With the fourth generation of the Galaxy Note, Samsung has finally got it right. The Galaxy Note 4 is an awesome combination of useful software features and top-notch, cutting edge hardware. If you want a large-screened smartphone that succeeds in nearly all key areas, it’s hard to look past Samsung’s latest and greatest.
The biggest and most obvious change to the Note line is the refined design. Samsung finally ditched the cheap plastic in favour of a part-metal design, improving the plastic back cover in the process. The Note 4 is truly the first Galaxy product I’ve used that feels and looks like it’s worth the asking price, which is a massive step forward for the company. And this isn’t just token praising of improvement and effort: the Note 4’s has one of the better designs of the year.
The Note 4 camera is simply superb. It takes the stellar Galaxy S5 camera sensor and adds in the final piece of the puzzle, optical image stabilization, allowing it to deliver fantastic photos in nearly all conditions. Paired with a top-notch HDR mode, an improved selfie camera, and Ultra HD video recording, and you’re left with one of the best – if not the best – smartphone cameras available.
Samsung hasn’t held back when it comes to packing in the latest technology. Both models come with brand new SoCs, and each are exciting in their own right. The Exynos variant is one of the only SoCs on the market with ARM’s 64-bit CPU cores inside, while the Snapdragon 805 is Qualcomm’s beastly chip designed for Quad HD devices. Alongside up to Cat. 6 LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.1, this a potent hardware combination.
It’s also great to see the Note 4’s Exynos model holding its own against the Snapdragon model for the first time in generations. Benchmarks reveal the Exynos model has a 7% faster CPU, and most importantly a GPU that’s just marginally slower, which is a significant step forward for Samsung’s silicon division. No matter which variant you opt for, you’ll be blessed with top of the table performance that’ll satisfy you throughout a standard two-year contract.
The jury’s still out on whether upgrading to 2560 x 1440 displays is really necessary, though there’s no doubting the Note 4 packs an excellent Quad HD Super AMOLED. Brightness is the only real concern with this display, as it excels in viewing angles, sharpness, contrast and color quality (after a bit of tweaking). The size is also great for media consumption and note taking, so long as you can handle it.
Samsung’s software offering is as refined as it’s ever been. The S Pen is very responsive and provides some genuinely useful features throughout the operating system. S Note and S Health are great first-party apps, even if the new sensors for the latter are gimmicky, while other features like multi-window are much improved.
Despite all the strong points of the Note 4’s software, Samsung hasn’t been able to fully eradicate some of the clunkiness. Although improved, the settings screen is still long and somewhat hard to navigate, with options left, right and center. Some parts of TouchWiz don’t meld well with the stock Android experience either, giving the handset a disjointed feel from time to time.
As for battery, at this stage I’ve only been able to benchmark the Exynos variant, though it performs quite well. In most of our tests it produced better battery life than the Snapdragon variant of the Note 3, which is a big achievement for Samsung's SoC division and a great result for anyone looking to pick up the Note 4.
All things considered the Galaxy Note 4 is a terrific device, by far the best Samsung smartphone I’ve ever used, and a contender for the best large-screened handset you can buy.
Pros: Greatly refined design that finally adds in some metal. Optically stabilized camera takes awesome photos across the board. Superb Quad HD Super AMOLED powered by one of two immensely powerful SoCs. The S Pen is back and better than ever. Decent battery life.
Cons: Some aspects of TouchWiz are still clunky and need work.