Budget-minded workers might balk at its supersteep $850 price tag, but the Galaxy Note 7 is still the best business phone money can buy.
The Note 7 sheds the boxy design of previous Galaxy Note iterations, opting instead for a dual-edge display that curves gently around the edges of the device's left and right sides. It looks downright futuristic, and it feels even better, thanks to the lack of sharp corners.
The Note 7 also feels extremely manageable for such a big device. Measuring 6.04 x 2.9 x 0.31 inches, it feels about the same size as last year's Note 5, though it's technically a hair thicker and a bit lighter. More importantly, it's a lot easier to grasp than rivals such as the iPhone 6s Plus, which is too wide and too tall to ever feel very comfortable for one-handed use.
The Note 7 isn't just prettier than last year's model. Samsung says the new device is significantly tougher than its predecessor. For starters, it's the first smartphone to come equipped with Gorilla Glass 5 over the display, which makes it more likely to survive a drop without cracking. The same material is used on the back of the all-glass-covered phone.
The Note 7 is also the first water-resistant smartphone in the Note line. It's rated for IP68 water resistance, which means it can survive being submerged in about 5 feet of water for 30 minutes. That's good news for workers, as a durable smartphone is a dependable smartphone.
Power users will be pleased with the inclusion of a microSD card slot on the phone's top edge — a feature that was conspicuously missing from last year's iteration. The slot can expand the phone's 64GB of storage by up to 256GB, for a total of 320GB.
What if you could unlock your smartphone just by looking at it? With the Note 7, you can — with some caveats. The device is the first smartphone to come with a front-facing iris scanner, enabling the device to accurately identify your eyes and then whisk you away to your home screen. It's a lot more secure than a simple password, which can be guessed.
Unfortunately, the iris scanner is just too finicky for my taste. For the phone to recognize me, I needed to hold it at a precise angle, at a precise distance from my eyes. In my testing, it seemed to be thrown off by a small tilt, or by a glare on my glasses. When it works, it works well, though, and I started to get it down after a bit of practice.
But why bother with such a fussy feature when you've got a fingerprint reader this good? The Note 7's fingerprint reader is built into the phone's home button, letting you unlock the device just by laying a finger on it. My impression is that it seems more reliable than the Note 5's reader; it very rarely failed to recognize my print. And it's a whole lot easier to use than the finicky iris scanner.
I was glad to see that it's actually possible to use both at once, so you can opt for the iris scanner or the fingerprint reader on the fly.
The Note 7 also comes with encryption enabled by default, which will help ensure your private work data stays private. The only way to disable the phone's encryption feature is to remove the password requirement needed to unlock it.
It wouldn't be a Note without the line's signature stylus. Like previous Note models, the Note 7 comes with Samsung's S Pen stylus, which slides in and out of a slot on the bottom edge of the device. The S Pen makes the Note 7 the ideal note-taking tool, letting you jot down handwritten notes right on your phone's pressure-sensitive display.
And the S Pen feels better than ever. It has a narrower tip and improved pressure sensitivity, with the ability to detect 4,096 levels of varying pressure. As with last year's model, the S Pen clicks in and out of its silo with a gentle push, making it easy to access it whenever you need it. Samsung also fixed a flaw with last year's model that caused the stylus to get stuck if inserted backward.
Samsung made a bunch of improvements to its pen software. I'm a big fan of the Screen Off Memo feature, which lets you start writing as soon as you eject the pen. The feature was first introduced with the Note 5, but the new version adds some handy features, such as the ability to pin notes to the always-on display, which continuously shows the current time, as well as alerts in white text on an otherwise blank screen.
Workers might also appreciate new features such as Translate, which lets you highlight foreign language text for a quick translation. And older tools remain, such as the ability to quickly capture and annotate a screenshot using the pen.
The Note 7's big, 5.7-inch display is gorgeous to behold. The quad-HD (2560 x 1440 pixels) panel looks stunning, pumping out brilliant colors and sharp images. Workers coming from smaller smartphones will really appreciate its large screen size, which makes productivity tasks such as viewing documents a lot more comfortable.
And while you'll find big screens on other phablets, you won't find many other smartphones with a curved, dual-edge display like this one. The edge-to-edge panel makes images and videos seem to pop off the screen, and it's sure to impress co-workers and clients.
The Note 7 puts those curved edges to good use, letting you swipe in from the edge to access a bunch of handy shortcuts. You can program the Edge screen to suit your needs, letting you hop among frequently used apps and quickly call or message your favorite contacts with a few swipes and taps, without ever backing out to the home screen or app drawer. It's a genuinely useful time saver that's perfect for productivity-minded workers.
One nifty extra feature is the ability to view information on the edge — including the current time and date, news headlines and stock market updates — even when the rest of the display is turned off. Just give the edge a quick rub to wake it up, though it takes a second or two for anything to appear. It's a small feature that lets you see some key information without turning on the rest of your display, which could help you preserve your battery life.
Workers will really appreciate the Note 7's long battery life, which can easily last through the end of the workday and beyond. The phone ran for an excellent 10 hours and 26 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over 4G LTE. That makes it one of the longest-lasting phones we've tested, outlasting rivals such as the Galaxy S7 Edge (10:09), the LG G5 (7:57) and the OnePlus 3 (8:33).
You also get fast charging capabilities that boost the Note 7 to a 50 percent charge in about a half hour – much faster than the average smartphone. The Note 7 charges via a USB Type-C port, though, so the old micro-USB cables you have lying around aren't compatible.
The Note 7 packs some beefy hardware that will blaze through typical productivity tasks without a hitch. It comes equipped with a Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB of RAM — the same hardware you'll find in Samsung's smaller flagship phone, the Galaxy S7. That configuration was good enough to handle multitasking without any perceptible slowdown during my testing period.
Technically speaking, there are faster smartphones on the market. The Note 7 racked up a score of 5,256 on the Geekbench 3 benchmark test, which measures overall performance. That's pretty good, beating the smartphone average of 3,324, but it lags slightly behind scores put out by rival phones such as the LG G5 and the Galaxy S7 Edge. The average user is likely to find that the phones feel equally zippy, though.
The Galaxy Note 7 is simply the finest work phone ever made. It's fast, lasts a long time on a charge and boasts a gorgeous — and genuinely useful — dual-edge design. Its big 5.7-inch display is great for multitasking, and its S Pen stylus is the perfect tool for note takers. And while I'm not sold on the phone's fussy iris scanner, it's just one of the many excellent security features you get on this phone. The incompatibility with older phone chargers is also sure to give some buyers a headache; however, I applaud Samsung for embracing USB Type-C, which allows for faster charging and data transfer, and is set to become the standard in the next few years.
At $850, though, the Note 7 is one of the priciest smartphones around. Budget-conscious business users might want to opt for a less-expensive, big-screen smartphone, like the Google Nexus 6P ($449) or the OnePlus 3 ($399). Regardless, workers willing to shell out for the best business phone won't be disappointed by the Note 7.