Galaxy Note7 business review: A fabulous phone with few flaws
If Samsung's Galaxy Note7 isn't already on your radar, you're simply not paying attention. This enterprise-oriented Note7 review details the high-end Android phone's many enterprise strengths and spotlights a few shortcomings.
(Editor’s note: The same day this review was published, reports surfaced of serious battery issues with some Note7 devices that could result in fires. Samsung reportedly stopped shipping Note7s in South Korea and may also have issued some sort of recall. More details are available here.)
Earlier this month, Samsung unveiled the Note7, the latest addition to its Galaxy smartphone lineup. The Note7 builds on all the best features of the previous generation Note5 phablet and includes many of the new Galaxy S7’s (GS7) top capabilities.
After spending three weeks with the Note7, and using it every day alongside my iPhone 6s Plus, it’s clear the Note is not only the best business smartphone Samsung has made, it’s the best all-around phone the company has released. Ever. In many ways the new Note7 makes the iPhone 6s Plus look and feel inadequate.
I write a lot of business-oriented smartphone reviews, and I’m always attempt to provide a balance of pros and cons for enterprises users. It’s been a long time since I found it impossible to do so; the Note7 simple offers much more to love than to hate. The phone isn’t perfect, however, and its few flaws can be significant.
Before getting to the Note7’s shortcoming, let’s look at the good stuff. (If you’d prefer not to read this full in-depth Note7 review, jump straight to the conclusion.)
Samsung Galaxy Note7 is THE business phone to beat
It’s made of premium materials, include Corning’s latest Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and rear panels, as well as a sturdy metal bezel that surrounds its edges and helps protect the phone from drop damage. The Note7 feels solid in-hand, and there are no loose keys or internal components that jiggle just slightly when you shake it — even after an unfortunate fall onto an unforgiving Boston sidewalk. (In the Note7, Samsung also fixed an issue with the Note 5 S Pen and its slot that could cause serious damage to the phone.)
The phone is a great size, and even though it’s still considered a phablet, it’s not as big or clunky as previous Note phones. In fact, it’s only slightly larger than the GS7 edge, and it has a bigger, 5.7-inch display, compared to the GS7 edge’s 5.5-inch screen. It’s also relatively light for its size. For context, the Note7 is significantly smaller (153.5mm) and lighter (169 grams) than the iPhone 6s Plus (158.2mm and 192 grams), though it’s also more than 0.5mm thicker.
The Note7 has a water-resistance rating of IP68, which means it’ll be just fine in up to five feet of water for as long as 30 minutes, according to Samsung. In other words, the phone should be well-suited for field workers who might have to work outside in the rain — and it should stand up to the occasional toilet dunk. However, it’s a good idea to use a protective case on the Note7, because it’s large screen is still prone to shatters.
Note7 security strengths
All of the latest Knox security safeguards Samsung has to offer are available in the Note7, and Knox integrates with many of today’s most common MDM and EMM offerings. Knox also received the most “strong” ratings of any mobile security platform in Gartner’s spring 2016 “Mobile Device Security: A Comparison of Platforms” report.
A wide range of user authentication methods are available on the Note7, including the traditional PIN or password, on-screen pattern unlock, and both fingerprint and iris biometric authentication. (You’ll find more details on the Note7 iris scanner in the next section.)
A new “Secure Folder” feature lets you create a locked “container” on your phone that can’t be accessed without authentication. It’s essentially a more consumer-friendly version of Samsung’s My Knox personal container feature. You can also choose to hide the secure folder, so the only way to access it is by drilling down into the secure folder settings. IT departments cannot disable this secure folder, but security-conscious organizations could choose to run the Note7 in “container only” mode, according to Samsung. Such a move would block the use of the secure folder, because the device can’t run a secure container within another container.
Finally, the Note7 lets you encrypt all content on memory cards, a simple feature but one security- and privacy-conscious users should appreciate.
