Oversized smartphones, endearingly referred to as phablets, were once seen as outrageous monstrosities procured by only a select few in a niche crowd. The poster boy for the large form factor has long been Samsung’s Galaxy Note. Now in its fourth iteration, it has developed a large and loyal following while Samsung has diligently crafted and honed the product, simultaneously helping define the category.
Competitors have followed, most notably Apple, who have finally arrived on the scene with the iPhone 6 Plus in hopes of stealing Samsung’s thunder. Worse things could happen: they’ve also drawn mainstream consumer attention to larger screened phones as a whole. With a four year head start, does the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 retain it’s rightful place atop the smartphone elite? That’s the question we tackle in this comprehensive review.
Design & Build
The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has finally matured, ditching the cheap plastic wrapper from previous Notes and replacing it with a premium aluminum frame that a device of this caliber deserves. Despite growing slightly – it’s millimeters larger and grams heavier – it feels more compact and sturdy than ever, assisted by a more sleek, refined, and polished design than it’s predecessors.
The faux leather back? It’s still there, but it looks much more seamless and realistic, and gone is the leather stitching that formerly bordered the exterior shell. Some may still complain about the plastic back, but Samsung has done a much better job masking the material, and the fact remains that this choice allows for a removable cover providing access to additional memory, a battery, and SIM card.
Rather than a solid colored front face with a slight brushed look, Samsung has opted to embed subtle black stripes across a dark grey face. Better or worse is arbitrary, but it does create a weird effect where it overlaps with the illuminated backlit capacitive buttons.
The Note 4 also trades some of its straighter edges for graceful curves, partly for visual appeal but also to improve structural integrity. The corners of the phone flare slightly on the left and right, providing reinforcement for drops and accidents. Stronger curves around the headset jack, USB port, and S Pen add a nice touch.
Samsung has nudged the volume rocker and power button down a tad, which won’t be noticeable to most, but could make reaching these ever-important assets with one-hand a little easier. They’ve also been given some contour and silver lining to fit Samsung’s new premium theme.
As a Note 3 owner who doesn’t use cases, I found the plastic chrome wrap to be pretty susceptible to scratching, wear, and tear. At least on the surface, the Note 4 seems like a more resilient device, but it’s hard to know how 1 year of use will treat its decor. Scuffing up this beauty would cause much more heartache.
You’ll also find that the speaker has moved from the bottom of the Note 3 to the back of the Note 4. This may seem like a step in the wrong direction, but a tiny bump on the speaker grill creates the smallest of gaps when laid flat, allowing audio to escape and vibrate. The sound on the Note 4 is loud and full enough to make it a non-factor, but I must admit that I’ll miss cupping my hand around the edge of the phone to aim the audio my way when watching videos. The only thing better here would be front facing speakers.
The Galaxy Note 4 is a gorgeous Goliath, taking everything that was right about the Note 3 and graduating it. From the looks of it, the Note 4 is like the teenage boy whose parent’s already loved him, but are now proud to finally see him become a man. Now let’s find out what that man is made of…
Hardware & Specs
Considering the Galaxy Note 3 was already an industry front runner, Samsung had a tall order to impress consumers with spec improvements. Although there are no shocking surprises in the Note 4, the device improves in pretty much every area possible, taking great hardware and making it greater.
The show stopper on the Note 4 is it’s screen- a 5.7-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display that is an absolute beauty. For those wondering, Quad HD means it can display four 1280 x 720 HD images on the screen at once! That’s possible due to a resolution of 2560 by 1440, an improvement most naked eyes won’t be able to fully appreciate. I’ve often maintained that Samsung makes the most gorgeous displays and the Note 4 is the most gorgeous of the gorgeous.
We’re not the only ones who think so: according to DisplayMate not only does the Note 4 have the highest resolution of any smartphone on the market, it also has the brightest display, incredible scores in power efficiency, great performance at various viewing angles, accurate color profiles, and the list goes on. We can’t say enough good things about the Galaxy Note 4 screen. But if you want to know more, see for yourself.
