Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – Phone Review

Sadly, this phone has been taken off of the market and at the time of writing, there is nothing quite like it.

I’ve tried to make this Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review a bit different to most: it is geared towards travel photographers. If you have any specific questions you’d like to be answered, please let me know in the comments section below. If you’re an audiophile, a travel photographer or you simply want a pocket device that can replace many desktop computer relates tasks, then I think you should take a strong look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is nothing like the Samsung Galaxy S7

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is revolutionary; it really isn’t the Samsung Galaxy S7 with a pen–it is nothing like the Samsung Galaxy S7 in some respects. For my use, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s USB 3.1 transfer speeds alone make it a different kettle of fish.

The specifications are similar to the predictions e.g. a 3,500mAh battery (not 4,000mAh as some rumour sites were claiming), 4 GB RAM, 5.7″ 2560 x 1440 resolution Super AMOLED (it supports “HDR” too; unlike other phone screens) dual-edge screen, NFC and more. Please check their website and where it says “see all specs”, click that and you can read the entire list of features there. In that list, they have failed to mention Corning Gorilla Glass 5; I can confirm it is the first smartphone to feature the new Gorilla Glass 5.

Various sites state how the specifications aren’t an awful lot different to the Samsung Galaxy S7, I respectfully disagree. In my opinion, you can make slight increases to a smartphone’s performance, specification and components and people won’t necessarily be happy. You might not be wowed or notice huge differences with this phone unless you have reason to use all of its extensive features.

When you combine an iris scanner, water resistance, the new Gorilla Glass 5, USB-C and USB 3.1 (USB-C is just a connector standard), and the very best features currently available to any smartphone, I believe it makes for a unique and compelling product. The HTC 10 has USB 3.1, but there’s no Gorilla Glass 5 or water resistance; the Samsung Galaxy s7 has water resistance but no USB-C or USB 3.1. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 does it all, and I think that partly justifies the price tag. Plus, from a design point of view, it’s simply beautiful–this can prove to make screen protectors and cases difficult to make.

Welcoming the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 to my technological home

When my Samsung Galaxy Note 7 arrived, I immediately noticed the various bits and bobs you get in the box. There’s USB C to USB 3 adaptors, headphones unlike any I’ve felt before (I own a pair of Shure e3c headphones and they’re not nearly as comfortable as the Samsung headphones; seriously, since when were stock headphones this comfortable?). I am extremely pleased with my Samsung Galaxy Note 7–it does everything! I can be a bit cynical, fussy and somewhat of a perfectionist regarding technology. If I put zero effort or very little money into something, I won’t care too much but if I put effort or money into things, I care greatly. The end result should be great. For example, I spent many hours sanding the CPU cooler on my computer just to reduce the temperatures a little bit. My reviews are a bit messy (mostly because I don’t enjoy writing them as much as other things) but it’s either that or I spend hours and hours writing one paragraph, haha. When I say a product is good, I really mean it, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 seems great so far.

I have extremely strange requirements for a smartphone; please read about my upcoming trip across the Pacific Crest Trail to understand more about that and why it is so. To summarise, I need features that most users won’t care about:

  • Water resistance
  • Extremely fast USB-OTG speeds so I can copy large amounts of data in a short amount of time and make backups of data (my sony a7rII uncompressed raw files are about 82MB each and I’ll be taking approximately 100 per day)
  • USB-C
  • Ability to access linux terminals, control my servers and various other features most people won’t care about

