What is the Samsung Galaxy Note 4?
Hoping to get back on track Samsung have released several new phones recently, such as the Samsung Galaxy A5 and A3 which look to be competitors to the iPhone but at a much reduced cost. Whilst at the top end we have the soon to be released Galaxy Note Edge with its curved edge screen and our review item here, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. With a huge 5.7" display the Note 4 is most definitely a 'phablet'. With impressive specifications such as a 2560 x 1440 Quad HD Super AMOLED display, 2.7Ghz Quad Core Processor, 32GB storage, 16MP rear camera and Enhanced S-Pen, it certainly packs a lot in. With the Apple iPhone 6 Plus looking to be fairly inferior in specification terms there's a lot of anticipation for this smartphone, so let's see how it performs.
Note: This review sample was a SIM free version and has been reviewed as a tablet device only.
What about the design and connectivity?
It does feel very comfortable to hold, despite the large size with the gently sloping edges of the rear panel allowing it to sit well in your hand. The build quality seems very good with no flexing or poorly fitted areas and the back panel fits very securely in place. Our white Note 4 did arrive with a few marks and scratches to the metal edging despite this just being a review sample and not having a lot of use, so this could perhaps be a weak area if you are one that likes to keep your phones in perfect condition. Whilst the colour coded bezel is also a nice touch. It doesn't quite have the solid feel of our iPhone 5 in part due to a more plasticky feel to the Note 4, but comparing current mobile operator deals to the latest iPhone 6 Plus, the Note 4 is a fair bit cheaper.
To the front we find the oval shaped home button (also a finger print sensor) with touch controls for recent apps and back function either side. The S Pen slot is to the bottom, alongside the microphone and multipurpose jack. To the left we have the volume keys and on the right side is the power button. We have a 3.7MP camera to the front and a whopping 16MP camera to the rear with auto focus and flash (alongside the heart rate sensor). Video recording capabilities are UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) resolution @ 30FPS. The sim card and MicroSD card (up to 128GB) slots are found behind the rear panel.
This isn't a small device as you can probably guess by the large 5.7" screen size but even so it doesn't feel over the top. Measuring 153.5mm x 78.6mm and just 8.5mm thick and a weight of just 174g it's on par with the iPhone 6 Plus although that does win in the thickness stakes being just 7.1mm thick. You have to be careful about putting it in your back pocket of course as the well reported bending issues with the iPhone 6 Plus are testament to, but it will fit comfortably in front pockets and doesn't feel like you're carrying a large brick due to the lightweight feel.
Is the specification any good?
As we have seen with our tablet reviews there are several apps now available on Android to benchmark the systems performance and see how it compares with the competition. Firstly with Passmark's Performance Test Mobile we have an average System score of 5782. This is a similar score to the 5841 seen on Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 10.5 tablet, although being our first Smartphone review we have no other reviews to compare this with. Moving onto 3D Mark and using the Ice Storm Unlimited test we get a whopping 20,484. This comfortably beats any of our previous tablet reviews (excluding the mighty Nvidia Shield Tablet) and is one of the highest scores of an Android Smartphone device currently.
Synthetic benchmark scores have their place but it is real world performance that matters. Here with the games we tested, along with looking stunning on the Super AMOLED display they all installed quickly, loading times were fast and all ran extremely smoothly. Even with the Simpsons Tapped Out, where we haven't yet found an Android device to manage a large town without stuttering, the Note 4 managed this comfortably. Testing with other areas of the Note 4 such as the Multi-Window feature didn't throw up any problems. With YouTube running on half of the screen and web browsing on the other (which was probably too small even at 5.7") the videos played smoothly and scrolling through web pages was quick and responsive. Apps like the Samsung Smart Remote and S-Pen related apps and handwriting recognition all worked as expected. The specification of the Note 4 with the Snapdragon processor really shines through here.
What features does it have?
Other areas of note are Samsung's S Health incorporated with 'Coach by Signa'. This is a fully featured app that makes use of several areas of the phone such as the, UV sensor, heart rate monitor and pedometer. You can set up exercise schedules, record your weight, record your stress levels using the heart rate monitor and check the UV intensity before commencing that sunbathing session along with many other areas such as calorie intake for example. The Coach section after analysing your exercise, food intake, sleep, stress and weight levels will suggest goals to improve areas of your health it thinks are necessary. Compared to the Health app on the iPhone that was introduced with iOS 8, the S Health seems to offer considerably more usability out of the box.
As we saw with our review of Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 10.5, compared to Apple they offer a significant amount of Premium Content for free when you purchase one of their devices. This is no different here with the Note 4. Their 'Galaxy Gifts' includes a wide range of content that would normally cost several hundreds of pounds. Content such as 6 months of unlimited free music worth £60 from Deezer Music, Kick which is an excellent football app, a free book every month for 12 months via Kindle for Samsung, 3 month trial subscription to Audible, 3 months free Guardian subscription and Hancom Office 2014 to name just a few. The offerings aren't quite as vast as available on the Tab S, but still compared to rivals this is a excellent addition.
