Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review: Still a fantastic phablet, but no longer the best
Camera and audio
The Note 4’s camera is a big upgrade on last year’s model, with a 16-megapixel sensor, optical image stabilisation and phase-detect autofocus. The result is superb photographs whatever the light, and almost all of my test shots were in sharp focus.
It’s good to see, too, that Samsung has dialled back the complexity of its camera app, making it much easier to access and change settings. In any case, the Auto mode does such a good job of dealing with difficult backlit scenes and dark scenes with bright single light sources that I hardly ever felt it necessary to tweak anything.
Video quality is just as good, with options to shoot at 4K, 2K and 1080p resolutions, plus excellent judgement of exposure and frame rates. Dig deeper into the settings and you’ll also find a slow-motion mode capable of slowing footage by a factor of eight (for the same effect as the iPhone 6’s 240fps mode). In short, the camera is superb: it isn’t the best on a smartphone I’ve tested – that trophy still belongs to the Nokia Lumia 1020 – but you certainly won’t be disappointed.
Audio quality is also top notch. The phone’s built-in speaker goes loud enough to use it as an occasional radio and podcast speaker, and the in-call volume is extremely loud – too loud, in some cases, since it has a tendency to distort slightly at the top end of its volume range. But you don’t have to reduce the volume much to get rid of this issue.
Software and other features
One of the key reasons for buying a Note 4 isn’t just its size – it’s that it does something genuinely useful with it. Unlike other phablets, it comes with a pressure-sensitive stylus tucked away in a slot in the bottom right-hand corner, which allows you to produce sketches, write notes by hand and enter text via handwriting recognition. It’s a useful addition, particularly for producing quick notes coupled with audio recordings using the bundled S Note app.
The phone runs Android version 4.4.4 (KitKat), which, as usual, has been customised with Samsung’s TouchWiz skin, which is jammed full of features most users won’t need or use. Of particular note is the infrared transmitter, which allows the phone to be used as a universal remote control for your TV and set-top box. (Note, that Samsung has, since this review was first written, rolled out Android Lollipop to all UK Galaxy Note 4 handsets via an over-the-air update.)
Although Google revealed Android M at its latest Google I/O developers’ conference last week, the upgrade should be good news for Note 4 owners. As well as several bug fixes, the update should also come with an improved camera app with RAW image capture, shutter-speed control and better exposure settings – ideal for outdoor shooting.
The upcoming 5.1.1 upgrade should act as a stopgap until the release of Android M later this year – which is also expected to be compatible with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4.
On the rear, you’ll also find a heart-rate monitor, which, when coupled with the onboard S Health app, allows you to spot-check your pulse, blood oxygenation and stress levels. Meanwhile, the home button doubles as a fingerprint scanner, which can be used to unlock the phone and authorise PayPal purchases. I found it less convenient to use than Apple’s equivalent; I often needed to swipe two or three times before my print was recognised.
Naturally, the Note 4 features all the connectivity a modern smartphone needs: NFC, Bluetooth 4, 4G and 802.11ac are all on board. I found Wi-Fi speed was particularly impressive, reaching speeds of 11.3MB/sec while copying a large movie file across from a nearby Netgear Nighthawk router – much quicker than the iPhone 6’s speeds of up to 8.5MB/sec.
Price and verdict
The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a big phone in terms of more than size: it’s big on speed, design, battery life, camera quality and features. It’s also big on price. The 32GB model is available for £600 SIM-free, which is right at the top of the smartphone price scale, and you’ll pay a minimum of £35 per month on a free phone contract.
If that sounds pricey, bear in mind that you’re getting much more for your money than you are with its main rival, the iPhone 6 Plus. The Apple phone is faster, has better battery life and a brighter screen, but the Note 5 is more practical, expandable and includes the stylus, which is a nice bonus, plus the infrared transmitter and the heart-rate monitor.
In short, the Note 4 is among the best phablets you can buy right now. If you’ve been thinking of going big with your next smartphone purchase you won’t be disappointed.
|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|
Other wireless standards