Last three years have been a testament of the success of Samsung’s Galaxy Note-series. Despite some apprehensions from the reviewers at the time of original Galaxy Note launch, this smartphone line-up has been immensely successful for the Korean manufacturer. Even so, that it has guided other vendors to move to the large-screen phones and that is finally resulting in some competition from the likes of Apple and Google.
With every new generation of Note smartphones, Samsung has refined its design language but it had favoured plastic over metal until the Note 4, which is the first company flagship to sport a metal frame (Galaxy Alpha, A3 & A5 are not flagship smartphones). This metal frame with chamfered edges not only adds to the sturdiness to the phone but also makes it a little more premium, much needed when you are competing with some great design in Apple iPhone 6 Plus or elegant-looking Motorola-built Nexus 6/ LG’s G3. The company has however kept the signature faux-leather back, front design and the overall shape is still block-y, making it hard to use with single hand. Still, thanks to tiny bezels, the phone is thinner and comparably smaller than the most of the competing devices.
Being big is not much of a problem for the phone as Note 4 is targeted to the consumers, who want a large-screen smartphone and realise what they are getting into. To satisfy these consumers, Samsung has always added great displays in its Note smartphones and Galaxy Note 4 is no different. The smartphone sports a 5.7-inch quad-HD (2560x1440p) Super AMOLED panel, which is a delight to look at. Featuring vibrant colours, great blacks and insane 518PPI, Samsung has left little to wish for. However, I don’t see the reason why manufacturers are jumping on the QHD bandwagon, as full HD displays are just fine for smartphones and there is so little content for quad-HD screens. Maybe in the next two-three years, we will see more 4K or 2K content, but at this point quad-HD displays on phones offer little apart from being fancy and nice to see.
While we are on the topic of display, one would expect the QHD display on Note 4 to be a battery killer, but thanks to Samsung’s optimisations, it doesn’t seem to impact battery life. During our testing, I found the phone to be able to last over 24 hours with moderate use and even with the heavy usage, the phone gives about 14-18 hours of backup. The software customisations like Ultra-power saving mode and power-saving mode will further help in getting precious uptime in crunch situations. Also, Samsung has included fast-charging support, which can be enabled by using the bundled USB cable and wall charger. It allows you to charge your Note 4 about 30 percent faster than a similar device would normally charge.
This is the first time, Samsung has released the Snapdragon-variant of its Note-series smartphone in India and while, Snapdragon and Exynos hardly differ on the performance front, Snapdragon-version sees more community support as Qualcomm is dev-friendly and releases necessary files and drivers on time.
Third-party development aside, the presence of Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 makes Note 4 a beast on the performance front. The phone handles everything that you throw at it with ease, but we already know raw performance is hardly an issue in the flagship smartphones, it is the underlying software that makes or breaks a phone.
Like all Note-series phones, Samsung has included a number of enhancements on the Note 4, which make the phone more productive and actually allow the consumers to fully utilise the massive 5.7-inch screen real-estate. Apart from being able to put two apps together at the same time, the users on Note 4 will also be able to open up to five small-windowed versions of apps on the home-screen or over other apps. There is however a learning curve and you will need to spend some time tinkering with the phone to reach a level, when you can really start applying Samsung’s added customisations as a part of your daily usage.
Among the pre-loaded software, Samsung has included its fitness-focussed S Health app on the phone. It compiles data from various sensors present in the smartphone as well as Samsung’s wearable devices and is quite robust and simple to use. In addition, the Note 4 comes with Peel-powered Smart Remote and Flipboard-powered Briefing apps.
While there is a lot to feel good about in the Note 4 software, it still feels clunky at times and not a smooth as the stock Android. Samsung is slowly getting there, but Note 4’s software is not on the same level as other components of the phone.
Samsung might still have some work cut-out on the software front, but imaging is an aspect, where Galaxy Note 4 shines. The 16MP rear camera sensor present on the phone takes great shots, nice and clear. It is capable to capturing 4K videos and comes with a number of modes and presets to record videos. Overall video performance is good, however the camera stumbles with auto-focus while recording videos in less than perfect lighting conditions.
Selfie-lovers won’t be disappointed as Samsung has included a 3.7MP image sensor on the front, which coupled with the company’s software tweaks is capable of taking decent images. Thanks for included tweaks, there are a number of ways to take a selfie on the Note 4, including one, where you just have to tap the heart-rate sensor with your finger for shutter release. Other software tweaks like Beauty Shot remove small blemishes from your face in the image, so that you look beautiful in your selfie.
S-Pen/ Fingerprint scanner/ Heart-rate sensor
S-Pen, fingerprint scanner, and heart-rate sensor are three features that are not normally available in smartphones. Fingerprint-scanner has started becoming common in the high-end phones, but stylus and heart-rate sensor still remain rare. Note 4 has all of them and with plenty of software integration to make them useful (at least for some).
Talking about the S-Pen first, Samsung claims that the stylus bundled with Note 4 is much better than the one with Note 3 and it is more pressure sensitive and accurate, but frankly I don’t see much use of it for the normal consumers. However, it might come in handy for some, who like to draw and have specific-needs for pen-input. Similarly, fingerprint and heart-rate sensors also have limited usability, in part because of the effort involved in utilising them. During the review period, I used fingerprint-lock as the screen-lock and realised that I cannot simply use it as a part of my daily usage because of effort involved in unlocking the device at times.
Nit-pickings aside, there is no doubt that Samsung has come up with a great smartphone in the form of Galaxy Note 4. Combined with a great display, superb performance, impressive camera, and a good battery, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 emerges as a contender for the large-screen smartphone throne. There are still some areas, most of them with software, that can be improved and hopefully will get better with the upcoming Android 5.0-based update, but clearly this is some of the best work from Samsung so far.
As Samsung doesn’t target the Note-series to the mass market, the pricing of the phone is premium. While it might not be a value-for-money smartphone, it offers plenty to keep the intended target consumers happy.