- 5.7-inch Quad-HD display
- Octa-core Exynos 7420
- 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM
- Quick Charge support
- Gorgeous Quad-HD display
- Top notch hardware
- Redesigned S Pen
- Quick Charge support
- Lacks expandable storage
- Slippery rear
- Lacks stereo speakers
When Samsung launched the Galaxy Note back in 2011, phablets were still a relatively new category of devices and, therefore, were shrouded in a lot of uncertainty as to whether they would find acceptance by the public. But the Note’s large screen and tablet-like functionality soon gained popularity and with its success, phablets in themselves received a huge boost. Some of the highlights of the Note were a large screen display, a stylus, top of the line hardware and a premium design. Ever since the launch of this device, the Note lineup has been well-known for incorporating the best in class technology along with innovative features.
In August this year, Samsung introduced the Galaxy Note5, the fifth device in the series. With this device, it appears as though Samsung has tried to slightly step away from the more traditional Note devices. On the Note5, we see that the Korean company has dropped two of the key features that had been a standard on the Note devices - expandable storage and a removable battery - and the device now feels quite reminiscent of smartphones from Apple and Google. Besides these changes, the Galaxy Note5 also uses a new design language, which is in line with Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone the Galaxy S6. We got our hands on this handset to check if the two key trade-offs mentioned above are really worth it, and if the Note5 continues to live up to the legacy of the Note series.
We spent some time on it to see how it fares. Here is our review.
Samsung had received a lot of flak in the past for its ‘designed for humans’ advertisement as well as for using plastic shells as rears, but it looks like the company has taken the criticism well. Earlier this year, Samsung began to incorporate a glass and metal design for all of its premium handsets beginning with the Galaxy S6 Edge, which was a welcome change and it continues to do so with the Note 5. Just like these devices, the front is flat with very slim bezels on either side. However, unlike its predecessors, the Note5 is slightly curved at the edges when looked at from the rear. And, we think it looks elegant. Corning’s Gorilla Glass 4 technology has been used in the front as well as on the back. That said, the screen is prone to fingerprints.
Above the screen is an earpiece, with a 5-megapixel camera to its left, and an ambient light sensor and a proximity sensor to its right. The Samsung logo sits right below the earpiece. At the bottom edge of the device is the Micro-USB port which rests at the centre, with a standard 3.5mm audio port to its left and a speaker mesh to its right. The Note5 comes with an improved S Pen which is located on the right edge of the device. In order to pop it out from its housing, you need to press the button at the top. This mechanism eliminates the possibility of the S Pen sliding out accidentally. The phone has two microphones - one, located between the stylus and the speaker mesh, and the other sitting at the top edge of the phone. The SIM card tray too comes at the top and can be ejected using a bundled tool. The power key sits on the right side of the frame, while the volume up and down keys are on the left side. The Note5 appears to be marginally slimmer and lighter than the Note 4. In terms of metrics, this new phablet weights 171g, as compared to the 176g of the Note 4, and is 7.6mm thick in contrast to the 8.5mm thickness of its predecessor.
As mentioned earlier, this device doesn’t offer expandable storage, and also lacks a removable battery. It was the presence of these same very features that had made Note series stand out from other phablets, but we can’t say that this holds true anymore. We got our hands on a Gold Platinum variant of the Note5 for review. This device is also available in three other options: Black Sapphire, Pearl White and Titanium Silver. The Note5 is by far, the best-looking phablet out there. However, do note that while it feels quite slim to hold in your palms, it is also extremely slippery and chances of dropping the device while using it, run quite high.
The Note5 flaunts a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display, which is the same as on the Note 4. The device sports a Quad-HD resolution of 1440x2560p, which translates to a pixel density of 518 PPI. The colours on the Super AMOLED display are rich and over-saturated. Text in documents and web pages appears crisp. While the viewing angles are pretty good, at steeper angles one can see a bluish-green coloured tint on the screen. Additionally, whites tend to have a slight blueish tint to them, whereas the blacks are deep.
The display setting offers you four different viewing modes: Adaptive display, AMOLED cinema, AMOLED photo and Basic, to set the colour temperature, contrast and saturation. By default, the screen mode is set to Adaptive display. Though the Note5’s screen looks fantastic, we miss the oleophobic coating. As a result, the smudges that retain back on the screen not only look bad, but also affect the viewing angles. Corning’s Gorilla Glass 4 technology protects the display from scratches.
Samsung houses an octa-core Exynos 7420 mobile chipset which supports 64-bit instructions and is built using a 14nm silicon process. Based on ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture, this octa-core chipset bundles four Cortex-A57 cores clocked at 2.1GHz, with the other four being low-power consuming Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.5GHz. An octa-core ARM Mali-T760MP8 GPU has been integrated to deliver top level graphics. The Note5 comes with 4GB of LPDD4 RAM and is available in two options of on-board storage: 32GB and 64GB. Since the device lacks expandable storage support, make sure you select your model wisely. Our review unit had 32GB of on-board storage, out of which only 25GB was available to the user.
The S Pen has two buttons, one at the top and the other at the side for carrying out various functions. With a pressure sensitivity of 2,048 levels, this S Pen comes pretty close to the digital pens that are used by professionals for sketching. The device has a 16-megapixel primary camera along with a dual-LED flash, that rests at the back. A 5-megapixel wide-angle camera sits in the front at the top right corner. The device supports only a single 4G enabled Nano-SIM card. Connectivity options include a dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2 LE, and Wi-Fi Direct. In terms of sensors, the device has an accelerometer, proximity sensor, gyroscope, barometer, and compass for GPS. For location-based services, the Note5 has a GPS chip which supports A-GPS, GLONASS and Beidou networks. While the Note5 packs some top notch hardware, what’s missed most is the expandable storage capacity.
