The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has been announced on August 2 proving most of the pre-launch rumours regarding its specs and features true. Most, not all, however, as there are a few things many were expecting that haven't quite materialised. Still, in many ways the new phablet is still shaping up as quite a force to be reckoned with, building as the Note series always does on the combined successes of the Galaxy S flagship and the previous Note model.
The most immediate question which springs to mind is how does it compare to what's already out there? Amongst the competitors to stack it up against there's one old rival that also jumps to the front of the line; Apple. Yes, a refresh of Apple's phone line-up is due imminently in September (iPhone 7) and in many ways that will really be the device to compare to Samsungs latest and greatest, but in the meantime the firm's nearest competitor is the iPhone 6s Plus phablet launched in late 2015.
Let's take a look at how the two compare.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 vs Apple iPhone 6s Plus: Specs
Front Camera: 5 MP, f/2.2 Aperture Size, 31mm Focal Length
Other: TouchID Fingerprint Scanner
Colours: Space Gray, Silver, Gold, Rose Gold
Software: iOS 9.3.3 (iOS 10 Coming)
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 vs Apple iPhone 6s Plus: Design
So first things first; design. Even without the tidal wave of leaks ahead of the Galaxy Note 7's launch there were a few educated guesses and reasonable assumptions we could've made about the handset's overall design ethos which have, once again, been proven completely true. It's pretty simple really; whatever the current-gen Galaxy S flagship for a given year looks like, the Galaxy Note for that year will more or less look like a big version of it and use a close approximation of the design language and production methods.
That's definitely the case here, as the Galaxy Note 7 uses the same metal frame with glass front and back panels as the Galaxy S7 series, and follows very closely all the same visual cues such as punched speaker grilles, button design and placement, port shape and design, and so on. This is familiar terrirory, it is basically Samsung's current signature style in 5.7in phablet form. And, truth be told, is not massively different from last year's Galaxy Note 5 either, which in turn was based on the Galaxy S6 series flagship design, which was very similar to the Galaxy S7 series too. It all links.
But not wanting to sound too much like a complacent old git, I will say that even with the repetition of the design it is rather welcome; as I've said elsewhere this new metal and glass aesthetic is the best design Samsung has ever come up with - FAR better than the firm's old tacky plastic - so I'm glad it's not fading out prematurely. Long may it continue.
Plus, credit where it's due, there are some crucial differences in the design of the new Galaxy Note 7. Most importantly, it has followed the Galaxy S7's lead with the IP68 water and dust proofing, making it the first Samsung Galaxy Note device with this rugged durability feature suite. Just like the Galaxy S7, you can drop the Galaxy Note 7 in the bath and not freak out about it.
What's more, Samsung has actually done some clever jiggery-pokery to make the S-Pen stylus function on the display when wet, even if the phone's underwater. Neat. Another key difference is the presence of that EDGE display, y'know, the one with the curved edges along the sides, just like the Galaxy S7 EDGE. This isn't a first for the Note series, in fact the Note series is where this curvy display experimentation first started for Samsung on the fourth-generation Galaxy Note EDGE (a limited run variant of the Galaxy Note 4 with only one curved edge, not both), but it's been gone a long while and it's now seeing a triumphant, much more developed return here.
This does change the design somewhat from the Galaxy Note 5, with a curvy screen and a flatter back instead of the Note 5's inversion of this; a flat screen with a curvy back. Overall the Galaxy Note 7 is also a little more angular and squared-off than the Galaxy S7 series.
How does this compare to the Apple iPhone 6s Plus though? Rather favourably, to be honest. It'd be remiss of me to talk up Samsung's adoption of metal and glass design while failing to point out that, although a different aesthetic, Apple's long-standing metal and glass build is also something that looks fantastic and screams quality when you handle it.
So again, you won't hear me complaining about Apple's repetition of design on this phablet, indeed, what would we have the firm replace it with? Luminous yellow polycarbonate? I think not. No, there's nothing wrong with the look and feel here, but the reason I'd lean towards the Galaxy Note 7 coming out on top here is quite simply the waterproofing. Apple's had years to implement this kind of tech while everyone else has brought it to market, and its absence is rather glaring on such a premium brand that prides itself on useful, pragmatic features.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 vs Apple iPhone 6s Plus: Display
Apple's behind on display tech, this is pretty well established now. Yes, sure, the firm's displays are adequate; they're nicely sharp and colourful enough for people to enjoy them without much complaint. But gone are the days where Apple could honestly claim it has the best screens on the market. The mere fact that the firm is looking to swap its current tech for OLED, possibly as early as next year and probably supplied by Samsung, should say something about its IPS LCD setups being outdated.
