The Galaxy S8 series
OK, so the 2017 Galaxy S8 series does not officially exist yet, but we do know that Samsung releases new generations of these flagships in the early part of the year. Word is that the Korean company has decided to skip its usual announcement at the Mobile World Congress at the end of February, and will instead announce new products at an Apple-style launch event in March.
Like many others, we expect Samsung to really bring the heat (figuratively, this time) to make up for the Note 7 fiasco. If rumors are to be believed, it's on track to do just that. Among other things, leaks suggest the S8 series will have larger, practically edgeless curved displays with cutting-edge internals to match. We've also heard whispers that there may be a new version of the S Pen as an optional accessory for the S8 series.
Of course, there's no guaranteeing exactly what the new lineup will offer, and those indications are purely hearsay. But considering that the new phones are only a few months away, that Samsung is in comeback mode, and that there aren't any other truly high-end stylus-equipped smartphones out there, it could be worth the wait.
Galaxy Note 5
An older Note – especially if you're able to score a bargain on a slightly used or refurbished model – may be your best option if you're invested in a premium experience. There was no Note 6, so this 2015 release is only one generation older.
The Galaxy Note 5 is an excellent phone and is by no means obsolete. In terms of dimensions, weight, size and display quality, it's nearly identical to the now-defunct Note 7. Mostly, you're just missing out on Note 7's trendy features, such as its curvy glass display, iris scanner and GIF shortcuts, but you will also miss the Note 7's microSD slot, USB-C port and water resistance. (Of course a generation-older processor also holds it back a bit.) Here's a side-by-side look at how the two phones compare.
A new Note 5 retails for around $550-$580, but we recommend copping a lightly used or refurbished model, since new options are on the way. For reference's sake, the brand-new Note 7 retailed for around $850.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
We're not necessarily trying to push Samsung on you, but if you're a fan of the Note 7's characteristic curvy glass build, you'll find similar contours and quality in the S7 series.
The earlier coming-soon caveat applies here as well. A new generation is on the horizon, so we recommend the S7 edge only if you can obtain it at a significant discount over its original $790 asking price.
Google Pixel XL
At the time of this writing, the first made-by-Google phablet is sold out at major retail outlets, and for good reason – it's one heck of a phone. Still, it could be worth the wait. While it represents a significant departure from the Samsung style and interface, it offers heaps of appeal for Android aficionados.
You'll have to relinquish key Note 7 features like the stylus, microSD expansion and water resistance. What will you get in return? Google Pixel XL's stellar camera, top-of-the-line operating system, Google Assistant and buttery-smooth performance. You'll still be able to enjoy perks like mobile VR (through the Google Daydream headset instead of the Samsung Gear VR) and a forward-looking USB-C charging port. At $769, it's at a slightly lower price point than the Note.
You may notice we've omitted stylus-sporting smartphones like the LG Stylus 2 Plus. Why? Well, they're decidedly mid-ranged. They don't offer the high quality internals or user experience of the top-shelf phones above. Since the Note 7 smacked of luxury, middling offerings are not on the same level.
If this list seems short, we feel you – there simply aren't that many phones that come close to approximating Samsung's elegant stylus-sporting phablet. If you're willing to broaden your horizon, you could also take a peek at alternatives to the Pixel XL, a roundup of some of the best larger-sized smartphones currently available.
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