Note7 S Pen, USB C and edge screen
The Note7’s “S Pen” stylus has more features than ever, and it feels even more like a ballpoint pen in hand and when you write on the device’s display. The design of the S Pen is also slightly different, with the “Air Command” actions button higher up on the pen. Its pressure-sensitive tip is slightly smaller and more precise, according to Samsung. And the Note7 stylus is just as water-resistant as the device, which means you can write on-screen in the rain or even while the device is submerged in liquid. I tested the feature in a small basin of water, and it worked well.
The device is the first Samsung Galaxy phone with a USB C port. USB C is the industry standard mobile port of the future, and it offers a number of enhancements, including faster potential data transfer rates and improved charging. And the Note7 comes with two USB C adaptors (one for regular USB and one for micro USB), so you don’t need to purchase any additional components to use your current USB accessories — a very nice touch on Samsung’s part, and one you’d never see from a company like Apple, which charges $19 for a Lighting to micro USB adaptor.
The new Note7’s display is curved on both sides, just like the GS7 edge, and it has the same set of edge features. You can slide a thumb (or S Pen) from the outside of the screen in to pull up an edge panel, which lets you view two side-by-side columns of apps or contacts. You can also place app widgets from third parties on the apps edge to trigger certain functions. For example, you could place a 1×1 widget from a Twitter app on the edge screen and use it to go directly to the new tweet function, instead of using the app’s icon to open it and then navigate to the appropriate page.
The edge screen features are a useful edition to the Note family. However, the smooth, curved display can make the device feel somewhat slippery in hand, especially if you’re not used to such a curvy phone. And it would have been nice to see some Note- or S-Pen-specific edge features instead of the same exact functionality as the GS7 edge.
The Note7 has the same resolution display as the last two generations of Galaxy S phones and the Note5: quad HD 2560 x 1440. In other words, the two-year-old GS6 has the same display resolution as the brand new Note7. That’s not a bad thing, because Samsung screens are still some of the better displays available on mobile phones today, but it is notable.
Samsung’s “Always-On Display” feature lets you pick the information you want to show up on your screen when it’s asleep, including date and time, battery information, calendar appointments, active apps and notifications. And you can customize the look of your Always-On Display.
The 12MP rear camera on the Note7 is the same as the GS7 and GS7 shooters, according to Samsung. Image quality is good in brightly lit environments and in natural light but less so in dim or artificial light — a common issue with modern smartphone cameras. And the back camera actually has a lower megapixel count than the GS6 and Note 5, though it also has many other lens and camera enhancements that make up for the reduction in pixels.
Note7 pros: Everything else
Samsung offers only one storage option for the U.S. Note7, 64GB, but it also supports microSD memory cards for expandable storage.
It supports inductive wireless (Qi and AirFuel Alliance standards) and wired fast charging, which means you can power up more quickly using cables or charge pads.
The Note7 uses the Samsung Pay mobile payments service for quick-and-easy phone-based payments at the majority of retailers that accept credit cards with magnetic stripes, thanks to its MST support. And it also has NFC for contactless payments. Samsung Pay works with many of the most common corporate credit cards, including American Express corporate cards, and it lets travelers make more secure transactions while on the road.
That’s a whole lot to appreciate about the Note7, whether you’re an IT administrator, busy executive or frequent business traveler. But the phone isn’t without flaws.
Galaxy Note7 enterprise limitations
Note7 is expensive — and pricey to repair
The new Note isn’t cheap, so if price is a concern, you and your team may want to look elsewhere. The Note7 is available off-contract from AT&T for $879, Verizon Wireless for $864, and both T-Mobile and Sprint for $849.99. (Prices may vary based on financing options and customer credit.) For context, Apple charges $849.99 for its also pricey iPhone 6s Plus.
Large enterprises may not be too worried about spending $900 each on a handful of devices for executives and high-level staffers, but it’s not just the cost of entry that should be a concern. The Note7’s curved glass displays make it somewhat slippery in hand. And because it’s so good looking, you might be tempted to forego a case for the sake of style. That decision could result in a bevy of broken displays or rear glass panels. And that damage won’t be cheap to repair.
