Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Smartphone Review

Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 does so much you almost forget it's a phone

by Greg Hook
SRP: £629.00

What is the Samsung Galaxy Note 4?

It wasn't that long ago when Samsung's range of 5"+ phones looked comically large against the competition. Apple for years had rigidly stuck to what now seems a small 4" screen size and back in 2011, when Samsung first introduced their 5.3" Smartphone (or phablet if you will), it was met with a lot of derision from some camps as to how viable such a large phone would be. Fast forward to now and following Apple's release of their huge iPhone 6 Plus with the 5.5" screen size, the laughter from certain camps has mysteriously disappeared. But unfortunately for Samsung the Galaxy S5 was just not selling due to consumers waiting for the new iPhones back in September.

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?

The 5.7" Galaxy Note 4 keeps very much to the design of previous Note versions and for fans of Samsung smartphones it will be very familiar. We feel it has the edge on the Galaxy S5 which reminds us slightly of the old Apple iPhone3 (sorry), with the Note 4 having less rounded corners than the S5. The usual Samsung design features are present such as the faux leather effect rear panel and a detachable rear panel at that; one that allows easy access to the battery should you ever need to replace it, hear that Apple? Available in White, Black and a rather tasty looking Gold, Samsung have covered the bases here.

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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4


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?

Being a latest release Samsung device we expected a pretty tasty specification and we were not disappointed. The Note 4 is lucky enough to be one of the first to feature the new Snapdragon 805 processor by Qualcomm. This has been designed with 4K Ultra HD in mind, allowing devices to capture and playback 4K Ultra HD video. The CPU is a quad core design running at up to 2.7Ghz and we have 3GB RAM. Internal storage is 32GB, a size no longer offered by Apple for some reason. Plus being an Android device via the microSD card slot we can expand this by another 128GB. The very latest dual band WiFi in the shape of 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac is present along with Bluetooth 4.1, an IR blaster and NFC. On the phone side of things we have 2.5G, 3G and 4G coverage, with the latter giving up to 50Mbps if you are lucky enough to live in the right area.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4


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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

What features does it have?

At time of writing the Note 4 hasn't yet received the OTA update for Android Lollipop 5.0, instead we have KitKat 4.4.4 with Samsung's TouchWiz UI. For fans of Samsung phones the TouchWiz UI is very simple, easy to use and high configurable. The main home screen can be configured with various widgets such as the latest weather or news along with app icons for your most used apps for example. Other pages can be configured for apps or widgets, such as email for example. So you could swipe left from the home screen to see your emails without having to open the app and this follows for all kinds of widgets, including YouTube which in widget form shows a tiled view of the latest videos from your subscribed channels. The possibilities whilst we can't use the word endless, are numerous and if you like a phone to look and work just how you like it, then compared to Apple's iPhone the Samsung is in a different league.

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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4


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?

The cameras on our tablet reviews don't normally warrant a section on their own as on the whole they are disappointing and often very poor quality in low light conditions, but here the Note 4's offerings most certainly do. The 16MP autofocus rear camera features Smart OIS, which stands for optical image stabilisation including software image stabilisation. Along with that the rear camera can record stunning (depending on what you are shooting of course) 4K video at 30FPS and 1080P video at 60FPS, plus slow motion 120FPS video at 720P. Even the front camera which normally is pretty basic, here it's 3.7MP with a f/1.9 aperture and capable of recording 1440P videos and wide-angle images.

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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

What about the Super AMOLED display?

The Note 4 has a 5.7" Quad HD 2560 x 1440 resolution Super AMOLED adaptive display. It seems to be covered with Gorilla Glass 3, although that hasn't been confirmed and seems to be a tightly held secret. Offering a stunning 515PPI (pixels per inch) which is far higher than the 1920 x 1080 resolution with 401PPI of the new iPhone 6 Plus for example. At time of writing only a few other devices such as LG's G3 (538PPI), Motorola's Droid Turbo (565PPI) and Samsung's own S5 LTE-A with a whopping 577PPI can beat the Note 4 although the S5 LTE-A appears to be only available in Korea right now. These all have the same 2560 x 1440 resolution, but being a slightly smaller display, 5.1" in the case of the S5 equates to a higher PPI.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4


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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Is the audio any good?

Unlike with some tablets where you may occasionally wish to watch a video or listen to music without headphones and some of the better tablets do make a stab at decent audio, here with the Note 4 headphones are very much a necessity. The single loudspeaker to the rear of the device is only really of any use for quick listening, anything more and it's pretty painful. The volume does go far higher than you actually need, but at these levels the quality diminishes significantly. We can't be too harsh on the audio here, not having high quality speakers on a Smartphone isn't the end of the world.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

How good is the battery life?

The Note 4's battery is a Li-ion 3,220mAh with battery life claims from Samsung of up to 14 hours for video playback and 12 hours for internet use. The SnapDragon 805 processor by Qualcomm uses their new Quick Charge 2.0 technology with claims that the battery can go from 0% to 50% in just 30 minutes. In our tests this just about rang true and it did charge very fast compared to other devices we have used. For example from 0 to 25% it took just 17 minutes, 0 to 50% in 35 minutes, 0 to 75% took 57 minutes and from 0 to a full 100% charge took just 90 minutes.

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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Is the media integration any good?

The integrated IR blaster, a feature we are pleased to see included here, turns the Note 4 into a fully functioning remote control and media device. Via the Samsung Smart Remote app (made by Peel) you can configure your TV, Set top box, Blu-ray player, Amplifier and even an Apple TV or Roku Box. Using the integrated guide, select a program and the relevant devices will turn on or off where necessary and it will select the correct channel too. It has much more functionality compared to Samsung's WatchON app (which is being discontinued in Dec 2014 anyway) that we found pre-loaded on previous Samsung device's which was pretty basic, although the Smart Remote app still needs some work as it would not load the correct channel list and instead would only show a few Irish channels such as RTE.

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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Verdict

Pros

  • Gorgeous Super AMOLED display
  • Excellent S Pen
  • Great specification
  • Good battery life
  • Super camera

Cons

  • Not quite 'Apple' build quality

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Smartphone Review

Our first Smartphone review has certainly started with a very fine product indeed. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 offers a simply stunning 5.7" Super AMOLED display, excellent specification including the new Snapdragon 805 processor, 3GB RAM and the superb 16MP rear camera. It's packed full of features such as fast charging, IR blaster, Heart rate monitor and many more even including a UV sensor. We also get the Advanced S-Pen, a superb feature that this reviewer believes people still don't 'get', perhaps it appears backward to have reverted to using a stylus but it is so brilliantly implemented, once you start using it you won't ever put it down. Fans of Samsung devices will not be disappointed here with the usual nice touches present such as several hundred pounds worth of free apps via Galaxy Gifts. It can also be used to make phone calls!

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.
Highly Recommended

Scores

Design

10

Usability

.
.
.
.
.
5

Operating System

.
9

Display

.
.
.
7

Email, Browsing, Calendar, Contacts

.
9

Media Support

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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