Carrying a big phone is no longer by it’s self a badge of distinction. In a time when most smartphone screens are hovering somewhere between five inches and even when long time hold-outs like the iPhone have gotten into the super-sized game –it is not enough just to be big–you have to be smarter than the average smartphone. You’ve got to be special, and may be –– just may be ––you’ve got to have a stylus. We even had a heated smack-down comparison between this Note and the iPhone 6 plus. It’s been 3 months on the market now and today we are here to find out whether the fourth generation of Samsung’s famous “plus-size” phone line worth your time and your money. This is the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review.
Okay to put it in simple terms, this is the best Galaxy Note ever made; of course it is how annual upgrades work and if it wasn’t better, that would be a huge problem. But what does that mean? For one thing it means Samsung has finally addressed one of our longest standing gripes FIT&FINISH. The polycarbonate back plate is still made of a fake leather pattern to fit in with the whole notebook aesthetic, but last year’s stitch work and platted plastic on the Galaxy Note 3 is out and in it’s place, a seamless joint meeting an aluminum magnesium bezel with painted detail and a gorgeous double chamfer.
Okay pause and ask yourself. Have you seen this design before? Ooh I bet you have. Are we worried that it will scratching over time? Absolutely ask the iPhone 5 and 5s and don’t forget to look at a year old HTC One M7 while you still at it. But one, we will never get tired of design that looks this good and two, soft metal or not it’s got to take damage better than the cheap plastic on the Note 3. And, seriously you better believe when I say you are going to drop this phone at one point.
The Note 4 is thicker and heavier that most smartphones on the market and reaching across it’s 5.7 inch display with one hand is a daring endeavour best suited to the brave or the foolish (take your pick). It’s display is a super AMOLED panel with a super high resolution 1440 x 2560 (515ppi) that has become a necessity for super high-end smartphones. And, yes it’s exactly as beautiful as the manufacturer says. It’s dimmable to almost absurdly low levels, it’s bright enough to read in broad-daylight and is protected by Gorilla glass 4 technology by Corning. That glass almost extends close to the metal boarder with a tiny expansion gap that has caused a big stir, while we are not really worried about it, it is very concerning from the standpoint of durst incursions so we’ll keep an eye on it and see how that pans out in a few months. Finally, embedded in the glass is a Wacom digitizer capable of over 2,000 levels of pressure sensitivity, which gives life to the s-pen side-loaded in the phone’s bottom edge.
That special stylus is a big part of what makes this phone to be called a Note, so lets talk about it real quick. Samsung keeps adding features to the S-pen suite, but it‘s core function is the same. A fun as drawing on a screen can be, it’s the navigation function that we like best. We’ve said it before that using the S-pen is a pointer for ordinary actions like scrolling and selecting which feels much like using a mouse on a computer. Samsung has added to that experience this year with a new highlight function that makes it easier to copy and paste text, or to look up words in the dictionary. That kind of stuff comes in handy more often than you think, with abilities like annotating photos or using SWIPE on the keyboard. It’s stuff like this rather than the party trick nonsense that will make me sad to leave the Galaxy Note aside after this review. Even if I don’t use it every year, I wish every smartphone had an S-pen and trust me when I say, it’s much more than a simple stylus.
Where the Note 4 stumbles is when it tries to do to much and here Samsung can’t help but fall back at old habits. As I always complain, the company’s third part UI is just so heavy that it can’t avoid keeping you waiting especially in the re-banded magazine now called briefing and the multitasking ribbon, which is being redone to resemble the latest version of Android. Now, this is a very common issue, as we are yet to meet a smartphone that doesn’t lag at some point, but Samsung phones always seem to start slacking down early, which is concerning considering how much raw power phones is packed in it. And, what you get in exchange for that performance hit are features that often seem incomplete for example scrolling with the s-pen only works in certain apps or tossing content between apps is the same story.
Functionality is duplicated all over the system, making the phone more confusing than it needs to be. While the company deserves some lee-way for including features that few others are bringing to the table, it is getting a little old giving Samsung a pass on design in exchange for capability. The competition like the LG G3 it’s standing still after-all.
