Design & Build Quality
The build quality of the Note 4 is impeccable. I've been critical of Samsung's plastic fantastic material choices in the past, but the Note 4 strikes the perfect balance between metallic and plastic. The aluminum trim with flared corners we saw introduced on the Galaxy Alpha finds its true home on the Note 4, where it seems less peculiar and more suited to the larger, premium feel of the device as a whole. It's a little taller and thicker than the Galaxy Note 3, and a tiny bit heavier, but not by much.
The Note 4 in our hands has a black metallic trim with beveled silver edges, giving the Note 4 a very sophisticated appearance. The home button is also given a silver lining, as is the camera lens, flash and heart-rate sensor on the back as well as the S Pen. Everything echoes everything else and the effect is impressive.
Even the leatherette plastic battery cover is more subdued and nicely done. While I still don't love it, it's definitely the best faux leather I've seen on a Samsung device so far and it is suitably sticky and feels good enough. The back panel is removable and provides access to the SIM card, microSD slot and removable battery.
The buttons are in their usual places, but the volume rocker takes its design cue from the Alpha. Up top is an IR blaster, pinhole mic and the headphone port, which is enclosed by the metal frame. Power is on the right, volume on the left and the bottom features a pair of mics, a USB 2.0 charging port (no more USB 3.0 here) and the S Pen.
The back looks like the Galaxy S5, with square protruding camera lens, heart rate sensor and LED flash and the speaker grill at the bottom. I guess I can still hope that Samsung will move to a front-mounted speaker at some point in the future.
This is the best display Samsung has put on a device. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's the best display I've ever seen. I'm not always a fan of the heavy saturation in Samsung displays, but the QHD (2,560 x 1,440 pixel) 5.7-inch AMOLED screen is sufficiently perfect to make a convert out of anyone and you can adjust screen settings to your preference as well.
It is incredibly sharp, super bright, has great contrast, rich colors, great viewing angles and a ridiculously impressive pixel density of 515 ppi. Anyone unimpressed by the LG G3's QHD display should take a look at this beauty. This is how displays should look. Our unit had a slight cool tint to whites but, all in all, it's near perfect.
The Galaxy Note 4 is all about the S Pen. The main reason to buy a Note has always been the S Pen and as a multi-tasking business tool, the Note 4 is unsurpassed. When the S Pen is removed from its slot the Air Command window is automatically launched, providing shortcuts to Action Memo, Smart Select, Image Clip and Screen Write. (The Air Command window can also be brought up by pressing the small button on the S Pen when it is close to the screen.)
Action Memo launches a small Post-It notepad which you make notations on. These notations can be linked to actions like the dialer, contacts, email, browser, maps and more. The handwriting recognition is excellent and you can pin your memo to the home screen just like a sticky note. You even get to choose which physical S Pen tip you want out of the included plastic and rubber options in the box.
Smart Select lets you drag a rectangular window around anything on-screen to screen grab the selection which you can then share, save or collect with other grabs (including meta data). Image Clip is a free-form clipping tool which also has options for circular, rectangular and ''magnetic lasso'' selections. If you're a frequent image editor and sharer then you'll love these tools.
Screen Write does what it sounds like: lets you make notes on top of the screen you're currently looking at. It will screenshot the page and then bring up an editing tool bar. You have options for the type of digital pen tip (including calligraphy), thickness and color. The greatly improved S Pen now recognizes speed, pressure and the angle at which the stylus is touching the screen. Writing with the calligraphic tip even gives you variations on the density of the ''ink'' based on pressure and speed.
The S Pen can also be used like a mouse on your PC. If you hover above an on-screen element it will preview it for you (like a mouse-over on your computer) and you can also select sections of text by pressing the button on the stylus to highlight. A small action menu will appear so you can copy the selection, share it, search for it on the web, look up a particular word in the dictionary or find other instances of it on the page. The more you use the S Pen you more you realize how indispensable it is. Once you're used to using the stylus, using your finger again feels painfully clumsy and imprecise.
The Note 4 has other special features beyond the stylus too. The oft maligned heart-rate monitor from the Galaxy S5 makes it's perhaps less-than-triumphant return. It works, but it is still a little slow and inaccurate to be truly useful. The finger scanner embedded in the home button also returns, but it has been improved since the S5 and works more accurately than its slightly embarrassing predecessor.
The Note 4 finger scanner gives you options for security, web sign-in and to verify your Samsung or PayPal accounts. It still doesn't hold a candle to the iPhone Touch ID sensor or the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 scanner though, but it's definitely an improvement on the S5 and is actually a viable option for unlocking your phone without going crazy in the attempt.