The curved sides of the Note7’s screen not only make it more slippery, they can impede certain gestures. Depending on how you hold the phone, and the size of your hands, it can be difficult to grip without accidentally touching the sides of the active display area. Touching the edges of the screen can accidentally trigger functions and stop others from working at all.
The most obvious example I’ve found occurs when I read ebooks using the Amazon Kindle Android app on the Note7. I tend to hold the device vertically, or in portrait orientation, in my right hand, and then turn pages in the app with a swipe of my right thumb. To do so without losing a grip on the phone, I need to softly squeeze it. When I squeeze the Note7, my palm touches the sides of its screen, and because the app sees that pressure as fingers on the display, I can’t turn the pages. So I effectively cannot turn the page in a Kindle book until I loosen my grip and use my left hand to swipe to the next page.
The Kindle example is just one way one-handed use of the Note7, and accidental pressure on the display sides, can affect certain functionality.
Note7 iris scanner isn’t reliable
When the Note7 iris scanner works, it works well. And because human irises are nearly impossible to duplicate, the iris authentication is more secure than any other device lock option on the Note 7, according to Samsung.
The problem is the dedicated IR LED and iris scanner are finicky, and they work only in certain environments. For example, if I’m in my office, where the light levels are consistent, and where there’s no light overhead light to reflect off the device when I try to unlock it, the iris scanner works well most of the time. But as soon as I step outside the CIO.com office building on a nice day, the bright sunlight reflects on the display and stops the scanner from working at all. It also doesn’t work well in the dark, at least not in my experience.
That means you can’t rely on the iris scanner, so, even after three weeks, using it hasn’t become a part of my routine. I still go to the fingerprint scanner instead, because it’s more responsive. The finger reader also requires one less action to unlock the phone, so it’s more convenient, as well. The iris scanner may be more secure, but I’d hate to have to try to scan my eyes multiple times every time I want to read a message. (I’ve heard from other Note7 users who say they don’t experience the same issues, but I can only report on my time with the phone.)
Note7 cons: Everything else
As previously noted, the Note7 is available only with 64GB of built-in storage. If that’s not ideal for you for some reason, you might want to look elsewhere.
In my experience, the Note7 battery life is good — but not great. It actually has a slightly smaller battery (3,500 mAh) than it’s little brother, the GS7 edge (3,600 mAh). The Note7 will mostly make it through a full day of moderate-to-heavy use, but overall the battery life didn’t wow me.
The Note’s external speaker isn’t as loud or as clear as I’d like.
Finally, a number of reports about Note7 processor speed and performance popped up during the past couple of weeks. I didn’t experience any such issues, but I also didn’t play any intensive games or other similar apps. Performance shouldn’t be an issue for the average business user, but the reports are worth mentioning.
So, to sum this all up …
Galaxy Note7 enterprise evaluation: Conclusion
It should be clear that I like the Note7. A lot.
It may be the best-looking phone I’ve ever used. The Note7 is a great size, and it’s not too heavy. It’s built of premium materials, and the phone is water resistant. Note7 tech specs are top of the line, across the board. It is designed with security in mind, from Knox to its futuristic iris scanner and valuable Secure Folder. The S Pen is better than ever. Samsung already committed to delivering Android Nougat sooner than later. Note7 supports memory cards and both wired and wireless fast charging. And Samsung Pay enables secure mobile payments, via common corporate credit cards, at the majority of locations where credits cards and contactless payments are accepted.
The Note7 is also one of the priciest Android phones available today, and it’s expensive to repair. The phone’s curved display looks great, but it can negatively affect user experience in some cases. Samsung’s iris scanner is cool and futuristic, but it’s not as reliable as the fingerprint reader, and its performance depends on the environment. And Note7 battery life could be better.
IT admins who want to deliver the paramount Android experience to their executives, or business users on BYOD plans who won’t settle for anything short of the best hardware, will be hard put to find a better business phone. Of course, OS software is a significant factor when selecting new business devices, and though the Note7 may not be enough to make IT shops invested in Apple and iOS switch over to Android, it should be on the radar of any and all enterprise customers researching new Google phones.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.