The most anticipated phone of the year is here, and its cost is equal to about 2 months worth of my rent. The Samsung Galaxy Note 6 7 was unveiled on August 2, 2016 and is going for an unlocked price of $850.
With the recent surge of “affordable flagships” brought by smaller companies, some consumers are questioning the reasons behind the Note 7’s hefty asking price.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note line of smartphones has always been a beacon of premium offerings, and has also shown so in prices. The last few generations of the Note line (3-5) have all launched in the $700-850 price range. With each Note, the device has gotten more premium and feature packed.
The launch of the Original Galaxy Note marked the start of the Phablet trend. From then on the Note only line grew in size, until it peaked at the 5.7” screen size of the Note 3. The Original Note was also the first to introduce Samsung’s herald S Pen, and the software features that came along with it. With the introduction of the Note 2, the line saw the introduction of S-Voice Recognition. The Note 3 saw the introduction of Air Gestures, the Note 4 introduced fast charging through Qualcomm’s QC 2.0, and the Note 5 introduced both Qi Wireless charging to the Note line, as well as Samsung Pay. The Note 7 continued this trend of adding features to the Note line, but also providing a few market firsts.
The large price of the Note 7, and the Galaxy Note line in general, isn’t completely unjustified. Many people will automatically argue that it is, claiming things along the line of, “If X company can make a good phone at X price, why do we have to pay Sammy so much?” It’s because the Note 7 offers things that the cheaper flagship lines don’t. The Note offers premium features in many departments, including hardware, software, and in the experience the customer receives. There is, ultimately, a method to the madness, and a price to be paid for the premiums.
Below we’ll list some of the things that the Note 7 brings that other phone makers don’t or can’t offer, either entirely or in the same capacity. We are not arguing in favor of the Note 7’s price, and we are not endorsing nor justifying the $850 price tag — truth be told, we don’t have the most positive feelings about it. But at the same time, this list is something everyone should take into account when criticizing the device.
The biggest addition and feature of the Galaxy Note 7 is the phone’s Iris Scanner. The scanner is used to add a new level of protection on the phone, allowing for a user to unlock their phone with their eyes. There has been some discussion as to whether or not this feature is truly useful, as well as the potential security risks associated. But as with all forms of security, flaws will be found, and it’s up to the user to decide whether or not to use it. One of our writers was able to unlock his phone with the Iris Scanner while wearing a pair of polarized sunglasses. The fact that the scanner can work in a dark room and through polarized lenses is a statement as to how well it really works. However, the implementation requires you to first turn on the screen, and then swipe up on the lockscreen for the scanner to activate. This isn’t very fluid at all, so we believe the scanner is best used in features like Secure Folder, which lets you protect sensitive data and use different app instances.
Another factor about the front (and back) of the Note 7 is the curved glass. The glass is composed of Corning Gorilla Glass 5, and is a step up from the Gorilla Glass 4 on the Galaxy S7 Edge. While GG5 is more shatter resistant than GG4, recent controversy has spiked over the display’s scratch resistance. In an article we posted earlier today, we detailed how the phone fared under YouTuber JerryRigEverything’s testing. Corning responded to these claims, stating that the test JerryRig has done, using Mohs hardness scale but with uncontrolled pressure on the screen, was imperfect and not a bonafide industry test.
Past the glass, the display itself is also the best in the market, hands down. With pixels that can light up to 1000 nits (according to DisplayMate), perfect contrast and plenty of display modes and options, this is the AMOLED experience to beat, and only its maker can beat it either way. Samsung also threw in HDR playback, the first of its kind on mobile, that can fetch HDR-ready media from various services, as well as tune your personal media to look more like HDR video.
Something the Note line is known for is the addition of the S Pen and its features. The S Pen is often described by its users as being like a computer cursor for your phone, being able to add “mouse-like” functionality system wide such. The S Pen also allows for a handwritten memo to be written on the display while the screen is off, and the phone will save said memo, and even keep it displayed while the phone is in a sleeping state. This and other features are added on top of the extensive list of functionality that the Note line built up over the years, which you can check out in a dedicated article we wrote about the S Pen a while back.
Processors, CPU, and GPU
Making the phone run is its chipsets. Some of the Note 7 variants come with an Exynos 8890 Processor, Octa-core (4×2.3 GHz Exynos M1 cores & 4×1.6 GHz Cortex-A53) CPU, and a Mali-T880 MP12 GPU. While not many benchmarking tests are out for the note yet, this same set was found in the some variants of the Galaxy S7 Edge, which was able to out-perform its Snapdragon variant in almost all cases.
That being said, we tried out the Snapdragon 820 variant, and every unit from every staff member showed that TouchWiz lag and frequent stutters are still a serious issue, particularly on Samsung’s stock apps and software. We’ll be documenting this in the coming days, but after six Galaxy Notes with similar issues, we can’t say we expected different.
MicroSD Plus UFS 2.0
A big selling point the Note 7 has is its inclusion of MicroSD support + UFS 2.0 Storage. At this time, Samsung is the only phone manufacturer that offers that combination. The addition of a MicroSD card slot is an important feature for many power users. It’s so important, that Sammy had to retcon their exclusion of a slot in the Galaxy S6. UFS 2.0 is a huge positive, offering the fastest read/write speeds available on Android.
