Sit up, take Note: this is the best Samsung phone you've ever seen.
What Is It?
- Processor: Exynos 7420 octa-core (quad-core 2.1GHz + quad-core 1.5GHz)
- RAM: 4GB
- Screen: 5.7-inch SuperAMOLED 2560x1440 (518ppi)
- Memory: 32GB/64GB, not expandable
- Camera: 16-megapixel rear-facing, 5-megapixel front-facing
- Connectivity: Category 9 4G/LTE, Bluetooth 4.0LE, 802.11ac
The fifth movement in the Samsung's Galaxy Note affair.
You still get a 5.7-inch display as with the previous Galaxy Note, but the handset itself is ever so slightly thinner, ever so slightly lighter and has a slightly smaller bezel to boot.The display is also still a 2560x1440 SuperAMOLED panel and you still get a 16-megapixel camera.
The only real changes in the specs on paper come when you peep under the hood, and notice that the old quad-core Snapdragon 805 chip has been replaced with the new, octa-core, Samsung-made Exynos 7420 processor. It features a quad-core 1.5GHz processor mashed together with another quad-core 2.1GHz processor to achieve a silly amount of power, matched with 4GB of RAM to boot. You also get a 3000mAh Li-Po battery to keep all that gear running, which is actually slightly smaller than the battery of the Note 4.
If you judge the phone against its ancestor purely on paper, however, you're going to get the wrong end of the S-Pen.
Before we get into how good the display looks, how amazing the camera is and just how well put-together the Note 5 is, let's talk about how it compares to the Note 4. From the looks of things, it has the same screen in the 5.7-inch 2560x1440 SuperAMOLED, the same camera, a slightly faster processor, slightly more RAM and less battery, but looks in this case are deceiving.
First of all, the souped-up Exynos 7420 processor is a 14nm chip rather than the 28nm architecture found in the Snapdragon 805, making it more energy efficient while also boosting processing power. Secondly, the display is totally different. Sure it's the same size and the same resolution, but it has been radically redesigned to look brighter, more rich and be more efficient on your battery life.
The experts at DisplayMate agree:
While its screen size and resolution remain the same as the Galaxy Note 4, its display has significantly improved performance.
Our detailed Lab tests show that there have been a number of significant display performance improvements for the new Galaxy Note 5 including much higher peak brightness with significantly improved screen visibility and readability in high ambient light, plus significantly higher display power efficiency so it actually uses less power than the Note 4 in spite of its much higher brightness, and resulting in a number of new records for smartphone display performance, including the best absolute colour accuracy of any mobile display that we have ever tested, and delivering absolutely stunning and beautiful images.
So while the two phones might look the same on paper, it's clear right from the get-go that the Note 5 is the most honed and well-crafted phone Samsung has ever made.
While we're on that display, it's worth noting just how freaking beautiful it looks staring back at you. Samsung's display modes have never been more useful, either. Basic mode gives you beautiful colour reproduction and pure whites, but if you want that saturated look you can boost it into SuperAMOLED Cinema mode to satisfy your colour-rich desires. Cinema mode on the SuperAMOLED display had previously oversaturated the panel in our experience and left you a bit disappointed, but it's just right in this version.
The flat screen is also fantastic to use day-to-day. I've been using the S6 Edge for some time, and the glare you cop off the curves on that screen can sometimes make it feel like you're using a much smaller phone. The Note 5 brings its beautiful flat screen to the fore, while curving the back panel rather than the front to give you as much screen coverage as your eyes have room for.
The smaller battery we mentioned earlier is even less of a worry when you consider that Samsung has graced the new Note with fast charging. And you know what? It really is fast. You'll easily fill half of your battery within 20-30 minutes on the proprietary Micro-USB charger Samsung bundles. More good news is that the wireless charger is also compatible with fast battery charging.
Samsung has really sat up and taken notice of the clear and present threat posed to it by LG with its magnificent G4 and specifically its awesome camera. Samsung for the Note 5 has jammed in the fantastic camera module from the S6 Edge, but updated the software to make it far more powerful and useful for people who know how to put an image together.
Look at all these controls:
With it, you're able to produce beautiful images, including hot-looking long exposures from your phone. I played around with it on the weekend, and produced a very terrible handheld image that would look way better with a tripod of sorts.
Check out a few more photo tests below:
The camera upgrades are just one example of how software has finally been paired with hardware to make everything a little better. Making an Android phone can be as easy as slapping Google's AOSP image onto a phone and hoping for the best like some whitebox manufacturers do, but a lot more care than usual has been paid to the harmony of software and hardware on Samsung's Note 5.
It's one thing that Samsung often loses out to Apple on, to be honest. Because Apple has end-to-end control of what it builds, it's able to get better performance out of what look like lesser components. Samsung is now paying way more attention to the build process, and marrying software with hardware in a really intelligent way.
One of those improvements comes in the form of how you use the time-trodden S-Pen. Yes, it's a stylus that lives in the bottom of your phone, but somehow Samsung has made it more human to use now.
