Oct 15th, 2014 publishUpdated   Jan 16th, 2015, 1:17 pm

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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