As much as I love gadgets, it’s hard to get too excited about a phone these days. With the amount of phones that come out each year—each having very similar features and specs, they’ve become nearly disposable devices that are more focused on flash than function. At least, that was my view before I got my beloved Galaxy Note 4 back in 2014.
After a disastrous experience with one of the many other Android phones out there, I finally just gave up, went to the store, and found the Note 4. It was bigger than most, had a stylus, and just about perfect for the kind of guy I am—a guy who scribbles a lot, needs to take notes to remember anything, and likes to play and plan.
That was two years ago and I still love the phone. Until the Note 7, nothing else has sparked the slightest urge for me to change phones. Not even Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S7 could sway me, but the Note 7 finally seems like an upgrade worth getting. Well, once they stop exploding anyway. The Note 7 is an excellent smartphone with high-performance specs, great design, and unique features. Nobody is doubting that.
So then the question remains: why haven’t I jumped onboard fully with Samsung’s best new phone since the Note 4? The answer is simple, if likely odd. And no, it’s not because I’m afraid of fire.
There’s no removable back cover.
I know how that sounds, but hear me out. The foremost issue with this is, obviously, no removable (and therefore replaceable) battery. This is an issue likely to affect anyone planning to keep their phone a while—like a nearly interminable two years.
My Note 4’s battery is starting to get wonky. It gets to about 34% and then just shuts down until it’s charged again. Sometimes, it gets stuck in a rebooting loop and I have to remove the battery for a few seconds before restarting. It’s old, very well used, and somewhat abused, which is why I’m fully onboard with the Otterbox train for protection.
The crazed rebooting issue is one I’ve encountered with other phones, so it’s not out of place to wonder if eventually the Note 7 will have similar issues. Except I can’t just take the battery out to hard reset it. It’s really only been this last two generations where Samsung has gone to the one-piece model of phone bodies. Prior to that, a removable battery was pretty much expected. It was one of the things Android people had over Apple in the hardware department. Tech support would even tell you to take out the battery for a few seconds to solve all manner of problems. But what now?
Another related aspect of the Note 4’s design that I really appreciate more after playing with the new Note and Galaxy S7 is the the SIM and SD card slots are under the battery cover. Absurdly, the Note 5 didn’t have a SD slot at all—a problem Samsung thankfully fixed with the Note 7. Just the same, the Note 7 (and Galaxy S7) have an all in one slot on the top edge of the phone that requires either a paperclip or the included (and easily losable) tool to pop open. Push down in the hole and out comes a small slate that holds the SIM chip and SD card together.
If you’re at all like me, having an SD card slot is imperative. While Samsung’s new method for holding them is rather ingenious, it’s also annoying. It’s far too easy for one of the tiny chips to get slightly out of place when sliding it back into the phone. This could lead to potential damage to one or both chips and possibly the slot itself. Now, I have no idea if this has actually happened, but since I almost cracked a SIM chip in a Galaxy 7 this way, I’m paranoid about the possibility.
Granted, part of the reason the Note 7 is so slim is because it ditched the removable back cover. It’s actually at least a millimeter thinner and has a noticeably smaller footprint overall. It’s sleeker and more stylish, but did it really need to be? Were any of the previous Notes considered anything but workhorse phones? Don’t the sexy people just buy the new Galaxy or something?
And does anyone but me even care? I don’t know. I’m still weighing my options. After using it for a couple weeks with no signs of fiery mayhem (I use a wireless charger, like a civilized person), I love the Note 7 already and that affection will likely grow. It’s easily the best new phone I’ve seen this year. And I have no doubt once all the embarrassment of this recall is over and everyone gets the non-explosive version, it will continue to be the best phone of the year. Yet, I can’t quite ditch the uneasy feeling stirring in the back of my mind that at some point in the future, I’m really going to wish I could take the battery out.
Of course, by then, Samsung will have a released newer, shinier model that will catch my fancy.