Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Review

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 | Credit: Alex DaviesClick to enlarge | 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 | Credit: Alex DaviesClick to enlarge | 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 | Credit: Alex DaviesClick to enlarge | 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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29 comments
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  • kamhagh
    this came out long ago!
  • 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. ??
  • Vorador2
    Quote:
    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.
  • styx rogan
    this came out like 2 years ago
  • jafrugh
    Quote:
    Quote:
    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
  • vertexx
    What, did your sister site send you their press sample from last October?
  • Vlad Rose
    Quote:
    this came out long ago!


    I thought the same thing considering I'm using a Note 4 Edge right now... lol
  • alex davies
    Quote:
    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.
  • MobileEditor
    Quote:
    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.
  • 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.
  • Cash091
    Rumored 980Ti benchmarks pop up today, wonder what Toms has to say...

    ...Note 4 review...

    Hm... Maybe chrome didn't update the site. What's the date of the article? May 22nd... hmm....
  • Vlad Rose
    202972 said:
    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.


    That excludes the Galaxy 6/ 6 edge as well then. Those were 2 deciding factors for me as well when I accidentally broke my last phone. Samsung decided to be more Apple like with their 6 and removed the MicroSD card slot and removable battery option. As I result, I ended up with a Note 4 edge.

    There are rumors though that there will be 'pro' version of the 6 that adds those 2 features back in.
  • 10tacle
    Yeah I knew the G6 was out, but I would not rule out getting a G5 for dirt cheap. It's still better than what I have now. I'd rather spend my money on PC tech anyway like I just did with $350 on a second GTX 970 for SLI (and got two free games with it, Witcher 3 and Batman Arkham Knight when it is released...yaaay!).
  • JOSHSKORN
    Can we get a review of the TRS-80??
  • whiteodian
    Too much bloat. It's a nice phone for sure, but layer on the AT&T, then Samsung's crap and it gets a little sluggish. I had my work buy me this phone and it just isn't quite as snappy as my old Nexus 4 (yes, my Nexus 4). What really pisses me off is that I got the Android Jelly Bean update. When I was prompted for the update, I said no, I didn't want to update. I plugged the phone in and went to bed. Woke up to the mess that is Android 5.0.1 and a wonderfully reduced battery life. Maybe about 33% less battery time. I need to root this thing.
  • becomecooler
    I think I'll wait 3 months and see what the Note 5 has to offer.
  • NormM67
    What's with all this Galaxy vs Note talk. Both the Note 4 and S6 are 'Galaxies'. Get it right guys...
  • Master0Fevil22
    I have and Love the Note 4. Kudos to Samsung on this one!

    TO THE AUTHOR,

    "Irregardless" is not a word. If something is regardless of xxxx, then x is going to happen anyway. If it were Not regardless (aka irregardless) then it wouldn't be anything at all. This hurts my brain. Please stop using this "word".

    Thank you
  • 10tacle
    Quote:
    What's with all this Galaxy vs Note talk. Both the Note 4 and S6 are 'Galaxies'. Get it right guys...


    Okay....Note 4, Galaxy 6 it is for comparison. I think most non-anal people knew what I was referring to, but whatever.
  • g00ey
    If you want to know what's really bad with this phone, or cons if you will I can add the following:

    1. On those later generations of Samsung phones there is a fuse that will get blown if one roots the phone or installs custom firmware on it (warranty void flag 0x1). This fuse will remain blown even if one restores the phone back to unrooted stock firmware. Towelroot can no longer circumvent this flag as it did with prior Samsung devices, yet, and who knows when it will be able to do it once again! The consequences of this blown fuse is that Samsung Knox won't work and so won't Samsung Pay. Also, this will make Samsung void warranty in countries where it is legal for Samsung to do so.This is a really BAD business practice! A smartphone today is no different than a computer, so imagine if Microsoft did the same thing with computer hardware. Microsoft locks down the hardware and denies the end-user admin privileges (i.e. root). The secure-boot "feature" of the UEFI was strongly moot and is now abandoned by private desktop and notebook users. Also, Apple tried the same 'warranty void' trick with the jailbreak thing and they lost while Samsung is so far roaming free, at least in the U.S..

