Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review: The busiest, biggest and best Samsung phablet
It might be Samsung's best, but that doesn't make it the best phone for everyone
- 1440p screen
- Fast charge battery
- Integrated S-Pen stylus
- 16 megapixel camera
- Metal chassis
- Frustrating finger scanner
- Uncomfortable form factor for phone calls
Price$ 949.00 (AUD)
The Note 4 wears its size better than that of the iPhone 6 Plus. Placing the two alongside one another reveals the Note 4 is shorter, even though it has a larger screen. Samsung’s smartphone may be thicker than Apple’s at 9mm, but the waistline works in its favour by evening out its proportions.
Proving smaller than the iPhone 6 Plus is no real achievement. Most will still find the Samsung phablet monstrously big. It’s unwieldy to make phone calls on, will bulge from pant pockets and will slow you down as you traverse up stairs by digging into your thigh. The Note 4 should be a smartphone reserved for a select few; the series’ mass appeal is something of a phenomenon.
Helping the Note 4 compete against the Apple phablet is its adoption of metal. Samsung styles the chassis with swooning curves enveloping different ports, such as the auxiliary input and the microUSB port, and by shaving the metal borders for bevelled edging.
Backing the towering size of the Note 4 is a 5.7in AMOLED display enriched with a 2560x1440 resolution. Each inch of the display has 515 pixels, and that’s considerably more than the 401 pixels-per-inch of the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. Smartphones including the LG G3 and the Oppo Find 7 ooze similar specs, but the Note 4’s display proves superior to its 1440p rivals.
Compromise plagues LG and Oppo’s flagships as the smartphones make concessions on brightness. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 is exceedingly bright. The AMOLED display couples punchy colours with rich blacks in order to deliver dazzling picture quality. Samsung’s use of 1440p panels make us feel as though it is now the right time for the next generation technology.
A couple of software features use the high resolution to make you more productive. Applications can be resized into floating windows with the use of Samsung’s S-Pen stylus, enabling you to switch between them without exiting. These can be minimised into floating widgets to clear up cluttered screens.
This form of multitasking is marred by a few factors: the screen isn’t big enough to accommodate two portrait windows, and only a select few applications support the mode. Samsung’s split screen mode, which enables two supported apps to run on-top of one another, remains more practical.
Proving a better productivity aid is the S-Pen stylus. The fourth generation S-Pen is Samsung’s most refined. Using it to take notes on the Galaxy phablet replicates the texture of notetaking with old-school pen and paper.
The S-Pen is far more versatile than an ordinary Bic ball point. Slide it out (or press its button) and an ‘Air Command’ menu populates with tailored modes. These include the ability to write on screenshots, crop screenshots on the fly, and the option of writing memos.
Using the S-Pen brings to mind a computer cursor. Hover the stylus over a webpage’s button and it will generate a description. Hold the button down while swiping and text can be selected. Tap a scroll bar on a webpage and you can scroll by motioning. Such functions make the Note 4 feel as though it’s more than a smartphone.
It is a powerful computing device.
The spec sheet for the Note reveals it is, on paper at least, one of the most powerful smartphones available. Beating inside is a 2.7GHz quad-core CPU, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. Samsung claims the hardware is powerful enough to handle a 128GB microSD card, and we can attest it flawlessly made use of our 64GB card.
This hardware processes the Note’s Android 4.4 KitKat operating system. Samsung coat the Google OS with their own TouchWiz interface. Good Gear Guide heavily criticized TouchWiz for being bloated, proprietary and fractured.
Samsung’s latest rendition of TouchWiz represents an improvement, but its not the overhaul the software desperately needs. The company’s custom software remains fragmented with dual colour schemes and inconsistent software options. For instance, photos don’t automatically rotate in the Note 4, but they do in the just-as-new Galaxy Alpha.
TouchWiz has been thrown together over the ages with leftover scraps. All of the wonderful options it offers are cheapened by an unattractive and challenging user interface.
More effort has gone into the smartphone’s camera quality, it appears. The Note 4 adds optical image stabilisation to the 16 megapixel camera inherited from the Galaxy S5. The camera is a standout feature of the Note 4, and its simplified user interface means you can take advantage of even more features.
A lot of work has been done to the 3.7 megapixel front camera. The camera has a low f/1.9 aperture for improved night photos and a wide 90 degree lens. More people can fit into a selfie with a panorama mode, while the heart sensor doubles as a shutter key. Using the heart sensor this way is practical, although it’s a shame Samsung hasn’t implemented this functionality to be used with the rear camera.
For all its features Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 fares well when it comes to battery life. The smartphone’s 3220 milliamp-hour battery will deliver varied results depending on how heavily it is used. Good Gear Guide managed 22 hours under moderate use; however, the figure tumbled to 16 hours when we started to heavily use the smartphone. These results were achieved without the power saving mode being enabled, and while the display brightness was set to automatic. Charging the large battery from flat to full takes approximately 80 minutes with its noteworthy fast-charge battery.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 is not some stretched smartphone; it has been built from the ground up to be a phablet. There’s no denying the larger screen lends itself to web browsing and the consumption of content. Unfortunately the extra inches work against it when it comes to comfort. Certain professionals will find the Note 4 an invaluable companion, but this isn’t a smartphone for everybody.
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