Samsung

Review roundup: Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is the 'best' big phone

A model demonstrates iris recognition function of Galaxy Note 7 new smartphone during its launching ceremony in Seoul, South Korea, August 11, 2016.

A model demonstrates iris recognition function of Galaxy Note 7 new smartphone during its launching ceremony in Seoul, South Korea, August 11, 2016.  (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)

Samsung has come up with another great smartphone— but great doesn't come cheap.

The reviews are in, and a common theme is "best big phone." Is it an even better big phone than the well-received and very similar Galaxy S7 Edge? Yes, because the Note 7 is also great at taking notes (thus the branding).  

But the two phones are much more the same than different. In fact, it might be difficult for the average consumer to see the physical design difference right away. Both the S7 Edge and Note 7 have large AMOLED displays that are curved along the lengthwise edges. And both sport the same layout of ports and buttons. A long list of other similarities include: similar battery sizes, same cameras, same RAM, and essentially the same processors. And while the Note's 5.7-inch display is bigger than the S7 Edge’s 5.5-incher, you probably won't notice the 0.2 inch difference.  

That said, Samsung almost seems to be competing with itself now as the consumer electronics giant continues to widen the hardware gap with Apple’s iPhone. For instance, the overall advantages of a curved AMOLED display versus Apple’s flat LCD screens cannot be overstated: the curves make a large phone easier to hold and help to reduce the phone’s footprint. And the image-quality advantages of AMOLED displays over LCDs are almost unquestioned now.

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Throw in the Note 7’s new iris scanner, the addition of a USB-C port, and the standard 64GB of storage (versus 32GB on the S7) and you have a pretty strong case for the best big smartphone on the market today. (Note that Samsung skipped the Note 6 name, and jumped from last year’s Galaxy Note 5 to this year’s Note 7.)

Here’s what major tech sites said about the Note 7's most salient features:

Iris scanner: “The iris scanner works as advertised,” The Verge said, “often quickly scanning my eyes and unlocking the phone.” But the review added that it is “clumsier to use” than the fingerprint scanner.

S Pen stylus: The stylus is what sets the Note 7 apart from the S7 and S7 Edge. And the Note 7 boasts some improvements over Note 5. For example, the stylus can magnify small parts of the screen that you select and instantly translate text.

Reviewers seemed to like its GIF-making capability. “I’ve most used a feature that lets you select a portion of a playing video and convert it into an animated photo. It’s a ton of fun,” the Wall Street Journal reviewer said. “But I still don’t see why the phone needs a stylus to do it,” she added.

The Note 7 also expands on the Note 5’s ability to take notes on the lock screen. Now you can "pin" notes for quick access. And, like the Note 5, the stylus can be an efficient way to edit a spreadsheet, for example.

But some reviews questioned the utility of the stylus. “I hesitate to recommend it to anyone who isn't serious about using that digital S Pen to draw, write and navigate on the phone,” said CNET.

“At the end of the day, most people can easily live without the Note 7, especially with the capable S7 Edge a near doppelganger,” the review added.

Battery life: "A very heavy usage day out and about on mobile networks...brought the battery down to single digits in about 9 hours," said Android Authority. "When it came to our standard rundown test (looping a high-def video at 50 brightness), the Note 7 lasted just over 14 hours. That's about a half hour less than the S7 Edge, just a few minutes more than last year's Note 5," said Engadget.

Price: Best doesn’t come cheap. Like the pricey iPhone 6S Plus, the Note 7 is priced around $850 (price varies from vendor to vendor). That’s going to stop a lot of consumers in their tracks. You’re going to have to have a burning need for a big phone with pen input to spend that kind of money.