My Android experience so far

My previous phone ran Windows 8.1. I’ve used nearly every distribution of Linux, including CentOS, Damn Small Linux, ArchLinux, Debian, Ubuntu, Xubuntu and god knows what else. I’ve also used every flavour of windows, including the server operating systems. Needless to say, I’m fairly experienced with operating systems, and the Android filesystem is the same as any Linux distribution, but I have no experience with phones outside of my Windows 8.1 phone. The whole experience was initially pretty foreign to me (with one mild exception; I played around with bluestacks for a short period). At first, I was a bit overwhelmed. Within my first hour of using the phone, it felt a bit unintuitive, for example there seems to be two back buttons. There’s about 10 different applications to do the same task, and I didn’t have the experience to know which applications are the best. After a few hours, I got used to it and realised most of that was a lack of familiarity. A reviewer should not, under any circumstance, criticise an operating system purely because they’re unfamiliar with it. It is always good to measure a user experience not by familiarity (obviously someone more familiar will favour a comparable operating system) but by the amount of actions e.g. button presses, it takes to do a task; the Android operating system is mostly logical in how it operates.

 The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 default applications

The default file browser installed on the phone is reasonable but it doesn’t show transfer speeds; there is a split view if you have the phone in a landscape position, i.e. you can copy files from the left directory to the right.

File transfer speed information is unimportant most of the time, but for doing reviews and whatnot, it’s useful. I began trying different file browsers, only to discover a “you must be root” error when trying to copy files to the SD card. So obviously at that stage I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I soon realised Samsung or Google revoke root privileges. It’s a hassle properly securing an operating system, so I understand their choice. You can get around the problem via editing config files, but it’s easier to assign privileges to a program–namely the file explorer–providing the program doesn’t suck.

The default email application is decent but the swipe feature seems to delete the email (if you’re using an outlook email) rather than archiving it properly; it does archive gmail emails. Outlook seems to be better in this regard. I would prefer if it you could uninstall the default email application altogether but sadly you cannot. In the menu system, you can “disable” synchronisation and I thought this would be a bad idea; it is written as if it will disable synchronisation in general, but fortunately it only disables the email app from downloading emails. To clarify, if you set up outlook to work with gmail and outlook emails, you can easily disable the default email app from downloading emails while simultaneously allowing the default calendar app to synchronise outlook or gmail calendars–sweet!

Again, the internet browser is decent. In fact, it works just fine; however, it’s useful to have your bookmarks managed in the cloud, as such I’ve found Google Chrome more useful. And much like the email application, you cannot disable or uninstall the default browser. I think this might be because Android relies on these files; this theory seems logical as with the newer Android 7.0 operating system, the default email app still exists (gmail has been replaced in favour of it) but it has been disabled.

Examining the USB speeds

At first, I used a “read write information” program but it wasn’t that good, for example, I couldn’t copy files from an external memory card to the internal SSD, and see the write rate. Going from the SD card to the Micro SD card worked, weird huh? I knew I was getting the full speed my memory card offers (95MB/sec) because it took less than a second to copy an entire 82MB raw file to the internal storage: it is blazingly fast. I have since installed a better file explorer–look at the screenshots below to see the difference.

At the time of writing, the official Samsung Galaxy Note 7 UK website failed to advertise USB 3.1 properly; I have contacted them regarding this. Prior to buying this phone, I hunted every piece of information I could find, and the US version of Samsung’s website said “USB USB 3.1” but I was still excited to try it out for myself. I ordered this phone because it’s the first waterproof, USB-C, USB 3.1 phone on the market, but sometimes specs say one thing and they don’t quite live up to the hype. It is under-rated in that regard. Seriously Samsung, you should have made a video with a photographer like Trey Ratcliff overlooking mountains, and then him backing up his photographs with this phone–it would inspire people so much! 

Troubles with transcend and simultaneous writing

I went to war with my transcend memory card reader and bought a much better Kingston Mobilelite G4 memory card reader. You can read about that on my USB accessories review page. You can mount a micro SD card and an SD card in the reader, plus an additional micro SD card in the phone itself–yes, this phone allows you to mount more than two devices, unlike the majority of phones. If you have a poor memory card reader, as a get around you can use the little micro SD card draw the phone comes with, and then copy files from that card to an external SD card–it’s slightly quicker than reading and writing from the same port. I do not want to use this as a permanent solution, because you cannot get to it if a case is installed, and it also requires playing around with a pin. In my opinion, it’s better to use the internal micro SD slot for storage you do not intend on mounting or dismounting often.