The Note 4 has a total of three microphones, which can be used in unison for noise cancellation (like removing background noise during a call) but also for cleaning up audio recordings. Each mic can pick up different sounds so you can isolate and disable the parts you don't want. If you record interviews like we do, this can be a great addition. I'm not sure how useful it will be for everyone else, but it's a nice tool to have and it works reasonably well in practice.
The Galaxy Note 4 features include Samsung's TouchWiz user interface on top of Android 4.4.4. When I saw the new-look TouchWiz on the Galaxy S5, it felt a little rushed and inconsistent. At the time I hoped that Samsung would clean it up for the Note 4 and I haven't been disappointed.
The settings menu has lost the big irregularly colored circles and opts instead for a more subdued list or tabulated view, with a dedicated section up top for Quick Settings being the only hint of the previous interface. Sections are now color-coded consistently, which makes a lot more sense.
The notifications menu is still a little crowded but the super flat circular icons for Quick Settings look good and the teal-and-green color scheme is pleasant enough. Interestingly, Samsung has given the Note 4 a white background in the settings menu (which is not the best choice for an AMOLED display, which benefits from darker colors) but it adds a little freshness to the interface.
The dedicated Flipboard Briefing home screen lives on the far left but it can be easily removed if you're not a fan. It can still be painfully slow to launch at times though. S Health, of course, gets a central position and can be used to track your exercise, heart rate, step count and other health data. It's great if you're into that kind of thing and of course, your Samsung wearables are a great addition to the app.
Samsung has recently made the move to including a recent apps button on the Galaxy range, replacing the previous menu button. The recent apps menu is a scrolling card stack that is very reminiscent of what is to come in Android 5.0 Lollipop. A long press on the recent apps button brings up a home screen management screen for wallpaper changes, widget selection and home screen settings. Double pressing the home button brings up S Voice (which is best disabled immediately) and a long press gets you Google Now.
A long press on the back button brings up a quick access app list for floating mini apps that can be moved or resized for convenience and collapsed to floating bubbles if you need to attend to something else. You can also make full screen apps into mini apps just by swiping diagonally from the corner, but only with supported apps. You can resize the windows, but the proportions are constrained, making this feature a little less useful than it could be.
Multi Window mode lets you stack two small app windows for true multi-tasking. You can now launch Multi Window apps direct from the Recent Apps list. Just look for the Multi Window icon in the top right of the app card. Unfortunately not all apps are supported by Multi Window but your main bases are covered with Google and Samsung apps.
The Note 4 is super fast, but there are still some tell-tale TouchWiz delays to be noted. As always, Flipboard (and before it, My Magazine) can be painfully slow to launch, and some apps take way longer than they should considering the beastly internals of the Note 4 specs. If you can survive a bit of good old Samsung lag, then the Note 4 will not disappoint when it comes to performance in other quarters.
The quad-core Snapdragon 805 clocked at 2.7 GHz with 3 GB of RAM in our version is very fast and powerful, equaling or besting any other phone around right now and posting very impressive benchmarks that blow everything else out of the water. There is also an octa-core Exynos 5 (5433) version of the Note 4, which is even more powerful.
In daily usage, you won't notice the Note 4 slowing down, except on the occasional app launch or return to the home screen, but for resource-hungry tasks, the powerful processor and RAM really deliver. Hi-res games and other tasks that demand a lot from the processor are met with ease, although our Note 4 does have a bit of a tendency to heat up when placed under a lot of stress.
The Note 4 adds optical image stabilization to its super-fast 16 MP Sony IMX240 camera, a feature we've been waiting on for quite some time. The camera is typically brilliant, although it can get slightly noisy at times, a quirk I wouldn't have expected from such a high end device and certainly not from a Samsung. Take a look at the picture gallery to judge the results for yourself.
The camera shoots well in daylight as you would expect and macro shots are great, as is color reproduction. Low light is not perfect, but is still very decent with OIS really adding to the crispness, although image noise still makes itself felt, sometimes even in interior shots taken during the day time. HDR is just as good as we've found in the past, shooting with the flash is perfectly acceptable without washing anything out and skin tones are great on the Note 4.
The Note 4 camera has a very light preset mode selection, consisting of just Auto, Rear-cam Selfie, Selective Focus and Panorama. You can download plenty of other modes from within the camera interface, including favorites like Sports, Sound and Shot and Food Shot for the foodie loving Instagrammers out there. You can also use the volume button to take pictures, shoot video or zoom, if that's your thing, but it doesn't work as a shortcut from a screen-off state.
The Note 4 has HDR mode with real-time preview and 4K video recording. Strangely though, image stabilization is not possible when shooting in 4K or WQHD (only at Full HD or below). To shoot photos at 16 MP resolution, you need to be in an 16:9 aspect ratio. If you want 4:3 photos you'll need to drop the resolution back to 12 MP.
