The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 lands at a precarious time on the Android calendar. We're just reaching the end of the Marshmallow era, with final Android 7.0 Nougat code likely to be released in a matter of weeks. By the time the Note 7 hits store shelves in some countries, it could already be running an "old" version of the OS. That's sure to provide ammunition for Samsung's rivals (like a certain Cupertino-based company with a phone launch coming up in September). But are regular consumers really missing out on all that much? Well, yes and no.
First, let's look at the major user-facing features. Multi-window is a big deal, but something Samsung has offered on its phones since 2012's Note 2. Granted, Samsung's implementation works with far fewer apps, but on the flip side you also benefit from pop-up mode, Samsung's freeform window feature.
Multi-window, display scaling, Vulkan graphics and VR are already supported by Samsung on Marshmallow.
Display scaling, also coming natively in Nougat, allowing you to fit more on screen for improved display density. But this is something Samsung has already offered since shortly after the Galaxy S7 launch.
Android 7.0 brings support for the new Vulkan graphics APIs for faster, more battery-friendly gaming performance, but Samsung already offers this on Marshmallow. And when it comes to VR, the Note will miss out on support for Google's Daydream platform, but with a new Gear VR accompanying the device, and Samsung already having built out its own VR ecosystem with Oculus, it's not like Note owners don't have lots of great VR experiences to choose from.
Nor should the Note 7 be any less secure on Marshmallow, with Android security patches being offered on a monthly basis for all current version of the OS. Samsung, for its part, has done a good job of keeping the GS6 and GS7 up to date with the latest fixes, even within the U.S. carrier system. We'd expect them to do the same with the Note.
Granted, there are plenty of important system-level changes that aren't present, like support for Java 8 features, seamless over-the-air updates, and ... updated emoji! And there are other user-facing tricks like data saver mode and bundled notifications with direct replies for which Note 7 owners will need to wait on a system update. But Samsung has a surprising number of bases already covered in its Marshmallow-based firmware.
Samsung's rivals are preparing to ship Nougat.
Nevertheless, many of Samsung's competitors will be launching with Nougat — most notably LG, which has confirmed its V20 will ship with the new version, HTC, which is widely rumored to be making this year's Nexuses, and Huawei, whose Nougat-based EMUI 5 is likely to break cover on a future "Mate" device. Next to its Android-based competition, Samsung's next big thing could very soon start to look dated.
Short of delaying the Note's launch later into September, there's not a lot Samsung could've done to avoid this predicament. But it'll be really interesting to see how quickly it follows up with a Nougat update for the Note 7.