The Note FE is a Captivating Re-Do That’s Still Worth Considering, Even in 2017

The Note 7 was such an important device both for Samsung and for Android enthusiasts, and so we were very excited to take a look at its replacement. The Note FE is identical to the Note 7, except for a bump down in battery capacity by 8.5%, a bump up to newer Nougat-based software (which has perceptibly improved the Touchwiz-lag situation when compared to Marshmallow builds), and a slight decrease in weight by 2 grams because of the smaller battery. Even if you don’t live in South Korea, you can import this device right now from places like eBay.

The Note FE is the “end of the line” in terms of Samsung flagship phones with capacitive keys. For those that want a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio display, a fingerprint sensor on the front, and really the best of the best in terms of Samsung’s pre-Infinity Display design, the Note FE hits a sweet spot and deserves your consideration in 2017. And, it might actually be an interesting alternative to the upcoming Note 8. Here’s why.

Last year’s excellent processors, in 2017

The Note 7 shipped with Marshmallow, and we found it to deliver embarrassing real-world performance. The phone was recalled before it was able to taste Nougat, which is a shame, because other Samsung products that received or shipped with Nougat, such as the S7 (through updates) and S8 (out of the box), have daily performance much superior to the Note 7. Plus, let’s not forget that the processor on the Note 7/FE is the Exynos 8890, which, by most measures, is equivalent (if not slightly superior) to the still-relevant Snapdragon 821, which was featured in some early 2017 flagships like the LG G6 and of course the Pixel from last year. Of course, you will probably still need to disable some applications and opt for third-party launchers to make TouchWiz a bit svelter, but the Note FE should provide a reasonable level of performance that’s still competitive in 2017.

Pragmatic yet beautiful design

Samsung’s Infinity Display is striking, but it presents several problems. First, it forces the fingerprint sensor to go on the back of the phone — this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it was awkwardly executed with the Galaxy S8. It’s possible the Note 8 might have a fingerprint sensor embedded in the screen, but if that technology isn’t ready like it wasn’t for the S8, expect to do finger-acrobatics to unlock your phone when the Note 8 comes out. Another small annoyance with the Infinity Display is that it’s not in 16:9 aspect ratio, which means that all video content is either going to see letterboxing or lose content to fit the screen, which is not ideal, though Samsung provides options to choose how to best display video on apps. Lastly, because the Infinity Display takes up such a large percentage of the front of the device (stretching into the sides and replacing the side bezel too), accidental presses are likely, and the phone can be awkward to pick up from a table without causing a mispress. The Note FE provides “handles” with the top and bottom bezels that makes it so much more practical to use especially when in landscape orientation.

But the Note FE is not all about function. It has dual-curved edges as well, though at a smaller radius than what we saw on the S7 Edge. This is to improve stylus input and keep the screen flatter while still providing that beautiful curved edge effect. This display remains an “between” the standard panels of the past and the new trend of taller, curved or more-rounded displays, and as such it provides a good balance between

A cheaper alternative to the Note 8

The Note FE is only available in South Korea right now, but you can import one from eBay for around $820, or you can keep an eye on Swappa for when people start listing them used (you might find mint or resale units). That’s a pretty hefty premium over the $625 MSRP, but considering that the Note 8 is likely to sell for more than $1,000, the Note FE might be a pretty good alternative for those who are starved for a solid Note experience. Or maybe you’re comparing the Note FE against the unlocked Galaxy S8+, which is indeed a bit cheaper, ranging from $725-800 depending on which configuration you go for. It’s been almost two years since the last stable Note release, though, and some people never wanted to let go of their Note 7 units in the first place. While the Galaxy S8+ received many features from the Note line, it never offered the precise control of the stylus, and some features the Note line provides really synergize with the stylus as well.

All the other stuff

And let’s not forget that with the Note FE you are also getting…

The Bad & The Ugly

Unsurprisingly, the Note 7’s hardware holds up quite well in 2017, with most of its individual components beating those provided by competitors. There were many advantages it had over other devices last year, with multiple “firsts” and “exclusive” functionality. However, now matter how you slice it, the Note FE is slightly worse than the Note 7 in terms of hardware on both absolute and relative terms. The new battery is smaller, which will ultimately result in less potential battery life. While some 2017 devices have regressed in their battery capacity too, we can at least point to efficiency gains in hardware that might squeeze more uptime from said smaller batteries. And in relative terms, we now see devices with both Qualcomm’s and Samsung’s latest processors, with modest gains in CPU and GPU performance, as well as power savings through new CPU architecture and a smaller process size. Then there’s the faster UFS 2.1 storage and more (and more power-efficient) DDR4(X) RAM. In short, the overall processing capabilities and the smaller battery make this phone less future proof in 2017, because it’s a slightly-worse variant of the same hardware released a year ago. Launching with Nougat helps mitigate the “expiration date”, but because of the limited supply, we really can’t predict just how much attention Samsung will pay to this device, and it will likely see very little development at XDA.

Compared to the Galaxy S8+

Here’s how the two look side by side. The Galaxy S8+ is clearly taller but less wide. Both devices look incredibly modern.

The package also comes with a clear view case that allows your device to display content through its flip cover.

Ultimately, this phone is not the Note 8, and as the name implies, this is a phone for fans. It offers an excellent experience that picks up where the Note 7 left off; said device was arguably Samsung’s most ambitious phone, and those who had to renounce their unit but loved the overall experience are probably considering this device, if they haven’t fully filled that void yet. It’s a captivating phone still, with a transitive design bridging Samsung’s post-S6 design language with their new approach to minimal bezels and the taller Infinity Display. In that sense, it’s a relic for the fans who loved the Note 7, who might not be fully on board with Samsung’s newest direction, or those who value capacitive keys and a pragmatic design. It’s still a feature powerhouse, and the processing package holds up in the real-world very well; Samsung’s software is still not for everyone, and a new Note phone is on the horizon, but the Note FE stands as a compelling device and a homage to what could have been.

Would you consider buying the Note FE in 2017? Sound off in the comments!

  Note FE Forums on XDA

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