Samsung started up the big screen race back with their original Galaxy Note. And in 2014, it would seem that they’re just as far in the lead as ever as far as large screened devices (or more appropriately, “Phablets”) go. With this year’s iteration, Samsung has provided more power, more pixels more features… just a lot of more into an ever thinner frame. That said, “more” in and of itself doesn’t automatically make a good device. In fact, one of the criticisms of Samsung’s flagship devices is often that they try to cram too much into their products, turning them into more of a jack of all trades and master of none. But if you’re the type looking for just such a jack…
One of the best and most proudly marketed features of the Note 4 is the new UHD 5.7″ 2,560 x 1,440 (515ppi) display. It’s bright – really bright, actually. If you set it to auto brightness you’ll get up to 750nits out of it which is…insane. It also messes with the colors at such a level. But when overall visibility is more needed than accuracy, it’s a nice option to have. On top of that viewing angles are great. As long as you’re ok with the saturation that AMOLED provides (you can tweak it a bit in the settings), it’s one of the best displays your eyes can peer into. Its this feature alone that really makes the size of the Note 4 tolerable in that it truly is one of the biggest, nicest displays to look at short of a few 6″ QHD behemoths out there.
Pumping all of those pixels across the screen is either a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 (2.7GHz Krait 450 cores and a 600MHz Adreno 420 GPU) or Samsung Exynos 5433 processor depending on your region. RAM is a healthy 3 GB. And internal storage is 32 GB with SD card support for up to an additional 128 GB. Bluetooth 4.0, Wifi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and NFC mean you should never have any issues connecting to or transferring data from the Note 4 to just about any other device with a wireless radio of some sort.
Of course, there’s the S Pen with even more refinements including a redesigned appearance that Samsung says makes it easier to grip. It’s also twice as sensitive as the Note 3’s S Pen, with support for up to 2,000 different pressure levels vs. the old model’s 1,000. On the Note 4, the main S Pen Air Command menus include Action Memo, Smart Select, Image Clip and Screen Write.
- Action Memo: Post-it style note taking functionality that can save notes/to-do lists to Samsung’s S Note app or to the homescreen as a resizable widget.
- Smart Select: Create a small, floating window/widget from any app/content and pin it to your screen.
- Image Clip: Similar to smart select in that you can select parts of the screen and keep them saved for bookmarking purposes.
- Screen Write: Carried over from before. Take a screenshot of the display and write/save it.
The 2.7 GHz Krait 450 CPU and Adreno 420 GPU inside our Verizon Note 4 make Samsung’s Touch Wiz interface and Android overall fly. Granted, there were some small hiccups occasionally. But that’s just Android outside of Nexus/stock. There are going to be small little hiccups occasionally. On the Note 4 they are few and far between. Everything from heavy multi-tasking to heavy gaming is a joy to do on the Note 4. Even the most picky performance hounds should be pleased with what the Note 4 provides in terms of power on hand.
A 3,220mAh battery certainly sounds class leading. And in terms of raw size, it’s way up there. But when you start packing in bleeding edge CPUs, GPUs and displays, even the best optimization only goes so far. On the Note 4, we’ll say we’re pleased but not overwhelmed by the battery life. It gets through a solid day with some left in the tank usually (~15-25%). But that 3,220 mAh battery would normally lead on to something a big more impressive in the battery life department. Still, considering everything that the Note 4 has packed inside of it and what it can do, it’s nothing to shake a stick at. Aiding in this conclusion is the fact that most of all the pictures we took while at Verizon’s new flagship store opening in Chicago on November 15th were taken with the Note 4. We managed to take several dozen photos, about 45 minutes worth of Google Maps and a ton of Instagram/Twitter usage over a 25 hour period and we still had ~10% when all was said and done.
Camera & Video
For the Note 4, Samsung has upped the megapixel count to 16, meaning just about everyone should have more than enough to work with in terms of blowing up pictures. But these days, those in the know know that megapixels don’t really prove anything, especially whether or not a camera is actually capable of producing good quality images. Samsung, though, has really focused on quality over the last couple of years so much so that their flagship devices like the S and Note series generally have upper end cameras (as far as mobile cameras go).
In our testing over the last week and a half we found the Note 4’s camera to be worth of the Note 4’s high end, flagship status. Focusing was generally lightning quick. Images were vivid, well balanced and when activating HDR mode, capable of some truly awesome (real looking) pictures. The various modes that used to pollute Samsung’s camera app have been stripped back considerably, giving you a much smaller amount of options. To some that’s a step backwards. We’d wager to most, though, that not staring at 20 different camera modes all mixed together will make the whole picture taking process a lot easier and less confusing.
Moving over to video, Samsung’s latest Note has joined the 4K crowd with native 4K video recording support at 30fps. Playback of captured 4K content looks great on the 2K display. The real benefits over 1080p video recording have to be viewed on a larger display, computer or TV, to really notice the increases in resolution. That said, we’re still talking about a mobile camera here. A dedicated 4K video recorder is going to shoot far better video than what this phone can manage. Still, just think of what we were dealing with a few short years ago.
If you’re in the market for a smartphone/phablet with photo and/or video chops, the Note 4 should definitely be up there on your list.
For $300 on contract and ~$750 off contract, we’d say you’re getting a top end, truly flagship device for a decent (albeit average) price. If you’re on any other device looking to upgrade we’d say it’s worth a serious look. The only person we’d give caution to is a Note 3 user. The new Note is bigger and faster (and perhaps better) in every way. But is it worth the cost of upgrading and/or the hassle of doing the whole buy/sell thing? That’s a bit less of a sure bet.
Either way, Samsung has continued to iterate the Note 4 with hardware/software additions in a way that still makes it the king of phablets bar none.
Thank you to Core Creative and Verizon for the review unit.