Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Review – The Best Phone Samsung Has Ever Made

Remember when we thought 5” inches was massive for a smartphone? Well now that almost seems small. This is thanks in huge part to Samsung and their Note line. The original Galaxy Note showed how much people actually wanted a big phone, and the company hasn’t looked back yet. The Note is something many look forward to every year, myself included. This year Samsung has brought us the Galaxy Note 4, and it’s a pretty promising phone on paper, but how does it do in real life use? I’ve been using the Note 4 for about three weeks, so today I’ll be giving you my thoughts on the phone and help you decide whether or not it’s for you.

Specs

  • 5.7” Inch SuperAMOLED QHD Display – 2560×1440 – 515ppi
  • 2.7GHz Quad-Core Snapdragon 805 Processor
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB Storage (microSD up to 128GB)
  • 3,220 mAh Battery w/ Adaptive Fast Charging
  • 16MP Rear Camera w/ OIS
  • 3.7MP Front Camera f/1.9



Hardware

Samsung has always struggled when it came to getting a premium build in their products. Most felt cheap or just unappealing. Fortunately though they changed this with their Galaxy Alpha. While not the flagship we all wanted it to be, it set the groundwork for Samsung’s future. Thankfully, they didn’t waste anytime and brought this to the Galaxy Note 4 just a few weeks later. The Note 4 has an aluminum edge around the sides which makes it feel incredibly premium.

The edges are chamfered as well which gains major points in the way of looks. The back of the device is still as plastic as ever, but it actually feels good. Long gone are the fake stitching found on the Galaxy Note 3. Instead there’s a seamless transition between the plastic and the metal edges. It feels insanely good in the hand and definitely has a great level of grip to it. The buttons are also now metal and they all have very tactile feedback. The Note 4 should take damage well too. Unfortunately that didn’t stop me from getting a couple small nicks and scratches on those chamfered edges. TL;DR, this is amazing hardware. It looks nice, feels great, and is easily the best to come out of Samsung to date.

Display

Let me get this out of the way now. This is the best display on a smartphone to date. There’s very little to argue about it. This is an amazing screen. At 5.7” inches this screen is a bit bigger than most are used to, but it’s really not that bad. I got used to it pretty quick. The screen is a SuperAMOLED panel which means we get deeps blacks and over exaggerated colors. But I never once complained. Images, videos, and everything in between look absolutely stunning.

The display may not be a bump in size from last year’s Note 3, but it is of a higher resolution. This is a Quad-HD panel which in it’s 5.7” inch size results in a pixel density of 515ppi. Does it look better than 1080p? That’s a matter of how you look at it and how you use it. Some apps, games, images and video take advantage of this resolution and look incredible, but others don’t do the same. To the naked eye you might not be able to see the difference, but put the Note 3 and Note 4 side by side and you probably will. While it might not be necessary, I am glad Samsung put a Quad-HD panel in this phone. It is a welcome addition of resolution for such a big phone.

Software

Samsung has a tendency to try and do too much even with the insane amount of power they back in their devices. The Note 4 has top of the line specs, yet it still feels slow. This is because of the extremely heavy skin more commonly known as TouchWiz. While it packs tons of great features, it quite simply tries to do too much. When you skin your device so much that it looks like a different version of the operating system, you’re doing too much. Samsung throws in everything and the kitchen sink. Almost every feature you might want on a smartphone is here. Now in theory that’s not a bad thing at all. But you can’t have it all and still come out on top. These additions bog down the system resulting in lag, dropped frames, and too many inconsistencies to list. This shouldn’t be the case. Samsung has top notch specifications on this phone and they can really do some impressive things with the Android operating system, but the Note just doesn’t. Most phones get slow after time. This is just the nature of Android. Eventually things get slow since more and more files are stored and more and more apps downloaded. Unfortunately the Note 4 does it almost immediately. I only used the phone for about 3 weeks, and it already feels like I’ve owned it a year. To put this in perspective, I’ve owned a Verizon LG G3 since the day it was available. It also has a heavy skin. However that phone still doesn’t have as many issues as the Note does after just a couple weeks and most issues that are there are from things I’ve changed about the software. Says a lot doesn’t it?

So let’s talk about these features in detail for a moment. There are way too many for me to write about, or even use for that matter. So I’m only going to focus on the big ones. First of all, multi-tasking. Samsung is king when it comes to split screen multi-tasking as so far no other OEM’s implementation of this feature has felt as good. This year it gets even better thanks to some new additions. For one thing, you can now initiate multi-window from the recent apps menu. This is a welcome addition. Being completely honest, the first time I picked up a Samsung device I knew that multi-window was a thing, but I didn’t know how to do it. I think this change was a wise move for Samsung as many new Note owners will have it a bit easier when trying to find this cool feature. Multi-window is futher upgraded this year with “small apps”. This feature allows the app you’re using to float above everything else on screen in a minimized form. While it may not be as useful as standard split screen multi-window, it’s certainly a great addition. The last major addition is new app bubbles. While that’s probably not the real name for it, it should be. This feature allows you to hide the app you’re using behiond a small bubble with the app’s icon for easy access at any time. I didn’t find myself using this too often, but I can certainly see it’s use cases. Another notable part of the software on this device is Samsung’s apps. Bloatware is everywhere on this device. Granted some is from your carrier, in my case AT&T, but a lot is also from Samsung and their partners. Apps like S Voice and S Note aren’t too high on my list for usage, but S Health is something I wish I had been able to use more. Samsung packs a ton of features that any health buff, or anyone wanting to drop a couple pounds, would like to have. From the heart rate monitor to the activity tracker to everything in between, this phone is great for getting healthy. Unfortunately it’s just a bit big for most people wanting to use these features. You can’t exactly fit this in your pocket when running as it would get pretty uncomfortable.