I suggest you invest in a high quality memory card reader if you do plan to use USB-OTG. I have written a separate review on them. The Kingston Mobilelite G4 memory card reader is recommended.

In the photograph above, I copied files from the SD card to the Micro SD card held within the phone. It’s got a write rate of about 30MB/sec – 35MB/sec but keep in mind that my micro SD card isn’t particularly fast. That’s a total throughput of 60MB-70MB/sec so it’s still considerably faster than what’s possible with USB-2.

This is a screen grab of the micro SD card copying files to the SD card via USB-OTG. The speeds aren’t any quicker on the PC, so I believe it is simply maxing out the SD card. Most people won’t care to have USB 3.1 in a phone or some of the features I’ve mentioned in this review, but it does make it an ideal backup solution for those without dual SD card slots in their cameras. I can copy my .FIT files from my Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire watch, and also backup RAW files from my Sony a7rII mirrorless camera. If you have reason to use USB-OTG, you’ll see it’s a vast improvement to the Samsung Galaxy S7.

A few hours later

It only took me a few hours to be quite comfortable with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. This should be a comfort to other users switching from a Microsoft or even an Apple based operating system. There’s plenty of room to tweak settings and disable redundant applications you don’t need. I sorted various applications into folders, and that made the experience for me much more intuitive. You can even plug external devices into the USB port and charge them i.e. the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 acts as a USB power bank.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and its Android software for audiophiles, admins and photographers

I can import 100, 82MB Sony a7rII RAW files in a short amount of time. I can open them up in a raw program and even do edits with just the phone. I can also tap my phone against the side of my camera and NFC uploads the photos to the camera. This is pretty useful for JPG shooting. Unfortunately some of the apps aren’t quite there yet. Adobe photoshop express and adobe lightroom don’t seem to have a simple “browse directory” feature. You have to add files to your catalogues and it’s a bit wishy washy. Polar allows me to open a raw file and edit it directly. It’s very good, as is snapseed. Snapseed is close to perfect, with one exception–it doesn’t support Sony a7rII RAW files yet, doh!

In my opinion, RAW editing on a phone, for most people, is not that important at all. It is however much, much quicker than I imagined it would be i.e. the time it takes an edit to apply is quick. Software’s always getting better, so I don’t really have anything to whine about. I’m simply amazed that I can transfer my RAW files and open them up so quickly.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, I’d been researching phones for quite a while. I basically bought this on specs and relied upon them being true–they are. In my opinion, it is the perfect backup system for any photographer.

Audiophiles will like the phone–take a look at the Creative Sound blaster E5.

 

Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7

My Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire watch pairs with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 easily. It’s a pleasure to use. The email updates are useful.

Sony a7rII with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7

The Sony a7rII with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 works incredibly well. I believe the apps on the Sony a7rII could be improved a bit but it has nothing to do with the phone itself. Sony could greatly improve their software.

Ramblings

I don’t have many realistic ideas for improvement so far–it is that good. The file browser could be improved to show file transfer rates and a couple of software improvements here and there but they’re minor issues to say the least.

Not being able to replace the battery helps the sealing and the overall design. When the phone’s old, will the technology be so advanced that it won’t matter if the battery no longer works? Will Samsung rip me off with a replacement? I can’t really answer that until years down the line. Most phones these days don’t have user replaceable batteries, so you have to accept it for what it is. The sealing inside uses a form of adhesive. A vastly more expensive way of sealing the phone would be to have superhydrophobic coating on the components and large o-rings to prevent water getting inside. It would require screws to seal the phone together; you’d essentially have to find a way to press two parts of the shell together. All this on the off chance a few users will keep their phones for years and years sounds a bit unrealistic. As such, I can respect the way in which they’ve designed the phone. We can argue it’s not perfect, but o-rings aren’t always either. The design would look ugly, it’d be heavier and bulkier.