Most cell phones are not meant to get wet. Well, almost all electronics are not supposed to get wet, due to water and electricity not playing nice. Something Samsung has included in the Note 7 is an IP68 water and dust resistance. This protects the phone against accidental exposure to water, such as a run through heavy rain, or being pushed into a pool. It also protects your phone from purposeful dunks, like if you wanna douse your phone in champagne.
Wireless Fast Charging
Other important features users depend on have come to be the inclusion of wireless charging. The Note 7 includes not only both PMA and Qi Wireless Charging, but fast wireless charging at that. The advantages of wireless charging are great, but some companies have historically opted for traditional fast charging instead, without wireless charging included. The Note 7 is one of the few phones out there that supports fast wireless charging, at a time where other OEMs seem to be increasingly moving away from wireless charging altogether.
Another Samsung exclusive is Samsung Pay, and Loop Pay. Samsung has the trump card in mobile payments because of their inclusion of Loop Pay. With it, Samsung phones are able to use mobile payments on more card readers, not just NFC readers. Recently however, a disadvantage has come to the surface for Samsung Pay. More specifically, a flaw in Samsung Pay that lets hackers wireless-ly skim credit cards. To gain the tokens though, a hacker would have to make physical contact with the phone, so it’s really not a feature-breaking flaw for most people. While wireless payments are still not the most secure method, the convenience factor can outway the negatives, if you are careful. A phone thief would need authorization from fingerprints or a PIN before using your virtual credit card, where as a wallet thief would have a much easier time.
Something Samsung phones have usually excelled at is their cameras and image/video capabilities. In the Note 7, the viewfinder is able to give a live view of how HDR will capture an image or video, a feature that other OEMs haven’t widely adopted. On top of that is the large amount of manual controls that Samsung offers inside their camera application. Finally, the camera quality is above most smartphones out today in nearly every condition.
Historically, Samsung’s Touchwiz software has had a “throw in everything and the kitchen sink” approach. With their recently rebranded ‘Grace UX’ on the Note 7, the software is toned down, with the most helpful features that have come in software packages previously still available and tucked into discrete, concentrated menus. Some of these additions include Sammy’s take on Multi Window, and an ‘Always On’ display. The Always On Display that came with the Galaxy S7 was a bit lackluster, only showing a clock, and pending notifications from only Samsung Apps. The AOD on the Note 7 has been given a small face lift, allowing you to handwrite messages to be displayed at all times. A new feature to this software package is the ability to record a section of your screen for a small period of time, and the recording will automatically be saved in a .gif format. TouchWiz always came with its downsides though, and the gracious rebrand has once more failed to solve some of the line-ups long-running performance issues.
Making a return from the S7 is the integration of Gear VR. Virtual reality is making huge waves recently, and some companies like Oculus and HTC are trying to cash in on the home VR system. This is where Gear VR stands out, it uses your phone and a strap on dock to let you get into VR just about anywhere. It may not be as budget-friendly as something like Google Cardboard, but it offers enough extra features and better tracking to hold the advantage.
But of course, selling the phones and delivering them aren’t the only aspects of the Galaxy Note 7. Samsung has to make its product known, and make sure they can help users out when their phones inevitably malfunction. An advantage that store-bought phones have over the very cheap online-only devices like the OnePlus 3 is the ability to easily return or exchange a dud or sub-par unit as well, making your purchase safer and exchanges less of a headache.
Chances are you’ve seen a Samsung Commercial, and have seen how… different they can be. Production of these advertisements aren’t cheap by any means. In the case of the recent commercial starring Christoph Waltz, it can be assumed that the actor did not do the commercial for free. Just as well, none of the props or sets in the commercial were free either. The marketing pays off, but funds for said production have to come from somewhere.
Customer service is an important aspect of any consumer purchase. The Korean company does lack in this department in any way. Timely software updates are not something Galaxy Phone users are used to receiving. Samsung’s USA support team has even foolishly (and incorrectly) admitted to not pushing updates to their unlocked phones, stating that that’s a cellular carrier’s responsibility. That being said, security patch updates on the latest Samsung Galaxy phones have been excellent and timely, sometimes arriving over-the-air before they do on Nexus phones.
The Galaxy Note 7 does take plenty from its older sibling, the Galaxy S7 Edge. From the dual edged screen, to the similar internals, they share a lot in common. But, the Note 7 is worthy of holding to the different name. The inclusion of the S Pen, larger screen size, Iris Scanner, etc. make the Note 7 a drastically different experience from the S7E.
So while some will go on about how overpriced the Galaxy Note 7 is, remember that Samsung didn’t choose the $850 price tag out of nowhere. That isn’t to say that the Note 7 is the definition of the perfect smartphone, a title which is very subjective in nature. It certainly isn’t the best value, especially for communities like ours. Samsung has strict policies with unlocking bootloaders and breaking warranties — and that’s if you can even unlock the bootloader in the first place. For the price, we can’t recommend this device to XDA users in any shape or form, given our natural tendencies to tinker and mod our devices.
Not all of the above features are inherently good or useful. They are, however, just things that the Note 7 brings that other phone makers don’t or can’t, either entirely or in the same capacity. To reiterate an old saying, “You get what you pay for.”