This week Apple treaded on Samsung’s territory with the release of its first phablet, the iPhone 6 Plus. Samsung pioneered the phablet category three years ago with the original Note, and now it is being forced to defend its share of the market.
The South-Korean company has hit back with two variations of its popular Note range: the evolutionary Note 4, and the innovative Note Edge. Both of these smartphones represent radical improvements over the Note 3.
Gone is the tacky feel of plastic as this series is built on a metal chassis. The Note finally feels as though Samsung has crafted it with a great sense of pride. Samsung draws attention to the material by shaving the painted metal down with chamfered edging.
Going one further is the way the metal chassis curves in all the right places. It morphs around different components, such as the 3.5mm headphone jack up-top.
Stealing the show without question is the display. The Note 4 dons a 5.7in Super AMOLED display, enriched with a Quad-HD (2560x1440) resolution. These figures add up to 515 pixels being crammed into every inch.
There’s more to it than sharpness, though. The Super AMOLED panel used is dizzyingly bright. Proof of this can be seen in the photos featured, which although were taken with a Samsung NX200 mirrorless camera, required the Note’s screen brightness to be dropped to its minimum level.
Display technology is a strength of Samsung. The company partnered with Oculus to develop the Gear VR headset, a virtual reality accessory that makes use of the Note 4’s display. Few other smartphones have a display that could pull off such a trick.
And no other company thus far has released a smartphone with a fall-away screen like the Note Edge. Usually the sides of a smartphone taper from the rear upwards. The Edge’s left side reverses this formula in what is a confronting — yet cool — party trick. This variant isn’t for the everyday man, but rather those who are constantly plugged in online or at work.
Cameras on both Notes have undergone upgrades. The rear cameras mirror that on Samsung’s Galaxy S5 with a jump in resolution to 16 megapixels. The front camera benefits from improvements too by capturing photos at a larger 3.9 megapixels. Low light photos should benefit from an improved aperture of f/1.9 and a wide 90 degree lens allows more people to fit in the frame of a ‘selfie’. Even the heart sensor on the Notes’ rear lends itself to selfies by working a camera shutter key.
Further differentiating the Note 4 from the Note Edge are the removable batteries; the Note 4 has a capacity of 3200 milliamps-hour (mAh), while the Note Edge has a respectable 3000mAh. Powering the large and vivacious display proves demanding on batteries.
Samsung has worked on battery life by including its ultra power saving mode, which turns off all but the most basic of features to squeeze 24 hours of standby from just 10 per cent of charge. There’s also a fast charge feature that replenishes a flat battery to 45 per cent in 30 minutes.
Samsung and Apple are playing the same market in different ways. Apple uses its software to compete, while Samsung, a traditional maker of hardware, plays the spec race. And it plays it to win.
Good Gear Guide will strive to have reviews of both devices published before then.