 

Useful quirks

There’s a few features this phone has that others either don’t have or they don’t do as quickly; some of them may concern you:

  • The ability to control VLC or other media players from the phone itself
  • You can monitor the temperature of the phone and also the temperature of your server(s)
  • SSH terminals work extremely well, and SSH keys can be imported or exported
  • It is easy to browse media on any network
  • RDPing into a windows computer works extremely well, especially because of the S-Pen that acts as a cursor; it’s really useful
  • X-rite Pro1 Colour checker can be plugged in via USB-OTG and calibrate the display; however, there isn’t much software support for the profiles just yet
  • External USB-OTG Hi-Fi related devices, e.g. the Creative Sound Blaster E5, output digital audio via optical; therefore, it soon becomes a perfect media solution with a smartwatch as your remote control
  • You can mount more than two external SSDs, SD or micro SD cards
  • You can charge devices and use the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 as a USB power bank
  • You can charge the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire watch and copy files to and from the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 via USB-OTG
  • IRIS Scanner is extremely efficient with decent temperatures

As with everything, there’s cons too:

  • The IRIS scanner works extremely well indoors but outdoors in a lot of sunlight and heat, it’s not as good
  • Difficult to find a cheap, decently made case that lets you access all USB ports
  • Finding cheap, well made USB-C cables and accessories is a difficult task–they exist but they often don’t conform to spec; for now, stick with Google adaptors

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 errors: reboot, boot loops or completey bricked

A few days after owning the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, I experienced a form of boot looping that manifested itself on the lock screen. Something else I noticed was that my Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Exynos phone said the password was incorrect even if it were the correct one. At that point, I had to reboot it. You’ll notice this in my Samsung Galaxy Note 7 YouTube video below.

My phone has since been replaced, and I haven’t experienced any problems. I do wonder if the fault above is related to the phones catching fire. I realise there is or was an issue with the batteries.

 

USB Adaptor woes

A case I bought for my phone doesn’t let me plug in the USB adaptor included with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 box. I have researched different USB adaptors, initially thinking I could buy any USB C to USB 3 adaptor on eBay. Do your research! I read a blog post by a Google employee, mr. Benson Leung, and in his post he explains how many manufacturers are not sticking to the USB-C specs e.g. they’re implementing the wrong resistor. This can prove fatal for any device. He has begun reviewing various products on amazon.

After further research, I found a spreadsheet with products that have been “certified” as working. The Google adaptor is awesome; there isn’t really anything else to pick from, excluding an Apple adaptor that’s even more expensive. It is a hassle to keep spending money on things though, £10 here and £10 there soon adds up.

I don’t want to return the Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Recently I saw a few YouTube comments where people said they don’t want to return the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and that it has more features than the competition. People replied with, “but iPhones don’t explode.” When someone says the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone has more features than the competition, they’re referring to when it is in working condition. Obviously at this point, owners of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 are only too aware of the explosions that’ve been happening–it’s pretty cruel to keep hammering this point to someone that’s spent a fairly large amount of money on something. Just as Apple users were aware of the original iPhone exploding (it seems some people have been happy to forget that.) I’d link to proof but when I search “iPhone explosion”, “iPhone explodes” or “iPhone fire”, into google, I get so many results concerning more recent models that it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

I’m not trying to start an “Apple vs Samsung” war because I think large companies are quite despicable in how they operate regardless of their name. Having built and flown 3D radio controlled helicopters for years, I can also attest to the fact that Lithium-Polymer batteries, exploded long before Apple developed the iPhone. I digress slightly, but I find it quite interesting that radio controlled helicopters used technology that took years to be implemented into phones, cameras (just look at how long it took a company to release a 2.4ghz radio controlled wireless flash) and whatnot.

