Features like a stylus and iris scanner give the Galaxy Note 7 enterprise vibes, but don’t be fooled: It’s here to start a party for your face. The Note 7 should deliver the best virtual reality experience of any mobile device–and will even help define VR’s future.
When it rolls out in late August, the Note 7 may be the best all-around smartphone on the market–those business chops are legit. But it’s also built for fun. The device starts with a great foundation, matching the curvy aesthetic and best-in-class camera of the Galaxy S7 Edge. The Note 7 also shares its smaller predecessor’s water-resistance and zippy components. To that capable mix, the phablet adds features you won’t find in any other phone on the market, making it clear that this is the most-advanced device in Samsung’s stable.
All of which make it perfect for VR. Especially that display.
The Next Step In Smartphone Displays
The Note 7’s 5.7-inch AMOLED display is the first capable of playing HDR video, a trait that requires the marriage of specially encoded content and next-generation display technology. Amazon Video’s small-but-growing stable of streaming HDR titles will work on the Note 7, especially remarkable considering they don’t play nice with Amazon’s own Fire HDX tablets.
HDR is relatively new even for televisions, which often use high-powered backlight systems to deliver a lifelike sense of contrast between light and dark areas. The Note 7 does it differently. Its AMOLED display can get much darker than an LCD, but also more granular in terms of pixel-per-pixel contrast. (In a light dose of irony, the Note 7 handles HDR more like LG’s OLED televisions than Samsung’s own SUHD sets.)
Amazon says streaming HDR requires roughly the same bitrate as standard HD content, so it won’t affect your data plans much. And while the HDR content on Amazon Video is all 4K, the Note 7 will display it at 1080p.
These HDR capabilities mean more than better-looking Amazon video on our phones. There isn’t any HDR video content in the VR world yet; there’s barely any HDR content for the 2D world right now. But when done well, HDR video provides a more realistic-looking picture. In the world of VR, that can translate to an even greater sense of immersion. Now that there’s a device that can play HDR, creators have a reason to start using incorporating it into their VR experiences.
The Note Is Built For Better VR
The Note 7 won’t be the first phone to participate in Samsung’s VR strategy, or even in the wider history of virtual reality. In mid-2014, the second Oculus Rift dev kit used the Galaxy Note 3’s OLED display.
The decision made sense: OLED has a faster response time than LCD, helping onscreen images keep up with crazy head movements. The Note 3’s 5.7-inch OLED screen was among the biggest and sharpest of its kind at the time.
The even-higher-resolution Note 4 arrived later that year, with a 2560×1440 pixel screen. It served as the display and processing guts for the original Gear VR Innovator Edition headset. Since then, Note devices have been compatible with the Gear VR headsets available to the general public.
The Note 7 takes that trend a step further, with a new headset built specifically for it. The redesigned headset offers a native USB-C connection to match the Note 7’s new interface. There’s another USB-C port on the bottom for power and peripherals.
“USB-C certainly opens up options for Samsung or any vendor choosing to use this interface type,” says Gartner personal technology analyst Tuong Nguyen. “You get power and data from the same port.” You also get two devices that work in lockstep to create a powerful VR hardware ecosystem.
So while the S7 series introduced the designs and components that define the current Galaxy generation, the Note 7 pushes its VR ecosystem forward. HDR, USB-C, and the new Gear VR signal where Samsung thinks the future is headed. The Galaxy S8 will help VR go mainstream, whenever it comes out. For now, the Note 7 knows the next stage of VR is coming. And it’s setting the table for it.