After launching the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 in September 2015, Samsung eventually gave in and delivered to power users the Note 5 Dual SIM in January 2016. While the dual SIM variant did arrive a bit late, there is still plenty of time till the next Samsung Note smartphone arrives (around September) so it does make sense to consider one if you are a Note fan or are looking for a flagship smartphone with a stylus and dual SIM.
Even though it sports one of the faster chipsets currently available (yet a year old), the newer Exynos chipset will soon be dethroned by Samsung's very own Galaxy S7 series. Still then, it is no slouch being the bigger older brother, but as our review points out, we did have a few problems with its design and to an extent its battery life.
Build and Design: 7.5/10
The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Dual follows the footsteps of the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge with a metal frame sandwiched between two glass panels.
On the front we get a massive glass slab with the display taking up 5.7 inches of real estate. On the top is the receiver with the LED notification lamp, proximity and ambient light sensor on the left and the front facing camera on the right. At the bottom end we have the home button that also features the fingerprint reader flanked by the capacitive multi-tasking and back keys.
On the back we have another slab of glass, but this time it is curved at the edges delivering a look that is similar to the front face of the S6 edge. Topside we have the camera module flanked by heart-rate monitor and the LED flash.
At the top edge we simply have secondary mic and a slot that reveals the dual SIM card tray.
At the bottom we get a 3.5mm headphone jack, microUSB port and the speaker grille accompanied by the primary microphone. Next to the loudspeaker sits the S pen stylus.
The design looked modern with minimal bezels and curved back, it was not all that practical in day-to-day use. While glass surface on the front sports an oleophobic coating (that does its best to repel fingerprints) the back was a greasy mess that also made the smartphone slippery and hard to grip. What we also did not like were the fine buttons that have the thickness of a staple pin. We would have preferred if these were thicker as they often ended up feeling a bit too sharp that makes it even more uncomfortable to press them every time.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Dual SIM packs in plenty of punch and adds some more with a dual SIM slots, something that many power users may have been waiting for. As for the features, the Galaxy Note 5 Duos packs in everything under the sun. This includes a brilliant 5.7-inch Quad HD (2560x1440 pixels) Super AMOLED display with a screen made of Corning's Gorilla Glass 4.
Inside we have an Exynos 7420 chipset with an Octa-core processor clocked at 2.1GHz and a Mali-T760MP8 holding the fort for the graphics. There's 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM and 32GB of internal storage that sadly cannot be expanded. It runs on Android 5.1 with the familiar TouchWiz UI atop it.
On the back we have a 16MP sensor with a bright f/1.9 aperture, OIS, and an LED flash. The front-facing camera is a 5MP unit but again sports an f/1.9 aperture and can also pull off 1440p@30fps video.
Connectivity options include dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth v4.2, NFC and microUSB v2.0 port. Also available is wireless charging, with a dock that sells separately. Additional features include a fingerprint reader inside the Home button and the all-important S Pen stylus.
Being in the display business, Samsung's customers have come to expect more from its smartphones and the Note 5 Dual SIM does not disappoint.
The display performed well both indoors and outdoors. It showcased some really saturated colours, but turns out that the settings looked pretty close when matched up side by side. Colour saturation was not really a problem, but at times the display did try to crank up the colours, especially when outdoors to make up for the colour loss, leading to images looking different when viewed outdoors as compared to indoors.
Sharpness was not a problem indeed with display that delivers a pixel density of 515ppi. Viewing angles were great and watching movies was an immersive experience thanks to the high contrast ratio. The oleophobic coating applied to the display screen did a great job and kept fingerprints to a bare minimum.
There's plenty to like here even if you are a Nexus user. Samsung's TouchWiz no longer bogs down the UI. It feels smooth and light in day-to-day tasks and can handle all sorts of apps with no stutter. What was surprising is how far Samsung has come and how much its design language has evolved. There were apps from Samsung that were a lot better compared to what Google currently offers. The S Planner is a fine example of form and function and things only get better when you pull out the stylus with its fancy air gestures.
Still then, the software felt polished and Samsung indeed seems to have made good use of the split-screen function letting users run two apps at a time on the same screen. The feature works well, and both apps run smoothly thanks to good hardware support.
But like with every Samsung smartphone in the past you do get some bloat, but again it is not as bad as with other manufacturers. You get Microsoft's Office suite which thankfully works well after the recent update. Sadly, if you don't fancy apps like Microsoft's Office, Skype and OneNote (and even WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger) there is no way to uninstall them to free up some space. All you can do is disable them and free up some RAM.
Customisations are plenty with access to a rich theme store with some really good themes that not just change the wallpaper but the ringtones and notifications as well. Samsung's theme engine goes as deep as the dialer and the Settings menu with even the toggle switches changing shape and form.
While many would like to go by the benchmarks, we faced no issues whatsoever with the Note 5's performance. Apps opened and closed instantly and there was no lag anywhere. The Exynos 7420 Octa kept up with all tasks showing no signs of slowing down even while minimizing games like Real Racing 3, Modern Combat 5 and more.
Talking about games, every game ran smoothly even at highest settings and heating was not an issue. The device managed to stay cool and the only way we managed to heat it up was during extended camera usage in the baking afternoon heat.