The Note 4 is powered by a 2.7 GHz QuadCore processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal memory (expandable by MicroSD), immediately making it one of the most powerful devices on the market. That power is supported by a 3220 mAh battery, giving it the juice necessary to get the typical user through a full day. Not that it matters, but the Note 4 battery is an interestingly skinny shape compared to the typical mobile phone battery.
As expected, the Note 4 also has an upgraded camera, both front and rear. In addition to increasing the rear camera from 13MP to 16MP and front camera from 2MP to 3.7MP, Samsung has added some software features to improve the experience. It’s also got all the connectivity features you’d imagine including 4G, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.1, USB 2.0, MHL3.0, IR Blaster, Accelerometer, Gyroscope and beyond.
Two noticeable additions to the Galaxy Note 4 are a fingerprint scanner and UV sensor, the former of which was introduced with the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the latter of which is brand new. Integrated with S Health, you can now read UV levels directly from the sun to determine recommended skin protection.
These bells and whistles are nice additions to the Note 4, but there are also noticeable absences from the spec sheet and other upgrades we’d hoped to see but didn’t, namely the backtracking from USB 3.0 to USB 2.0 and lack of IP67 weatherproofing found on the Galaxy S5.
The only real advantage of USB 3.0 over 2.0 is enhanced data transfer speeds, something approximately twelve people will miss. Although USB 3.0 also offers quicker USB charging when connected via laptop, that benefit is completely overshadowed by other improvements Samsung has made to the Note 4’s battery life (more on that later).
The lack of a water resistant body is the most disappointing non-upgrade of the Note 4, but it’s difficult to be too critical of this decision. The feature itself is relatively new to the Galaxy line, competing devices in the same class don’t have the feature, and let’s not forgot that the Note 4 has one huge difference that would make water proofing it a much more difficult task: the S Pen.
Next: S Pen Stylus
Why does it suck?
Great article. I can’t wait to get mine!
We added pagination to this review in hopes it would load quicker and people could more easily find specific content of interest. For folks who tend to read the full review to the bottom every time it may or not be preferred.
Hoping to get your feedback!
Pagination is fine as long as there is a “Whole article on single page” button too!
Fair point. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Hi Rob, Can you switch to ART and check whether the UI lag is gone? I am getting mine tomorrow.
I agree. I don’t mind pagination as long as there is the option to load all at once.
Great review with much depth!
I like the page format also.
Come on Verizon….release this beast already!!!!!
Come on. move away from Verizon
unlimited data. It’s like being Siamese twins with a vampire
two…… more…… days…..
nice review, rob. i’ve got mine pre-ordered on Verizon, so i should be getting it next week. nexus 6 was never on my mind since i assumed it wasn’t coming to verizon, but now that it is, and it’s official, i realized it’s literally just another BIG phone like the iphone 6+ that has absolutley no “phablet” features like the Note does…so i don’t regret ordering my Note 4 off contract!
Nice review. Did you score it lower than the Moto X only because of touchwiz?
I received my T-Mobile Note 4 on Monday. To be honest, the phone is a Laggy mess and is not fluid at all. Maybe the m8 that I’m coming from Spoiled me but I don’t remember my note 3 being this bad.
I was really hoping I could avoid rooting and putting a different Rom on it but unless tmobile releases an update that addresses my issues I’m going to have to. It’s driving me nuts. Not to mention the battery life is terrible.
Well maybe you have a bad unit because mine us fluid not in stutter anywhere. My battery life is amazing right now 5 hrs screen time and still have 33%.
Really? Some of my apps such as Tapatalk are like watching sideshows. I’ve been averaging about 3 hours of screen on time. I wonder if I was to do a factory reset if it would help?
A factory reset is a good idea if you just got it and it doesn’t feel like it’s running good. Usually a good idea while it’s still new too before you load up so your stuf .
That’s the first thing I did when I got it Monday.
Please report back and let us know if this helps you at all!
For me, “Briefing” was by FAR the worst with lag and it was virtually unusable. Everything else was pretty good – not the zippiest in the world but good – and then every once in awhile you’d get a noticeable stutter.
