[blockquote right=”pull-right”][/blockquote] With the latest in its large format lineup, Samsung has substituted focus for features, fit and finish for frills; and the result, is a formidable phone. But, has the company sacrificed too much in its quest to commoditize the king of phablets? Let’s find out in this Galaxy Note 5 review. [section label=”Hardware”]
Not since 2012 has the Note so closely resembled its main stream cousin, the Galaxy Note 5 takes its design cues directly from the Galaxy s6 family. With the Gorilla back glass cover curling into a mid-plate molded from 7,000 series aluminum and featuring, charging, audio and speaker ports at the bottom etch. The display is Quad HD Super AMOLED, featuring very high pixel density and a Wacom digitizer to interpret pen inputs. That’s nothing new but it’s an absolutely stunning screen if you are coming from almost any other smartphone and its super-narrow bezels make the Note 5 much easier to hold than any other 5.7 inch device. It all adds up to the best feeling, best looking Galaxy Note in memory. The clicky buttons and the new spring-loaded S-pen are a tactility treat, while the mass and materials combined give it the sense of a very expensive product — which of course it is. Realistically speaking though, am 99.9999% sure that you will need to invest in a case or a skin to keep it looking fresh and clean. The glass is absolutely impossible to keep free of fingerprints, my review device managed to survive a waist height drop onto a hard-wood floor am not sure it will be as lucky on a fall onto asphalt. Pop off the back cover and… Oooh, right. For the first time in Note history you can’t pop open the back cover to replace the onboard battery, nor will you find any Micro-SD expansion slot alongside the SIM tray. Instead, you are stuck with a 32, or 64 GB of storage included out of the box. There is not even an IR port here, so gone is the remote control functionality. If you never used, cared about or even knew about these features from previous Notes, none of this is likely to bother you. If you’ve come to rely on them, you may want to stick to last year’s model. [section label=”Software”]
If you do though, you will be missing out on some slick software, accessed via the new and improved fingerprint scanner on the home button. If you’ve read our Galaxy S6 review, you already know the software story here. The Samsung custom interface is speedier than ever, so gone are the day of “to hell with TouchWiz” . It is built on top of Android 5.1.1, driven by the company’s own Exynos processor and 4 Gigs of high-speed RAM (now that’s massive). That combination makes for a smoother multitasking experience that we initially saw on the s6 and the big screen on the Note 5 makes running two apps side by side a breeze. If you are like me and you really don’t like the out of box User Interface design, there is more good news. Samsung’s theme store is full of skins and themes both paid and free that let you customize to your heart’s content. And by default, the screen is set to a higher DPI (dots per inch) level than usual, making possible to achieve more information density and making it an even better tablet replacement than previous Notes. Those usability improvements aren’t accompanied by many new features, the list of apps that support Samsung’s multi window feature is effectively identical to last years in the Note 4, which it’s self wasn’t much improved over the year before that. Given how awkward the multi-screen experience can sometimes be, the sluggish development pace here is frustrating. [section label=”The New S-Pen”]
There is a little more excitement when it comes to the S-Pen. Pop it out with a quick click and the Note 5 is instantly ready to take down a quick memo with no button pressing required. Just slip the S-Pen back in its silo when you are done to automatically save the quick memo and return the phone to standby mode. In my view, this is the best kind of new feature, as it is super useful and it is simple as anything, and the same goes to the new built-in PDF reader that lets you sign contracts and other legal forms without having to download additional software. Please don’t try to put in S-Pen the other way round, otherwise you will find yourself breaking the S Pen functionality. You can still use the S-Pen for all kinds of doodles, sketches and even Notes to self — but to me– that has never been the primary appeal of the stylus. I think the S-Pen is at it’s best when it is used to manipulate existing content. As a highlighter for scripts or study guides, as a kind of surrogate finger when the device is in an awkward or uncomfortable position, as a mark-up tool for screenshots and so on. The new scroll capture mode, lets you preserve very long web pages as screenshots for later reference. Which is convenient for sharing long discussion threads, leak that stalker’s long chat log, or long list of driving directions. [section label=”Camera”]
By all indications, the Galaxy Note 5 camera is the same as one found in the Galaxy s6. That means a 16 megapixel sensor with an f/1.9 aperture made into an Optical Image Stabilization system (OIS) and triggered by a double-click on the Home key. It also means the best photo quality you can find on Android. We shall release a detailed photo-shoot using the Galaxy Note 5 in a different post. Spoiler alert! The photos that are taken by the Note 5 are almost without exception. It’s not without its flaws as the Note 5 suffers from focus instability in very low light. But, there is a full suite of manual controls including manual focus to compensate for that. [blockquote right=”pull-right”][/blockquote]
HDR mode tends to wash out colors just like on any smartphone, but it can be a life saver in back-lit scenarios when you are trying to capture details in the shadows. For completeness sake we’ve got to mention Samsung’s new software features;
- Live broadcast is an analog to Periscope or Meerkat that lets you stream video on the fly via your own YouTube channel,
- Video collage is a clever way of squeezing four brief clips into a single frame,
- Lastly, RAW mode lets you save uncompressed images for more precise editing later on
Thankfully, you don’t need to use any of those tricks to get you make the most out of this camera. You just double-click the Home button and shoot, the odds are you are going to get a great result both in video or still images. And, whether you are using the primary shooter or the selfie shooter– it’s fantastic.
[section label=”My User Experince”]
We tasted the Galaxy Note 5 on Airtel and MTN networks within Kampala. The phone delivered solid reception and call quality and thanks to it’s slimmer more rounded build. It’s definitely the most comfortable and least awkward Note ever when it comes to voice calls. We were able to pick up MTN’s 4G LTE signal and the 3G+ HSPA on both Airtel and MTN worked as good as the limitations for each network.
Also the one-two punch of the powerful processor, and the heavy RAM load serve it well. As with every Note before it, this one can handle the most demanding of game titles with no hustle. Just don’t be surprised if apps crash from time to time, that’s life on any smartphone.
Fitness fans will be happy to know that Samsung’s S-health app just keeps getting better. You can scroll through its simple interface, take a pulse reading with a heart-rate sensor, you can tell it how much water, coffee or chappati you’ve hard and it will make diet recommendations. You can see all that info along side how many steps you’ve taken to get a snapshot of how active you’ve been. We used to give Samsung guff for including this kind of stuff. But, if I bought a Note 5 today, I can see myself using this app everyday to try to evaluate my fitness trends and may save myself from an early death, given my blogger lifestyle.
Speaking of early death, while I didn’t miss the MicroSD card slot during my period with the Note 5, I sure wish Samsung has found a way of either keeping the battery replaceable or make it bigger. 3000 mAh isn’t all that much if you have a phone full of power drains as this, and the Note 5 gave us an average of 4 to 4 and half hours on-screen on time per charge on MTN and slightly more than that on Airtel. This is expected, since LTE draws more power than 3G . The screen on time we measured is not bad, in moderate to mixed usage, it will definitely get you through the day. And more if you carry the included fast charger, you can top it up very quickly from dead to 25% in just 15 minutes. I would however recommend you invest in a portable battery bank or a wireless charging pad for you corporates out there.
But there is no getting around it, the Note used to be known for outstanding endurance and this one is just average.