As is tradition for the second half of each year in recent memory, Samsung has a new best phone ever. The brand new, much-rumoured Galaxy Note7 inherits everything that made the smaller Galaxy S7 great, but adds another biometric security feature with infrared iris scanning, and an even more refined curved glass design that bridges the gap between a flat screen and the previous Edge models. It's a beautiful piece of hardware, and Samsung is adding some widely requested software and hardware tweaks that make the Note7 -- on paper, at least -- just about the most powerful phone of 2016.
Samsung isn't necessarily targeting the business smartphone user with the Note7, like it has done in previous years. Instead, in 2016, it's confident in the Note7's wide-ranging featureset and pedigree to the point that it says it's really a phone for the top end of town: not just business users with specific productivity needs, but just for anyone that wants a phone that can do everything at the best level possible this year.
Samsung Galaxy Note7: Hardware And Specifications
Built around a 5.7-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display -- on paper, the same as the Note5 and S6 Edge+ -- the Galaxy Note7 is otherwise very similar to the Galaxy S7 that it shares the '7' moniker with. It has the same Samsung-designed Exynos 8890 octa-core processor with four 2.3GHz and four 1.6GHz cores and 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, the same (excellent) 12-megapixel f/1.7 dual-pixel rear camera and 5-megapixel front camera, and runs the same 6.0.1 Marshmallow version of Android out of the box. It's also equally water resistant with the same IP68 rating.
But it's also different to the S7 and the previous Note5 in some small but significant ways. It's IP68 water resistant despite the inclusion of the S Pen stylus cavity. Its battery is 3500mAh, putting it within spitting distance of the S7 edge that doesn't have an internal stylus. It has 64GB of internal high-speed UFS 2.0 memory as standard, and supports an additional 256GB through a microSD card slot. And in addition to the existing fingerprint sensor, it has a dedicated camera sensor at the front for iris scanning, and an infrared LED that lets that scanning work in bright and dark lighting conditions alike. And it's the first Samsung phone to use the reversible, high speed, fast-charging USB 3.1 Type-C connector -- with an adapter in the box for any older microUSB accessories you might have.
At 153.5x73.9x7.9mm and 169g, the Samsung Galaxy Note7 is a few millimetres slimmer in profile than the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note5 (153.2x76.1x7.6mm, 171g), and almost identical to the 5.5-inch Galaxy S6 Edge+ (150.9x72.6x7.7mm, 157g). That comes from two semi-curved screen edges -- with a curvature that sits half-way between the flat 'edge' of the Note5 and the obvious curved edge of the S6 Edge+, the Note7's profile is thinner and the overall effect is of a flat-faced phone with a small edge that can be swiped to access the company's Edge UX software features. The front and rear Gorilla Glass 5 glass of the Note7 is identical in design and construction, too, for a uniform look across both the front and back of the phone that makes it look refined.
The Galaxy Note7's S Pen has gone through another round of design tweaks, bringing it ever closer to a pen-like writing experience on the Note's AMOLED touchscreen. The 108x5.8mm, 3g pen has a tip that's only 0.7mm in thickness -- half the previous model -- and that supports 4096 levels of pressure on the touchscreen, doubling previous attempts. It'll even work underwater, if you can find an instance that you'd like to use it in that way.
Samsung Galaxy Note7: Software And Features
Samsung is making a big note -- pardon the pun -- of the Galaxy Note7's more-simplified-than-ever version of its skin on top of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Menus are more straightforward, there's less use of matching and contrasting colour shades, and more white throughout settings apps and quick menus alike. But it's more than just colour; first party apps like the Note7's camera app have been pared back in the number of options available on screen, with pro features hidden away until requested. We've been told by Samsung that the Note7 is in line for an imminent upgrade to Android 7.0 Nougat, which will be released very soon, possibly before the Note7 makes it to market.
And being a flagship Samsung phone, and potentially one used by businesses even if that isn't Samsung's exclusive intention, the Galaxy Note7 has the company's Knox hardware- and software-based secure computing solution built in. A new Secure Folder feature can be locked by fingerprint or iris scan or password (or all three), sandboxing any Google Play-downloadable app and restricting access to the files it controls. You can keep all your photos away from prying eyes, for example, or use Knox and Secure Folder to clearly delineate between personal apps and business ones. The same security features can be applied to Samsung Pay and any Samsung Pass app.
Being a stylus-enabled device, the Note7 needs handwriting and drawing and note-taking apps -- something Samsung has had a lot of in the past. Four different Samsung pen apps (Action Memo, Memos, S Note and Scrapbook) have been consolidated into the new Samsung Notes app, which handles everything pen-related in one place. You can also scribble notes directly onto a switched-off screen and save them to the Note7's always-on display for later viewing -- useful for an impromptu reminder or shopping list addition when the thought strikes you.
As a feature that Samsung is using the S Pen to enable and one that points to the Note7's target market of content creators as well as consumers, the new phone has the software ability via Samsung's Air Command pop-up on-screen tools to record a segment of the screen in real time and translate that into GIF format. You could use that to change a short (up to 15 second) snippet of YouTube footage and save it to your Gallery, from where you can share it to any social media or send it along to a friend through email or an online storage service.
