Back in 2011, Samsung decided that bigger was better and launched the Samsung Galaxy Note range which came with a 5.3-inch screen. At the time, this screen was a massive talking point: many thought it was too large to be a phone, others thought it was too compact to be a tablet.

Bigger, brawnier, and sharper than the Samsung Galaxy S5, the Galaxy Note 4 (and its wacky sibling, the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge) continues a recent tradition of making the Note its highest-end device heading into the end of the year. After all, it’s the 5.7-inch Note 4 and not the 5.1-inch S5 that bears Samsung’s first 1440p display and quad-core Snapdragon 805 chipset (or octa-core processor in some markets) — both specs that we hoped would surface in the smaller S5.

Screen Quality

What makes Samsung’s 5.7-inch screen important is that it’s Samsung’s first to feature a Super AMOLED display with a “quad HD” resolution, meaning 2,560×1,440 pixels (four times as many as regular HD). The jump from 1,920×1,080 full HD was inevitable; Samsung isn’t the first phone-maker to trot out the newest gold standard, but now that it’s joined the ranks, we can expect 1440p resolutions going forward on its high-end phones.

Pixel density skyrockets in the boost from 1080p to quad HD resolution. Just how meaningful that figure is depends somewhat on how sensitive you are to fine lines and graphical movements, like with gaming. We’ll of course take a much closer look in some side-by-side tests as we spend more time with the phone.

Design

Samsung has definitely listened about its latest line-up feeling plastic-y in the hand and has decided to give the Note 4 more of a premium finish, with a metal rim surrounding the handset, shielding the rest of the chassis like a velvet rope protecting celebs from real people in a club.

Samsung also keeps the Note 4 shooting for a classier look. It’s built better and looks better than last year’s Note 3. Gone is the fake stitching mold around the Note 4’s plastic back plate (applause), though Note fans will recognize the lightly textured naugahyde vibe and metallic rim. This year’s chrome seems a little sturdier and less plastic-y than in models past.

Flip over the Note 4 and you’ll find a heart-rate monitor that tracks your ticker; the S5’s fingerprint scanner integrates into the home button as well. You’ll be able to peel off the back cover to access the battery and microSD card slot. Surprisingly, though, the Note 4 lacks the Galaxy S5’s water-resistant promise.

Still, from the added metal frame to its crisper higher-res display, the phone feels zippier, crisper, and better to use.

S Pen

The S Pen stylus was already good last year, and this year’s tweaks are subtle but welcome. Samsung says that its stylus is more sensitive than previous versions, and more attuned to natural handwriting. We didn’t get very long to test this claim, but in our brief time with the device it did feel comfy and usable. In previous versions, the S Pen gets the job done, but certainly isn’t as good as pen and paper.

For a start there are two new pen options: fountain and highlighter. Of these, fountain is the most interesting as it shows off how far the S Pen has come in terms of usability. Until now, using the S Pen has felt a lot like gliding a piece of plastic over a glass screen.

In addition to finding its sensitive side, the Note 4’s S Pen — which snugly holsters in the phone’s bottom edge — adds a few more functions inspired by your computer mouse. These include minimizing app windows and dragging them around to multitask, copy/paste, and help define words you see on the screen.

The new drag-and-drop window design, however, takes getting used to. It’s interesting how app windows are treated more like standard PC windows on the Note 4, but the windows don’t always scale the way you’d like, and they can clutter space too quickly. Even for a multitasking phablet, it might be a step too far.

Camera

The Note 3’s 13MP camera is gone, replaced by a 16MP effort with built-in optical image stabilisation.
This recent version of TouchWiz means there are a mountain of settings that are easier to access than in the Note 3. HDR preview mode is a recent benefit, as is improved low-light performance, though if this is anything like the Galaxy S5, outdoor shots are still going to look better than photos taken inside.

Here’s something all-new to the Note 4: a 3.7-megapixel wide-angle front-facing camera that’s been made to really maximize selfies. Samsung says this puppy has improved low-light performance by 60 percent, which is a big deal because we’ve yet to see a dedicated front-facing camera that comes with its own flash. That translates into better-balanced photos taken in darker environments.

Samsung has also recognised that if you want to take a selfie, then it is a little difficult to get your thumb around to the front of the device to take the picture. So it has utilised its heartrate monitor functionality as a back trigger button.

One tap on this and your selfie is preserved. It’s not a feature I will be using much but given the sudden popularity of taking pictures of your own face in different places it will be a feature that is used a lot.
Performance and Battery

Ask any device-maker for one of the biggest pain points and the answer is battery life. The 3,220mAh battery should be no slouch on its own (though the screen will be a power-hungry monster) and the Note 4 has power-saving modes aplenty, like the ultra power-saving mode found in the GS5, which grants 24 hours more life with 10 percent of the battery left. Still, Samsung took the time to point out that the Note 4’s battery will charge to 50 percent of its capacity in half an hour.

Power users and gamers have scored a good one in the Note 4’s 2.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor, which is even faster than the S5’s 801 chipset. Some markets will get a 1.9GHz octa-core chipset, comprised of 1.9GHz and 1.3GHz quad-core processors.

LTE is on-board, too, of course. The Note 4 has 32GB internal storage, with an option to expand by 64GB more. It has 3GB RAM.

Verdict

It is big and it is clever: the Galaxy Note 4 looks to be Samsung’s best Note yet, toning down the gimmick and adding real innovation to what is becoming one of the best phone ranges around.

The biggest relief is that the software changes are innovations rather than annoying bloatware. Samsung does have a habit of adding gimmickry to its handsets but the big changes here are actually beneficial to how you use the Note.


For all the latest news about this device, stay tuned with The Techno Triad.