When it comes to smartphone generations, history has proven that sticking to a tried-and-true formula doesn’t work. Consumers expect improvements on almost every front and there’s a huge backlash when these expectations are not met. Even when they are not even possible, the unwavering demand for the new, the improved, the better, is constant.
With this in mind, and in the light of the extensive information we now have on the Galaxy Note 7 ahead of its official unveil, has Samsung reverted to its old ways? Is Samsung in for a painful reminder that last year’s design, yesterday’s specs and an outgrown approach to features are a recipe for disaster?
To give you the back story, the Galaxy Note 7 as it has been leaked is exceedingly – and problematically – familiar. It looks near identical to the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, which themselves look a lot like the Note 5 and Galaxy S6. Most of the features it adds, like an IP68 rating and edge features, are nothing new. The full specs that have just been leaked are almost exactly those of the Galaxy S7 Edge, albeit with a slightly larger screen and slightly smaller battery.
The Note 7 we've seen so far smacks of the Samsung of old: lazy design, largely pointless features and a failure to innovate.
The Samsung of old
To be critical, this smacks of the Samsung of old: lazy design, largely pointless features and a failure to innovate. You witnessed the immense flack HTC caught for the largely unchanged design in the HTC One M9.
You likely remember that pre-Galaxy S6 Samsung was under constant fire for not changing the design of the S Series in any substantial way since the generational shift from Galaxy S2 to S3. You’re familiar with the constant sneers when it comes to Sony’s uninspiring Omnibalance design language.
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Even if your recipe is near-perfect you can’t get away without making changes for long. Now, it has to be noted that the Galaxy S7 Edge is the closest I think any manufacturer has ever come to the ‘perfect’ smartphone. But it is still full of compromises. The IP rating makes the speaker terrible, the edge features, following a brief honeymoon period, inevitably never get used again.
The glass back is the among the most disgusting surfaces known to man: a permanently oily mess of fingerprint grease and smudges. It’s incredibly slippery and relatively prone to scratches. There is still plenty of work to be done and the smartphone market has never been tougher.
The Galaxy S7 Edge is the closest I think any manufacturer has ever come to the ‘perfect’ smartphone, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
Same specs but different
When it comes to the specs we’ve just seen leaked, releasing a new phone six months after the last with essentially identical specs in a slightly larger format sounds more like a Galaxy S7 Edge Plus than a Galaxy Note 7. Is the simple addition of a stylus really all that is demanded by the Note faithful?
Are Samsung fans – and haters for that matter – really going to accept the Note 7 as a new flagship rather than just a larger S7 Edge with a stylus? Samsung is certainly onto a winning recipe with the S7 so it’s understandable that they don’t want to mess it up. But perhaps by doing nothing new they are flirting with disaster.
From what we've seen so far, the Note 7 feels more like a Galaxy S7 Edge Plus with a stylus than the Galaxy Note 7.
When you have two major flagship lines you can’t be expected to completely reinvent the wheel with every new release. This is obviously unsustainable and we’ve certainly seen S series devices and Notes that share more than a few similarities in years past.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s the kind of attitude that has seen Samsung and other manufacturers tossed under the bus before. It doesn’t matter if it’s unreasonable to expect constant innovation and improvement. That is simply the nature of the consumer beast, whether it’s reasonable or otherwise.
A temporary shakeup
If the specs and renders we’ve seen so far are true, then it’s hard not to feel like Samsung’s big shakeup in terms of design and features we saw following the Galaxy S5 was nothing more than a passing affair. Brought about by a dire sales situation but only temporary in nature and not a permanent indicator of the Samsung to come. That the company now, having achieved monumental success with the S7, is satisfied to let things ride, unchanged, until the next big consumer meltdown.
Is Samsung now satisfied to let things ride, unchanged, until the next big consumer meltdown?
Of course, there may be untold depths of innovative new software features hidden beneath the shiny surface of the leaked press renders. But the leaked system image and Grace UX beta have already shown us that we shouldn’t expect too much from the new UI except lots of white and a cleaner layout.
The battery life might well be amazing, the camera software might be even better. The possibility of a front-facing flash will surely satisfy many but adding an IP rating simply seems overdue. Adding an edge with no flat option is perilous. While an iris scanner is undeniably cool, is it really enough to get consumers lining up, cash in hand? As things stands right now, it’s a little difficult to get truly excited for the Note 7’s arrival.
Is the addition of an iris scanner an IP rating really enough to get consumers lining up, cash in hand?
The chances of failure
Could the Note 7 be a massive failure? Probably not, to be honest. Note users tend to be hugely loyal. The Note 7’s new tick list is sufficiently long that at the very least those dedicated few will be happy with it. Its larger form factor and iris scanner will undoubtedly attract others.
Screen recording and GIF making with the S Pen, downscaling to 720p to save battery, iris unlocking (and probably app locking), double the base storage, edge features, USB Type-C, an app drawer that can be sorted alphabetically…you can see how these add up to something that seems good. But they’re a long way from what I would consider exciting.
Perhaps we’re just at that point now where all smartphones are good enough. That the huge technological advances of years past are long gone (just look at how good flagship cameras are across the board now). That it’s hard to pack brand new features into phones that are already jam packed with features. That we essentially have everything we actually need in a smartphone already.
Who knows. Only time will tell if the Note 7 is held up as an example of refined design, improved performance and enhanced features. Or if it’s ridiculed as the emperor’s new clothes. All I know for sure is that right now it feels like not much has changed from the phone I’ve been using for the last six months; that things are starting to feel eerily familiar, but not in a good way.
Read next: Galaxy Note 7 recall – what should you do?
What do you think of the Note 7 you’ve seen so far? What phone are you most excited for?