A feature called Lock Write means that popping the now spring-loaded stylus out of the device allows you to doodle an Action Memo on the screen without actually unlocking the phone. That's insanely handy, and the longer, clickier pen feels fantastic to write with.
Removing the S-Pen when the device is unlocked still brings up the action wheel known as Air Command, but you can actually insert your own shortcuts into it now in a bid to keep your home screen clean and shortcut-free. You also get the option to give Air Command a little handle button on your home screen like Facebook's Chat Heads to make life a bit easier too. It's human improvements like these that make it a really handy productivity tool.
Samsung used to have a best-in-class product when it came to battery with the Note line, but now that pretty much everyone can jam a big cell inside a big phone, Samsung has had to innovate some new gear to keep our eyebrows set to raised. The fast charge feature from previous Notes is back, but this one's on steroids.
Fast charge really works, but it's kind of obnoxious you need to use the one, bespoke Samsung cable for it. People complain about Apple changing its ports from 30 Pin to Lightning, but this new spate of bespoke Micro-USB cables is much, much more annoying.
The Note 5 is also put together extremely well. The gaudy faux leather back has been banished in favour of the smooth, sleek glass found on the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge lines.
Samsung puts the Note 5 together by heating glass to incredibly high temperatures to bend it around the ultra-light metal chassis, before applying a layer of gorgeous reflective aluminium to give it colour and coating it in super-strong Gorilla Glass 3.
As a result of all the metal in the chassis and the strong glass, this thing doesn’t bend. Trust me. I tried. I put an unfriendly amount of pressure onto the device to see if I could get it to move, and it doesn’t. Gorilla Glass keeps this thing intact.
And don’t for a second think that just because it’s glass it’s going to smash into a million pieces like the iPhone 4S when you drop it. It’s lightweight and rigid so it’s not about to go to bits the first time it has a fall. If it's even half as strong as the S6 edge I've lived with for a few motbhs, which stayed together and unblemished after being flung 20 feet into the air before being subjected to the mosh pit at a Flume gig, it's going to be your strongest phone yet.
Not only is it sturdy, it’s also pretty. I’m testing the black coloured model right now, and the only time it actually looks black is when there’s no natural light shining on it whatsoever. The way Samsung has built the phone is to have them almost shimmer and change colours slightly when natural or artificial light is applied. It's gorgeous to just sit and look at for a bit.
Finally, you're never going to be short of networks to connect to with Samsung's insane new antennas in the Note 5. You get 802.11 ac Wi-Fi, as well as Category 9 LTE/4G networking with a theoretical maximum download speed of 450Mbps. Obviously, that's going to be tough to get in the real world, but it's technology that's being built right now which means your phone is going to get better and faster over time rather than slower and sadder.
Of course, it could be better. For what it's worth, most of the disappointing things about the Note 5 come down to how it's being sold in Australia.
As we know, there's no removable back on the Note 5, which means you get no removable storage — slot-loading or otherwise. Being stuck for external storage isn't a bad thing when you get a 128GB storage variant, but Samsung is only selling one version in Australia: the one with a diminutive 32GB of storage. Sure, you get 100GB of Microsoft OneDrive space for free to ease your pain, but let's be honest, you probably won't use because you're on Box, Dropbox or Drive because they gave you space for one of those on your old device.
This is reminiscent of Google's strategy not to include removable storage on the Nexus 5 in a bid to push you into the cloud instead. That made sense for Google seeing as how they owned a cloud storage business in Drive, but Samsung doesn't have skin in the cloud game. It's just pushing you to Microsoft, which seems like it would cost more money in partnership bucks than it would just to give the phone a microSD card slot, right? Am I crazy? tl;dr: put in a goddamn storage slot if you're going to sell 32GB phones, you guys.
The only other thing I was really disappointed with here is how TouchWiz still gets in the way juuuust a little. Samsung's proprietary Android skin is very out of your way on the Note 5, which is awesome, but all Samsung needs to do now is to stop replacing Google's proprietary homescreen widgets with its own. Stop trying to make the S Planner widget happen. It's not going to happen.
Should You Buy It?
This is an interesting one, because by buying it you're going to have to compromise on storage, which to me is one of the most important things about a phone. I sync everything to work offline. Most of the space on my 128GB iPhone is taken up by Google Photos, Apple iCloud Photo Library, offline Apple Music and offline Spotify playlists, because excess data is too freaking expensive to even flirt with.
You can certainly configure your life to live with less internal storage, and in a world where the cloud isn't going anywhere, it's probably a good lesson to learn for yourself.
Even taking the storage dramas into account, I love this phone. The screen is gorgeous; the camera is next-level; the fast charge is so damn convenient (even if it only works with the cable Samsung gives you out of the box) and it's so powerful and so fast on the network it hurts.
It's a premium phone that really feels grown up. The LG G4 and even the current-gen Galaxy S6 edge are both fantastic phones, but even with their bells and whistles, they can't hold a candle to the Note 5. It feels like a tool for adults. One you can really get something done on and make a difference in your day with.
It's the best Samsung phone ever made.