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.

Samsung remains the most prolific Android OEM, partly because they aren't afraid to experiment with new device classes, covering everything from Galaxy Gear wearables to the 12” Galaxy Note Pro tablet. While some of these trials miss the mark and leave us scratching our heads, many of its devices are among the most popular in their category. Probably Samsung's most successful gamble is the Galaxy Note line of smartphones.

Click to enlarge | Credit: Alex DaviesClick to enlarge | Credit: Alex Davies

Samsung's original Galaxy Note, while not the first phablet (remember the Dell Streak?), generated interest in larger phones, and through its utility, won a loyal following. With each generation of the Note series, more people embraced the concept and the Note's popularity grew. While the size of phablets aren't for everyone, the influx of large phones by other manufacturers indicates there’s a growing market for phones blurring the line with tablets.

The most noticeable feature of the Galaxy Note 4 is clearly the size of its screen, which has grown each generation from 5.3- to 5.5- to 5.7-inches in the Galaxy Note 3, a dimension which remains unchanged in the Note 4. Screen resolution, however, continues to climb, up from 1920x1080 in the Note 3 to 2560x1440. Samsung has also improved the quality of what's displayed on the screen by calibrating it with better precision.

Click to enlarge | Credit: Alex DaviesClick to enlarge | Credit: Alex Davies

The big screen isn't the Note line's only distinguishing feature. The S Pen is what defines the Note brand, and along with Samsung's supporting software, it's a true differentiator from other competing devices and can change the way you use your phone when fully embraced. Sure, you can write notes with it and use it as a pointer, but it can also be used to initiate a phone call, map an address, or markup images and PDFs. Paired with the big screen, the S Pen is a useful navigation aid and helps get real work done.

For the 4th generation Note, Samsung has also improved the design and construction. Like the Galaxy Alpha that preceded it, the Note 4 has a machined aluminum frame that surrounds a magnesium and plastic chassis. This aluminum frame looks great and the magnesium chassis adds rigidity.

Click to enlarge | Credit: Alex DaviesClick to enlarge | Credit: Alex Davies

Like the Galaxy S5, the Note 4 also uses Synaptics’ Natural ID capacitive fingerprint reader integrated into the home button. It works exactly the same as on the S5, requiring you to swipe a finger across it to authenticate. This method is a little frustrating to use when compared to the iPhone’s Touch ID (and the new sensor in the Galaxy S6) that simply requires you to touch the sensor. The Note 4’s physical size makes the swipe sensor even more challenging to use. At least Samsung has improved the fingerprint reader since it debuted on the S5, making it less fussy about swipe speed and partial and off-angle finger swipes.

The fingerprint scanner can be used to unlock the phone, log into your Samsung account, and gain access to items that have been protected by Samsung’s "Private Mode" feature. You can also use it with a select number of 3rd party apps such as PayPal and LastPass. Being FIDO-compliant, it can also be used to log into websites when using the Samsung browser, but not with Chrome. Business users who use Samsung’s KNOX can also enable two-factor authentication when logging into their work profile using the scanner.

Click to enlarge | Credit: Alex DaviesClick to enlarge | Credit: Alex Davies

Another new focus for Samsung with the Galaxy Note 4 is health and fitness. The Note 4 has hardware sensors capable of counting the number of steps you take each day, as well as your heart rate, blood oxygen level, stress level, and even the UV index. These sensors work together with the S Health app, which is fairly comprehensive in its own right, including support for Samsung’s line of wearable fitness products.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Tech Specs

It's only taken a few years for the large-screen smartphone category to become rather crowded. Every OEM from Apple to ZTE offers a phone with a 5.5-inch or larger display, creating fierce competition. Fortunately, the Note 4 isn't all about screen area. Its aluminum frame surrounds some very nice hardware. The Snapdragon 805 SoC still offers great performance even though it has been surpassed by the newer Cortex-A57 based Snapdragon 808/810 and Exynos 7420 chips. The 3GB of RAM is a generous amount and still the standard for current flagship phones. There's also a reasonable 32GB of internal storage, which can be expanded with removable SD cards.