Samsung Galaxy Note7: Design And Construction
As with every iteration of Samsung's Note and S-series smartphones, the Galaxy Note7 has a further refined and streamlined design that almost makes you wonder why Samsung didn't do it the right way the first time around. It's a very, very good-looking phone in person, and it has evolved from the Note5 and S7 in the same way that those phones evolved from their predecessors. The front glass is the most obvious difference -- from side to side, it's a curved-edge design, but those curves have a smaller radius than the obviously-curved edge of the similarly sized S6 Edge+. That means the glass is flatter for a larger proportion of its width, and while there's still an edge, it doesn't distort or cause parallax for the AMOLED display below it until the absolute extreme boundary of the screen.
The phone's majority-glass construction -- apart from the increasingly thin lip around the edge, top and bottom -- is Corning's Gorilla Glass 5, which is rated to successfully resist a drop from a 1.6-metre height over 80 per cent of the time. It's the hardiest glass used on a smartphone yet, and it's similarly resistant to scratches and scuffs. We've had an excellent experience with the previous iteration on the Note5 and S7, and we'd expect the Note7 to stand up to some serious punishment without becoming irretrievably damaged. Like the Huawei P9, the Note7's glass curves equally at the top and bottom as well -- it's a very good look. The fingerprint-sensing tactile home button is more flush with the front glass than ever, too.
Around the back, an identical piece of smoothly curved-edged glass means the Note7 feels equally comfortable in the hand to the S7, and the phone has the same slight camera hump as that smaller but identically thick phone. The top and side bezels are identical to the S7, and point to the S-Series and Note smartphones being closer than ever at the top of Samsung's Galaxy smartphone range. But it's the base of the Note7, where the S Pen lives in its tiny cut-out, that the most obvious difference lives -- that's the USB Type-C connector. Said connector will support 10Gbps data transfers and the same 18-Watt fast charging as previous modern Samsung phones, and will even hook straight up to the company's T3 Portable SSD and its maximum 2TB of high-speed external storage.
And, of course, it's worth reiterating that this is the first Note that is IP68 water resistant -- Samsung is cagey about calling its phones waterproof -- even when the S Pen is detached; it's a pretty cool improvement over the previous model. A number of new, first-party Samsung accessories will join the Galaxy Note7 when it launches in Australia later this month. A new S-View flip cover that doubles as a media-viewing stand will be available, as will be a wireless-charging external battery case. A variety of different specialty cases -- like the bulky but photographically intriguing Lens Cover cases -- may also make it to Aussie shores eventually.
Samsung Galaxy Note7: Price And Release Date
Barely more than a fortnight will pass between today's announcement and the on-sale date of the newest Galaxy Note smartphone. Samsung will ship the Galaxy Note7 into Australian buyers' hands on Friday 19 August. The phone will be available for pre-order from Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile, JB Hi Fi, Harvey Norman, Samsung Retail and Samsung.com.au from 5 August until 18 August, and every pre-order made will receive a free Samsung Evo Plus 256GB microSD card valued at $299.
Samsung will stock three of the four available colour variants for the Galaxy Note7 when it launches in Australia. We'll get the dark Onyx Black, the chrome Silver Titanium, and the shiny Gold Platinum, but we'll miss out on the attractive -- but niche appeal -- Blue Coral. First-party accessories should be largely and widely available, but we're just waiting on confirmation of exactly which add-ons you can expect to see in Australia for the phone's launch.
And as for how much you'll pay? The Note7's retail price will be $1349 for any of the three colour variants, and that four-figure price tag will get you the single 64GB internal storage version that will be available around the world. Unlike the S7, which was shipped around the world in a variety of dual-SIM and 32GB/64GB versions, the Note7 will be a one-size-fits-all model for all different parts of the world.
Bonus: A New Samsung Gear VR For Galaxy Note7
As well as a new flagship smartphone for 2016, Samsung has updated the accompanying Gear VR virtual reality headset that an increasing number of its customers buy alongside or find bundled in with their new smartphones. With a significant design overhaul, the most obvious difference is a blue-and-black paint-job and sleeker plastic moulding that better matches the look of the Note7. It also refines some design elements like the capacitive side touchpad, and adds a dedicated Oculus Home button to the headset's right side.
The new Gear VR headset has a slightly wider field of view than the previous version, with a 101-degree viewing angle versus the old one's 96 degrees. No apps have to be redesigned for the new headset, since the existing software already accommodates the wider field of view -- but you'll get the best experience on the new Galaxy Note7, though, thanks to its larger screen. A USB Type-C charging and data port on the Gear VR's base means you can keep your Note7 topped up while you're playing or watching movies.
The new Gear VR will also be backwards compatible with any Note or S-series Samsung smartphone up until the S6 -- which launched the Gear VR series -- with a small USB-C to microUSB adapter in the box. It launches at the same $159 price in Australia, and apparently Samsung stores are already -- conveniently -- sold out of the old model, so new stock should be available alongside the launch of the Galaxy Note7.
And, crucially, the new Gear VR is more comfortable, thanks to some suede-wrapped foam padding that should last much longer than the old one, and a longer head-strap that should be more accommodating for longer viewing sessions. It's a further refinement of a product that may not be the highest quality virtual reality gadget on the market, but nonetheless one that that the vast majority of virtual reality newbies are going to try for the first time alongside their shiny new Galaxy smartphones.
Gizmodo travelled to New York as a guest of Samsung Australia.