Samsung Galaxy Note 7 vs. Galaxy Note 5
Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 may have a name that's two generations ahead of last year's Note 5 (no "6" for Samsung), but the new model's practical and aesthetic advances are pretty incremental, even for one year's progress. Is it still enough to warrant the upgrade? Let's glean what we can by comparing their features and specs, and weighing them against our own hands-on impressions.
Sizes are very similar, with the Galaxy Note 7 coming out a pinch taller and narrower. It also measures 4 percent thicker than the Note 5.
What we loved about the new phone, that won't show up in spec sheets, is its rounded edges. With curved back and front (the Note 5 just had a curved back), the Note 7's glass front and back bleeding into aluminum edges make for a silky-smooth feel in hand. As strange as it sounds, this may be our favorite change in the new model (at least based on our limited hands-on time).
The Note 7 is a mere 1 percent lighter.
Apart from the slightly different ergonomics we mentioned, design is largely unchanged. Like all of Samsung's 2015-16 era flagships, you get glass back and aluminum frame.
The Galaxy Note 7's color options are slightly changed from last year's Note 5 and inline with the Galaxy S7 series from earlier this year.
Screen size is also unchanged, as Samsung and other smartphone-makers appear to have backed off of the bigger is better mentality that saturated the Android ecosystem from around 2011 to 2014 (peaking with the humongous Nexus 6): The Note series has been sitting on 5.7 inches for the last four generations.
The Galaxy Note also stands pat at QHD resolution for the third straight generation. It looks like 4K smartphone panels aren't quite ready for primetime (or, perhaps more specifically, they would currently hurt battery life too much to justify their eye candy overkill).
Being Samsung, we have another Super AMOLED panel on our hands.
As we mentioned, the Note 7's screen slopes off on either side, similar to the Galaxy S Edge series.
Here the slope starts closer to the edge, though, contributing to that rounded side of the phone we like so much.
Of course one of the Galaxy Note's trademarks is its "S Pen" stylus, but the new phone gets a few new software-based tricks to along with its (narrower and now water resistant) 2016 S Pen.
These include translations (hover stylus over word, see pop-up that shows its equivalent in another language), magnifications (a little digital magnifying circle moves around the screen as you hover the pen around) and a GIF maker (drag box around video, get instant shareable animation).
Those are niche uses, though, and we can't help but notice that Samsung comes up with just enough wacky new stylus features to add to each new model – and leave off the previous one – every year, only to wash, rinse and repeat the process (after critics inevitably call some of the features gimmicks) the next year.
S Pen pressure levels
The Note 7's S Pen doubles the pressure levels from the previous two models, giving it better sensitivity. The last models were already very good in this respect, though, so this didn't strike us as a dramatic change during our brief hands-on. Stay tuned to our review to see if the improved model shows itself more over longer-term use.
This is the big marquee feature Samsung's marketing team will push like a mother in labor for the next few months: The Note 7 has an iris scanner that can open the phone's security gates for you just by gazing at the handset.
In our hands-on, it worked perfectly (and was very fun for a quick novelty). But we also have to wonder if this is more of a new for new's sake addition than something that's going to change much of anything. Technical achievement aside, how hard is it, really, to place your finger on a home button/sensor? And is the iris scanner any more secure? That's yet to be determined.
If pricing were the same as last year, this wouldn't hurt anything. But the new Note costs an extra Benjamin this time around (read on) and, if a neat-o but unnecessary feature like iris scanning has anything to do with it, we aren't sure how much we'll be able to get behind that once it's review time.
Fingerprint sensors these days are great, doing basically everything the new iris scanner does, and the new Note 7 still has one of those as well.
The IP68 water resistance that showed up in the Galaxy S7 series also makes its way to the Note.
Gear VR compatibility
Both phones work with the best mobile virtual reality headset, the Gear VR. The only caveats are that the Note 7 requires the updated Gear VR, while the Note 5 can work with either the original headset or the new model.
The Note 7 gets the standard one-generation-newer processor upgrade that you'd expect from a next-gen phone. The most surprising thing here was that the pre-launch rumors about the Note 7 carrying the slightly faster Snapdragon 821 were off the mark, with the same 820 from the S7 and S7 edge taking its place.
Similar to Samsung's global strategy in past years, much of the world (outside of the US) will get an octa-core Samsung Exynos chip instead of the Snapdragon.
Samsung stood pat with 4 GB of RAM this year.
One thing to keep in mind when we get to that price hike is that Samsung is giving you a generous 64 GB internal storage as standard. The entry-level versions of the latest iPhones only give you 1/4 of that.
Unlike with the Note 5, you also get an expandable storage slot in the Note 7.
We also get a 17 percent bigger battery in the Note 7.
Samsung is releasing a separate battery pack accessory as well, that snaps onto the Note 7's back (via little "hooks" on the corners). Based on our hands-on, it doesn't look quite as gaudy as most battery cases.
Fast charging is standard on every major Android flagship these days.
Samsung kept wireless charging around this year.
With the Note 7, Samsung finally switched to the USB Type C standard.
It looks like the Note 7 gets the same terrific rear camera from the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. Despite the lower resolution you see in this visual, it's a notable overall improvement over the Note 5's camera.
Camera aperture (rear)
Part of that is due to its better low-lit photography, which is largely tied to aperture.
Optical Image Stabilization, which reduces the effects of jittery, over-caffeinated hands, is back in the new model.
Samsung's mobile payment system, Samsung Pay, naturally returns in the Note 7 as well.
We put that asterisk in to denote that the Note 7 lets you use not just the fingerprint sensor, but also the iris scanner to pay for things. Again, though, is there really much practical advantage to that? Or is it just neat?
The Galaxy Note 7 launches with Android Marshmallow, but the new Android Nougat could release any day now. We don't expect it to be too long after that until the Note 7 gets the update (expect a longer wait for the year-old Note 5).
The Note 7 is up for pre-order now, and launches on August 19.
Starting price (full retail)
Yikes, Samsung is getting really bold here. When, for US$400 unlocked and full retail, you can buy a high-end flagship with very few compromises like the OnePlus 3, is there any justification for paying over double that for the Note 7? It looks like a terrific phone, and really the only high-quality option if you like styluses, but you still may want to stop and take a deep breath before impulse-buying the new Note. This is one uncommonly expensive smartphone.
With that said, we did walk away from our hands-on eager to spend more time with the latest Note. Its smoother build feels amazing in hand, and it's a snappier phone with a better camera, bigger battery and double the storage of last year's Note. Maybe not $850 nice, but at least you can pay that off over two years with the carrier of your choice.
Consider this one where there's no way to even ballpark where our recommendation will fall until we spend much more time with it. Stay tuned for that.