The Galaxy Note series might need no introduction at all, for all the fame it already has got in the phablet market. Samsung started this awesome series with the Galaxy Note in 2011, and since then, this has been one of the reasons of success for Samsung in the Android smartphone market. Loads of improvements, addition of new features and what not. Though the Galaxy Note was large in the hand, it had no reason not to be sold well in the market. It did, and thus sparked off the phablet craze (yes, a lot of credit to the Galaxy Note series for the phablet craze). The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 faces some stiff competition, especially from Google’s own house – the Nexus 6, but the device is powerful enough to be regarded as one of the best Android devices for the year 2014. Here’s why!
Check the video review if you want to skip the text.
Design, Form Factor
In the Galaxy Note 4 hands-on, we had mentioned how Samsung has always been successful with the Note series, since the introduction of Galaxy Note in 2011. Does the Note 4 continue the trend? or this time, has Apple hit the bulls eye with the iPhone 6 Plus? The latter is the only perfect non-Android device that competes the Note 4. With regards to the design, both Apple and Samsung have brought in some big noticeable changes, and the major emphasis is on the side frame. While Apple has made it curvy, Samsung has chosen to move over the polycarbonate and use some metal banding on the side to give it a premium look, and keep the device rigid.
The Galaxy Note 4 has got a very similar design, shape, button and camera placement to that of the Galaxy Note 3, but the change in the material has done some magic, and thus the device looks quite premium now. The first time Samsung used the metal frame on the sides, was in the Galaxy Alpha and that was indeed praised as one of the best looking Samsung smartphones. The Galaxy Note 4 doesn’t make itself the best in looks, and that is because of the huge size. There is no much difference in the size of Note 3 and Note 4, and the addition of metal hasn’t added too much to the weight.
The chamfered edges add to the esthetics, and that cutting edge is what glitters to reflect the light around. In the previous devices, the buttons were not hard to press, and thus did confuse us many a times whether we were actually able to press the button or not, but in the Note 4, there is a satisfactory feel with the press because the metallic buttons are made harder.
The home button on the front is made a little bigger, and it has the same fingerprint scanner for security. There are certain improvements, and this seemed more accurate than that in the Galaxy S5 for me, but still isn’t really comparable to the Touch ID on the iPhone.
Samsung has upgraded the camera, to a 16-megapixel lens on the rear side, and a 3.7-megapixel selfie camera on the front. A heart rate monitor is added beside the flash, just like it was in the Galaxy S5. There are two microphones in the bottom, and a third one on the top. There is a IR blaster as well, if a need arises to use the Note 4 as a remote. In the bottom, Samsung has removed the USB 3.0 port, and replaced with the standard USB 2.0, and that change was done by the company after the user feedback.
The back cover is removable, with the battery, slots for SIM and MicroSD card under it. The stitch on the faux leather back is removed, and the back cover curves down on the sides. The absence of IP certification for water and dust resistance could well be a let down for those who liked it in the S5 and have always been appreciating Sony for those waterproof smartphones.
There’s a white variant as well, but the black looks more premium with no unnecessary shine except for that on the chamfered edges, which makes it look better. With regards to the comfort, this indeed is large and not easy to hold, but there are some software inclusions to make it easy to use the phone with one hand.
Samsung has excelled with the displays, and the Super AMOLED type displays have been very vibrant, bright and have good viewing angles. Samsung has maintained that, and has included the same display, but with a better resolution – the 2K resolution with 2560×1440 pixels. LG G3 has the same resolution but with a slightly smaller screen, the pixel density is higher in the latter.
Talking sense, the 2K resolution is good only with the numbers, as you notice some difference only when the Note 3 and Note 4 are kept aside. Or else, it is almost the same at looks because the human eye cannot see the pixels apart, even on the 1080p resolution of Note 3. It was deemed useless in the LG G3, so how can it be something for the advantage of the users in the Note 4?
