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Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Having jump started the phablet game with the original Note, Samsung are refining things with the Note 4.

In theory it is a step up from the Galaxy S5. It offers more grunt than a bacon factory, more specs than an optometrist but it isn’t cheap.

Sporting a QHD screen, a super zippy Snapdragon 805 CPU and the obligatory S-Pen, the note 4 is a pretty appealing piece of gear.

Look and FeelUnboxing the Note 4, the first thing that struck me was its size. It's big. I wondered  how well it'd work for those with smallish hands - especially for one handed use.

Compared to its earlier sibling, the Note 3, the Note 4 looks and feels bigger. A quick look at the dimensions of both reveals that the Note 4 is taller and a tad heavier, but isn’t as wide.

This mightn’t sound like a huge deal. In use though, it reduced finger stretching. This was especially useful when using the virtual keyboard one handed.  Samsung have also included a one-handed mode which helps shrink the screen size.

Looks-wise, my first impressions were that a Note 3 had been sent to me in error. The Note 4 has much of the same look to it. Its screen, bezel and chassis all look pretty similar. Out of the box though, new design elements are obvious.

All told, it appears that Samsung have stuck with the old adage “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”

Samsung also appear to have taken some of the criticisms aimed at the note 3 on-board. The faux metal trim has gone and is replaced with real alloy and a plastic insert. Samsung have decided to stick to Tupperware. To this end, the back of the Note 4 is still crafted out of leather-effect plastic (the fake stitching is gone thank goodness ).

I’d have preferred alloy or glass as these would have given the Note 4 much more of a premium feel but in the hand it is still comfy.

The Note 4’s back is removable. Taking the back cover off reveals a microSD card slot, a removable 3220mAh battery and a Micro SIM slot. There’s also Samsung’s trademark protruding 16-megapixel camera sensor and a heart-rate sensor too.

Around the front of the Note 4 and is a glass screen that sports a subtle curve. As there is a small gap, some criticism was also levelled at the Note 4, calling it a pocket-lint magnet. I didn’t notice this to be the case, so perhaps it mightn’t be the huge deal everyone is making it out to be.

On the right above the screen is a 3.7-megapixel camera sensor. In use it did a great job of snapping selfies.

One omission that struck me as a tad bizarre was that The Note 4 isn’t waterproof. It isn’t a huge deal as I rarely (if ever) subject my phone to an impromptu dunking in liquids. But it seems strange given that the S5 is water-proof.

On the left hand site the side volume control, while the headphone jack sits at the top. As with the S5, the Note 4’s home button, supports fingerprint recognition. In use it also seemed more responsive than on the S5.

The S Pen is also tucked away at the bottom of the handset, sporting the same plastic finish as the Note 4.

Under the HoodThe Note 4 may have the same 5.7” screen as the Note 4, but the Note 3's 1080p display has is gone and the Note 4 has a 1400 x 2560 QHD display. Watching 4k video shot with the note 4's camera is nothing short of incredible.

The AMOLED display delivers vibrant colours and excellent contrast levels. At 515ppi it is also a step up from the S5. I wondered if a higher resolution screen would impact on battery life, but in use this didn’t seem to be the case.

Being an AMOLED display, colours were rich and vibrant and it was pretty bright. I like AMOLED screens, but they mightn't be everyone’s cup of warm beverage. Samsung have baked in a bunch of tweaks to the Display options. Available modes include Adaptive, AMOLED Cinema, AMOLED Photo and Basic display modes. Adaptive and Basic modes mute display colours just a tad which might see the Note 4's display appealing more to with LCD fans.

Regardless, watching Video footage on the screen is a revelation. High contrast levels meant blacks were inky deep, and whites looked like something out of a Persil advert.

The net effect of this is that the Note 4's QHD resolution is showcased to eye-popping effect.

The Note 4 runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat with Samsung’s Touch Wiz UI overlay. To their credit Samsung has decluttered. This said, the Note 4's UI has the same look as the Note 3. Existing Samsung users will be right at home while Touch Wiz detractors will continue to complain.

Samsung have also given the Settings screen a much needed overhaul. Its dark background has been replaced with one that is a tad lighter. Settings are now displayed as a list rather than the confusing horizontal tile arrangement of the S5.

Samsung have also baked in a multi-window feature which can be handy given the extra screen real-estate on offer with the Note 4. Run two apps side by side is dead handy and mean less app switching. I found myself using it for both YouTube and the web browser.

The multi-window mode must be enabled, and can be activated by swiping from the corner of open applications. Closing a window is as simple as tapping the top of a window to reveal an “X” button. One feature that has made its way onto the Note 4 from the S5 is the IR-blaster, which uses the WatchOn app. It is dead handy for killing noisy TVs in airport lounges and bars.