You've also got a timer, a range of real-time filters and other settings including voice control, tap-anywhere-to-shoot, slow motion video (down to 1/8th normal speed) and a few manual controls like exposure settings, white balance, ISO (up to 800) and metering modes. Sadly though, even opening the extended settings in the camera app is a pretty slow process.
The front-facing camera is a respectable 3.7 MP sensor with a maximum aperture of f/1.9, which will give you better low-light selfies than before. The heart-rate sensor can also be used as a camera shutter button when in Selfie Mode. Sometimes it takes a while to recognize your face though, and I even had the camera app freeze while switching between front and back facing cameras. The selfie camera is capable of Full HD video too.
Wide Selfie Mode is basically a selfie panorama and it works fine if selfies of yourself alone are not enough. It's sort of a shame the sensor is so close to the camera lens though, as you tend to smudge the lens by accident when going for the sensor. One last cool feature of the Note 4 camera is that you can drag your finger in from the top corner of the viewfinder to make it a floating mini window.
The Note 4 houses a 3,220 mAh battery that may not sound like much for a device with QHD and a screen this size, but just as LG showed us with the G3, a 2K display doesn't have to mean the battery suffers. Samsung's LucidLogix technology does wonders with the battery and on full display brightness and with no power saving mode enabled, I breezed through nine hours of screen-on time.
The Note 4 also features the Ultra Power Saving Mode we saw introduced on the Galaxy S5, and it is just as impressive. You'll be switched to a simplified grayscale interface with access to limited apps - although you'll still be able to browse the web - and you can still add your favorites like Facebook, WhatsApp and Google+.
You'll lose Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity as well as mobile data when the display is off, but Ultra Power Saving Mode will get you over a week of battery life if you're desperate. It's not the most practical way to extend your phone's battery, but in a pinch it is brilliant and the most useful power saving mode I've seen so far.
Of course, the Note 4 also has a regular power saving mode which limits background data, disables haptic feedback and and limits CPU and display performance. These settings are all optional so you can select only the settings you want or need. The Note 4 also has a quick charge function that will get you 50% battery life in just half an hour using the supplied charger.
Price and Availability
The Galaxy Note 4 price is not its best feature. It is a great phone to be sure, but the price may not feel justified to some users. Those users would most likely be the ones that don't feel the need for the S Pen. If you use it, there is simply no competition, but if you don't use it, then you have some other solid options like the LG G3 or even the OnePlus One in terms of size and specs with a lower price point.
The Note 4 with 32 GB of internal storage is available now and costs 845 USD on Amazon for an unlocked international version, or you can grab one on AT&T for 299 USD on a two-year contract. T-Mobile is also offering the Note 4 outright for 750 USD. In the UK, you can the Galaxy Note 4 with Carphone Warehouse, Amazon and Clove for around 650 GBP but this depends on retailer and carrier. The Galaxy Note 4 release date was October 17th, 2014, alongside the Gear VR headset (a companion accessory exclusively for the Galaxy Note 4), whichsells separatley for 199 USD.
|Samsung Galaxy Note 4 specs|
|System||Android 4.4.4, TouchWiz|
|Display||5.7-inch QHD Super AMOLED (2,560 x 1,440 Pixel), 515 ppi|
|Processor||Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805, 2.7 GHz / Octa-core Exynos 5 5433 (quad 1.9 GHz, quad 1.3 GHz)|
|Internal Memory||32 GB (+ microSD up to 64 GB)|
|Connectivity||LTE, HSPA+, WLAN 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, USB 2.0, MHL 3.0|
|Extras||S Pen, heart rate sensor, finger scanner, IR blaster, barometer, UV sensor|
|Camera||16 MP with Smart OIS (rear), 3.7 MP, f/1.9, 90° wide angle (front-facing)|
|Dimensions||153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5 mm|
I'm happy to finally have the pendulum swing the other way and say I can barely pick a fault with the Note 4, other than the nitpicking I've pointed out here. This is the phone I've been waiting for Samsung to make since I can't remember when. Everything has been streamlined, in terms of design, specs, interface and even bloat and gimmicks. The specs are rock solid, the design change is minimal but very effective, the battery and camera are top notch, TouchWiz looks the best it ever has, the S Pen remains the biggest selling point and the display is a thing of pure beauty.
If you've ever considered buying a Galaxy Note, this is the Note you've been waiting for. It's a big phone, with a big price tag, but it promises big things too, and thankfully delivers. The back to basics approach Samsung started on with the S5 has been near perfected in the Note 4. The Note 4 is almost bereft of gimmicks, bloat or useless features or settings. Almost everything on the Note 4 is essential, and almost everything is done extremely well, leaving nothing but distilled Android excellence.