Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Gear Friday: Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 lands with a bang

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Samsung Galaxy Note 7. Photo / AP
Samsung Galaxy Note 7. Photo / AP

Samsung's large Note "phablets" have been my favourites in the Korean electronics giant's Galaxy range of premium smartphones, because the size of the devices works great for my usage and I just like having a large screen for media viewing.

The new Note 7 doesn't disappoint in that respect: the curved "edge" 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display is amazingly good, with 2,560 by 1,440 pixel resolution. That's 518 pixels per inch, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anything better at the moment.

Having a big screen means the Note 7 is about the same size as an iPhone 6s Plus and the Huawei P9 Plus; unlike the latter two, the Note 7 uses a Corning Gorilla Glass 5 body. It's nice enough, but you probably want to get the Note 7 with a protective cover straight away, in case the device is dropped on a hard surface.

Unlike earlier models, Samsung did not put the recommended retail price for the Note 7 in the media release I received. That could be because an RRP of $1,600 including GST is steep, the same as what Apple asks for the 64GB iPhone 6s Plus.

Comparing Androids with iOS devices isn't a straightforward exercise because you have to factor in the two different architectures and app ecosystems, but the Note 7 brings lots of new tech to the table whereas the iPhone 6s Plus is a year old ow.

I think Samsung could've driven home its new-tech advantage better by making available worldwide the 128GB model with 6GB RAM that the company is marketing in China.

As it is, the Note 7 comes to us with "only" 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of micro SD-card expandable storage. This is not to say the Note 7 lacks in features, because it's packed to the gunwales with things.

One feature that genius is the wireless charging. I received the $150 Back Pack battery cover for the Note 7, which adds another 3100mAh of energy storage for the device that already has a 3,500mAh battery.

The Back Pack is IP68 standard water and dust resistant, and simply slips onto the Note 7 with no connection to the phone required thanks to the wireless charging - a very elegant solution. A wireless charger bundled with the Note 7 instead of having to spend another $100 or so for the Samsung Qi fast charger would've been even more genius though.

Battery life is difficult to evaluate over a short period of time as I tend to use the device much more than normal.

Charging is done via a USB-C connector, which also lets you connect all sorts of devices easily to the Note 7. Samsung provides two USB dongles for that purpose.

There's a Samsung Exynos Octa 8890 system on a chip inside the Note 7. This runs four 64-bit processors at 2.3GHz and another four at 1.6GHz and is made with the extremely fine 14 nanometre process.

This is the same set of brains that go into the Galaxy S7 phones, and it's plenty fast. On the new Geekbench 4 benchmark and running Android 6, the Note 7 scored 5617 on the multi-core test and 1855 on the single-core test.

This compares to 5181/1815 for the Huawei P9 Plus. Apple's iPhone 6s Plus has "only" a dual-core processor, and scored 4117 on the multi-core test; the A9 processor cores are very quick though, and on the single-core Geekbench 4 test, the iPhone 6s Plus was the fastest with a score of 2476.

Battery life is difficult to evaluate over a short period of time as I tend to use the device much more than normal, checking out different features; the Note 7 lasted just over a day in my hands, and I expected a bit more from the substantial battery.

Irritating iris scanner

Samsung's very proud of the iris-scanning security feature that can be used to unlock the phone - and in Korea, to log in to websites and for mobile banking apps.

Ignoring the warnings about the bright, rapidly blinking red LED on the front of the phone potentially damaging your eyes, and Samsung says not to use the iris scanner with children, you quickly realise that this is very much version 1 technology that sort of works, but is frustrating to use.

The iris scanner is very likely really secure as Samsung claims, but compared to the fast and easy fingerprint biometric authentication, it seems a pointless feature.

You have to line up both eyes within two circles on the lock screen, open them wide wide wide, no sunnies/glasses allowed, hold the Note 7 at the right distance, and then... much of the time the iris scanner didn't recognise my pair of blues.

The iris scanner is very likely really secure as Samsung claims, but compared to the fast and easy fingerprint biometric authentication, it seems a pointless feature.
Since the iris scanner needs both eyes for authentication, the famous eyeball on pen scene from Demolition Man would be twice as grisly with the Note 7, so I guess that's progress (with apologies for the ancient 90s film reference).

Sorry, Wesley; you need to double up with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.
Sorry, Wesley; you need to double up with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

Samsung also added a slew of other security and privacy features for the Note 7, including the Knox partitioning of work and personal data and I hope the company will provide updates for Android frequently. None arrived during the short-ish review period.

Camera one of the best

The Note 7 has the same 12 megapixel camera as in the smaller Galaxy S7, so you get the same very good image quality both for stills and 1080p/4K 30fps video.

Again, there's lots of features for the camera, including filters, a pro mode with manual exposure parameters and optical image stabilisation to prevent blurry pictures.

Having the large screen makes the Note 7 better for photography and video in my opinion. It's better for viewing what you've shot and editing material, but also beforehand when you compose the pictures to take.

Handwriting recognition on the Note 7 is fast and accurate.

Samsung's sharpened the screen-scribbling abilities for the Note 7, with the small S-Pen neatly tucked into a hole at the bottom of the device - and this time, you can't insert the S-Pen the wrong way like you could with earlier Note devices, and get the thing stuck in the holder.

Handwriting recognition on the Note 7 is fast and accurate. I'm always impressed when a machine is able to make sense of my terrible handwriting, and the Note 7 did really well.

You can write quick notes on the lockscreen too with the S-Pen, a handy feature, and small children love to draw on the Note 7. See above warning about a glass body needing a protective cover though: this applies doubly if you hand the $1,600 device to youngsters.

Great device, but don't buy one yet

Unfortunately for Samsung and some unlucky Note 7 purchasers, some devices were shipped with a serious battery fault.

My review device didn't explode while charging, as Korean media reported has happened for several users.

Deliveries of the Note 7 have been halted however while Samsung figures out why charging causes the battery to explode, and it seems related to the USB-C connector and associated circuits.

Latest news is that Samsung could recall all Note 7 devices sold so far, to replace the the batteries that causes the explosions.

While the number of devices with faulty batteries appears to be small, it's better to wait for Samsung to sort out the problem before buying a Note 7. I've asked Samsung if New Zealand devices will be recalled, and will update the story when I know.

Samsung will no doubt take care of the problem quickly, and a non-exploding Note 7 is probably one of the best albeit priciest Android devices currently.

- NZ Herald

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Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

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