Compared to the previous generation Note 3, there's a few big changes. Screen resolution has been increased from HD to QHD for the Note 4, reducing the graininess that can result from using a PenTile pixel structure. The Note 4 also includes an upgraded Snapdragon SoC and new front and rear camera sensors. Overall dimensions are very similar, with the Note 4 being ever so slightly taller and thicker than the Note 3. The aluminum frame increases the Note 4's rigidity, reducing flex and giving it a premium feel, but at the cost of 8g of additional weight.

Cellular

Model NumberSM-N910A
(AT&T)
SM-N910P
(Sprint)
SM-N910T
(T-Mobile)
SM-N910R
(U.S. Cellular)
SM-N910V
(Verizon)
SM-N910W8
(Bell, Eastlink, MTS, Rogers, SaskTel, Tbaytel, Telus, Videotron, Wind Mobile)
BasebandQualcomm MDM9625M
RF TransceiverQualcomm WTR1625L + WTR1625
RF ICsQualcomm QFE1100 (envelope tracker) + RF8117V (RF Micro Devices antenna switch?)
LTE2/4/5/12/1725/26/411/2/3/4/5/
7/8/12/17
2/4/5/12/174/131/2/3/4/5/
7/8/12/17
GSM850/900/
1800/1900 MHz
850/900/
1800/1900 MHz
850/900/
1800/1900 MHz
 850/900/
1800/1900 MHz
850/900/
1800/1900 MHz
CDMA2000 0/1/10 0/1/140/1/10 
WCDMA1/2/51/2/5/81/2/4/5 1/2/5/81/2/4/5

There are 22 different model numbers for the Galaxy Note 4, each supporting different regional or carrier specific frequency bands. Some versions substitute a Samsung Exynos 5433 [ARM Cortex-A57 (4x @ 1.9GHz) + ARM Cortex-A53 (4x @ 1.3GHz), Mali T760MP6 GPU] for the Snapdragon 805 SoC. There's also differences in audio codecs, voice processors, and baseband processors, with some using an Ericsson M7450 and others using Cat 6 basebands such as the Intel XMM7260 and Samsung's M303. To keep things from getting too complicated, the table above focuses on just the North American models.

Qualcomm's MDM9x25M baseband is a third-generation Category 4 LTE modem built on a 28nm HPm process offering 150 Mb/s down and 50 Mb/s up with carrier aggregation. It also supports HSPA+ Release 10 for 84 Mb/s down using dual-carrier HSDPA. The MDM9625M incorporates all major radio modes, including GSM/EDGE, UMTS (WCDMA, TD-SCDMA), LTE (LTE-FDD, LTE-TDD) and CDMA2000.

The Note 4 uses Qualcomm's WTR1625L transceiver paired with another WTR1625, rather than the more common WFR1620 receive-only transceiver, in order to bond two 10MHz channels and reach full Category 4 LTE speeds, a requirement when carriers don't have 20MHz LTE channels.

The RF front-end uses Qualcomm's QFE1100 envelope tracker, which dynamically adjusts voltage to the power amplifiers, wasting less energy and reducing heat generation, but none of the other components in Qualcomm's RF360 suite.

Options

The North American versions of the Note 4 all come with 32GB of onboard storage, and color options are limited to Charcoal Black or Frost White.

Click to enlarge | Credit: Alex DaviesClick to enlarge | Credit: Alex Davies

As evidenced by the impressive hardware specifications and premium pricing, the Galaxy Note 4 is targeted squarely at the high-end market. For consumers willing to spend top dollar on the ultimate smartphone, the question becomes one of comparative value in regards to other devices in the same category. A question answered by the design of the Galaxy Note 4 and the value added by hardware and software features.

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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