A Power User Device

The Galaxy Note 5 is Samsung’s best large-screened smartphone to date, and I really like the solid improvements the company has introduced across the board, but that doesn’t mean the device is perfect.

Samsung is clearly positioning the Note 5 as a power user's device, with features like the S Pen designed for heavy phone users. This makes the decision to cap the device’s storage at 64 GB, without a microSD card slot and without a 128 GB model, rather strange. On top of this, making the battery non-removable was a poor choice for users who, in the Note line in particular, might want to swap out batteries on the go.

However, the compromises Samsung has made in storage and battery flexibility have made the Note 5 the best looking Note yet. The sleek body, borrowing heavily from the Galaxy S6’s metal and glass design, wouldn’t be possible with a removable back panel. The Note 5 looks and feels like a high-end product, and that’s exactly what you’d expect when paying a premium for the handset.

While the Galaxy Note 5 is still a large device, Samsung has struck a great balance between screen real estate and size. The Note is manageable in one hand, though not ideal, and the slim bezels to either side of the excellent 1440p AMOLED display help improve usability. The fingerprint scanner below the display is the best I’ve used on an Android device, and provides an extra level of security.

The performance of the Note 5 is just as good as the performance of the Galaxy S6, and that’s because both devices use the same SoC, unlike in previous years. We’re also seeing the same camera in both handsets, meaning you’re getting a simply superb shooter in the Note 5 that’s capable in nearly all situations. 4K video recording and optical image stabilization are all present, though these features are now standard in high-end phones.

The S Pen is just as awesome as ever, and Samsung have made a concerted effort in the Note 5 to improve the stylus experience. The ability to take notes while the device’s display is off is a genuinely useful feature, and I appreciate the easier to use, more streamlined Air Command and S Note interfaces. The issue of inserting the stylus the wrong way is something that should have been resolved by the engineering team, but it isn’t a big deal either way.

The software remains an interesting aspect of the Samsung’s entire Galaxy range, and although the company has improved their Android skin dramatically over the past two years, it still doesn’t quite have the polish you’d see from an iPhone or even a stock Android device. That’s not to say Samsung’s software is bad – in fact these days it’s far from it, and there’s plenty of features to enjoy – but there is still some work to be done before I’d be truly satisfied with this skinned version of Android.

Battery life was somewhat disappointing from the Galaxy Note 5, even if it isn't bad per se. A couple of years ago these large-screened phones were topping battery life charts, and although battery life hasn’t become worse as Samsung has crammed in newer hardware, the Note 5 has fallen behind flagship competitors, including the company’s own Galaxy S6 Active with its huge internal battery. While I typically appreciate the inclusion of new hardware, and this is no exception with the Note 5, I’d have liked to see this phone return to the top of the battery life charts.

Finally, the price of the Galaxy Note 5 shouldn’t be ignored. The 32 GB variant is currently retailing for just over $700 unlocked and off-contract from Amazon, which is slightly cheaper than the 16 GB iPhone 6s Plus ($750) but more expensive than large-screen flagship Android competitors such as the Moto X Style ($450 for 32 GB), LG G4 ($430) and OnePlus 2 ($330 for 16 GB if you can get an invite).

Whether or not the Galaxy Note 5 and its S Pen are worth $300 more than similar phones is up to you, although I think it’s on the expensive side considering the hardware at hand. Of course it’s cheaper than an iPhone 6s Plus if you’re looking at Apple’s offering, though Apple has never been a budget smartphone provider.

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Pros: Excellent, premium design crams a beautifully large display into a manageable body. Performance and camera are just as good as the Galaxy S6. The stylus experience is responsive and refined.

Cons: The extra size comes at a hefty cost. No expandable storage or removable battery in a phone designed for power users.