Looks like China's getting a tricked-out Note 7 with more RAM and internal storage. So what does that mean for the rest of us?
Over the past year there's been growing chatter among Android fans as to whether Samsung's Galaxy Note line has become just another smartphone. It started back with last year's Note 5, which on the inside was essentially a Galaxy S6 with an extra gig of RAM and a slightly bigger battery — a baby step forward compared to the huge leap we'd seen from Galaxy S5 to Galaxy Note 4.
And there are even more striking similarities between the Galaxy S7 series and the new Note 7: Same processor, same RAM, a small bump in internal storage, USB-C and a new iris scanner feature of questionable value. Notably absent was Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 821. And as smaller rivals like ASUS and OnePlus pushed forward to 6GB of RAM, Samsung stayed at four.
Now, the Note 7 is still a far cry from being a disappointing phone. The company is building on a great platform — the Galaxy S7 — and providing a hearty upgrade for Note 4 and Note 5 owners. And yet, considering Note's origins as a power-user device, it was a little surprising to see Samsung not go completely all-out with its specs.
Chinese consumers get the option of a premium 6GB/128GB Note 7, or a cheaper 4GB/64GB model.
Only now it looks like it might do just that in one market. There's mounting evidence that Chinese buyers will get a Galaxy Note 7 variant (SM-N9300) with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The device passed through China's TENAA regulatory body last month, and now whispers on Chinese social network Weibo suggest two models will go on sale — 4/64GB for 5688 yuan ($854) or 6/128GB for 6088 yuan ($914) — on Sept. 2. At present there's no indication that this tricked-out Note will make it to any other regions, and understandably this has led to some enthusiasts in the West feeling short-changed. Even right-wing British tabloid the Daily Express is getting in on the outrage.
So why China alone? It's likely the move reflects the more spec-conscious nature of buyers in that country, where local phone makers like Oppo, ZTE, LeEco and Lenovo are already pushing to 6GB. A device with 4GB of RAM might well be seen as passé next to the ZTE Nubia Z11 or Lenovo ZUK 2 Pro. In Europe and North America, by comparison, most normal people buying phones don't care what's inside as long as it's fast enough. And as the Galaxy S7 proves, 4GB is more than enough for a smooth Android experience, even with all the extra software Samsung brings to the table.
There's an outside chance a 6GB Note 7 could land on Korean shores at some point.
It's highly unlikely we'll see a wider release of the 6GB/128GB model in territories where the Note 7 has already been announced — with one exception, perhaps. In the West, a souped-up Note 7 would only cater to power users — exactly the sort of people from whom there'd be a backlash if Samsung were to drop an upgraded model only weeks or months after launch. But Samsung has a track record of releasing iterative upgrades in its home market of Korea. One example would be the hilariously named Samsung Galaxy S5 Broadband LTE-A — dubbed the "S5 Prime" by some — which packed a higher-res screen and faster CPU as well as quicker 4G networking. And in late 2014 the firm launched a souped-up Note 4 with support for 3X carrier aggregation. Neither saw a wider international release.
So it could happen, just don't expect it anywhere in the West. And if you absolutely must have a 6GB Note, expect some serious trade-offs in an imported Chinese model — no bundled Google services, and incomplete LTE band coverage, meaning it might not work on all carriers in your home country.
Ultimately, the Note 7 still stands a chance of being the best Android phone of 2016, however much RAM it has — a result of the diminishing importance of specs for most consumers. Where it sells the Note with 4GB, there are surely financial advantages for Samsung — less RAM costs less money — and the company should benefit from economies of scale using largely the same internals as the GS7.
And if you absolutely must have 6GB of RAM right now? Well, it's not like there aren't other options.