The Galaxy Note series heralded what we now know as the phablet category. Currently in the fourth generation, the Samsung Galaxy Note series has tasted success with every generation. While the Note 4 maintains the same screen size as its predecessor, it has bumped up the resolution to 2560x1440 pixels instead of the full HD resolution seen on Note 3. Apart from this there have been many more improvements. Let us find out.
Build and Design: 8/10
The Note series from Samsung is renowned for its larger-than-life sized phones, so much so that the Note series was single-handedly responsible for the phablet category. For the purpose of this review, we will stick to the term smartphone. It feels like Samsung has finally paid heed to what consumers have been demanding, if only partially. One of the main grouse most users had against Samsung was its use of plastic in the build material. With the Note 4, Samsung has introduced a metallic element which forms a frame around the phone on all sides, which is chamfered around its edges which ensures that there are no sharp edges. The other purpose of the chamfered edges is assisting with easy grip of the Note 4.
It still continues to use the faux-leather plastic back cover which has a slightly better feel than the one on the Galaxy S5. The edges are flat except for the mild slopes which makes the edge protrude out a bit on the top and bottom. The volume rocker button is placed on the left hand side and the power/standby button is on the right hand side. These buttons too have chamfered edges which nicely complement the sides.
There is a slight curvature on the rear side at the base of the phone. On the rear you have the 16MP camera placed on top below which is the LED flash unit and the heart rate monitor. This is followed by an embossed Samsung logo and at the lower left hand corner you’ll find two slits for the speaker section.
Coming to the front, you have a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection for the Quad HD Super AMOLED display. Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a slim bezel on the sides as well as on the top and button which helps keep the height of the phone under check. On the top you have the audio speaker section beside which you see two black dots - the proximity sensor whereas the front facing camera is located on the right hand edge. The home button located below is slightly raised from the plane of the phone. It acts as a finger print scanner and is surrounded by the back and multi-tasking soft keys.
Under the base of the Note 4 on the right hand side, you have the section which houses the S-Pen. It has a plastic shiny top and a textured stem which ends in the nib of the S-Pen. There is button just above the nib, to activate the S-pen air command.
Considering this is the flagship Samsung product, it houses the top of the line specifications. For starters it is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 system on chip which houses four Krait 450 processors clocked at 2.65GHz along with Adreno 420 GPU clocked at 600 MHz. This is paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage of which 7.34GB is used for system memory. On the camera front you have a 16MP rear camera and a 3.7MP front-facing camera. Samsung has carried forward the heart-rate monitor which was seen on the Samsung Galaxy S5, on to the Note 4.
It supports quad band 2G and 3G. Also in circles where applicable, the Note 4 is compliant with 4G LTE (Cat 6 speeds). On the connectivity front, it supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, Bluetooth v4.1 and an IR blaster. It houses a range of sensors such as an accelerometer, a gyroscope, RGB ambient light, a proximity sensor, a barometer, fingerprint scanner and a heart rate monitor.
The stylus bundled with the Galaxy Note, called the S Pen has been a unique point of the Note series. With the Note 4, Samsung has brought in a lot of improvements to the S Pen. For starters, the button present on the S Pen can be used to activate the Air Command, which basically lets you bring up a semi-circular menu. This menu lets you open a memo (for note taking using the S Pen), smart select (works like a sniping tool), image clip (lets you clip portions of an image) and screen write (for annotations). The S Pen also lets you select what type of pen you want to use (fountain pen, marker, pencil, paintbrush, calligraphy pen among others) and you can also select the colours and transparency (in case of markers).
When you want to select a portion of text, you can hold onto the button on the S Pen and drag is diagonally on the text to select the portion, just like you would using a mouse. Clipped portions of the screen cut out using the smart select option, can be shared directly to your friends or you can collect them in the Scrapbook app for later use. Handwriting recognition has also been improved and you can directly take actions on the text you have entered. For example if you have written down a number, you can directly add it to contacts or if you have written down the name of a website, you can directly open it in the browser and so on.
Like most other Samsung smartphones, the Note 4 also comes with Samsung’s proprietary TouchWiz UI which runs atop the Android 4.4.4 KitKat. Those who have used Samsung phones in the past will feel at home as far as the app drawer, notification drop down menu and settings menu is concerned. Thankfully, there is minimal bloatware, an issue that has plagued many Samsung phones in the past. Apart from the Google Play Store, Samsung also has its own Galaxy App Store which has similar categorisation as the Play Store. One thing we liked on the Galaxy App store was a dedicated section for S-Pen related apps. Apart from the Galaxy App store, you have Samsung’s proprietary apps such as S Note, Scrapbook, S Planner, S Health, S Voice and Smart Remote. The left most screen on the homepage is dedicated to a tweaked version of Flipboard. Other value added features includes multi-window mode, one-handed use and multiple microphones to record audio based on your situation - meeting, interview and so on.
