Samsung announced the Galaxy Note 7 yesterday. And while the control freak side of me can’t forgive the jump from Note 5 to Note 7 (to bring consistency to the naming convention the South Korean company established with Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, or, if you believe a few conspiracy theorists, to be better equipped, naming-wise at least, to compete with the iPhone 7 Plus which will launch in a month or so), the Note series phones/phablets are the only Samsung devices that I ever paid attention to, since the launch of the Galaxy Note in 2011 (Samsung releasing more phones every year than there are galaxies in the universe didn’t help. Neither did that fact that Samsung would just riff off the Samsung Galaxy S designs for their lower end phones so that there was no easily discernible difference between its INR 15k and 50k offerings. And I have downright hated Samsung’s habits of cloning hardware and software features from iPhones and iOS and their marketing, throwing shade at Apple at every turn, instead of focusing on the merits of what they’ve made, has always infuriated me). Cutting that acidic rant against Samsung short, their Galaxy Note phones/phablets, though, have always been targeted to that niche who wanted cutting edge specs in a good looking package and didn’t mind paying the extra buck for that. The Note phones/phablets, with their S Pens (still not sold on the use of a stylus on a 5 inch screen but Samsung’s software tweaks made a good case for it), software advancements and the very best hardware available, were Samsung showing off their technological prowess and giving users a preview of what it’d do with the Galaxy S series in six months.
But with the Note 7 and Note 5 before it, the Note series has become boring and the Note has become just another phone/phablet in Samsung’s ever-expanding lineup. Samsung’s latest does have a few genuinely good bits, though. Samsung has nailed the curved back-front glass design to make its phones more beautiful and ergonomic even if the company doesn’t seem like it’ll ever align those ports/holes at the top and bottom of the phone, much to the chagrin of perfectionists everywhere. Over the last two iterations, Samsung has started using premium materials to engineer its phones instead of the crappy plastic shells till Galaxy S5 that I used to despise. TouchWiz, Samsung’s skin on top of Android, is becoming useful with features that actually add value to the stock Android experience instead of trying to overpower it like it used to with all its bloatware and features that no one ever used. Water resistance, which I think should be standard in all phones, makes it to the Note line. The S Pen gets some more useful features like being able to jot down and pin notes on the screen even when it is switched off, waterproofing so that you can use the Note 7 in the rain and the ability to create GIFs (and who doesn’t love GIFs!). And personally, the winning feature for me is the Iris scanner, even though, the only useful case for its use that I can think of is activating the Dragonball Z theme and unlocking your phone like a badass! That said, the Note 7 isn’t the showcase of Samsung’s technological prowess and innovation skills that previous Notes were and (for market-induced reasons, of course) is just one of the top three phones that Samsung offers.
That said, though, there’s another line of Samsung’s devices that has caught the tiny bit of attention I had on the company and increased it manyfold. I talk about the wearables that Samsung makes. Samsung is doing some great work with health and fitness devices and software which has led to my comically large ears stand upright and take notice. Samsung was one of the first companies that took smartwatches and fitness trackers seriously and though no one was buying them, kept working relentlessly on some really bad-looking wearables whose performance was even worse than their looks. The Samsung Gear S, the company’s first smartwatch, was a stalker’s delight with a camera but nothing else of note and the Gear Fit, the company’s first dedicated fitness tracker) gave you pain in your arm just trying to read its horizontal display. But now, after a couple of iterations, Samsung’s wearables feel like they aren’t innovating just for the sake of it and are evolving into what the company’s Note line was till a couple of years back, Samsung showing off that it knows technology. The Gear S2’s rotating bezel, some might say, is an even better tool to navigate around a smartwatch interface than Apple’s digital crown. The smartwatch lasts more than 2 days on a single charge, is chockfull of features, the interface is quite intuitive and it is priced aggressively. And what can I say about the Gear Fit 2! If I was using Android as my smartphone OS of choice, that is the fitness tracker I’d get. The vertical interface in a device that looks good on your wrist with its vibrant AMOLED screen, GPS, heart-rate monitoring and fitness tracking features that are intuitive and you’d actually use with software optimized for the form factor which gives all the details that you’d need about your activity, right on your wrist. And it is priced way below the highest-end offerings from other manufacturers like Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone, etc. at $179 (hopefully, INR 11-12k, when in launches in India). It blows all Fitbits out of the water! I really love the timeline view of the day’s activity that the Gear Fit 2 shows and hope that it shows up on the Apple Watch too, down the line. And the company’s S Health app too has evolved to be in the same league as Fitbit’s, Jawbone’s or Withing’s apps matching and in some cases, surpassing the other apps in terms of detail and usability.
So, while the launch of the Note 7 has been pretty underwhelming for me, I’m keeping a close eye on what Samsung does with their wearables. Maybe, this time, they actually have the ‘next big thing’.
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