As with the S5,  You can also measure your heart rate using the sensor on the back of the phone under the rear camera. The sensor can also measure oxygen saturation levels. There’s also a UV monitor included. To use it the rear-mounted sensor must be facing the sun.

All these bells and whistles wouldn’t count for much if the Note 4 ran like a dog (which it doesn’t). In use it runs smoothly thanks to a 2.7GHz Snapdragon 805 CPU and 3GB of RAM plus an Adreno 420 GPU.

In use the Note 4 handled everything I threw at it with no hiccups, stutters or pauses.

The new CPU is in theory far more efficient with higher-resolution displays. It also offers better image processing and improved energy consumption, especially for video playback.

The Adreno 420 GPU is also said to be up to 40 percent faster than the Adreno 330. This explains why the Note 4 ran every game I throw at it (with max detail enabled) without breaking a sweat.

In UseOne of the Note 4’s key selling points is the S-Pen. While the S-Pen It might strike many as a gimmick, others tend to use it for note taking or even sketching. Even though interface design purists have long argued that a finger is also you need, the S-Pen makes a huge difference.

Quite a bit of thought has gone into the S Pen’s design.  While it is about the same size as the Note 3’s pen, Samsung has made it easier to grip which makes it far more comfy to use.

Note 4 users are also likely to appreciate being able to choose between different bundled removable nibs in the Note 4’s box.

As with the Note 3, a small button at the bottom of the pen fires up the S Pen launcher. I particularly liked using the S Pen to navigate. Writing was also more intuitive compared a touch screen keyboard. Being able to select and cut out images and doodle wasn't just dead handy, it was also fun.

Samsung also have a bunch of S Pen apps available and some are also a on the Google Play Store. Here’s hoping that Samsung continue to grow the body of S Pen apps available.

The Note 4 also sports a 16-megapixel image sensor for its rear camera. This is on part with the S5, but the Note 4 also has optical image stabilisation. In use I found that it helped reduce the amount movement based blur when shooting in low light.

In use it captured great photos under normal daylight conditions and also did a decent during sundown or in darkened rooms.

The Note 4 also has a minimalist camera app. There's only a few shooting modes: auto, rear, selfie mode, panorama and selective focus. More are available for download.

Viewing captured images on a PC also revealed colours were on the pretty accurate - not being overblown or muted and drab. Detail was okay, but felt a bit washed out in low light shots.

The Note 4 can also shoot 4K video. This does mean that I was no longer able to use HDR mode, video effects or snap pictures and record video at the same time. Given how stunning 4k video looked on the Note 4's screen, it was a small price to pay.

The 3220mAh battery is larger than the 3000mAh battery in the Note 3. It delivered solid battery life.

Considering the Note 4’s qhd screen and zippy CPU, I wasn’t expecting great things. This said, the Note 4 stayed alive for 2 days with its power-saving mode enabled.

Without the power saving features enabled and typical use, I averaged a solid 11-13 hours.

Verdict The Note 4 mightn’t sport a premium design, but it definitely delivers where it matters. The combination of a crisp gorgeous screen a great camera plus an impressive battery made it a pleasure to use. Add to this the S-Pen stylus and there’s definitely a lot to like - even if more S Pen apps would be useful.

Positioned at the upper end of town, The Note 4 isn’t cheap. A quick check on price spy reveals the Note 4 Costs just over 1,000 for the 32GB version. This makes it a pricey option even if there is nothing else quite like it.

Tech SpecsDimension: 153.5 X 78.6 X 8.5 mm / 176gDisplay: 5.7” Quad HD Super AMOLED (2560 x1440)CPU: 1.9GHz Octa Core (1.9GHz Quad + 1.3GHz Quad Core) ProcessMemory: 3GB RAM + 32GB Internal memory (microSD up to 128GB)Network: (2G) 850/900/1800/1900 MHz: (3G) 850/900/1900/2100 MHz: (4G Cat.4 150/50Mbps, Cat.6 300/50Mbps)Camera: (Front) Camera 3.7MP  (Rear) 16MPOS: Android 4.4 (Kitkat)Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2X2 MIMO), NFC, Bluetooth 4.1 (BLE),ANT+ ,IR LED (Remote Control)Battery: 3220mAh Fast ChargingSensors: Gesture, Accelerometer, Geo-magnetic, Gyroscope, RGB ambient light, Proximity, Barometer, Hall Sensor, Finger Scanner, UV, HRM

RRP$ 1,148