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Samsung Galaxy Note 4
|Editor's rating (1-5):
Carrier: all major carriers
What's Hot: Fantastic QHD Super AMOLED display, S Pen useful and precise as ever, loads of features, fast CPU, removable battery and microSD card slot.
What's Not: Too big for some folks, TouchWiz still busier than it should be. Expensive.
Reviewed October 24, 2014 by Lisa Gade, Editor
in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)
The fourth time around, the Samsung Galaxy Note hardly needs an introduction. It's that fabulous phablet that started the big screen smartphone craze, and as you'd expect, it's better than ever. Happily it's not significantly larger than the Galaxy Note 3, and in fact the screen size stays the same, but the resolution goes up to an impressive 2560 x 1440 (that's 515 PPI). Unless you have microscopes for eyes, you're not going to perceive individual pixels, though admittedly the same was true of the Note 3's full HD display. The Note 4's 5.7" Super AMOLED display is the most accurate Samsung phone in terms of colors, and while it's hyper-vivid, colors look a bit more balanced. If you love Super AMOLED's super-saturated colors, rich blacks and near infinite contrast, you'll love the Note 4. Even text looks good here with sharp edges, no haloing and reasonably white whites. The display is a winner.
The Galaxy Note 4 is available on all major US carriers and it has 4G LTE, the new Snapdragon 805 quad core CPU with Adreno 420 graphics, 32 gigs of internal storage, a microSD card slot, a fingerprint scanner, front 3.7MP camera and a 16MP rear camera with optical image stabilization. The Note 4 has dual band WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and a GPS with GLONASS that didn't lock onto as many satellites as our Galaxy S5, but managed to keep a lock when driving. For those who wish to use the phone one handed, Samsung has a software option that will shift and shrink the UI to the lower left or right side of the screen. The 2 year contract price is $299 and full retail ranges from $700 to $826, depending on carrier (monthly payment plans work out to $35 to $41 based on retail price and repayment term duration).
Design: Oh My, Metal
This is the second Samsung Galaxy premium phone to sport aluminum alloy sides (the 4.6" Galaxy Alpha was the first by a few weeks). No, the Note 4 isn't a metal-bodied phone; just the frame that surrounds the sides of the phone is aluminum alloy, though a significant portion of that side frame has a color matching finish (white or black, depending on whether it's the white model or the charcoal black model). The corners have sculpted "bumps" that prevent the phone from slipping out of your hand, and the sides are flat for a good grip. That said, the lovely and shiny chamfered edges might dig into smaller hands (not a problem for my large hands) and the top edge does dig into the ear a bit when in a call. The Note 4 is one of the most attractive Samsung phones to date, with a more refined and unified look: there's no unsightly faux chrome and the top and bottom edges have a curve that make the phone look stylish and modern. Is it a gorgeous phone? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I wouldn't call it gorgeous, but it is a good-looking phone that loses that Samsung cheap plasticky look. Even the side buttons are metal and look and feel better. That said, the back is still a removable piece of wafer thin plastic. We won't complain since the faux leather on the black model is so grippy and pleasing to hold, while the white back just plain old looks nice. And more important, it affords that increasingly rare treat: a removable battery. The microSD card slot (compatible with cards up to 128 gigs) and the micro SIM card slot are under the back cover too. There's no rubber gasket under the back cover as with the Samsung Galaxy S5 because the Note 4 isn't a water resistant phone.
The phone has a fingerprint scanner embedded in the home button and it's more reliable than the Galaxy S5's scanner. It's still a swipe down style scanner rather than the "lay your finger on top" approach that Apple uses. You can now officially swipe sideways with your thumb after you've enrolled a digit the "proper" way (dragging it straight down from the bottom of the display and across the scanner), but I don't imagine most folks will have big enough hands to allow for that maneuver. It's not as reliable as Apple's Touch ID scanner, but the first swipe worked about 85% of the time, and I rarely had to swipe more than twice.
Like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Alpha, the Note 4 has a rear sensor next to the LED flash that acts as a heart rate monitor. It has two new tricks: it can measure your blood oxygen level (with an incorrect reading here and there) and the sun's UV strength if you aim the sensor at the sun. These work with Samsung's S Health app that also includes a pedometer and places where you can track your vitals and diet.
Horsepower and Performance
The Galaxy Note 4 is one of the first Android phones to run on the new 2.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 CPU with Adreno 420 graphics. It provides a modest speed bump from the Snapdragon 801, and our favorite "feature" is actually the lower 4G LTE power consumption of that chipset. Like many Samsung Galaxy products, the Note 4 has 3 gigs of RAM, and it needs that more than other phones because Samsung's TouchWiz UI and applications layered on top of Android do consume memory. The Note 4 has 32 gigs of internal storage and a microSD card slot under the removable back cover.
