Galaxy Note 7 vs Galaxy Note 5: first look


Samsung’s Galaxy Note phablet has long felt like the eccentric uncle to the mainstream Galaxy S series, bringing us oddities like its S Pen stylus, larger screen, and often the first emergence of some new technologies. And while it was easy to think of the Note as a platform for Samsung to experiment, or a phone that's more for enterprise or power users, this year the manufacturer's going out of its way to bring us maybe one of the most accessible Galaxy Note phones to date. With the new Galaxy Note 7 launching, we're going hands-on with both the the new model and last year's Galaxy Note 5 to show you what's changing.

Note 5 … Note 7? What happened to the Note 6? Well, the first big part of Samsung's efforts to reposition the Galaxy Note has to do with its branding relative to the Galaxy S lineup: no more will we have the Note numbering lagging a year behind the stylus-free flagship, a move that really drives home the point that this is a modern phablet using all the latest tech.

And indeed, the Note 7 borrows much of its internals from the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, with the same processor, same 4GB of RAM – though we do see the welcome move to 64GB internal storage as the one and only configuration option. MicroSD expansion makes a return after sitting last year's Note out, accessible though the hybrid SIM tray.

But the biggest change you'll see comparing the Note 5 to the Note 7 is Samsung's move away from a flat screen, giving users the sole option for a dual-curved-edge display like we get on the GS7 edge or last year's Galaxy S6 edge+. The result is a phone that feels different in the hand than the Note 5, with curved front and back panels combining to really emphasize the new model's narrow, rounded-off edge.

That also means implementing Samsung's Edge UX for screen-edge gesture interactions, giving Note users a new way to work with their phones. The curved-screen look may not be for everyone, but by making it the only Note 7 option Samsung's really committed to proving it's a worthwhile change; will the Galaxy S8 similarly be an edge-only model?

We also see Samsung moving to USB Type-C – it had to happen sooner or later – and giving the Note 7 the same IP68 waterproofing as the GS7. Even the S Pen is made to be water resistant, and the phone's digitizer supports pen input even when both handset and stylus are submerged.

S Pen pressure sensitivity doubles to 4096 levels, and Samsung shrinks its tip down to a very pen-like 0.7mm-wide point. In software, we see Air Command expand with some new magnify and translation options, both using the pen to hover over on-screen content. There's also a new screen-capture mode that lets users create short animated GIFs from the videos of their choice.

Touch Wiz gets a minor overhaul with what Samsung describes as a streamlined new interface, tweaking color choices to better match the phone's hardware among other improvements. And as for those options, Samsung's launching the Note 7 in four shades: Blue Coral, Black Onyx, Silver Titanium, and Gold Platinum.

One of the Samsung's other software changes is the move to a new camera interface, dropping a lot of the old tap-to-access menus in favor of a much more swipe-driven UI. And while the Note 7 gets a camera upgrade compared to the Note 5, it's still a shooter we've seen before: the same 12MP/5MP pair from the Galaxy S7.

The more interesting camera is the Note 7's second front-facer, a dedicated component for the phone's new iris scanner. It works nice and quick, just like the fingerprint scanner, verifying a scan of your eyes to unlock the handset. An infrared illuminator even lets the scanner operate in low-light environments.

With the help of a new secure folder feature, you can use that iris scanner (or the fingerprint scanner, or your choice of password-lock) to isolate sensitive media or apps behind a second level of authentication.

Ultimately, the Galaxy Note 7 is a Note that draws a lot from the past – both other Notes and this year's Galaxy S7 models – while still introducing enough new features to help drum-up fresh interest. We're a little curious just how strongly Note purists will react to all the changes, but this is still very much a new Note that feels right at home among its predecessors.

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