 7 is among the best in both categories right now, and that’s the real reason the phone is so fun to play with. The Note 7's screen and the camera alone would be enough to lure me away from my Nexus 6P today. The stylus is a completely unnecessary addition, but if you spend a lot of time on you phone, it’s fun to use outside of the work setting.

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In short, the Note 7 is the best phone Samsung makes, and for a lot of people, the it’s the best Android phone you can buy.

README

  • The screen freaking beautiful
  • The stylus still feels like a gimmick, but it’s fun for mindless scrolling
  • Best camera phone I have ever used
  • Samsung’s dumb apps can be uninstalled
  • The eyeball scanning is crazy. It feels like the future