    2. The way the update to Lollipop is handled. Many users experience substantial issues with the update from KitKat, mostly with the apps that stop working after the update. There is no readily available option to seamlessly revert back to KitKat and downgrading to the prior firmware means that all data will be lost and all settings need to be reconfigured manually. Setting the updates to 'automatic' means that update from KitKat to Lollipop will happen automatically without asking the user first. This means that the phone will be unavailable for half an hour whether you like it or not. On Windows 7, automatic update may mean that the updates are checked automatically and upon availability the user will be notified and prompted before download and install. This is not the case with the Note 4. Lollipop is indeed an improvement over previous versions of Android, but just not on Samsung devices. Samsung has failed with TouchWiz and pretty much f*cked things up here. There is also no way to disable those update notifications should you opt to stay with 4.4.4.

    3. Bug history and version history. Samsung is really bad at documenting and following up on things on the version history. I guess that there are several builds of say KitKat 4.4.4 featuring different updates to TouchWiz and other Samsung-specific parts of the operating system. But there is no way for the user to know what has changed with the different builds, he is completely left in the dark.
  • Ivabigun
    Nice review thanks. Just one observation, maybe some folks would like to see that 'artificial' beauty mode on the front facing camera. Or get someone else to take the picture.
  • kamhagh
    After having it for long I have to say its one of the worst devices I've ever had
    Samsung has some pretty good looking phones(not design) but they ruin it with bloat, and some Samsung stuff
    It lags, and its annoying
    it lags like hell on dead trigger 2 so bad!
    i had note n700 s4 and note 4 and they're the 3 of the most horrible devices i've ever had!

    let me tell you why i don't like it(i had nexus 4 before):
    1. When you pay 800$~ (I bought it when it came out-almost :D) you expect to have good updates, i just got the lollipop 5.0.1 (not 5.1) and now android m is coming!

    2.No custom roms or anything

    3.bad performance, the recent take like 2 seconds to open - it lags on regular usage

    4. the home button is full of scratches(but come on not really important :D just thought i say everything

    5. the camera lense is anoyying(and also, not really important and i don't really care much or consider it a samsung fault)

    6. i have no idea why note series get scratched so badly, my note n7000 was so horrible that even with screen on you would see tons of scratches my note 4 has like 2 or 1 which are sometimes visable with screen on :| and it happened while i was cleaning my screen with a micro fiber cloth :|

    7.knox and etc...

    but it's not something you can make a list of, it just gives you a terrible user experience compared to nexus 4 or something (nexus 5-6 moto etc) its all about numbers!!!

    and btw, the only place i see 8 cpus going higher than 40 is antutu! and when they go over 40% only 4 of them go at the same time!

    and my battery is always hot (36-37)

    it still has some purple smudge problems

    what i really love about it is

    the materials, the leather(faux) combined with metal feels amazing! its soft and comfortable and at the same time it doesn't flex like old ones and feels solid

    the s-pen is (super super super)^2 amazing :D

    the screen is good other than the purple smudges

    the home button feels so good now! compared to old ones
    it has removable back and sd card
    it has a good camera

    anyway i think the whole thing that made me disappointing was the scratch and performance :| and the worst of all UPDATES! they drove me crazy! and im not sure how much more i can live with this since im not even sure if 5.1 is gonna come for it (i don't even have to think about having android m) since i've to keep it for another year! also if i sell it i lose tons of money :( i received this as a gift from my dad:| well i thanks him but i wished he listen to me before(i didn't know he's gonna buy me one but he knows how much my phone is important to me, he bought me the 910H which i mention for me it's so important to check models and everything + it doesn't have warranty support :|
  • kamhagh
    btw i also forgot to mention, in antutu all cores go 100% and my temp gets near 94 degrees i have 910H
  • kamhagh
    btw i also forgot to mention, in antutu all cores go 100% and my temp gets near 94 degrees i have 910H