When it came out, the Galaxy Note 4 was, without doubt, Samsung's greatest smartphone ever. The fourth generation of the Note series, Samsung perfected the line in ways that other OEMs can only dream of. However, since that time several other flagships have appeared on the scene and impressed us - among them the Galaxy S6. Is the Note 4 still a to smartphone several months down the line, or is it already being buried by the fast-moving sands of smartphone time?
- ✓Excellent screen
- ✓Great battery
- ✓S Pen stylus and software
- ✓Better user interface
- ✓Great camera
- ✕High price
- ✕Too large for some people
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 release date and price
The Galaxy Note 4 release date was back in October 2014. Thanks to the arrival of the Galaxy S6, the Galaxy Note 4 price has dropped down to around 550 USD/450 GBP, which we think is fantastic value for what remains one of the most powerful handsets on the market.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 design and 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 had a black metallic trim with beveled silver edges, giving it 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.
When the Galaxy Note 4 first came out, we even didn't mind its subdued faux-leather rear. However, we definitely preffered the glossy back rear of the Galaxy S6 when it finally came out. Also, the LG G4 has embarrassed the Note 4 a bit by having a beautiful real leather back, which looks and feels fantastic. So the Note 4 has dated a bit in this department.
The volumer rockers are on the left of the Note 4 and the power button on the right. Up top is an IR blaster, pinhole mic and the headphone port, which is enclosed by the metal frame. The bottom of the Note 4 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.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 display
Until the Galaxy S6 came along, the Galaxy Note 4 display was the best we'd seen on any smartphone. 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. In this area, the Galaxy Note 4 isn't showing its age one bit (not that it's even that old a device, but we all know how fast time and technology progress in the smartphone world).
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 special features
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 , then screen-grab it, save it and share it. Image Clip is a free-form clipping tool which also has options for circular, rectangular and ''magnetic lasso'' selections. If you're an avid image editor and sharer then you'll love these tools.
Screen Write lets you make notes on top of the screen you're currently looking at, by taking a screenshot of the page then opening up a doodling toolbar. You can switch between pen tips, 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 PC mouse. If you hover above an on-screen element it will preview it for you (like a mouse-over on your computer). You can also highlight sections of text by pressing the button on the S Pen. 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, but it's definitely an improvement on the S5, in that it's a viable option for unlocking your phone without losing your mind out of sheer frustration.
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. It's a nice tool to have and it works reasonably well in practice.
Alongside the Galaxy S6, the Galaxy Note 4 remains the most gadget- and feature-filled phone in the world. If you're not the kind of person who's easily overwhelmed by different features and functions, then you'll appreciate the cornucopia of gadgetry onboard here.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 software
The Galaxy Note 4 was launched with Samsung's TouchWiz user interface on top of Android 4.4.4, but has since been updated to Lollipop. The Galaxy Note 4 is not without its share of Lollipop issues, but overall the TouchWiz UI (which is much faster and less bloat-filled than on the S5) works smoothly with Android's latest OS update.
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. 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.
The recent apps menu is a scrolling card stack that was actually on the Galaxy Note 4 since before the Lollipop update - suffice to say it's changed little since the update. 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, resized, or collapsed to floating bubbles if you need to attend to something else. You can also turn supported full screen apps into mini apps just by swiping diagonally from the corner. 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.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 performance
The Note 4 specs are excellent, 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 was powerful at the time and continues to be so today, giving a similar level of performance to the hexa-core Snapdragon 808 (in the LG G4) in the AnTuTu benchmarks. 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, 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 the Note 4 does have a bit of a tendency to heat up when placed under a lot of stress.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 camera
The Galaxy Note 4 camera uses optical image stabilization (OIS) in its super-fast 16 MP Sony IMX240 camera - a feature we've been waiting on for quite some time. The camera is typically brilliant. Take a look at the picture gallery to judge the results for yourself.
Macro shots and color reproduction are great. Low-light photography is not perfect, but decent, with OIS really adding to the crispness of shots. Image noise still makes itself felt sometimes, even in interior shots taken during the daytime.
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.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 battery
The Galaxy Note 4 battery is a 3,220 mAh offering, which may not sound like much for a device with QHD and a screen this size. However, we've now seen with devices like the Nexus 6, LG G4 and Galaxy S6 that this isn't QHD isn't the battery drain we all feared it would be. Samsung's LucidLogix technology does wonders with the battery - 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, such as web browsing and texting.
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. You won't have too much fun with your phone in this state, of course, but it's still an impressive feature that set a precedent for similar modes in subsequent flagship phones.
The Note 4 also has a regular power-saving mode which limits background data, disables haptic feedback and limits CPU and display performance. These settings are all optional so you can pick and choose the ones you want. Rounding off the features is a quick-charge function that will get you 50% battery life in just half an hour using the supplied charger.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 technical specifications
With the Galaxy Note 4, Samsung got back to winning ways last year, and has since kept up the momentum with the Galaxy S6. Everything was streamlined in the Note 4, in terms of design, specs, interface and even bloat and gimmicks. Even today, the specs are rock solid, and the S Pen remains the biggest selling point
The design perhaps doesn't ooze premium-ness in light of phones that have come since then, but let's remember that the Note 4 is now a little cheaper than other flagships. The Galaxy Note 4 is a big, sensible phone 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 that continues to shine.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 - where to buy?
The Galaxy Note 4 with 32 GB of internal storage is available for around 558 USD on Amazon (unlocked international version). T-Mobile is also offering the Note 4 outright for 700 USD. In the UK, you can the Galaxy Note 4 with Carphone Warehouse, Amazon and Clove for around 530 GBP, but this depends on retailer and carrier.
- Buy now: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 at Amazon.com from 560 USD
- Buy now: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 at Amazon.co.uk from 530 GBP
Three, £38 p/m (£99 upfront fee) with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 2GB data, two-year contract
Giffgaff, £23.69 p/m (£210.00 upfront fee) with 500 minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB data, two year contract
EE, £26.99 p/m (£219.99 upfront fee) with 500 minutes, unlimited texts, 500MB data, two-year contract
O2, £37.50 p/m (£129.99 upfront fee) with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB data, two-year contract
Vodafone, £36 p/m (£49 upfront fee) with 500 minutes, unlimited texts, 500MB data, two-year contract
Verizon, $60 p/m ($249.99 upfront fee) with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB data, two-year contract
U.S. Cellular, $60 p/m ($339.99 upfront fee) with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB data, two-year contract
T-Mobile, $50 p/m monthly contract ($666.84 upfront fee) with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, unlimited data
AT&T, $65 p/m ($299.99 upfront fee) with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB data, two-year contract
Updated by Robert Zak on May 20, 2015