The brightness of the Note 4 display is better than what we have seen on the Note 3, but still this isn’t the brightest of all. But at the same time, we learned that using Auto brightness setting under bright sunlight forces the device to take the brightness to about 750 nits, more than normal. The contrast that is as always great in normal conditions, isn’t that good and the saturation gets lesser under sunlight when the screen primarily tries to just enhance the brightness.
The touch response is great, as it has always been with the Note series. The S Pen with the magnetic induction field works great. Overall, Samsung as always has done a great job with the display, and although we aren’t excited about the QHD display, the overall quality of content output on the 5.7-inch display is brilliant.
Operating System, UI and Apps
TouchWiz has been changing recently, and Samsung has included the fresh look TouchWiz UI over Android 4.4.4 KitKat in the Galaxy Note 4, and if you have used the Galaxy S5 and Alpha recently, you are seeing nothing new except for the tweaks Samsung does for the Note series, adding functionality for the S Pen advantage.
Unlike earlier when Samsung used to pack in a lot of useless options, there are collapsible categories in the settings and you can easily find the option you are looking for. The multiple home screens, app drawer and the notification panel with quick settings bar still look the same and is easy to use.
Apart from the list of Google apps, there are a few Samsung apps such as S Planner, S Note, Scrapbook, S Health, S Voice, Smart Remote and PEN.UP. What is very important to note here, is the way Samsung has organized and given some very useful settings for the Note 4 users.
- Multi window: For the apps that support multi window, this feature opens content in multi window view automatically. There is a shortcut to change the pop-up view, by swiping down diagonally from the top corner of the screen.
- Lock screen: The user can choose to show information of time, date and other info from the apps. There are options to have shortcuts to camera and action memo from the lock screen.
- Motion Gestures: A feature called direct call helps calling the contact by lifting the phone and bringing the device close to ear. Smart Alert is a motion feature where the device will vibrate when you pick it up to notify about missed calls and messages. Mute/Pause is possible by either placing palm on screen or turning device over. There is another “Palm swipe to capture” gesture feature to capture screenshot, which is not really useful.
- Easy Mode: Presents the users with a very simple and easy to use interface for those who wanted larger fonts and even lesser options.
Multi Window is indeed a very good feature, because the experience now gets better and you can even use the camera app with all functionality alongside the other apps in the same screen. Heavy pixels, large screen and a powerful core lets you does a lot more than you would expect to do from a standard smartphone.
The other settings include Private Mode, Blocking Mode, Finger Scanner settings, Power Saving (explained below), Security settings and a few under app manager.
Experience using the Note 4 with One hand
When using a phablet or a smartphone with large screen, it is not easy to hold it and reach all the corners of the screen with one hand. But you don’t always like using both your hands. Similar is the case with the Galaxy Note 4, and you always wonder whether there are things you can do to tweak the interface and make it easier to use with a single hand.
Samsung has done an excellent job to not let users feel frustrated when using the device in one hand, and the Galaxy Note 4 has more user-friendly options than the earlier Note devices. A few one-handed operation possibilities with Note 4 include –
- Reduce screen size: Adjust the screen size and layout for easy controlling with one hand. You just need to swipe from one side to middle and back to the same side to shrink the entire content and bring it to the side you swiped.
- One-handed input: Adjusting the size and position of keypad, call buttons, keyboard, calculator and unlock pattern.
- Side key panel: Use the evice with one hand by having hardkeys and other functions as buttons on one side of the screen. You can choose to even quickly minimize the options, and manage transparency.
These are all motion gestures and you see the phone responding to the gestures and actually helping in the one-handed operation with no problems at all. The “Reduce screen size” option becomes very handy at times.
The other good thing about the one-handed operation function is that it works with most of the native apps, and extends the support to third party apps as well.
The S Pen Experience
S Pen has been one of the USPs for the Galaxy Note series, although I personally haven’t seen it as something really useful. There are several changes seen in the S Pen Air Command, and the list of options you get to see this time include Action Memo, Smart Select, Image Clip and Screen Write.
