Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review: For your eyes only

The Galaxy Note 7 is Samsung's latest big-screen phone, with a new S Pen stylus and iris scanner.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 reviewIBTimes UK

UPDATE 3 (11 October): Samsung has now permanently ended production of the Galaxy Note 7. The phone should not be used and should instead be returned immediately for a full refund.

UPDATE 2 (11 October): A second global recall is now effectively in place. Samsung has stopped selling replacement Note 7s after several of these also caught fire and exploded after being exchanged for the original faulty model. IBTimes UK strongly encourages any Note 7 owner reading this to return their phone immediately for a full refund, no matter when they received it.

UPDATE: Following at least 35 incidents of the Note 7 catching fire and exploding, Samsung has issued a global recall on the handset. As a result, we urge anyone who has bought a Note 7 to return it to where they bought it from, where it will be exchanged.

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The Galaxy Note 7 is the latest big-screen handset with a stylus from Samsung. It has a 5.7in screen that curves over each edge, a powerful eight-core processor and a pair of high-quality cameras.

So far, the Note 7 sounds a lot like Samsung's Galaxy S7 Edge. But with extra waterproofing, a stylus and an iris scanner for increased security, the Note 7 hopes to be much more than its equally large, equally curved sibling.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Design

Samsung's recent house style is present and correct on the Note 7. Although recognisably a modern Galaxy, the black metal chassis (instead of silver) gives the Note 7 reviewed here a subtle, stealthy look. The glass screen curves around the edges of the phone, like on the Galaxy S7 Edge, but not as far, leaving you with space to hold the Note without touching the display.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is the best big-screen smartphone on sale todayIBTimes UK

At 153.5 x 73.9mm, the Note 7 is almost exactly the same size as the Note 5 which it replaces (and no, we don't know what happened to the Note 6 either). The new phone is fractionally fatter, at 7.9mm, but lighter, weighing a still-hefty 169g due to that metal chassis and new, tougher Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back.

The Note 7 is a big phone, whichever way you hold it, although the higher screen-to-body ratio of 78% means it feels more compact than the iPhone 6S Plus (68%). Typing often requires two hands, however, and we sometimes found it impossible to reach parts of the interface or the two touch-sensitive panels either side of the home button without stretching.

The Note 7's 5.7in screen curves over the edges of its metal chassisIBTimes UK

An important new aspect of the Note 7's design is its waterproofing, a first for any Galaxy Note. With an IP68 rating, it's the same as the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge (1.5 metres of fresh water for up to 30 minutes), but here the screen and S Pen stylus continue to work uninterrupted.

Samsung has given the Note 7 a USB Type-C port, replacing the micro USB connection for the first time. Thoughtfully, an adapter is included in the box to make sure your old chargers and accessories continue to work.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Screen

At 5.7in, the screen is 0.2in larger than the Galaxy S7 Edge's and the same size as the (flat-screened) Note 5. All three have the same resolution of 1440 x 2560 and use AMOLED technology, making colours brighter and blacks as dark as possible.

It's a fantastic screen, as all Samsungs have been in the last year or so, but its large size and curved edges give the user precious little to hold onto without accidentally touching it. There is software in place to help the Note 7 ignore accidental inputs at the edges of the display, but nonetheless stretching across the screen can result in your hand touching and interacting with it by accident.

The Note 7 comes with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, but will receive the 7.0 Nougat update in the coming monthsIBTimes UK

Being functional when wet is a nice touch, making underwater photography possible, although this is surely a niche feature soon to be forgotten about by most buyers.

The curved edges can be configured to light up in certain colours for notifications when the phone is laid screen-down, like on previous curved Samsungs, and information like unread messages, missed calls and the weather forecast can be seen by swiping the edge when the phone is locked.

