Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review: Steer clear of the Galaxy Note 7

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The Good The Galaxy Note 7 is a beautiful, capable Android phone that showcases Samsung's best in design, battery life, speed and features. The 64GB base model leaves you plenty of space for photos, videos and games.

The Bad We just can't trust the hardware, given the ongoing reports of battery fires.

The Bottom Line Don't buy the Galaxy Note 7, and return it if you've already bought it.

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Editors' note, December 9, 2016:

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is dead. After some handsets from both the initial run and from a second run of replacement phones caught fire, Samsung yanked it entirely. Samsung stopped making it, you can't buy it from legitimate sellers and, depending on where you live, your carrier may even send angel of death software to brick existing Note 7 phones to keep you from using it. (In the US, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint will send out this software. Verizon will not.)

Samsung says that 93 percent of its US customers have now returned the potentially faulty device, which is also banned from all airplanes in this country and many others. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has gone further, saying, "Consumers should power down and stop using all Galaxy Note 7s."

We completely agree. You shouldn't buy a Galaxy Note 7, even if you can still find one. And if you still own one, you should immediately turn it off and exchange it for a different, non-Note 7 phone. Around the world, carriers and retailers will exchange your Note 7 for phones of equal value on the same network.

Here's everything you need to know about the disastrous Note 7 debacle. And here are phones we suggest you get instead: 9 Note 7 alternatives.

Earlier versions of this review follow.

When we first reviewed the Galaxy Note 7 in August, we found it to be one of the best phones of the year. A big beautiful AMOLED screen, excellent camera, some truly useful S-Pen tools and a big battery that lasted for hours.

And then a few dozen of those batteries burst into flames.

The new Note 7 has a green battery icon.


Since then, Samsung has initiated one of the biggest recalls in consumer electronics history, and recalled more than 2.5 million Note 7 phones globally. And now, the company has a replacement batch ready: more than half a million new Note 7s, with batteries that Samsung says don't have the defect that caused the fires in the first round.

So: if you want a big-screen Android phone, the corrected Note 7 is the way to go, right?

Not so fast. Samsung needs to rebuild trust here, and we're not ready to just endorse the corrected phone and call it a day. To that end, we're waiting at least until the end of October to see if any further reports of Note 7 issues crop up. (We're also testing corrected Note 7 phones in the wild, but just because we don't see a problem with our new review samples doesn't mean that there aren't any outstanding issues. After all, the original battery issue appeared in only a small fraction of the phones shipped from the original batch.)

In the meantime, we're keeping this updated review here -- unrated -- while we continue to seek out real-world feedback on users' experience with the corrected version of the Note 7.

The 5.7-inch, stylus-slinging Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is a damn fine phone. Its sexy wraparound glass, precise S Pen and brilliant screen would impress anyone, but it's ideal for artists, architects and people who would rather write by hand than type on a screen.

It has a gorgeous, symmetrical design that looks particularly stunning in Coral Blue. It takes great photos and has both the water resistance and expandable memory slot that last year's Galaxy Note 5 lacked (oh yeah, there is no Note 6). Battery life goes on and on -- but not as long as for the Galaxy S7 Edge -- and you can charge up wirelessly.

This is Samsung's ultimate phone, with all the Edge's curved-screen goodies and more: 64GB of storage instead of the Edge's 32GB. An iris scanner for unlocking the phone with your eyes. A good, refreshed take on Android. A USB-C charger port that also charges up your other devices (you should buy a USB 3.1 cable for faster data speeds). New pen tricks to magnify, translate languages and make an animated GIF. A nighttime filter you can schedule to automatically give your weary, screen-staring eyes a break.

The question you have to ask yourself is how much all this is worth to you. Because the Note 7 is one of the most expensive phones you can buy. It's comparable to Apple's large-screen iPhone 6S Plus (the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are right around the corner), but costs more than the already pricey Edge, and it's twice the price of the OnePlus 3, a CNET Editors' Choice winner for its excellence as an all-round midprice phone. In the US, promotions that bundle a free memory card or Samsung wearable help soothe the sting.

There's also some question about the Note 7's fragility. Although it survived all but the meanest splats in our dedicated drop test, the screen of my review unit mysteriously cracked in my purse. And reports of manufacturing mayhem that's reportedly caused some units to explode en route to customers are putting the brakes on shipments for now. For the record, none of our three review units has exploded or experienced similar trauma.

The Note 7 lets you leave your laptop behind more often.

Josh Miller/CNET

As much as I loved my time with the compelling, beautiful, functional Note 7 -- and I really did -- I hesitate to recommend it to anyone who isn't serious about using that digital S Pen to draw, write and navigate on the phone. The S Pen has some minor issues, too. It isn't perfect at everything. Sometimes wielding the stylus feels natural; other times tapping and typing make more sense. (Though it does make really great annotated photos, Snapchat snaps and social-media GIFs.)

At the end of the day, most people can easily live without the Note 7, especially with the capable S7 Edge a near doppelganger. If you're ready to move on from the Note 4, switching to the Note 7 gets you more storage and power, an upgradable Android version and a far better S Pen. If you're happy with the Note 5, wait a year. If not, with the Note 7 you get waterproofing, expandable storage and software shortcuts on those curved edges. With its elevated features and fee, the Note 7 is for buyers who delight in rarified details. Buy it and you get an excellent phone -- but if you aren't going to use that pen, forget it.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 pricing and availability

Sale date Price Colors
US August 19 $834-$880 (varies by carrier) Blue, black and silver
UK September 2 £700* Blue, black and silver
AU August 19 AU$1,349 Black, silver and gold

*Provisional, based on one prominent retailer.

Using the new S Pen stylus: It's smooth, precise, tricked-out

Without the S Pen, the Note 7 is just a refined S7 Edge with steeper curved sides. This year's digital stylus has a fine, precise point and senses 4,096 levels of pressure, double last year's model. I wrote countless notes and a haiku, doodled all over, even handed the phone to CNET's art director for his professional assessment. And? It's very good. But, compared with a 10-inch tablet, the screen is a small for creating fine art, though it handles notes and more casual drawings very well.

You can sketch some really cool things with the Note 7. CNET's art director, Marc Mendell, put my doodles to shame.

Josh Miller/CNET

A few things bothered me about execution. Including the Note Edge, this is the seventh Note phone ever made, so all S Pen maneuvers should be flawless by now. But I still found it hard to paint an entire canvas without onscreen buttons getting in the way (they'll move if you get it right). It's easy to accidentally exit or press unintended controls that mysteriously shift the layout into something you don't want. That's frustrating, especially when you can't figure out how to resume the original canvas.

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