There’s a lot you can actually do with the S Pen, if you like to have a stylus in hand rather than directly trying to work with the finger touch. Selecting multiple pictures in gallery, scrolling up and down the web pages without even touching the screen, and such. The video below would better explain about the S Pen in the Galaxy Note 4.
Taking the S Pen out of the pocket is easier now, with a good gap provided on the back of the Note 4 where you could place your fingernail and pull the S Pen out. The sensitivity is increased as well, and although Samsung has included the calligraphy pen for the users to help users draw some fashioned text and such, it isn’t practically good at use.
Samsung has finally opted for the Optical Image Stabilization, and thus the Note 4 with the 16-megapixel camera has OIS for more stable pictures. I’ve always been a fan of Samsung Galaxy Note series cameras, although the numbers do match the ones on the S series device of that year. This is no exception with the camera on Note 4 proving to be better than the one on Galaxy S5.
There are changes not just to the back camera but also with the front facing shooter, where Samsung has placed a 3.7-megapixel camera with f/1.9 aperture which is said to assist in low light conditions, for better selfies. To be frank, the selfies on the Note 4 are brighter but not really sharp, and it is the other way around in the iPhone 6 Plus, which tends to have sharper pictures with the front facing camera but these are not that bright.
Selfie Panorama – this is something new from Samsung, where you have to hold the device in portrait mode and take a selfie in 120-degree wide angle. That is quite interesting but the problem is that you easily would notice the stitches between the frames.
Rear camera selfie – only if you are still not happy with your front-camera selfie, you can change the mode to rear selfie. As you cannot check the screen while taking the selfie, the heart rate sensor acts as a shutter key, with the device vibrating when your face is detected and it then takes the picture triggered by a self timer.
The rear camera comes with f/2.2 aperture and it is the same you see on the Galaxy S5, but addition of OIS is indeed going to help here. There are a few modes included in the camera app, such as HDR, Selective Focus, Dual Camera, Shot & more and there is a way to add more modes to the list.
Sample captures in bright and low light:
The detailing on the photos captured in bright light is great, not just good. Color reproduction is good as well, and the speed of focusing and capturing is better than what it was on the Note 3. What we got very impressed with, is with the zooming (digital) where the details are not totally gone and the pictures still held most of the details even when exceeding 3x zoom.
The captures in low light conditions are not bad as well, because the device tries to brighten the picture as a whole. There are some grains, but that is not disappointing. The optical image stabilization helps in keeping the pictures non-shaky.
The flash is too bright, sometimes very unnatural and there is no special flash feature such as “continuous on” or such, thus it once lights up to focus and then light up once again to capture, thus the light thrown is too bright to make the capture look unnatural.
Sample captures using flash:
Before proceeding with the views, here’s what powers the Galaxy Note 4 according to the spec sheet:
- Snapdragon 805 processor: Four 2.7GHz Krait 450 cores
- 3GB RAM
- Adreno 420 GPU, 600 MHz
The Note 4 is also available in another variant, powered by Exynos 5433 chipset (Octa-core with four 1.9GHz Cortex-A57 cores and four 1.3GHz Cortex-A53 cores) and these variants depend on the market. U.S., U.K. and India are the major markets where Snapdragon 805-powered Note 4 is available.
The benchmark scores we show are from the test we do, thus AnTuTu score is just below 46000, though what AnTuTu have in records is above 48000. The browser benchmark of Samsung’s default browser in Vellamo app gave a score of almost double the score in Galaxy Note 3.
From the performance front, there is no place in the interface where we felt the device to show any lags or freezes. It was all swift, and that is actually a surprise for TouchWiz users, as how much ever powerful the device usually is, TouchWiz tends to kill it at least a little.
Gaming experience, you’ll love the Note 4 for this. Awesome in gaming, and for the few hours I played different games, there was never a point where I felt the device is losing the speed. It was swift, full of speed and the device did heat up to a very small extent after around an hour of gaming – while playing Asphalt 8 and FIFA 15 to be precise.
