Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Review – Mixing The Good And The Bad

Samsung’s Note line has always been the power users home. These phones have always brought the best specifications, the best features, a huge screen, and killer battery life. To really make them a home for a power user, they also housed features like expandable storage and a removable battery. However with the Galaxy Note 5, that changed. This is still a top notch phone with awesome specs, a big beautiful screen, and some of the best features out there, but it lacks many of the things that it was always given praise for. Is it worth buying? Let’s take a look.

Specs

  • 5.7” 2560×1440 SuperAMOLED Display
  • Exynos 7420 Octa-Core Processor (2.1GHz + 1.5GHz)
  • 4GB RAM
  • 32/64GB Storage (non-expandable)
  • 16MP Rear Camera with OIS
  • 5MP Front Camera with Wide Angle Lens
  • WiFi a/b/g/n/ac
  • 3,000 mAh Battery
  • Qi & PMA Wireless Charging (plus fast Qi wireless charging)
  • Android 5.1.1 Lollipop

Hardware & Design

Early this year, Samsung released the Galaxy S6 to the praise of many. The phone marked a new beginning for the company, and just about everyone loved it in one way or another. To capitalize on that success, Samsung has brought over many of the features that made the Galaxy S6 so great. That includes the premium design and hardware. Just like it’s little brother, the Galaxy Note 5 packs some amazing hardware. The metal and glass design looks great, but yes, it’s still just as much of a fingerprint magnet. Now Samsung didn’t just copy the same design here, they did make improvements. Namely, they curved the back of the phone, and I actually really like that. It not only adds a bit of much-needed grip, but also makes the phone fit much better in the hand.

The curved glass on the back of the Note 5 gives it much needed grip and a comfortable feel in the hand.

The curved glass on the back of the Note 5 gives it much needed grip and a comfortable feel in the hand.

To make it even easier to hold this phone, Samsung made it much smaller. Bezels are much smaller in every way (as compared to the Note 4), with the side bezels being especially notable as they’re practically non-existent.

All that good said, this phone is far from perfect. The glass back is a fingerprint magnet, especially on our Sapphire Blue review model. That glass design also makes it pretty slick in the hand and prone to scratches on a table. Overall, the hardware is great, but Samsung can still improve it.



Display

The Galaxy Note 5 brings the same 5.7” Quad-HD SuperAMOLED display that was found on the Galaxy Note 4. That is to say it’s still one of the best displays on the market and there’s little to complain about. It gets more than bright enough for outdoor use and it gets very dim if you want to use it indoors.

This display on the Galaxy Note 5 is awesome. Enough said.

This display on the Galaxy Note 5 is awesome. Enough said.

The display has colors that are just a little bit saturated, but it’s not an unpleasing experience. It makes things pop on screen and I quite like it. Viewing angles are also very good.

Software & Performance

Out of the box the Galaxy Note 5 runs Android 5.1.1 with TouchWiz on top. Largely the software is the same as what is found on the Galaxy S6, with a few extra features. Most of these extra features involve the S-Pen, so we’ll save that for the next section of this review.

On the Note 5, Samsung has clearly trimmed back it’s lengthy list of features, but they’ve kept around everything that still matters like multi-window, the theming engine, and a few others. Overall, it’s a much improved software experience over the predecessors, but there’s still room to get better.

Performance wise, the Note 5 is a beast. With the Exynos 7420 processor and 4GB of RAM under the hood, this phone is truly incredible. The software flies, games are lag free, and multi-tasking is a breeze. Samsung has definitely solved their RAM management problem which was seen on the S6, but it’s unclear if it’s the extra RAM or the new software version that is the cause of this.

Software on the Note 5 (using Rotox theme).

Software on the Note 5 (using Rotox theme).

Network Performance & Call Quality

I tested the Galaxy Note 5 on AT&T’s network in the Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina. Coverage proved to be just as good as just as fast as with other devices and call quality was very good. My one note is that the earpiece on this device isn’t very loud so you could possibly have trouble hearing the caller in a loud environment.

S-Pen

As always, this Note wouldn’t be a Note without the S-Pen. The new S-Pen itself is a bit more premium in looks, but it’s still plastic. Personally I feel that it’s a bit light for what it’s used for, but I can’t really complain here. It still gets the job done very well. Oh and the best new improvement, it’s clicky. Just like your standard pen, the new S-Pen has a button up top that makes an insanely satisfying click on every press.

It's so addicting!!

It’s so addicting!!

As far as features go, we still most of the same features return. Air command is still here and it works great, and looks even better this time. You can even add a couple of apps (of your choice) into the pop up. I don’t think everyone will be using this, but it’s certainly a nice touch. Within Air command, there’s also a new feature called “Scroll Capture”. This feature allows you to take a single screenshot which encompasses a long list of images or perhaps even a webpage that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to fit on a single screenshot.

One of the most compelling new features enabled by the Galaxy Note 5’s S-Pen is the new quick memo mode. If your screen is off and you eject the S-Pen, your phone automatically launches a memo-pad on your screen. This is by far the best way to jot down a quick note on the S-Pen.

Air Command makes a return on the Note 5 and now it's more useful than ever.

Air Command makes a return on the Note 5 and now it’s more useful than ever.

Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, yes, the S-Pen does get stuck if you put it in backwards. While I, very gladly, didn’t run into this, it was still in the back of my head every single time I went to put the pen back in. As long as you’re careful, you shouldn’t have a problem. My main tip, just don’t even try to do it.

Camera

Just like the Galaxy S6, the Galaxy Note 5 has a 16MP camera and, well, it’s amazing. Just like the S6, the Note 5 brings some of the best shots taken on mobile. The main reason for that? Well, this is the same sensor. Overall though, there’s so little to complain about here. The Note 5 has an amazing camera. It’s really that simple. There is a gallery of shots taken with the Galaxy Note 5 below, however if you want full resolution shots, you’ll need to view them here.

Battery Life

Inside the Note 5 is a non-removable 3,000 mAh battery, and, well, it’s good. Battery life will almost certainly get the majority of users through a day, but I’d be surprised if you could pull anything more out of this phone.

A usual day for me brought about 2-3 hours of screen on time spread over about 15 hours of mixed usage. That day involved around 30 minutes of playing games, plenty of social media surfing, and streaming music here and there with a YouTube video or two mixed in as well. I wouldn’t consider the Note 5 to be the power user’s phone, but it should get most people though a day.

One upside to all of this is that the Note 5 brings both quick charging and wireless charging to the table. Quick charging can bring your phone from 0% to 100% in about 90 minutes. Wireless charging is considerably slower, but luckily there’s also the option of fast wireless charging which can charge up your device in about 120 minutes, but without wires. Keep in mind however that this isn’t cheap. A decent fast wireless charger is going to run you at least $30, or even $70 if you go with Samsung’s official option.

The Galaxy Note 5 is an awesome phone, but it's no longer for the power user.

The Galaxy Note 5 is an awesome phone, but it’s no longer for the power user.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is pretty awesome. There’s very little to complain about when it comes down to it. While it’s certainly not the Note of year’s past, that doesn’t at all make it a bad phone. It’s got good elements and bad ones, but those two level out to make a pretty good phone overall.

  – Our Samsung Galaxy Note 5 was provided by AT&T for the purposes of this review.