The controversy surrounding the Galaxy Note 7’s battery combustions have shifted the conversation away from the device’s merits, a sad state of affairs for one of 2016’s biggest releases and some of the best smartphone hardware to ever reach consumer hands.
At XDA, we too were worried about our devices. Most of our Portal staff have already stopped using the Galaxy Note 7, and some of them are initiating the return process to find greener pastures. Portal Editor Daniel Marchena found himself giving up on the Note 7 after his third T-Mobile unit, and Portal Writer Eric Hulse also left the Snapdragon 820 Note 7 behind, in great part due to the performance issues he found. Other members of the XDA Portal Team who haven’t voiced their opinion on the website, too, decided to recall their devices. I am the only one left using the Note 7 (making sure to charge it carefully), and while I am also on my third unit, I’d say I found a keeper… if it wasn’t for the recall. The reason why I would keep this unit? The Exynos processor, and more specifically, the battery life I am getting.
Before I talk about that, let’s do a bit of a recap: last week we published an analysis comparing the Exynos Note 7 and the Snapdragon version, and found that the Exynos variant had higher peak performance, similar throttling, and slightly worse GPU output. We finished the article saying we found better power efficiency on the Exynos Note 7, and that we could finally test it for real world performance and battery life in order to compile the battery comparison in our review. Now that I’ve gotten a solid few days of real-world use with the phone set up as I want it, I can begin talking about the Exynos’ real world performance and battery life.
The tl;dr version of the story is that I am nothing short of surprised. Performance is better with less-frequent lockups than what I experienced on the Snapdragon 820 variant, and the device is responsive enough for day-to-day usage. I still find myself surprised at the relatively fluidity and snappiness of other devices like the Honor 8 and its Kirin 950, which can do simple tasks such as sharing a link without a single hitch. That being said, this Exynos Note 7 hasn’t given me the headaches the Snapdragon version gave me and other Portal writers (both of my unites had tens of disabled packages, you can find my current list here), and I’ve been using it for everything.
These past few days I’ve had the chance to dump many, many hours of usage on my Note 7 – almost using it as a primary device, barely excluding my Surface – given I have been ill in bed half the time, and working/studying the other half. I’ve used it for work and play more than I’ve used any other device — in great part, because no other device could withstand so much usage on my part.
The Exynos Note 7 has so far offered me the best battery life of any smartphone I’ve used, and I really mean any smartphone. This includes previous Note devices, and also devices that I’ve modified through Greenify/Amplify, underclocking, and the like in order to maximize endurance. Whereas phones like the OnePlus 3 and Honor 8 offer me around 5 to 5.5 hours of screen-on time throughout a single charge, the Exynos Note 7 is lasting me over 7 hours of screen-on usage throughout a day, or more, despite its battery capacity “only” being higher by 500mAh. This also includes at least one hour of background Youtube or Soundcloud through Chrome while the device is off, plus a few hours on LTE while commuting or walking around campus.
I’ve never felt comfortable using any other smartphone for so much of my day
With me being sick and in bed, yet still needing to manage, edit, and study, I challenged myself to use the Note 7 almost exclusively — this very article has been drafted on the Note 7, for example. I’ve never felt more comfortable using any other smartphone for so much of my day, both because of battery life constraints and also lack of features, but the Note 7 managed to work for me, even if many tasks were way less efficient than doing them on a PC. I also managed to prepare for an exam, go over online lecture notes, and more all on the Note (that being said, I am a big fan of OneNote and I handwrite all my math lecture notes and homework, so if there’s a phone suitable for my studyflow that’s the Note 7). It’s also worth noting that battery benchmarks like PCMark do reflect the excellent battery life as well.
Note 7 SM-930FD
PCMark Work Battery Life
12 h 9 m
9 h 1 m
6 h 39 m
While I expected to get better results, I didn’t realize just how much the change would impact my user experience, either. Knowing that your phone can get you to the end of the day no matter how much you need or want to do on it is a liberating feeling, especially when you can end the day with a third left, not charge overnight, and still make it until noon. My usage consisted mostly of Chrome, plenty of Youtube both in the foreground and especially in the background, Relay for Reddit, Hangouts (including voice and video calls), OneNote, and some light gaming with Pixel Dungeon to round it out. Much of this usage was done on multi-window, too, particularly when practicing for an exam. While the Exynos Note 7 gets noticeably less signal, I haven’t felt any LTE performance issues and I’ve been able to use the device while on data just fine.
Rumors have it that Samsung could go Exynos-only moving forward as their Exynos-powered S9 is expected to support CDMA networks; given the current delta between the Snapdragon 820 and Exynos 8890 variants as well as the evolution of Exynos and Qualcomm’s prospects, I’d say this is the way to go for Galaxy flagships. By avoiding the hot mess that the Snapdragon 810 was, Samsung managed to put their silicon prowess under the spotlight. Current benchmarks, analysis and even user reports (like this one) put the Exynos variant ahead, and while this trend might reverse in the near future, enthusiasts are justified in conceiving the Exynos variants of current Galaxy flagships as the superior versions. While the Snapdragon 820 version is still a rather solid device, I see that my current unit trumps the ones I’ve had before. I can’t say whether all of that is due to the difference in processors — keep in mind that the software Samsung puts on the international variant and what’s commissioned by T-Mobile are very different, even in terms of System UI elements. What I can say, though, is that the experience feels intrinsically different, even if not too different, and that benchmarks and tests reflect the processor plays a role in that differential.
Having to recall this phone is, frankly, very saddening. While I don’t feel quite the enthusiasm I had for devices like the Nexus 6P or OnePlus 3, this is a damn good phone for day-to-day life. The battery life I am getting out of this device is frankly astounding, and more like something I’d expect out of cheaper phones with massive batteries and power-efficient A53 core setups. Even if Samsung were to cap the battery capacity at 60% through an OTA like it was suggested, it’d still outperform many flagships in battery life (at least when judging from my particular unit under my usage patterns).
Samsung moving to Exynos-only processors would be an idea I would have loathed a few years back and as an XDA user — to us, Exynos reminds us of the lack of AOSP on such powerful devices. But in the past year, we’ve seen their Snapdragon variants be even less developer-friendly than ever before, with AOSP ROMs seeming all but likely on the variants that traditionally had many options going for them. Now that their Snapdragon variants have been compromised, pushing for Exynos-only Notes wouldn’t change their custom ROM situation with all other factors remaining equal. While I still cannot recommend the Note 7 to an XDA user who wants to be in full control of their phone, it’s impossibly hard to ignore that this is ultimately a very good consumer device when putting the recall drama and explosion jokes aside. I know it’s not a phone I’d personally own exclusively given my situation as a flashaholic in recovery, but if I do end up getting another Galaxy phone next year, I’d want it to be Exynos.
Would you prefer that Samsung went Exynos-only in the future? Let us know your thoughts down below!