The default browser of Samsung is great in response, and it could handle loading several tabs with graphic filled websites, and shifting between those tabs never made the Note 4 break a sweat. The performance for sure gets the top points among all the parameters we checked in this device.
Battery Life, Power Saving
Another case where Samsung has majorly failed with the smartphone flagship series but excelled in the Note phablet series – Galaxy S5 had a battery life that was not above average, and the competition made it look even worse. But the Galaxy Note 4 comes with a 3220 mAh battery, with the help by some tweaks to help the device stay longer on single charge, and the power saving options to help you get through a few hours when there is little battery juice left.
The capacity is not much changed, as the Note 3 already had a 3200 mAh battery with a good performance. But, with the faster and newer chipset and the QHD display, the battery in the Note 4 is expected not to last for more than a day’s usage. It actually exceeded the expectations with a brilliant battery power, lasting for over a day and a half, when we never gave much emphasis on saving the power and used the device as a normal user would do. This wasn’t heavy usage though, as we played a few games and browsed the web on 3G while traveling for about an hour and made a few occasional calls. In that case, a heavy usage can still give the usage for an entire day with a little juice left.
Samsung has provided the “Fast Charging” technology where they claimed that the Note 4 would get charged from zero to 50% in 30 minutes. Not quite the same results we got, but not at all disappointing.
There are two power saver modes in the Note 4 for those whose devices are running on low battery, and they wanted to keep the phone running with some compromises to the performance.
Power saving mode: The power saving mode has options to restrict background data, restrict performance and turn greyscale mode on/off.
Ultra power saving mode: This gives a completely different greyscale theme to the home screen, and it gives a limited number of usable apps. There is a compromise with almost everything, but the phone stays ON and allows calling and usage of a few apps.
Other points worth mentioning
- The speakers are pushed to the back of the phone, from the bottom that you might have seen on the Note 3, and this is a little disappointing, because there is a compromise in the sound output. And for the actual sound quality, it isn’t the best of all the devices out there. The HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z3 had better quality and sound output level.
- The gap (for the famous Gapgate) on the front, between the screen and the edges on the side, is not really that wide and disturbing, at least for me. But what is worth mentioning and what I really miss in the Note 4 is the water resistance, while some of the major competitors have got at least splash-proofing.
- The S Health app doesn’t show any major changes from the one in Note 3, and while testing the Heart Rate sensor on the Note 4 with the Galaxy S5 on the other hand, both gave different results (78,65 bpm on two tests on Note 4 and 74,87 bpm on two tests at exactly the same time on the S5). With this being an improved device, we expect the Note 4 to show more accurate results, but cannot vouch for the same.
- With the flagships, Samsung has never disappointed with the storage options. Pop out the back cover and you will find the MicroSD card slot which would allow you to use a 64GB extra storage to the 32GB internal that comes already inside the device (about 24GB of which is user-available).
You cannot forget that you have to cash out over $700 to get this piece of beauty. But at the same time, the only devices that can do something to compete with the Note 4, aren’t easy on the pocket. The iPhone 6 Plus from Apple costs you $750 off-contract and the only choice in Android arena that can well compete is the Nexus 6, which again doesn’t cost any less.
But, is the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 as a phablet really worth the price and worth an upgrade? I’d first ignore the QHD display, which isn’t really a USP for the device. What makes the Galaxy Note 4 all worth it, is the excellent performance, the great battery life and the tweaked UI with a lot specially for the Note users. That experience and feel of having a Samsung product yet not everything similar to the other Samsung products is written all over it.
The Galaxy Note 4 from Samsung is one of the best Android devices of this year, and there is not just a couple reasons for us to say that. The little issue we had with the speakers don’t really count as a deal breaker. You can travel around with the device for the entire day without the need to run for a charger, and for a smartphone having such processors and battery-draining display, this is all really good.
Samsung had also launched the Galaxy Note Edge alongside the Note 4, and we did test both of them for a considerable amount of time, and the conclusion is no different from what we say here – the Note 4 is a better choice than the Note Edge.