The guys at Samsung are geniuses. I spent intimate time with the Galaxy Note 4 and the Galaxy Note 5 for several weeks and now I'm convinced of it. Why? Samsung has made us think the Note 5 is better than its predecessor when it did almost nothing to improve on it.
Let me clarify. Samsung did make some changes between these two Notes, with hardware changes being the most obvious. But it’s the miniscule differences between them which struck me as the most interesting, because they represent how small changes can have a big impact. Here are six incredibly small things that make the Note 5 totally superior to the Note 4.
1. The lock-screen fade
Duhhh, duhhh, duh duh duh duhhhhh duh, duh duh duh duhhhhh duh; Why am I trying to recreate the Star Wars theme in type? Because I’m trying to convey the experience of locking the Galaxy Note 5.
It’s not unique to the Note 5, but it is a change introduced by Samsung this year, which the Note 4 lacks. When you tap the lock button, a 'wipe' transition appears, whereby the display fades to black from the right and left sides inward – much like the scene transitions on George Lucas’s Star Wars movies.
Why is this a big deal? It’s not. As I said above, it’s basically nothing at all. But put the Note 4 and Note 5 side-by-side, and see the later device waves goodbye, then compare it to how the Note 4 fades to black the boring normal way, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
2. The auto-eject stylus
On the Galaxy Note 4 you have to pull the S Pen stylus the whole way out of its holder yourself. I know, it’s outrageous, right? But on the Galaxy Note 5 you simply press on the S Pen’s head, and it will partially eject, making the process of hooking your nail under it to pull it out minutely more pleasing.This also has the benefit of allowing the Stylus to be better concealed, so the bottom edge of the phone looks cleaner.
Samsung has included this 'James Bond gadget' style feature, which changes absolutely nothing about the phone’s software and only marginally improves usability, and made it seem like it’s a big deal. Bravo.
3. The smaller resolution
Samsung’s TouchWiz software has been improved since the Note 4, and the resolution has changed. Check out the photo below and notice how the webpage layout looks different.
Why is this the Note 5 better? The illusion of distance makes the icons and text seem more detailed. It makes it look as though the Galaxy Note 5 has a higher resolution than the Note 4. When I showed this to colleagues I had to repeat that both devices have a QHD display – I had to double check this myself.
Here is possibly the shining example of what Samsung has achieved with the Note 5: it has made it look superior just by changing the native font size of its user interface.
4. The thinner sides
The Galaxy Note 5 is less than 1 mm thinner than the Galaxy Note 4 (7.6 mm compared with 8.5 mm). That’s an almost imperceptible difference, but it feels much more pronounced thanks to some smart engineering.
The Note 5’s sloping rear sides and slimmed down the metal edges provide the illusion that it’s far slimmer. Your hand is almost tricked by your fingertips, which recognize the thin edges and perceive them as representative of the entire device, and it makes the Note 4 seem bulky by comparison.
5. The glass rear
Samsung has replaced the removable faux-leather back panel of the Galaxy Note 4 and replaced it with a sultry glass panel. This only improves the Galaxy Note 5 in terms of look and feel, and in some ways it has actually harmed functionality.
Samsung has steered my attention away from the fact that it has omitted the microSD card slot and removable battery option from its Galaxy Note series by dazzling me with the shiny, smooth backside. It’s almost like misdirection – I was so taken by the thief's charm that I failed to realize he'd carefully confiscated my wallet. It’s fiendishly clever.
6. The capacitive buttons
The capacitive buttons at the bottom of the Note 5 light up not only when you tap on the area when they are located, but also when you tap on the display. This momentary flicker of life occurs on the Note 4, but only when the buttons themselves are tapped, or when the phone unlocks/wakes.
What this is, essentially, is two icons speaking to you. Two icons waking up and saying, “hey, it's okay, I’m here.” In a darker setting, these fuzzy little friends appear welcoming. Safe, even. They make you feel like the device has more going on inside of it than it possibly has. And that it’s there for you whenever you need it.
It’s important to be critical of any mass-marketed luxury goods like Samsung's mobile products, and I am completely open to the discussion on the Galaxy Note 5's successes and failures.
So let me put it like this: does Samsung deserve praise for making a phone that feels more enjoyable just through some minor alterations? Or should Samsung be lambasted for producing a handset that has barely changed, removed some key features, and has a higher asking price than its predecessor? Let me know your thoughts below.