Considering it houses a top end system-on-chip, the performance on the Note 4 is fast. It blazes through the benchmark tests such as AnTuTu, Geekbench 3 as well as 3D Mark. The phone is quite responsive and you will barely notice any lag while swiping through screens or scrolling web pages. Gaming was smooth and on even on heavy games such as Riptide GP2 and Asphalt 8, we did not find any sort of lag.
Call quality is quite good and the audio speaker is loud enough to be able to hear calls in traffic situations as well. But I found the phone’s speaker placed behind to be a bit annoying when watching videos as I had to cup the area around the speaker to be able to hear properly. Holding the Note 4 in that clawed position for a long time can lead to aching palms.
One feature that is really impressive is the multiple microphone modes. You get four modes namely Normal, Interview, Meeting and Voice memo mode which lets you record audio accordingly. As a technology scribe, I particularly found the interview mode quite useful.
The 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display packs in a 2560x1440 pixel resolution thereby giving a pixel density of 515 pixels per inch. Thanks to the Super AMOLED display, the colours tend to pop out and the the display has an overall warm tone, although you can control that by changing the screen mode. The display has a glossy finish, but it is quite legible in bright outdoors. In certain instances we noticed a slight reddish overlay on the screen when reading content on a white background in bright sunlight. Adjusting the angle of the display helps get rid of it, but it can be annoying. Contrast levels are quite good and blacks are deep. Watching movies on the display is a joy, but ensure that you have an HD print at least, else things can look quite stretched out on this high res display.
Camera is one area that has become a differentiating factor among all the flagship phones. Gone are the days when companies could increase the megapixel count and sit still. Users have become wiser and are looking for a camera that offers faster focussing speeds and better low light performance. Samsung Galaxy Note 4 packs in a 16MP rear camera featuring an f/2.4 aperture and a 3.7MP front camera with an f/1.9 aperture. The presence of an optical image stabilisation on the rear camera makes shooting a joy specially in low light situations.
We liked the fact that Samsung has decided to tone down on the multiple modes on offer as well as special effects. If you want any specific filter or mode, you can download it. It still has a robust settings menu which lets you operate the camera in a fully manual mode if you so wish. Thereby it keeps both the newbies as well as experienced smartphone shooters happy. The video stabilisation feature is disabled in the 4K video shooting mode and is applicable only on full HD and lower resolutions. Video output was decent and the image stabilisation helps one get a relatively shake-free video. 4K video shooting is an added bonus.
Battery Life: 9/10
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 houses a 3,220mAh battery, which is not much higher than the Note 3. But despite the Note 4 having a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution over the full HD one seen on the Note 3, the battery life is impressive. After running our 8-hour loop test involving two hours each of video streaming, calling, video and audio playback, the Note 4 still showed around 48% battery remaining. On regular usage, we could easily pull off a day and a half, at times even two full days.
The Galaxy Note 4 also comes with an ultra power-saving mode where in you can use the Note 4 in a gray-scale mode, activate only apps that you most urgently need. This can really boost the battery life to a longer period. You even have the option to set the battery to go into ultra power saving mode after it reaches a certain percentage.
Samsung also bundles in a 2A charger with the phone and the Note 4 supports fast-charging feature - which is also a feature seen on the Google Nexus 6. In half an hour the phone charged from 20% all the way to 61% which is quite impressive.
Verdict and Price in India
Samsung has pretty much covered all bases with the Galaxy Note 4, making it a true flagship device. The only flagship feature missing would be the water and dust resistance that was seen on the Galaxy S5, but then the advantages offered by the Note 4 far outweigh the omission of the IP67 certification. Android Lollipop is another feature one would expect from the Note 4, but that should come out anytime next year.
While the Note 4 comes with the TouchWiz UI, thankfully bloatware has reduced drastically. Performance, battery life and S-pen functionality are the three major selling points of this phone. Go for it, if you are sold on these three aspects. While the camera is great for daylight shots, we found that indoor shots take in low light situations tended to over process the image. Low light photographs are good for sharing online, but they do end up capturing noise.
At Rs 58,300, you are paying through your nose for this device and you need to be absolutely sure of your use cases before buying this phone. This phone is not meant for those of you who will never use the stylus, are bothered by large screen sizes and are looking at the absolute best in terms of low light photography on a smartphone. Even Samsung Galaxy Note 3 owners are better off sticking to their devices instead of upgrading to the Note 4.
In terms of competition, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has no equal when it comes to phones with stylus functionality. But in terms of smartphones, Note 4 does have some competition. Apple's iPhone 6 Plus and Google's latest Nexus 6 are immediate names that come to mind to compare to the Note 4, but we will reserve our verdict till we test these phones. For those who are not sold on the idea of a stylus, there are other companies' flagships as well such as LG G3, Sony Xperia Z3 which are priced under Rs 50,000 whereas on the other hand you also have the Moto X (2nd gen) and OnePlus One which are under Rs 35,000 if your budget is limited. Not to forget Samsung's own Galaxy S5 which has got a price drop to Rs 35,000 (for the 16GB model).