Curvy Samsung Galaxy Note 7 takes giant-screen Android phones to the next level

The latest Note refresh improves last year's Note 5 with a sweet new design and tricks. (That's right, there is no Note 6.)

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What do you get when you take the curved-screen Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and add a stylus? The Galaxy Note 7, which Samsung unveiled August 2 in New York.

That's right, Samsung jumped right from last year's Note 5 to the Note 7, skipping the Note 6 entirely. And that's a little weird, but easy enough to wrap your brain around because the Note 7's molded screens, 12-megapixel camera, expandable storage and water-resistant coating bring it closer to this year's S7 series than to last year's Note. Since the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are two of the year's best phones, with excellent cameras and battery life, that's not a bad pedigree.

From what I've seen so far, the Note 7 should fall in line as a terrific, high-powered device whose stylus tricks take the Note to the next level. On paper, it corrects the Note 5's biggest shortfalls, though we'll need to fully test the phone to confirm this. And if you already bought an S7 or S7 Edge, don't worry -- there aren't enough changes to leave you behind on your phone's core features.

Here's what the Note 7 has that the Note 5 doesn't:

  • Curved screens (sharper, less sloping than the S7 Edge)
  • USB-C charger port (Samsung's first phone to adopt the new standard)
  • Iris scanner to unlock the phone with your eyes
  • Gorilla Glass 5 screen (the first phone with Corning's new screen tech)
  • More sensitive, accurate S Pen stylus
  • Water-resistant phone body and S Pen
  • MicroSD card slot (like the S7 phones)
  • Larger battery (3,500 mAh versus Note 5's 3,000 mAh)
  • Better low-light camera
  • New S Pen tricks, like magnification and GIF-making
  • Stylus won't get stuck if you jam it in backwards
  • Coral Blue color choice (it's great)

And here's how the Note 7 compares to the S7 Edge, Motorola Moto Z, iPhone 6S and OnePlus 3.

So -- if the S7 Edge and Note 7 are almost hardware twins, who is the Note 7 for? Power users. Samsung targets people who want the phone with the most goods, and the Note's gliding stylus and extra writing, drawing and navigation tools give it all the things.

Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 looks awesome in 'Coral Blue'

See all photos

If you already have a Note 5 and wonder if you should upgrade to the newcomer, wait for my full, rated review before buying. And if you're not an Android disciple, keep in mind that Apple's presumed iPhone 7 Plus (which will certainly be stylus-free) is expected to launch in just six weeks. That said, the Note 7 certainly seems like a worthy upgrade for the series, one that refines an already muscular phone and brings back some of our favorite things, like waterproofing and extra storage.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Complete coverage

Price plays a big role in whether or not you should get the phone (see section below). Notes are usually the most expensive in Samsung's lineup, and it's the S Pen you pay for. With the S7 and larger S7 Edge as really similar stylus-less options, I do wonder if the Note 7, cool as it is, will wind up being too much phone for all but the most passionate stylus addicts.

Editors' note: Updated August 2 at 10:43 a.m. PT with pricing and availability info, and additional links. Updated August 4 at 12:30pm PT with more links.

Where and when to buy the Note 7 -- and for how much

The Note 7 is costly; it's one of the most expensive Samsung phones because it builds so much off of other Samsung models. In the US, you can already preorder the Note 7 in Coral Blue, Black Onyx and Silver Titanium, but not gold. A few carriers have already announced pricing as well as bundled promotions where you can pick a Gear Fit 2 or a 256GB memory card.

In the UK, online retailer Mobilefun quote a price of £749, but Samsung and other networks have yet to release their own SIM-free pricing. Vodafone, O2, GiffGaff, Three and EE all confirmed that they'll sell the Note 7.