Call quality was impressive and the HD Voice feature did a brilliant job making the caller sound loud and clear. At the other end of the line, things sounded pretty good as well, with the caller being able to hear us clearly.
Audio quality was at par with the rest of the competition and we had no complaints thanks to number of adjustments and the great equalizer that Samsung has packed in.
The device also sports a fingerprint reader on the front, which did a fine job but had a few misses, prompting us to use the backup password. Oddly, we did experience times when it refused to recognise any of the registered fingerprints. Hopefully this is a software bug that can be fixed with an update. At the same time it was not as fast as the Nexus 5X or the Nexus 6P.
Additionally we also have the S Pen stylus that does a pretty good job. At times we found it to be more responsive and more accurate than the one on Microsoft's Surface tablet as well. It almost showcases zero lag and writing on the display does make you feel that there's ink flowing out the stylus. Also impressive were its sensitivity levels, that made drawing doodles or even some serious sketching a blast.
Doodling aside, it does pack in plenty of functionality. Sadly they currently only work with some of its apps like S Planner, Gallery, Mail app and some more. This would again be limited to showing previews of what's below the writing tip of the S Pen on the display. Hopefully with Android N expected to bring native stylus support, we could expect third-party developers to add more support for the same. But for now Air gestures get the tag of just a "cool feature".
Ejecting the S Pen is easier this time and it won't accidentally fall out of its slot thanks to the clicker at the back of stylus. Oddly, when out of its slot, clicking on the back of the stylus seems to activate no function. You do get a button on the lower part of body, but it is limited to bringing up the Air Command menu that gives you shortcuts to both apps and custom note taking functions.
Yes, that is a 9 you see in the line above! The 16MP unit does not fail to impress and wows onlookers as well. Part of this is indeed the brilliant display that does a great job of showcasing those images. Still then, it's the combination of f/1.9 aperture, 16MP sensor and OIS that lets you take some great shots no matter what the lighting conditions are.
The images look sharp and showcase the right level of colour saturation. In fact the camera set up was so good that we rarely ended up clicking any HDR images. The HDR images however were impressive and in a league of their own with minimal ghosting and exposures that did not look overly dramatic. You can navigate through our sample image gallery below.
Highlights were rare and the OIS does a brilliant job of delivering blur free photos and videos. Clicking low light shots was a breeze and we ended up with some crisp images and even managed to shoot some light trails without a tripod thanks to the manual or Pro mode.
Talking about videos, this was indeed the icing on the cake. While we mostly tested the video recorder at Full HD @60 fps, the 30fps mode did not disappoint. Even better, was the camera's ability to handle 4K video, with quick focusing thanks to PDAF and the brightness levels well under control while moving from scene to scene.
Even the output from the 5MP front facing camera was top notch and delivered some really good looking selfies in all lighting situations thanks to its f/1.9 aperture. In short, we were really impressed and it seems that Samsung is really taking Android smartphone cameras to new heights.
Battery Life: 8/10
Times are changing and while Apple has a work around, Samsung does a balancing act considering that it does not build its own software. And unlike other smartphone makers who will pack in a massive 4000mAh or 5000mAh battery, Samsung has used a smaller 3000mAh unit that keeps the Note 5's weight in check. Adding to it are some handy tweaks to the kernel that will let you make use of that capacity for a whole day.
As of writing this review the Samsung's Marshmallow update had not arrived, leaving us with Android 5.1.1 Lollipop.
We had two email accounts on sync, continuous WhatsApp usage, a couple of calls and about 15 photographs, managed to drain the battery when hooked up to just 3G by the end of the work day (7AM to 5PM). Relying solely on 3G the battery drain is noticeable and we did expect a bit more from the Note when using two SIM cards.
Holding it up against an Apple iPhone 6s Plus (with a single SIM), it clearly does not stand a chance. But against the flagship Android smartphones, the Sony Xperia Z5 is the one to beat, but sadly, the Note 5 does not come close to that as well. Overall we were impressed by the battery life, but its just that we expected a bit more.
Thankfully, Samsung has also included an adaptive quick charger in the package that can charge the smartphone very quickly in a little over an hour.
Verdict and Price in India
The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Dual is indeed the most polished Note smartphone ever. Its well-mannered and groomed to perfection, it has little or no downsides. We loved everything about it, from the design, camera, display and even its software.
So should you buy a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Dual? Well, as of today, the S7 twins have already been launched in India. The camera is also expected to be even better on the new models, making the Note 5 a tough sell. Moreover, the S7 twins also pack in Samsung's dual hybrid SIM slots, giving them expandable memory and dual SIM capabilities.
Indeed no other currently available Android smartphone comes close to the performance, camera and display of the Note 5, and finding all of them in one smartphone these days is a tough task. With Sony Xperia Z5 (Rs 38,500 onwards) you get great battery life but a not so brilliant camera and terrible heat management, as with the LG G4 (Rs 39,000 onwards), its just the camera and nothing else. With the Nexus 6P (Rs 39,000 onwards), you have to deal with stock Android and the lack of customisation (which may be a bit bland for some) and a good camera.
In short, there is no all-rounder like it and if it's a stylus that you are looking for, even at Rs 53,500, this dual SIM monster is your best bet when it comes to Android.
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