THESE days, it is hard for any tech company to keep to an annual product launch cycle, without being called out for releasing what is effectively a slight upgrade over the last model.
Recognising innovation gets harder when some companies, such as Samsung, actually release two key smartphones in a year. The roughly six-month window between launches of the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series means consumers see a new Samsung phone with greater frequency, so what big improvements can there possibly be?
With the latest Galaxy Note7, though, the sum of the parts is greater than anything Samsung has ever delivered. The combination of new features, from the iris scanner, improved S Pen and High Dynamic Range (HDR) mobile display, combined with existing premium ones, such as the Dual Pixel 12MP camera, wireless charging, water and dust resistance and larger battery, makes this the phone to beat in 2016.
The Note7 is IP68 dust and water resistant. Photo: AFP
Samsung has also reset the baseline for what a flagship device should ship with - a 64-bit octa-core processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal memory, a dual SIM try that allows for the second SIM card slot to be used as an expandable memory slot, and a USB Type-C connector. With all these in mind, it is fitting that the Korean tech giant opted to skip the use of the Note 6 monicker for this release, to have both its leading 2016 phones adopt the use of the number 7.
The biggest addition here is the iris scanner, which also supports contactless payment, and the water-resistant feature. Instead of facial recognition, the front camera uses an infrared scanner to read a user's iris shape and markings, to allow access.
Samsung Galaxy Note7's iris recognition technology. Photo: ST
Yes, this takes about one second longer than thumbing the Home button with your finger, but the fingerprint scanner will not work when the phone and your hands are wet, which makes unlocking the phone while taking photos in the pool quite impossible. The same goes for making contactless payments with your fingerprints, with the uneven placements of cashless receivers. Now, you can simply activate Samsung Pay while looking at the screen, and place the phone on the receiver, without worrying about where your thumb sits.
Alas, Samsung Pay for the Note7 will only be activated on Aug 20, so there was no way to test out this feature.
The other feature that cannot be tested is the HDR display, as there is no available HDR mobile content at the moment. The Super Amoled screen itself is still a beauty though, and Samsung maintains the high-quality colours and details here, as it has with previous devices.
The infrared scanner works in the dark, and even for users wearing glasses. For the best results, scan your iris without wearing your glasses. Iris scanning works even if you do it while wearing glasses, but performing the initial scan with your glasses on messes up subsequent readings. Talking about it actually removes the magic of its implementation, but suffice to say, there is something incredible about simply staring at your phone, no matter the conditions, to turn it on.
Samsung has also added a new Secure Folder within the phone that houses your private data. Access to this folder requires a separate set of iris and fingerprint scans, to protect the data within, and it acts like a independent ecosystem within the device. Documents created within cannot be found from the normal directory listings, and apps operating within this folder, such as the Camera, will only save data within the confines of this folder.
The redesigned S Pen is also more precise than ever, allowing users to write more accurately, such as on PDF documents on the 5.7-inch display. For those who love note-taking, you can now scribble on the screen, and continue writing by extending the length of the digital screen, instead of being locked to a one-size display.
One new feature that no one thought they would ever need, but which has been put to good use during this review period, is the GIF creation feature. With the S Pen, a screen recording can be made and shared, of just about anything on display, from gameplay footage, to snippet of a YouTube video.
Everything else notable about the Note7 has been carried over from the Galaxy S7 earlier this year, but this does not invalidate their presence. The Dual Pixel camera that Samsung has crafted is the best smartphone camera in the market right now, offering photo-taking accuracy, speed and great low light modes not found in other smartphone cameras.
When it comes to design, Samsung has also outdone itself. The front and rear curved panels, joined together by the metal frame, gives the Note7 a symmetrical look, and the thin bezel makes the phone much smaller than it looks. The use of USB Type-C is a change for Samsung, but the company has provided an adaptor for those who still want to rely on regular USB for data transfer.
With this one device that comes in four colours, Samsung has also done away with unnecessary variants of different capacities. Truth be told, the only key difference between the S7 and Note7 is the S Pen. One wonders when Samsung will make the S Pen the new standard, and merge both its flagship phones into one truly magnificent device that consumers can look forward to each year.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7
Processor: Samsung Exynos Octa-core (4 x 2.3GHz and 4 x 1.6GHz)
Display: 5.7-inch Super Amoled, 1,440 x 2,560 pixels (518 Pixel Per Inch)
Camera: (Rear) 12MP, f/1.7, 26mm, phase detection autofocus, OIS, (Front) 5 MP, f/1.7, 22mm, Auto HDR
Operating System: Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow)
Memory: 64GB (expandable MicroSD up to 256GB), 4GB RAM
Battery: Non-removable Li-Po 3500 mAh
This article was first published on Aug 20, 2016.
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