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Samsung's big-screen Galaxy Note 7 boasts an iris scanner and waterproof design

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

Samsung helped launch the big-screen smartphone craze with its original Galaxy Note, and now the company is hoping to take the category to a new level with its new Galaxy Note 7.

Available for pre-order Aug. 3 and on sale Aug. 19, the Note 7 is essentially a mash-up of the best features of Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and last year’s Galaxy Note 5.

If you’re wondering why the Note 7 — which is the follow-up to the Note 5 — isn’t called the Note 6, the simple answer is this: Samsung wanted to better match the Note’s naming convention with the S7. That’s it.

The same but different

Overall, the Note 7 doesn’t look all that different from the Note 5. Its aluminum body is narrower than the Note 5’s, but only by 0.1 inches. Still, that’s enough to make the phone more comfortable to hold than its predecessor. The Note 7’s curved front and back panels further improve grip. Samsung also managed to cut the Note 7’s weight from 6.03 ounces to 5.96 ounces, though chances are you probably won’t notice the difference.

When it hits the market, the Note 7 will be available in black, light blue and silver. For what it’s worth, I’d go for the light blue. Samsung calls it Coral Blue, option, as it’s the most unique of the lot.

Oh, and just like the Galaxy S7, the Note 7 is waterproof, so you can dunk it in up to 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes and it’ll keep right on ticking. Here’s hoping Samsung signed Lil Wayne to do commercials for the Note as well as the S7.

Big, bold and beautiful

Up front, the Note 7 comes with the same 5.7-inch Super AMOLED (active matrix of organic light-emitting diodes) display as the Note 5, which means it’s absolutely gorgeous. I’m a huge fan of Samsung’s Super AMOLED panels, as they are consistently the most colorful and among the brightest you can get.

Perhaps the Note 7’s most noteworthy feature (get it?) is its new iris scanner. Like the fingerprint reader on the Note 5 and S7, the iris scanner can be used to unlock the phone and log into certain websites. You can’t use it for Samsung’s Samsung Pay mobile payment service yet, but the company says it’s working on that.

A super-fast iris scanner

Setting up the scanner is a breeze: You just aim the scanner camera at your face, line up your eyes with the “Minority Report”-style on-screen icons and you’re set. It takes less than a second to unlock your phone with the feature. In fact, we had to make several shots just to get the feature to show up on our camera.

It can be a bit finicky, though, if you’re not holding the phone far enough from your eyes or you’re wearing particularly reflective or smudged glasses.

Bright lights can also affect the scanner, so you might have trouble with it outdoors. But when it does work, it’s ridiculously helpful. And if you don’t want to use the scanner, you can always fall back on the phone’s fingerprint reader or just go with the old pin lock.

Taking notes

Naturally, the Note 7 comes with the latest version of Samsung’s S Pen stylus. This time around, the company says it has reduced the S Pen’s tip to 0.7mm and improved its pressure sensitivity to more accurately ape the feeling of writing with a ballpoint pen. I used the S Pen for a few minutes. While it feels better than the Note 5’s stylus, it wasn’t exactly like writing with a regular pen.

In addition to the new S Pen, the Note 7 gets a handful of updates to Samsung’s S Pen apps. This time, the company has decided to combine all of its stylus-based apps into the new Notes app.

Samsung has also thrown in a few new S Pen Air Command functions. Air Command is the name of the menu that automatically pops up when you remove the S Pen from the Note.

For the Note 7, Samsung added a new Gif Creator, which, you guessed it, lets you make your own .gif files from any DRM-free movies. It’s a pretty impressive feature that’s surprisingly easy to use. I made a .gif out of a trailer for “Pokémon Go” in a few seconds and was ready to share it without issue.

There are also new Translate and Magnify features options that will automatically translate and zoom in on anything you hover over with the S Pen. Better still, the S Pen is also waterproof, so you can write on the Note 7 while under water.

Why do you need to write on the screen while underwater? I don’t know. Maybe you’re a marine biologist and desperately need to jot down a note about plankton while out at sea. Who cares? The point is it’s cool. I guess …

Still a great camera

As far as the Note 7’s camera goes, Samsung seems to have decided not to mess with a good thing and just took the camera in the Galaxy S7 and drop it into the Note. And that’s totally fine by me.

Of all of the smartphones on the market, the S7’s 12-megapixel camera is my absolute favorite. Images are consistently sharp and colorful and low-light photos look fantastic. In other words, if you were nervous about the Note 7’s camera not living up to the S7, you can calm your nerves.

Brains and power

Inside, the Note 7 gets a quad-core processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage with the option to expand that via the phone’s microSD card slot. Unlike the S7, the Note 7 now comes with a USB C port rather than a microUSB port. As annoying as that might seem, it’s actually a good thing, as USB C is a more capable standard than microUSB and will be showing up on all sorts of devices in the coming months and years.

Interestingly, Samsung decided to keep the Note 7’s 3.5mm headphone jack rather than force users to use the handset’s USB C port as its headphone connector like Apple is expected to do with its upcoming iPhone 7.

As far as battery life goes, the Note 7 comes with a 3,500-mAh power plant with fast-charging technology, so in the event you run out of juice while out and about, you’ll be able to recharge the phone in a snap.

I’m excited to see what the Note 7 has to offer, but I’ll still have to spend some more time with it before I can say whether it’s worth your time. Stay tuned.

More from Dan:

Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge review: The best smartphones, period
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge+ reviewed: Bigger screens, bigger price tags
Apple iPhone SE hands-on: A little old, a little new, a lot smaller

Email Dan Howley at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at@DanielHowley.