Touching on another feature of the Note 4, there's also the Advanced S Pen. This has been steadily improved of late and now has a much more pen-like feel to it. The button on the side of the S Pen can be used to quickly bring up several functions such as Action Note, Screen Write, Smart Select and Image Clip, which allows you to write on the screen and save the image, select part of an image to crop and quickly take a note which can be pinned to the home screen for example. The S Note app allows you to take notes in a variety of pen styles and includes handwriting recognition along with a quick method of writing notes on images. The S Pen is a great feature and works with quite a lot of apps now, particularly useful for detailed photo editing.
How good is the camera?
Unfortunately the lack of any 4K playback devices rendered a full test of the 4K video recording moot, but on our 1440P monitor they certainly looked to have a great level of detail. For the still images test the quality was again fantastic, even in very low light the camera captured the image perfectly. It certainly put our old iPhone 5 to shame and compared to the new iPhone 6 with just an 8MP rear camera it is in a different league. The camera performed far above our expectations and is a real highlight of the Note 4.
What about the Super AMOLED display?
It is by far the best display we have seen on any device to date and really does as Samsung claim, 'provide a superior viewing experience and content that is vivid with colour and brightness'. We couldn't put it any better, other than to say everything we tried looked stunning. Web pages are very clear, e-books are easy on the eyes and 1440P images look gorgeous. YouTube unfortunately only offers up to 720P playback at time of review, which looks to be a bug with the latest version although Netflix does look particularly good on the small screen. The maximum brightness level is more than enough for everyday use and the adaptive display offers four options to tweak the image from AMOLED cinema, AMOLED photo, basic and the full adaptive Display mode. In Adaptive Display mode, the display is automatically optimised for colour, saturation and sharpness for several different applications such as web browsing, viewing videos and the camera for example. There does seem to be some debate in that it is claimed the human eye can only see 466 PPI and anything higher is just superfluous but our experience alone with the Note 4 shows it has the finest display we have ever seen.
Is the audio any good?
How good is the battery life?
As with the Samsung Tab S, there's the 'Ultra power saving mode', which when activated changes the colour of the screen to greyscale and access is restricted to only a few apps, such as the internet browser, Google+, Calculator, Clock and S planner and also Bluetooth is turned off. Clearly this mode will extend the battery life significantly and if you need to squeeze out those last few % of battery life if you are expecting a call (if people still call each other these days?) then this mode may be useful, but other than that we can't see it being used.
Using our standard YouTube video test with the screen set to 50% brightness and all the other standard features enabled, we managed to scrape out a reasonable 7 hours 50 minutes. For gaming we managed slightly less at 5 hours 23 minutes. On standby the battery lost 6% in 10 hours.
Is the media integration any good?
There are plenty of alternatives to the pre-loaded Smart Remote, although the free ones seem to be very hit and miss. The most popular one is the Smart IR Remote - AnyMote. This currently costs £4.37 on the Play Store and looks to offer the best functionality for the price. As is the norm these days out of the box connectivity is pretty nonexistent. To connect to a TV or your Home Cinema you will need a MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) cable, these are thankfully available for under £5 from most outlets. Another option is Samsung Link (formerly called AllShare Play) which allows you to access content stored on compatible devices and play on any connected device. During our tests this worked very well, even with our 6 year old Samsung TV photos and videos were played quickly and easily.
- Gorgeous Super AMOLED display
- Excellent S Pen
- Great specification
- Good battery life
- Super camera
- Not quite 'Apple' build quality
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Smartphone Review
Yes, it may be too large for some, although having used it for a while now it doesn't seem that big but, with the recent Apple iPhone 6 Plus release, 'phablets' are no longer a source of derision. Talking of Apple's new phone, the iPhone 6 Plus is probably the Note 4's nearest competitor although when you compare actual specifications and features the Note 4 is miles ahead. Sim Free the 32GB Note 4 is currently around the £600 mark, pricey indeed but compared to the iPhone 6 Plus with just 16GB storage at £619 or the 64GB version at £699 it comes out very favourably. Pay monthly deals also vary with a sample from one supplier showing the Note 4 available for £33 with £129.99 upfront and the iPhone 6 Plus 16GB at £39.50 with £99.99 upfront, both on 24 month contracts.
We can't really find any negatives to say about the Galaxy Note 4. It offers so much functionality, has so many features and performs everything to a very high level. It's without doubt the finest 'phablet' we have ever had in our grubby little hands. Perhaps the build quality is not quite to Apple's level if we were being really picky but then the specification is far ahead of Apple's latest offerings. This device may very well end Apple's dominance in this reviewer's household at least and we have no hesitation in awarding this the AVForums Highly Recommended badge.
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