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Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – sexy, stylish and feature-laden but with questionable battery life

Samsung decides to skip the Galaxy Note 6 and brings out a Galaxy Note 7 – right before the rumoured imminent release of the iPhone 7S mid-September. But will that alone be enough to keep it ahead of its arch-rival?

Design and hardware

The angular and prominent bezels of yesteryear are gone, replaced by smooth and stylish curves inherited from Samsung’s popular Edge series. That is already a two-year-old design, that’s been tweaked along the way, but is quickly reaching its sell-by date.

Still, it returns in the Note 7, including the Edge panel, but with a new touch detection algorithm that negates 99 per cent of accidental touches, no matter how it’s held. Let’s face it, that was one of the most glaring, stubborn and annoying problems that plagued the Note 5 and other Edge models.

The curvy edge lends the same level of sexiness to the Note 7 as the Galaxy S6 Edge and S7 Edge. It’s one sleek and sturdy piece of hardware wrapped almost entirely in glass that is not susceptible to fingerprints.

S-Pen

The S-Pen has some features that genuinely extend the Note 7’s capabilities. Although not new, hovering becomes akin to Apple’s force touch, allowing you to preview files and apps before you open them. So you can read a snippet of an email or preview a photo without opening it fully.

Glance is another new feature that allows users to easily juggle between two apps that are running simultaneously. It’s similar to working with different windows but with a different presentation.

S-Pen Translate is a step in the right direction but needs further development. The idea is that you hover over words that need translating. It works better when you are hovering over a single word than a large chunk of text.

There’s also a magnify function that is self-explanatory. Using the S-Pen to write and draw felt good. It was responsive, the handwriting recognition was acceptable and the 4,096 pressure points help simulate the feel of real pens and brushes. And unlike the Galaxy Note 5, you can no longer break the phone by inserting the S-Pen the wrong way round.

Software

The TouchWiz user interface has had a makeover: the new Settings menu has been rejigged (yet again) and in my opinion is more confusing and less accessible than it was before the tweaks. There is a new Secure folder that allows users to store files and apps.

In fact security is such a major focus for the latest release that Samsung has put in an iris scanner. On the front of the phone are an infrared light and camera that read the three-dimensional details in the iris, even in total darkness.

It’s more a gimmick as it doesn’t offer a compelling user experience. Unlocking can be fussy and slow, you need to switch on the display, swipe the screen and then the scanner activates. Why does it take so many steps?

The display itself is a beauty, however. Samsung has perfected the AMOLED display technology here and added HDR (high dynamic range) capability. Sadly, it’s not a prevalent standard just yet and finding content for it is extremely hard. Having said that, the likes of Netflix and YouTube are said to be coming up with HDR content in the near future.

Performance and battery life

Powered by the Snapdragon 820 and a 3,500 mAh battery, the Galaxy Note 7 should run like a dream. But it doesn’t. No doubt it’s a powerful phone but there is no excuse for minor annoying stutters and delays when navigating the home screen.

One also has to wonder why Samsung did not opt for the faster Snapdragon 821 processor, as that may have handled TouchWiz better. One thing that significantly boosts the Note 7’s performance (and has been on my wishlist for some time) is the ability to change the display resolution. By default the Note 7 is a WQHD (2560×1440) phone but it also allows you to pick FHD (1920×1080) and even HD (1280×720).

Battery life can be described as erratic as any CPU-intensive activity will drain the power quite quickly. Luckily Android Marshmallow saves the day with its excellent power saving. Even then, Always On Display drops the battery level by a couple of per cent per hour.

So on a fairly busy day at the office (and out) it fell to 20 per cent in about 12 hours, which is two hours short of my typical working day. It’s serviceable but disappointing, considering how well optimised the Snapdragon 820 is. Quick charging is available, as with most recently released handsets and wireless charging is also built-in.

Conclusion

Galaxy Note 7 is a beautiful phone, packed with features unavailable in older Samsung models. It still has the best and most functional stylus on the market so if you like to scribble notes and doodle when on the go, there is no other phone that comes anywhere close.

Spec-wise it’s cut from the same cloth as the Galaxy S7 series, right down to the camera, but with a slightly bigger and more powerful display. Surprisingly, the performance is relatively disappointing in that it’s one skipped frame, and a couple of milliseconds delay away from effortless operation. As it stands, the phone feels stressed at times and gets warm.

The biggest let-down is as a business phone or a phablet, it just doesn’t have the battery life that it should.

Price: HK$6,198 (available from September 2)

Colours: Gold Platinum, Blue Coral, and Black Onyx