TouchWiz brings an occasional micro-hiccup here and there, but overall the phone feels fast and responsive. If you're coming from a super-clean and quick late model Nexus, you might not be impressed with the speed of the UI and app launches (it's hard to beat a Nexus), but compared to other heavily skinned Android smartphones, it feels fast. I do notice a speed bump from the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and speed that's comparable to the Samsung Galaxy S5.
||3DMark Ice Storm
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Geekbench 3: 1097/3214
Deals and Shopping:
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Video Review
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Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs. Samsung Galaxy S5 Comparison
Of course it wouldn't be a Galaxy Note if it didn't have an S Pen, a small digital pen with 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity that uses Wacom technology (yes, other Wacom pens still work too). Samsung has added a few more pen features to make navigating the UI easier via mouse mode, and there's a new swipe down gesture to turn compatible apps into floating, resizable windows rather than full screen or split screen-only affairs. You can also use the multitasking launcher (press and hold the back button to show it) to tap on an app to open it in a floating window. If you drag the app onto the main screen it will go into Samsung's older split-window view. Pressing the S Pen's button still brings up a circular menu of things you can do like create an Action Memo (pop-up Post-It note style floating notes that are actionable: i.e. write a phone number and the phone can dial that number) or take a screen shot and write on that screen shot.
The S Pen is much better than a capacitive stylus because it offers palm rejection (your hand won't be mistaken for pen input when resting on the glass) and it has pressure sensitivity for more natural writing and drawing. It's simply a joy to use for art and the phone makes a handy paper note pad replacement. Home improvement types will love using it for quick diagrams and math whizzes can write formulas with text recognition. Of course there are many other uses, limited only by your imagination.
Android and TouchWiz
The Note 4 ships with Android 4.4.4 KitKat, and will eventually get the upgrade to Android Lollipop (the next major OS version due out in November for Nexus devices first). It wouldn't be Samsung if it didn't have TouchWiz, their polarizing set of UI customizations and add-on apps. Samsung has toned down TouchWiz in the past few years, and I think we're all just so used to it that we don't even notice how heavily it skins Android until we switch to a vanilla Android phone like the 2014 Moto X or even HTC's much lighter Sense UI on the One M8. Happy Samsung owners--and there's many millions of them, will likely be just fine with TouchWiz on the Galaxy Note 4, and for those who want their home screens and app drawer a little cleaner looking, there are third party launchers like Nova Launcher and Apex that will do the trick.
Samsung has actually reduced the number of pre-loaded apps, but you'll still get the Galaxy app store where you can download more. We were surprised that Watch On, a must have if you want to use the IR blaster and AV remote control, wasn't pre-installed, but it was just a download away. Useful apps like Kids Mode are available for download, as is Hancom Office (a more mobilized version compared to that on the Galaxy Note and Tab Pro tablets). S Pen, S Health and S Voice are pre-loaded (thankfully since the first two make use of core features: pen and health sensors). Samsung's Buddy Share apps are MIA (did anyone use those), but handy features like Smart Stay (keeps the phone's display on when you're looking at it) and the ever-improving Multi-Window are here. Multi-Window now supports floating resizable app windows in addition to split screen multi-tasking, making the phablet work more like a PC-- nice. As ever, you can press and hold the back button to bring up the launcher strip of supported multi-tasking apps, or you can now swipe in from the right (the annoying on-screen pull tab is gone).
Calling and Data
The Note 4 is a good voice phone, though it didn't sound quite as clear and full as the excellent Samsung Galaxy S5. Incoming voice is clear and full with good volume, but our call recipients said we sounded a bit digitized. They could easily understand what we were saying, just not with the same clarity as top voice phones like the GS5. Of course with a phone this large, many will likely use a Bluetooth headset, and the Galaxy Note 4 sounded as good as the GS5 with a wireless and wired headset. * Note: we tested the AT&T and T-Mobile versions of the Note 4 in our calling and data tests.
All US variants have 4G LTE with fallback to 3G. Data speeds are always excellent on Samsung phones, and the Note 4 has Cat. 4 LTE for up to 150 Mbps download speeds. On AT&T's network we saw download speeds as high as 55 Mbps, which beats most home internet service speeds. On T-Mobile in the same Dallas area, we got 28 Mbps for our top download speed according to the Speedtest.net app, and those numbers are as good as it gets on these carriers in our area. The phone supports Mobile Hotspot so you can use your phone as a high speed modem for a laptop or tablet, and the T-Mobile version does WiFi calling. Simultaneous voice and 4G LTE data use will come for the Verizon version in an update later.
Manufacturers think that selfies, or candid shots taken with the front camera, are all the rage. We've seen selfie-centric features added to front cameras like the upcoming HTC Desire Eye, and now Samsung's on board with a higher resolution 3.7MP camera with added selfie features including a panorama mode so you can take in more of your background as you flaunt yourself.