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Finally, there is a new software-enabled filter which can be set to reduce how much blue light the screen emits at night, when it can disrupt natural sleeping patterns.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Software and Performance

An octa-core chip with four 2.3GHz and four 1.6GHz processors means the Note 7 is never wanting for power. There is also a healthy 4GB of RAM (same as the Note 5 and S7 Edge) to keep things running smoothly, and although none of this represents a major update from its predecessors, the Note 7 always performs like a true flagship.

That status is further cemented with 64GB of storage as standard (compared to the paltry 16GB the iPhone 6S Plus starts with) and a 3,500mAh battery, which is 500mAh larger than the Note 5's but slightly smaller than the S7 Edge's. Wireless charging is also included.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7: S Pen stylus

Samsung has made its new S Pen stylus twice as sensitive as the Note 5's, while it can now also work underwater for the first time. This might not sound too useful, but knowing you can write on a wet screen is no bad thing. Another new feature of the S Pen is how it works when the phone is locked; just take it out and the screen wakes up to let you jot down and save a quick note.

Twice as sensitive as before, the new S Pen stylus now works underwater...for all those times you need to write a shopping list while swimmingIBTimes UK

Writing on the screen is more natural than ever and the screen will only pick up inputs from the stylus itself, so you can rest on it without issue. There is a slight, almost imperceivable, delay between touching the S Pen against the screen and the digital 'ink' appearing, but not enough to be distracting. Our writing on the Note looked much like normal (almost illegible), but we found it difficult to get much onto the screen at once, and often needed to request a longer page by tapping an icon.

As satisfying as scribbling and sketching with the stylus is, we felt self-conscious using the S Pen in public and often wondered if it adds any convenience over typing. A new feature, where hovering the stylus over a word translates it into almost any language using Google, is nice but one we think would quickly be forgotten about.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Iris scanner

The Note 7's biggest feature is an iris scanner, which only unlocks the phone when it sees the one pair of eyes registered to it. It may sound like a James Bond gadget destined to be switched off after the first five minutes, but it works surprisingly well. The system takes just a few seconds to set up and unlocks the phone very quickly, often in just a fraction of a second.

The Note 7 has an iris scanner, which is fast and reliable, but only in the right conditionsIBTimes UK

The extra step of swiping the screen before it starts scanning means pressing the home button and having it scan your fingerprint. It's slightly faster way of unlocking, but for now the novelty of having an iris scanner is keeping our attention.

That being said, although the scanner works very well for us and only failed a couple of times (due to holding the phone at a bad angle or in very bright/dark light), some users won't be as fortunate. We have outlined separately all the situations where the scanner will not work properly, such as with people wearing glasses or contacts, or who have recently had laser eye surgery.

The Note 7 has a 5MP camera on the front and a 12MP camera on the backIBTimes UK

A new feature enabled by the iris scanner is Secure Folder, which is somewhere to hide sensitive applications, documents or other files and requires your iris to open; it is a folder quite literally for your eyes only.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Cameras

Samsung has been on a winning streak with its cameras of late, and with the Note 7 that shows no sign of changing. Both the front 5MP and rear 12MP are excellent, with the pair capable of 4K video recording and the rear getting optical image stabilisation to improve nighttime photography.

Their ability to nail the perfect shot, first time, without any need to enter the Pro mode and tinker with exposure and white balance, is their greatest asset. In this area, Samsung has well and truly caught the iPhone.

Samsung Galaxy Note 79 stars

Undoubtedly the best big-screen Android on sale today, the Note 7 does everything right. It has a beautiful display, great cameras and good battery; it also has a powerful processor, a good amount of (expandable) storage and waterproofing before we even get to its unique selling points.

The stylus has always been a love/hate aspect of the Note range, but constant improvements mean the latest incarnation of S Pen is the best yet. Installing an iris scanner isn't the gimmick it first appears; it works quickly and simply, although we wonder what is wrong with using the fingerprint reader instead?

For many, we fear those two features alone won't be enough to tempt buyers away from the cheaper, fractionally smaller and almost equally powerful Galaxy S7 Edge. But if it's absolute power, the latest technology and the biggest screen you want, the Note 7 is the way to go.

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