All in all Samsung’s software has been getting miles better than it was, but it still has light years to go. The Note 4 is way better than the Galaxy S5, and the Galaxy S5 than the Note 3 before it, but it’s still slow, it’s still bogged down, and it’s still not exactly attractive. Sure it has every feature you might want, but are the sacrifices worth it?

S-Pen

The one thing that sets the Galaxy Note lineup apart more than anything else is the S-Pen. This stylus really completes the experience on the Note 4 and it’s something I will miss over everything else on this phone. The S-Pen does one thing over all else, it enhances the experience. To get it out of the way, yes it’s still plastic and that’s the one downside. The S-Pen doesn’t feel as premium as the handset it calls home. What it lacks in style and feel however, it makes up for in function.

Better than any typical stylus out there, the S-Pen uses technology from Wacom to let you precisely interact with your phone in ways other phones can’t do. You can draw, write by hand, and just have fun! Aside from the obvious though, the S-Pen has some pretty great features that add to the phone. For instance you can use it to highlight text on screen, annotate screenshots, and an absurd amount more. I could spend hours (or in this case hundreds of words) talking about the S-Pen, but I’ll keep it simple. If there was just one thing I could take from the Note 4 and bring to another phone, it would be the S-Pen, but I wish I could take two.

Camera

The camera on the Note 4 is absolutely stunning. The 16MP shooter with optical image stabilization is easily one of the best sensors in a phone right now and not only gets the job done, but gets it done well. Video also looks amazing thanks to OIS so things aren’t too shaky.

Below is a gallery of shots taken with the Note 4 because hey, a picture is worth a thousand words right?

Performance

As I’ve mentioned before, the Note 4 is running the absolute top of the line specs. You can’t find an Android phone with higher specs than this that is currently for sale. This phone has some serious power, but as I talked about it’s hindered by it’s software. However those hiccups don’t carry on into games. Every game I’ve tried on the Note 4 plays like a champ. Granted it’s not rare that phones play games easily, but it’s just impressive how reliably and well the Note 4 can handle games.

Network Quality

I have been using the Note 4 on AT&T’s network in the Winston-Salem/Mount Airy region of North Carolina and it has worked out well. This area isn’t exactly famous for it’s great coverage or data speeds, but the Note 4 was noticeably more reliable on the network than were other AT&T phones I’ve tried. Calls sound great and I had none drop.

Battery

The Galaxy Note 4 has a 3,220 mAh removable battery inside. That’s certainly a respectable size for a phone this big, and I’m glad to say it gets the job done. I can easily get through a day of use on the phone with no issues. On a day with heavy use (4-5 hours screen time over 15 hours) I’m usually running on the teens when I plug in, but on the average day (2.5-3 hours screen time over 15 hours) I’ll head to sleep with 30% or more. One thing I want to note (no puns intended) is Samsung’s addition of adaptive fast charging.

While it may not sound as exciting as the “Turbo Charging” found in the Moto X, it certainly gets the same job done, and insanely well if I might add. In my testing phone would rise extremely quick in battery in a very short time. One day I decided to really put this to the test by leaving the phone off the charger overnight. I went to bed with about 30% left and woke up with about 23%. This is at about 6:45 AM. So I get up, plug the phone in to the charger and head to get ready to go to work for the day. About 7:35 AM when I’m about to head out the door I come back to grab the phone and when I look at the percentage, I’m at 93%. That’s a charge of 70% in just 50 minutes. This is pretty useful if you ask me, especially if you’re going back out with a low battery. But if you can’t get to your charger, need not worry. Samsung’s power saving modes are impressive. The first mode does basic power saving by simply cutting off a few unnecessary radios and things like that. Ultra Power Saving mode however takes things to a new level. Thanks to the AMOLED display Samsung can simply turn the interface black and white to dramatically increase battery. To do this even further, Samsung basically turns off TouchWiz. What does this mean? It means that 10% of your battery can last you a day, maybe more.

Final Thoughts

In the end the Note 4 is simply one of the top phones on the market right now. It is a top of the line phone, no doubt. It’s got some tough competition with phones like the LG G3 and Moto X on the market, but I think Samsung is slowly but surely on the right direction with their mobile phones and the Note 4 is the first huge step in that. Like any other phone on the market, the Note 4 is not without compromise, if fact it makes quite a few of them. In the end though, I really do think that the Note 4 is the best phone Samsung has ever made, yet…