Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review: Still a fantastic phablet, but no longer the best
Update, 29/6/2015: This is our original review of the Note 4, but we’ve added a comparison to the fantastic LG G4 to the end of the review, which is a strong rival to the Note 4 for dominance in the phablet sector.
Samsung’s has blazed a trail for big-screen smartphones with the Note range of devices, but it wasn’t until the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 appeared in late 2013 that it really nailed the formula. Eighteen months on, it isn’t surprising that its successor – the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – is more of a refinement than a dramatic overhaul. You can still find one on Amazon UK for £350 (or on Amazon US for $295)
The screen is the same size as its predecessor’s – 5.7in across the diagonal – and from the front it doesn’t look awfully different. A closer look reveals the Note 4 is slightly taller (by 2mm), narrower across the front (by 1mm) and the same thickness, 8.5mm from front to back. It’s a large phone, but not unmanageable, and to my mind it’s a little easier to hold than the more slippery Apple iPhone 6 Plus. For a phone with a screen this big, it’s a decent compromise, although not the easiest thing to hold in one hand.
In terms of looks, it’s all change: the Note 4 does away with the Note 3’s slightly cheesy faux leather stitching in favour of cleaner, curved edges, and it also moves on from the ribbed, plastic chrome edging of its forebear. Just like the Samsung Galaxy Alpha, the Note 4 is framed with robust, luxurious-feeling aluminium, complete with shiny, exposed bevelled edges that catch light attractively.
All-round, it’s a solid-feeling and handsome handset, and it’s practical as well. The screen is topped with Gorilla Glass 4 for scratch and shatter resistance, and, in true Samsung style, the plastic rear panel at the rear clips off to reveal the phone’s micro-SIM slot and a huge, removable 3,220mAh battery. The Note 4 also has a microSD slot – capable of accepting cards up to 128GB in capacity – which is a relief, since Samsung removed this feature from the Samsung Galaxy Alpha.
Like its predecessor, the Note 4 has a vibrant AMOLED display, only with a higher resolution than the Note 3: you now get 1,440 x 2,560 pixels squeezed into the 5.7in screen, which delivers a pixel density of 515ppi. Is there any point? Not really: with the Note 4 next to the Note 3, there’s no discernible difference in sharpness when the phone is viewed from a normal distance.
Aside from that, though, there’s plenty to like about the display. Colour accuracy, as long as you stick with the Basic colour settings, is spot on. It’s also capable of displaying an impressive 99.3% of the sRGB colour gamut, and contrast – as always with AMOLED screens – is perfect, so images really leap out at you.
The downside of the technology is normally that maximum brightness isn’t as high as other flagship smartphones. And most of the time that holds true of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4: switch off Auto mode (and all of Samsung’s other automatic modes), and at maximum settings it reaches a maximum of only 341cd/m2.
However, the Note 4 has a nifty trick up its sleeve: in direct sunlight, if you have the screen in Auto mode, the phone activates its special sunlight readability mode, pumping the brightness up to IPS-rivalling brightness levels. I measured it at 492cd/m2 on a clear, bright winter day in central London.
It’s a major step forward for AMOLED tech, but note that it only comes on in the very brightest of conditions – you’ll have to angle the screen directly at the sun to get this extra bright mode to kick in.
It is also worth noting that the small air gap between the glass and the LCD, can reduce the contrast when the screen is viewed at an angle.
Performance and battery life
There’s a very real risk with a higher resolution display that battery life will suffer.
In my testing, the Note 4 performed admirably. While streaming a two-hour podcast from SoundCloud over 3G, with the screen off, it used up capacity at a rate of 2.9% per hour. This suggests excellent light-use battery life; it isn’t quite as good as the iPhone 6 Plus, which drained at only 2.2% in this test, but it isn’t far off.
With the screen on, however, the battery life takes a tumble. While streaming a 720p video in flight mode with the screen set to a brightness of 120cd/m2 it used up 6.2% per hour.
That’s still good, but not as impressive as other leading smartphones I’ve tested. The iPhone 6 Plus, for instance, drained at a rate of only 5.5% in this test, and the smaller Samsung Galaxy S5 drained at a rate of 5.2%, which leads me to wonder what the Note 4 might have been capable of had it been equipped with a less power-hungry screen.
Anecdotally, the phone should last you at least 24 hours – longer if you’re careful with it. When capacity starts to run really low, you can resort to Samsung’s Ultra Battery Saving mode, which shuts down all but essential services and turns the screen black and white. I found this gave around six hours of runtime once the gauge hit 5%, which can come in handy.
I have no qualms at all about performance, however. The Note 4 comes with a 2.7GHz Snapdragon 805 and 3GB of RAM, a combination that ensures smooth, responsive performance in all areas. Even the most demanding games play smoothly, although the high resolution of the screen holds it back a touch.
In the GFXBench T-Rex HD onscreen gaming test, it achieved 27fps, which is impressive, given the number of pixels being shunted around. However, it’s no faster than the Note 3, and it lags behind the iPhone 6 Plus considerably; it reached 52fps in this test.
In SunSpider, a score of 371ms is a match for most other flagship phones. Testing with Geekbench 3 returned single-core and multi-core results of 1,095 and 3,268 respectively, slightly behind the iPhone 6 Plus’ single-core score and slightly ahead for multi-core tasks.
|Cheapest price on contract||Free|
|Contract monthly charge||£35.00|
|Contract period||24 months|
|Talk time, quoted||20hrs|
|Dimensions||79 x 8.5 x 153mm (WDH)|
|Camera megapixel rating||16.0mp|
|Resolution||1440 x 2560|
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