If you’re kind of the power user the Note line was created for, perhaps you will adapt easily to the interface quirks. If so, you will get a feature package that makes the Note feel much more than an ordinary big screen smartphone. You can toss apps into resizable windows, shrink them down to floating orbs or divide them across the screen so you can keep an eye on Facebook while you’re watching YouTube. You can throw photos from a gallery to Evernote memo or you can also Samsung’s s-finder to search the entire system. When the Note 4 remembers that it’s a powerhouse it can do some awesome stuff and it looks better doing it than previous generations do. New transparencies in minimal design give it a more modern feel if you use the stock launcher and the briefing app is so hip looking that you may forgive its sluggishness.
As we expected the Note 4 brings many of the improvements from the Galaxy S5. S-health is more capable than ever thanks to the Note 4’s heart-rate, blood oxygen and UV sensors and even if you cannot make sense of that data, the Coach app will help you get off your behind and move around a little bit. Fatty!!
The finger print sensor is still an awkward swipe sensor, but it‘s much better now than when it debut for the first time on the Galaxy s5. And, speaking of features, there is a whole menu section devoted to making the phone easy to with one hand. On a device as wide as this, shrinking the screen to within a thumbs’ reach is more than a clever add-on it is almost a necessity. This is a feature even the left handed can appreciate if you can master the tricky swipe activation feature.
With a 16 megapixel sensor and fancy Optical Image Stabilization we loved to see, the Note 4’s camera isn’t lacking for hardware and as usual Samsung has backed it up with plenty of controls on the software side too. In terms of design this feels closely to what’s happening to the rest of the UI. It’s paired down and modernized a little bit, but its got ways to go to catch up with some of the competition’s usability.
This being 2014, selfie centric options are bound you narcissists. You can squeeze more people into the frame of the wide-angle 3.7 megapixel front-facer with its panoramic mode (if you have any friends). Or, you can take a detailed self-portrait with the main camera using audio and vibration cues. Once you get over yourself, you can start taking pictures around you and here, the Note 4’s fancy hardware really pays off. Colors are luscious, contrast is rich and the automatic setting keep up really well with most environments.
That Optical stabilization makes taking photos and video much smoother through the finder and combined with faster auto-focus and some software magic, it makes low light photography a real pleasure. The Note 4 is still a big device so it’s a little awkward to shoot with and for the 1,000th time we would like to see a hardware camera shutter button here. All told, that’s a pretty short list of complaints on a smartphone camera habitual shutter bugs and hardcore camera buffs will probably be well served.
Just like Keanu Reeves showed us in his 1994 hit Movie Speed, sometimes being taller makes all the difference and the few millimeters of added height on this year’s Note makes it comfortable holding the phone. The sharp edges aren’t the greatest on the ear, but sound quality is clear and plenty loud on our end and callers reported that we came through the same way. Loud to the point of clipping, but not as clear as some of other phones.
Noise cancellation is thankfully solid through both handset and speaker phone modes. Speaking of speakers, Samsung’s decision to move them to the back is kind of annoying especially for us who are used to HTC’s boom sound technology. But the speakers are not a deal breaker especially if you’re someone who uses a lot of loudspeaker.
Gaming is of course a delight on hardware this powerful, our review unit packs a combination of the powerful Snapdragon 805 with an Adreno 420, 3GB of RAM. Every game we threw at it the Note 4 run wonderfully. With micro-SD expansion that goes up to 128 GB you can install plenty of titles to this external memory if you are willing to take a few extra steps.
It’s also really nice to know that your battery won’t die after 30 minutes of game play. And, the Note 4’s stamina is fine, it’s got the swappable battery so you can carry a spare if you need it. It also brings the super efficient ultra-power saving mode for dire endurance emergencies. With over seven days of testing we’ve usually been able to get 5 hours of screen time after a 16 hour day, which is good. The Note will most probably get you through the day. Just don’t go trying to last all weekend with it.