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Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Review

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 sports a big, high-quality screen; large, removable battery; speedy processor; stylus; and specialized software for power users.

Conclusion

Samsung’s Note series has gained a loyal following by combining premium hardware with phablet defining features. They aren’t flashy or hip or trendy. They are meant for power users and professionals who use their phones for getting real work done. Sure, you can still have fun with a Note too, but it’s not a phone designed for the masses.

The Galaxy Note 4 extends the Note tradition as a flagship phablet starting with its most recognizable feature, the 5.7-inch SAMOLED display. For this generation, Samsung bumps the resolution from a so-last-year 1080p (386 PPI) to 1440p (515 PPI). Some may question the need for so many pixels, but for AMOLED screens, whose PenTile matrices have a subpixel deficit compared to LCD panels, this is a good thing.

Click to enlarge | (Image credit: Alex Davies)

Looking at all of these pixels is a real joy thanks to a well-calibrated, proper sRGB display mode, making this one of the best looking screens currently on the market. We also appreciate Samsung continuing to provide multiple display modes for people who prefer the more vibrant and saturated colors that result from using an extended gamut. Choice is a good thing.

Surrounding the screen is an aluminum frame, a new material for the Note line. While the overall appearance remains similar to the Note 3, the metal frame, painted with a color-matched finish and highlighted by polished, chamfered edges, looks classy and gives the Note 4 a solid feel, free from any flexing or creaking.

The plastic back panel is still removable, providing access to the removable battery and SD card slot. A feature sure to make road warriors happy. It retains the faux leather finish of the Note 3, but the fake stitching is gone.

Click to enlarge | (Image credit: Alex Davies)

While no longer the fastest SoC on the block, the Snapdragon 805 packed inside is still very quick and capable. It’s paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of speedy internal storage. A category 4 LTE modem from Qualcomm keeps the data flowing.

The camera in the Note 4 is one of the best currently available. It's 16 MP Sony sensor with OIS delivers high-resolution images of good quality, and the phase detection autofocus is very fast. We occasionally saw small misses in white balance leading to images with a slight green cast, and the iPhone 6 Plus still holds a small edge in some lower-light scenarios. However, Samsung is the current leader when it comes to HDR, providing a live preview onscreen and producing great results with virtually no processing lag.

S Pen is another notable feature. Effectively doubling the number of pressure sensitivity levels from the Note 3, the S Pen delivers a smoother and more natural writing experience. The Pen is more than just a simple stylus, however. The integrated Wacom digitizer enables additional features like being able to hover the pen over the screen to show context sensitive menus. TouchWiz also makes good use of the pen via the Air Command menu that opens when it’s removed from the silo, providing quick access to common tasks, and functionality is extended through apps such as S Note and integrated OCR.

Click to enlarge | (Image credit: Alex Davies)

The Note 4 now runs Android Lollipop, but doesn’t use the more refined TouchWiz UI that comes with the new Galaxy S6. Although there are still a few rough edges when it comes to UI design and functionality, Samsung provides additional software features that make good use of the bigger screen. The ability to shrink the display size, place input controls within easy reach, and add shortcuts to the side key panel make it possible to still interact with the phone using a single hand when necessary. Multi Window is great for multi-tasking and receives some usability improvements for this generation.

The Note 4 is a great phone, but we do have a few minor quibbles. Despite the fast processor, browser scrolling and UI interactions still exhibit some stuttering due to Samsung’s conservative CPU governor settings. This does improve battery life though, so this might not be a negative depending on your priorities. The Note 4 is also more susceptible to thermal throttling than other phones when the GPU is pushed hard. Samsung needs to do a better job using the metal chassis to spread and dissipate heat. The rear mounted external speaker is less than ideal, reducing audio quality and producing muffled sound when sitting on a table.

Despite these few minor flaws, the Note 4 is a powerful phone, whose hardware and software features set it apart from all the other phablets flooding the market. For this reason, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 earns our Editors’ Choice award.

Tim Ferrill is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • kamhagh
    this came out long ago!
    Reply
  • ZolaIII
    All in all nice review but I somehow feel you skipped a litle audio section. Not that I blame you much for it as Qualcomms solution is nothing special & it's far behind WolfsonMicro's WM5110 used on Exunos equipped models. Looks like you still didn't got to the bottom of bus frequency scaling dependencies on this Qualcomms SoC gen. ??
    Reply
  • Vorador2
    this came out long ago!

    It's a tradition. Everybody reviews phones in the week before or after a phone is released.

    Tomshardware is better than that. Fashionably late to the party.
    Reply
  • styx rogan
    this came out like 2 years ago
    Reply
  • jafrugh
    this came out long ago!

    It's a tradition. Everybody reviews phones in the week before or after a phone is released.

    Tomshardware is better than that. Fashionably late to the party.

    Well if you think Toms's Hardware needs to be quicker on the draw for phone reviews, go to this article: http://www.tomshardware.com/news/mobile-editors-wanted,29105.html
    Reply
  • vertexx
    What, did your sister site send you their press sample from last October?
    Reply
  • Vlad Rose
    this came out long ago!

    I thought the same thing considering I'm using a Note 4 Edge right now... lol
    Reply
  • alex davies
    this came out long ago!

    The difference between our review and others is that we tested the Note 4 running the Lollipop update, which only came out recently.

    We also compare its performance to newer devices such the Galaxy S 6, so you can see how the Note 4's older SoC compares to the latest and greatest.
    Reply
  • MobileEditor
    All in all nice review but I somehow feel you skipped a litle audio section. Not that I blame you much for it as Qualcomms solution is nothing special & it's far behind WolfsonMicro's WM5110 used on Exunos equipped models. Looks like you still didn't got to the bottom of bus frequency scaling dependencies on this Qualcomms SoC gen. ??

    I agree with you regarding our audio testing. I'm definitely not happy with it. We need to acquire some testing equipment, but the hardware we found cost $30k!!! Needless to say, we're still using my ears, because they're cheap.

    If you, or any of our readers, could point me towards some audio testing equipment that mere mortals can afford, please PM me.

    I did not investigate the bus scaling on the Note 4, partly because this review was finished by then and partly because the Note 4 did not exhibit "unusual" behavior. We will be examining this for the GS6.

    - Matt H.
    Reply
  • 10tacle
    Nice review and very useful to people like me needing an upgrade after skipping two generations of smart phones. I usually keep mine 3 years, and my Droid Bionic is like running a Core 2 Duo desktop these days. I'm still debating between the Note or Galaxy. Apples are out because 1) I don't like the fact that the battery *cannot* be removed to completely shut the phone off, and 2) no MicroSD slot for memory expansion.

    There will come a time when all smart phones from all manufacturers no longer allow SD memory upgrades, and I think that time is coming sooner rather than later. After all, one can go buy a 128GB $100 MicroSD card, but if Apple users want a 128GB phone, they have to shell out another $200 clams from the base 16GB model, and they don't get the extra "free" GB memory to start with after upgrading that came with the Android.

    But with that said, there are some people reporting about overheating and battery drain with their Note 4. Battery drain can be a problem with the provider though like a cell tower being down. Plus, the Note 5 is coming in a few months, possibly in July. I'm hoping it still has an SD slot otherwise I'll get the 4 and hope the serious overheating and battery drain reports are a fluke.
    Reply