Australian pricing is in. It'll cost AU$1,349 from Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile, JB Hi Fi, Harvey Norman, Samsung Retail and Samsung.com.au.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Pricing and Availability

Country Pre-order dateAvailability datePriceAvailable colors
US August 3August 19AT&T: $880; T-Mobile: $849; U.S. Cellular: $834Blue, black and silver
UK August 16September 2£578-£631*Blue, black and silver
AU August 5August 19AU$1,349Black, silver and gold

* = based on conversion

Check out everything we know on pricing and availability for the Galaxy Note 7, and how you can preorder the Galaxy Note 7.

New curvy design: Bend it like...the S7 Edge

The Note 7 has a curved screen and the same Edge software as the Galaxy S7 Edge. This is interesting because it gives the Note 7 all of the Edge's features and functionality. (After 2014's Note Edge with its one swooshed side, this is the second Note to have a curved screen.)

Enlarge Image

There's no doubt this is a pretty phone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Edge and Note don't look identical, but close enough that if you see them both in black and the S Pen is holstered away, you may not immediately know the difference. But there are a few. The Note 7 has curves on the front and back compared to the Edge, which only curves on the front.

Those curves are also narrower than the S7 Edge's; the Note 7's sides drop off faster and slope less. Samsung did this to keep more of the screen flat for your S Pen writing. I do wonder how often the stylus will slip off the curved sides.

The Note 7's 5.7-inch screen is a little larger than the 5.5-inch Edge, but Samsung manages to make it feel compact and pleasantly solid. Not small, but smaller than past Note models and easier to hold.

S Pen updates: Better app, GIF-making, magnification

The pen clicks out satisfyingly from its hidey-hole in the phone's bottom edge. It has a smaller pen tip than the Note 5's, which is supposed to make it more accurate and precise. It's also twice as sensitive, with pressure levels jumping from 2,048 in the Note 5 to 4,096 in the Note 7.

Like the phone, the new S Pen is resistant to water and dust (it's sealed with rubber and silicon), so if the Note 7 splashes into the pool, you don't wind up with a pen that's on the fritz. It also means you can use it when raindrops plop all over the screen.

Samsung wouldn't be Samsung if it didn't ramp up this S Pen's skills. They don't all wow me, but I'll give them a chance when the test unit comes in.

  • Samsung Notes app: Four Note 5 apps sensibly combine into this single app for handwriting, drawing and all that jazz. There are more art tools, including a brush that blends colors.
  • Pin a memo to the lock screen: This one seems useful. You can write a memo when the screen is off, like a to-do list, then pin it to the lock screen (the Always On display) to see if for an hour before it times out -- you can repin it again after that.
  • Make an animated GIF: You can use the Smart Select tool within a video to create, share and annotate a GIF.
  • Translation tool: A rarer use case, you hover the S Pen over a word to pull a Google translation in over 70 languages.
  • Magnifying glass: You'll be able to magnify a window of text using the S Pen.

Iris scanning unlocks the phone with your eyeballs

Enlarge Image

This time, your phone might look back.

Josh Miller/CNET

You can unlock the phone with your fingerprint, or you can use your eyes (one set of eyeballs). Setup is intuitive. Unlocking is easy and fast; you hold the phone up to your face and the software does the rest. (Microsoft's Lumia 950 has a version of this, too.)

The funny thing is, Samsung doesn't actually expect you to scan your peepers every time you want to unlock the phone, the company told me in my briefing. Instead, iris scans are seen as supplemental, like to get you into the new, secured Private Folder where you can store things such as a photo of your passport, banking information or apps you don't want the kids to use.

Is it secure? We dig into that a little more here.

New Type-C charging port is a big deal because...

The Note 7 marks Samsung's first use of the USB Type-C charging port for its phones and don't worry, you'll get a Micro-USB to USB-C adapter in the box. Samsung hasn't said if every future phone will make the switch, but chances are good.

In preparation for using the new industry-wide standard, Samsung is also making a new version of its Gear VR headset for 2016 that works with Type-C and Micro-USB phones, and otherwise changes only a few things from the last model.