There is no Samsung vs Google or Apple war; the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is unique

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is unique in that it’s the first phone with waterproofing, USB-C with USB 3.1 (USB-C is just a connector standard), a Pen, Gorilla Glass 5, and a few other features I won’t repeat as they’re listed above. Yes there are devices that have some of these features, but there is not a single device on the market that has all of them. Not even the overpriced (in my opinion, anyway) Google Pixel XL has all of these features.

You cannot get these kind of USB-OTG transfer speeds with an Apple iPhone 7. So the question becomes, “why did I buy this model?”, “what do I want to get out of a phone?”, or “what do I need a phone for?”

I need a phone to take with me on my 2650+ mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern America next year, starting in April 2017. It’s not just a long hike for me, it’s about so much more than that, especially where photography is concerned. My Sony a7rII does not have a dual SD card slot, and I would like to be able to clone SD cards and potentially edit a few files. Buying a dedicated backup device is much, much heavier than using a phone, it’s slower than using the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (refer to the video above) and it won’t allow me to edit or post photographs. In simple terms, a dedicated backup device is not an option. This request alone means that a USB-C with USB 3.1 speeds is essential. My request for USB-C narrows it down to only a few phones relative to how many are produced, and only a small percentage of those are actually USB 3.1 (USB-C is just a connector standard).

Waterproofing is obviously important on such a long hike; I challenge you to find me a phone with USB 3.1 and waterproofing. That’s before even mentioning the other features that’re useful in a phone.

So as you can see, it’s not that I’m going to rush to Apple or rush to buy the Google Pixel XL; I might just avoid buying a phone altogether and wait. I am considering the Google Pixel XL because it has the USB-C and USB 3.1 features I desire (at least, I think so anyway), and I can probably do something about waterproofing it myself. One thing is for sure, the people on YouTube that say “it’s just a Samsung Galaxy s7 with a pen!” give me a headache, haha.

This is very frustrating because I bought numerous accessories that I’m struggling to get a refund for, I spent hours giving myself a headache from researching various phones and I might as well have not bothered. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 S View Case I own is quite expensive and I didn’t buy it from the same shop I bought the phone from. The time could have been better spent researching hiking and camping equipment for the Pacific Crest Trail. Most of the time I have no use for a lot of the items I’ll be bringing with me to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. In my day to day life, I can use electronic equipment such as phones and cameras, and that is why I have bought them first.

To make matters worse, the pound has dropped from about $1.65 per £1.00 to $1.22 per £1.00. This means that electronics have risen in price, food in America will be considerably more expensive, and many of my efforts to budget correctly have been toyed with. I actually planned to hike the Pacific Crest Trail but due to health issues (rapid weight loss, severe pain and whatnot for reasons unknown) I had to delay it for a year.

I can’t understand people’s desire to laugh at at those that’s bought these phones. When the iPhone’s exploded, I didn’t laugh at the issue, but whatever brings you happiness I guess :). It is a headache I could do without.

If any of you do see a phone that has USB-C with USB 3.1 speeds, Gorilla Glass 5, Waterproofing and whatnot, please let me know. I will be returning the Samsung Galaxy Note 7; I won’t be allowed on the plane with it, if I did choose to keep it, due to it being a fire risk.

Samsung has behaved fairly honourably but can still do better

I think Samsung has done a fair bit to solve this issue. I don’t believe any company when they say “customer safety is a top priority”, and I think that transliterates to “we don’t want to be sued too heavily” but I do believe they’ve behaved more honourably than Apple did in the same situation (they didn’t even recall their phones.) I think communication could be better and Samsung could tell us what plans they have on the horizon.

As for now, I guess I’ll hang onto it a bit longer, and get my money back. I sold my car and various other things because I really want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Having to travel to the shop (it’s easier when I buy things because I can just order online) is a real nuisance too.

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