That doesn’t bother me, though… even my brand new Macbook Pro gets tripped up, needs to be rebooted, Chrome freezes, etc… for some reason people hold phones to a much higher standard and they’ve got a harder job!
No! You shouldn’t have to do a factory reset on a brand new device. Take it back and get a new one while it is still early. You obviously got a bad batch.
Can you disable some apps that you dont use and change it to ART from Dalvik.
From what i have seen with S5, changing it to ART greatly increases UI and app responsiveness and lag is really gone!
I expect good things to come from Android 5.0
Interesting. First time I heard it a bad battery. Everyone else claims to be impressed with it. You either have a dud, bad luck, or a combination of both.
That seagull video SUCKS!!!
I can’t figure out why… try changing the YouTube resolution I think it’s defaulting to 240p for some reason. It looks pretty good on my phone and when I moved it to my desktop and I uploaded it directly to YouTube so I’m not sure what’s up with that.
I tried changing it in the YouTube app on my Nexus 7… It appeared set for 720p already but no way that’s 720p, lol! I played over Chromecast and ewww! Lol!
Speaking of that video and maybe it’s only me, but I was impressed on how it zoomed so quickly and still stayed in focus.
It rocks actually. I watched the video 1080p on my Note 3 and the quality is pretty solid, especially considering its a 8x digital zoom.
the speaker p lacement is the biggest Fail of the entire phone. I have the note 3 and it is the reason I won’t be getting the note 4.people don’t watch videos with a phone lying flat. They also don’t always have what would necessarily be considered a hard surface that would reflect and amplify the sound properly. Then there is the waste of battery that is required to push out a louder sound to compensate for the idiotic rear placement.
BTW – nice review
Nexus 6 for me but I love this note 4!
I’m struggling between the Note 4 and the Nexus 6. If money was not an issue, which one would you buy?
I dunno man. That depends on what you really care about. For some people, stock Android is the end-all-be-all. For me, I’ve had my Note II since it first came out, and I ran with CM and CarbonROM for a long time, but I also spend a lot of time on Touchwiz and MIUI. What’s important is picking the phone that suits you best. Do you want the S Pen and some cool Samsung stuff on your phone (plus some bloat)? Note 4. Do you just want a pure Google experience with no need to fuss around with your phone? Nexus 6. Me, personally, I love to tinker and love the Note line, so I went with the Note 4.
if money was an issue…and you don’t require so much features and good with performance than i would have said Nexys 6, but as it is not…i will say Note 4…go for Note 4, as it has Spen, heart rate & Uv sensor and a better camera…..as you will have something extra to play with.
and also it supports 4 sd and removable battery.
you can always customize UI with various tools and app.
So they got rid of the USB 3.0 plug at the bottom too? I must be in the 12 since I will miss that since it is a lot more sturdy while connected to a charger especially in a car
Note 4 comes with a plethora of features, those who like to play with features apart from raw power and performance, this will be definitely the best smart option 4 them.
Note 4 is awesome mobile with superb features. You can check more features at Samsung India sites
Very good review,. It is fair and balanced in that it provides the good and the bad. And not for nothing but so far it is the only review that goes in-depth with the S-Pen and its features. Other reviewers seem to skimp over the S-Pen and continue to compare it to other devices like the iPhones, Nexus etc. When in reality just on the S-Pen alone, there is nothing out there that can come even close to justify a comparison.
The review is also the only one that even mentions (at least in a list) that the Note 4 has Hancom Office. That software alone is far superior than any other office compatible software. It’s like MS Office for Android (if such a beast existed).
I do agree with your assessment about the speaker and the S-Pen. To me it seems there is space to place the speaker in the front of the device either 2 on the top and 2 on the bottom for quad sound instead of that 1 rear facing one. The S-pen would have been nice if they made that metal as well.
One thing that was not touch upon was that the rear camera protrudes from the device, thus leading it to get scratched unless one puts on a case. Make in version 5 they will get these things updated.