Sleeker Android, with Nougat ahead

Google's Android Nougat software isn't launching on the Note 7 when it hits later this year, but expect an upgrade somewhere down the line. For now, it runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Meanwhile, Samsung's custom layer looks a little different on this phone. Menus are more colorful and seem a little more spaced out.

The camera app gets a jolt with new gestures, too. Swipe up and down to switch between front and rear cameras, and swipe to the sides to bring up filters and effects. It works well in theory, and I like the instant gratification of seeing your photo previewed in filters before you choose the one you want. But even in tests, my fingers kept accidentally tapping the Back and Recent buttons, which kicked me out of the app. Either that or my swipes zoomed the photo in instead of calling up the other menus or camera.

I finally figured out that you have to tap the bottom of the viewfinder to pull up the three dots that indicate you're ready to swipe. Otherwise, you're gesturing on the viewfinder, and not the swipeable menu. It isn't exactly intuitive, and mistakes are time-wasting and aggravating.

Camera, battery, processor just like the S7

With few exceptions, the Note 7 has the same hardware guts as the S7 and S7 Edge, such as its 12-megapixel camera. The Note 5 had a 16-megapixel shooter, which sounds more impressive, but as we keep saying, image quality has a lot to do with processing and light. For example, the S7 phones are better at low-light shots than the S6 crop.

The "7" phones also share an IP68 rating that promises to defend the phone against water damage and dust. (You can submerge it down to 5 feet, or 1.5 meters, for 30 minutes.) Let's hope Samsung doesn't repeat the same issue that caused its first batch of Galaxy S7 Actives to drown when they should have kept working underwater. (Samsung has since fixed the Active, which our initial retest confirms.)

Note 7 specs versus the competition

Samsung Galaxy Note 7Samsung Galaxy S7 EdgeMotorola Moto ZApple iPhone 6SOnePlus 3
Display size, resolution 5.7-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1.440 pixels4.7-inch; 1,334x750 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 518ppi534ppi535ppi326ppi401ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6x2.9x0.3 in.5.9x2.9x0.3 in.6.1x3x0.20 in.5.4x2.6x0.28 in.6.01x2.94x0.29 in.
Dimensions (Millimeters) 153.5x73.9x7.9mm150.9x72.6x7.7mm155.3x75.3x5.2mm138x67x7.1mm152.7x74.7x7.35mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6 oz.; 169g5.5 oz.; 157g4.8 oz.; 136g5 oz.; 143g5.57 oz.; 158g
Mobile software Android 6.0.1 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowApple iOS 9Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Camera 12-megapixel12-megapixel13-megapixel12-megapixel16-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel5-megapixel5-megapixel5-megapixel8-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K4K4K
Processor 2.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapgradon 820 processor (or Exynos, depending on region)2.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processorUp to 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820Apple A9 chip (64-bit)2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Storage 64GB32GB, 64GB (varies by region)32GB, 64GB16GB, 64GB, 128GB64GB
Expandable storage 200GB200GBup to 2TBNoneNone
Battery 3,500 mAh (nonremovable)3,600 mAh (nonremovable)2,600 mAh (nonremovable)1,715 mAh (nonremovable)3,000 mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Home buttonHome buttonBelow screenHome buttonHome button
Connector USB-CMicro-USBUSB-CLightningUSB-C
Special features S Pen stylus, water-resistant, wireless chargingWater-resistant, wireless chargingMoto Mod snap-on accessoriesN/ANotifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash Charging
Price off-contract (USD) TBAAT&T: $795, Sprint: $750, T-Mobile: $780, Verizon: $792, US Cellular: $780NA$649 (16GB); $749 (64GB); $849 (128GB)$400
Price (GBP) TBA£639NA£539 (16GB); £619 (64GB); £699 (128GB)£329
Price (AUD) TBAAU$1,249NAAU$1,079 (16GB); AU$1,229 (64GB); AU$1,379 (128GB)Converts to AU$530