The rear 16 megapixel camera is very similar to the also 16MP Samsung Galaxy S5 camera. Both take captivating photos in good light and sharp 1080p video. Both can shoot sharp 4K video, though we question whether that's worth the space it takes up since so few folks own 4K monitors and TVs. The Note 4, like the iPhone 6 Plus, adds OIS (optical image stabilization) for the big phone in its premium lineup. That not only reduces blur and jitter if your hands are shaky; it allows for higher ISOs and lower shutter speeds--potentially letting in more light for a sharper shot. It should help with low light photography and video too, but like the Galaxy S5, the Note 4 isn't a great low light camera. You no longer have to hold still while it processes dim shots (you do have to hold still for the background de-focus feature though). However, low light shots taken in a living room at night with a few lamps turned on are noisy and muddy.
Though Samsung is sometimes prone to excess in software, I still love their camera app: a few oft-used icons line the left side (you can customize these), and there's a simple shutter button, video button and mode button on the right. If you do wish to delve into settings, you'll find a good deal of manual settings including resolution, ISO, HDR, metering mode and shutter sound. You can assign the volume key to handle zoom or to act as the shutter button. I recommend the later because tapping the screen to take a photo can induce shake. Modes include panorama, rear camera selfie (in case 3.7Mp isn't enough of beautiful you), selective focus (background blur that imitates bokeh on a fast-lens SLR) and simultaneous front-rear camera shots.
The Galaxy Note 4 has an ever so slightly higher capacity than the Note 3: 3220 mAh. Given the significantly higher resolution display and somewhat faster CPU, we'd expected even more. The Note 4's tall, narrow battery is removable and it supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 that promises up to 50% charge gained in 30 minutes. Qualcomm based that claim on more common lower capacity batteries, but we've still seen 40% charge increase in 30 minutes. Even better, Samsung includes a 2.0 charger in the box It looks like previous Samsung phone chargers but is a little taller and says "Quick Charge" on the side in small letters. That charger is intelligent and can charge non-Quick Charge 2.0 devices as well. We're glad the new charger is included since HTC and Motorola are selling them as optional accessories.
Previous generation Note phones had superb battery life, in part due to the relatively huge batteries inside. Now other slightly smaller phablets like the LG G3 and iPhone 6 Plus are coming close in battery capacity, making the Note stand out a bit less. My Note 3 typically lasted 1.5 to 2 days with moderate to light use. The Note 4 has so far lasted a full day on a charge (7am to 10pm). Screen on time correlates to battery life: if you have the display turned on quite a bit of the time, battery life noticeably diminishes. It handles infamously battery-draining 3D games like Asphalt 8 well though (better than the LG G3) and screen off times are excellent. Samsung has released an update for some overseas Note 4 models that's supposed to improve battery life, but out AT&T and T-Mobile units haven't gotten that update. Hopefully once it makes its way around the world to the various carrier models, we'll see noticeable improvements.
If you love big phones and Android, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is one of our top picks. Though the software can be a bit overwhelming, some of it is unique and downright useful: pen and drawing support with S Note, Samsung's ever-refined multi-tasking, the fitness features and AV remote control. If you're interested in the pen, this is the only smartphone on the market (along with older generation Note phones) that offers the excellent Wacom-based pen with pressure sensitivity and palm rejection. The removable battery, decent battery life, a striking and very high resolution Super AMOLED display seal the deal. If you abhor TouchWiz and heavy software customization and don't care about the pen, the 6" Google Nexus 6 is worth a look. And for those who don't mind lots of software customization and don't care about the pen, the 5.5" LG G3 is a somewhat easier to hold big screen alternative.
Price: $299 with 2 year contract, $700 to $826 full retail, depending on carrier
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Above: the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4.
Below: the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4.
Above: the Note 4 and Google Nexus 6.
Display: 5.7" Super AMOLED display. Resolution:
QHD, 2560 x 1440. Has ambient light sensor, accelerometer and proximity sensor.
Battery: 3200 mAh Lithium
Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Performance: 2.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 quad core CPU with Adreno 420 graphics. 3 gigs RAM, 32 gigs internal storage.
x 3.09 x 0.33 inches. Weight: 6.21 ounces.
Phone: GSM quad band world phone with EDGE 2G. 3G and 4G LTE. Verizon and Sprint: CDMA dual band with 3G EV-DO rev. A and LTE 4G.
Camera: 3.7MP front camera and rear 16MP camera with LED flash and up to 4K video recording.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
Networking: Integrated dual band
WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0.
Software: Android OS 4.4 KitKat with Samsung TouchWiz software and UI customizations. Samsung apps include S Note, S Voice, Multi Window (multitasking), Kids Mode and Watch On for AV home theatre gear control (you may have to download some of these using Galaxy Apps).
microSD card slot.