Update: The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has been recalled due to multiple reports indicating that the phone can spontaneously catch fire or begin smoking. If you own a Note 7 you should power it down and return it to the manufacturer or your carrier as soon as possible.**
After months of rumor and speculation, Samsung’s latest Galaxy Note phablet is finally here. And with a new display, improved security features, and waterproofing, it just may be the best phone the company has made yet.
At least, it felt that way when we got a chance to use it last week ahead of the launch. But while we came away with the look and feel the new phone, we're here to see how it stacks up when compared to the other top-selling big phones: the Apple iPhone 6S Plus and our previous top-scoring phone, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.
Size and Screen
Like last year’s Note 5, the Note 7 has a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display with a Quad HD (2560x1440p) resolution. In essence it’s big, bright, and about as sharp as a phone screen gets. The biggest difference compared to last year is the shape of the screen, which now wraps around the sides of the phone, similar to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
When you compare the Note 7 to the iPhone 6S Plus, the difference is notable. The 6S Plus is the largest iPhone by far, but it has a smaller 5.5-inch screen with a lower 1080p resolution. Both screens look great, but the Note 5 and Note 7 screens are just a bit sharper.
One thing you don’t want to overlook is the width of the screen, though. The new Note 7 all but eliminates the outer edges, making the phone just 73.9mm wide, which is quite a bit narrower than the 76.1mm Note 5. The iPhone 6S Plus—which we found to be uncomfortably wide when we reviewed it—comes in at 77.9mm wide.
The Note 7 will feature the same 12-megapixel rear camera that we know and love from the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. It is sharp, captures detailed photos, and is quick to focus thanks to the built-in dual pixel autofocus technology.
The biggest camera-related addition for the Note 7 is the use of dual front-facing cameras, which allow the phone to use iris scanning for security. Otherwise, you can expect very similar, class-leading performance with the Note 7 to the current crop of Samsung phones.
For the iPhone 6S Plus, the 12-megapixel rear camera is just about as good. The larger Plus model does feature optical image stabilization, but we enjoy the iPhone’s camera more for its usability and reliability than for its objectively great results. As a result we’d expect it to take good photos in most conditions, though we wouldn’t be surprised if the Note 7’s photos hold up better in limited lighting.
The Note series has always been known for great battery life, mostly because having a phone that large means you have lots of room to have a high-capacity cell. The Note 7 is no different, with a whopping 3,500 mAh capacity. That’s well above the 3,000mAh capacity in the Note 5 and the 2,750mAh capacity in the iPhone 6S Plus.
That said, battery life is just as much about efficiency as it is capacity. That’s much harder to pin down, though we expect the Note 7 to be close to the Note 5, offering well over a single day’s usage at a time. It also features USB-C for fast charging, and built-in wireless charging.
The Note 7 will feature IP68 dust- and waterproofing, which is the same as the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. That means it has been tested to survive submerged in up to five feet of water for up to 30 minutes. In practice, this isn’t a guarantee, but if it can do that under lab conditions it’ll probably survive most spills or drops into the sink when you’re doing dishes.
The iPhone 6S Plus and the Note 5 both lack waterproofing, so this is a big leg up for the Note 7 if you’re looking for a larger phone. It doesn’t mean those phones won’t also survive if you get caught in a quick shower, but they’re not built for it.
Storage is like insurance; you don’t think about it until you really need it, and you always wish you bought more. With the Note 7 and the Note 5, that’s not as big of an issue since they feature expandable storage via the microSD slot. With the iPhone 6S Plus, once you fill up your storage you have to free up space by deleting stuff, or transferring it the cloud.
One thing we do want to commend Samsung for is making 64GB of built-in storage the default option, while phones like the S7 and iPhone 6S Plus still start with 16GB built-in and charge hundreds of dollars just to get more storage built in. It is possible that Samsung is just baking that extra cost into the base price, but until we see concrete pricing data it’s tough to know for sure.