It also says something about where Samsung sits in the hierarchy. The Galaxy S7 series remains the undisputed KING of display tech for the entirety of 2016 thanks to the Super AMOLED tech it is carrying. The handset delivered the best performance in all display areas that count according to extensive tests and analysis by DisplayMate.
Unsurprisingly, the Galaxy Note 7's display panel is the very same Super AMOLED technology, sporting a QHD resolution much higher than Apple's for superior sharpness even on a larger diagonal. What's more, Samsung has added an HDR functionality similar to what is used in the firm's best TVs, which essentially offers even better colour and contrast settings. In short, this should be just about the best phablet display available bar none.
Samsung's also borrowed its own Always On display feature from the Galaxy S7, running the display in a low power mode even when the phone is asleep to display the time, date, and some notifications. If it's anything like the S7's setup it will barely sip the battery at all, and Samsung has added specialist Note functionality to allow you to scribble notes and doodles on the Always On screen which the phone will save for later.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 vs Apple iPhone 6s Plus:Hardware
Some were expecting an upgraded processor from the Galaxy S7's Exynos 8990 octa-core setup, as well as a sizeable 6GB of RAM, but sadly neither has occured. The Exynos 8990 has returned and still packs 4GB of RAM; not that this is anything to sneeze at, again it's the same hardware from the Galaxy S7 and that has continued to be one of 2016's better performers.
How does this compare to the Apple iPhone 6s Plus with its Apple A9 chipset? Well to an extent it's apples and oranges (pardon the pun) in the sense that so much is dependent on the hardware and software optimisations; Apple has finely honed iOS and its app ecosystem to its purpose-built dual-core CPU, while Samsung's Exynos chip is all dialled in for Google's latest version of Android. So although on paper there is apparently quite a difference, in actual use both phones are going to be somewhat comparable.
Samsung's Galaxy Note 7, however, is using a chip with a bit more top end grunt, and slightly more modern technology, which should mean it's a bit better future proofed for forthcoming applications and software changes as time progresses. The A9 will still be relevant for some time to come too, but may start to show its age a little sooner, and it is about to imminently be replaced by whatever the iPhone 7 is sporting (presumably the A9X CPU from the iPad Pro).
On the battery side of things, the iPhone 6s Plus' 2,750mAh cell is not massive as phablets go, but somehow Apple has managed to squeeze some excellent performance out of it and it bowled over KYM's Richard Goodwin during his review - he still rates it as one of the best phones for battery from the year so far; a rather exclusive club to be sure. That said, the Galaxy S7 also demonstrated some impressive battery life despite a smaller cell, and we think this is likely due to similar optimisation work. The Galaxy Note 7 has a much larger 3,500mAh cell (though smaller than the anticipated 4,000mAh) which, assuming a similar level of optimisation has been achieved, should produce some spectacular results. Naturally time will be the test of this as reviewers start to get hands-on with the phone for extended periods.
Apple still has its well-implemented TouchID fingerprint scanner for unlocking the handset and operating Apple Pay, while Samsung has its own fingerprint scanner in the Note 7's home key. Samsung has now added an iris scanner to the front of the Galaxy Note 7 as another biometric option.
On the storage side of things Samsung has only revealed a 64GB option for the Galaxy Note 7, but it does support microSD cards up to 256GB. However, there's no word yet on whether, like the Galaxy S7, the Note 7 may not support Android's native Adoptive Storage feature to utilise card storage as onboard space for applications. Another caveat is that the microSD port does not support the UFS card standard, meaning Samsung's latest batch of ultra-fast read/write microSD cards will offer no advantage. Apple has a far wider range of onboard storage options ranging from 16GB up to 128GB (though omitting the 32GB option) but as per Apple's usual it does not support external card memory.
Stay tuned as we'll be updating this comparison soon...