The Note5 boots Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with a layer of the new TouchWiz UI on top of it. This version of TouchWiz can be considered the slickest and leanest version of it so far. Unlike as on its previous generation devices, Samsung has restrained itself from adding unwanted bloatware on this phone, so all you’ll get to see on this device are the bare minimum Samsung apps such as the S Planner, S Voice, Galaxy apps, Smart Manager, Scrapbook, S Note and S Health. These apps are baked into the system OS and therefore cannot be removed, but can be disabled.
The TouchWiz UI is neat and spiffy. You can choose to launch the dialer and the camera app quickly from the lock screen itself. You can also choose to set notifications to show up on the lock screen if you want to be able to quickly glance at them. The look and feel of the UI can be altered through the Theme Store, which is nested inside the Themes setting.
Just as on the iPhone 6s, the Note5 incorporates the fingerprint scanner on the home button. This scanner is not only much more convenient than the swipe gesture but is also much faster. Once your fingerprint has been saved by the reader, you can choose to set up different kinds of security mechanisms to safeguard your data. For instance, you can choose to hide the contents of the notifications when they appear on the lock screen.
The Quick Settings toggles at the top of the notification drawer can be shuffled and can also be accessed from the lock screen. When you press the App Switcher key, the 3D rolodex of the recently used apps pops up. In addition to just being a stack of App Snapshots in the App Switcher mode, with just a close (x) button at the top right corner, some apps also add support for opening up in the multi-window mode directly from the 3D rolodex. What this effectively means is that one doesn't need to head into a separate settings panel to access it.
The S Pen is handy for taking quick notes and its software sees some drastic improvements when compared to its predecessor. There is also a dedicated S Pen settings menu which gives you a variety of options such as S Note and Action Memo which help you use the S Pen much more judiciously. The Note5 also offers a ‘Screen Off Memo’ feature that allows you to take notes with the S Pen even when the device is locked. All in all, with the new TouchWiz UI, Samsung offers its best yet software experience along with a very intuitive S Pen support.
The Note series is pretty well-known for offering the best imaging experience among Samsung’s lineup of smartphones. Continuing that legacy, Samsung has used a 16-megapixel Sony IMX240 image sensor with a dual LED flash along with an F1.9 lens. The primary camera supports Optical Image Stabilisation which allows you to take great images even in low light.
Double tapping the lock screen launches the camera app, which allows you to take pictures quickly. The camera app is set to Auto mode by default, but also offers other modes such as Pro, Selective Focus, Panorama, Video Collage, Live Broadcast, Slow Motion, Fast Motion and Virtual Shot. The Pro mode lets you play around with different parameters such as ISO, White Balance, Exposure Value and Shutter Speed. A gripe that we had with the Pro mode was that the camera was slow to take a picture when we selected a manual ISO value. We recommend using a mount or a tripod attachment to keep the camera still to prevent blur in the images.
Images can be saved in RAW format to make the best use of the camera’s dynamic range in post-processing. The images are rich in colours, and are captured with a lot of details and are quite sharp. The front facing 5-megapixel camera takes brilliant wide-angle selfies. We also noticed that selfies tended to have a sort of smoothening effect post-processing. While recording a video, a simple swipe to the right reveals the settings that allow you to adjust the exposure value as well as select the Autofocus lock. The camera can record up to 2160p resolution videos at 30fps, 1080p resolution videos at 60fps, and 720p resolution videos at 120fps. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated video mode option, so you will have to settle for the default one. Video quality is great and the front facing 5-megapixel camera too can be used to record 2160p videos at 30 fps. Autofocus starts as soon as you start recording the video, but apart from that, the camera doesn't offer as many controls while recording a video. The camera on this device is clearly one of the best in the industry, and can easily go head to head with devices such as the Apple iPhone 6s Plus and LG G4.
Samsung has preloaded a native audio and video player on the Note5. The music app also integrates an equaliser, but in order to get the desired output, one has to go through the numerous settings, which is a bit of a hassle. The SoundAlive option gives access to the equaliser that has six different presets and two dials. One dial lets you set the dominance of bass or treble, while the second dial allows you to choose to have more emphasis on the instruments or on the vocals. The loudspeaker is not stereo, and is nowhere close to the loudspeaker on smartphones such as the HTC One M8 or the Moto X Style that pack stereo speakers. We used two great IEMs - the Cowon EM-1 and the Rock Jaw Alfa Genus V2 - to test the music on this phone. The Note5 offers some splendid soundstaging and you can use your headphones to listen to music for a great listening experience. The music app can easily play a variety of audio files including the usual .mp3 and .flac.
Video playback of the 1080p HD video files happened without any issues. However, we found that the native video player couldn’t play our stock 4K Ultra HD video test files out of the box. So we downloaded the VLC player which played these without any issues or jitters. The lack of stereo speakers did bother us, so we plugged in earphones to enjoy the videos. Despite facing a couple of issues with the music player and the video player, the experience of listening to audio and watching videos was not as troublesome as on other phones.
Samsung’s Note series has always been right at the top of the performance delivery charts. In the AnTuTu 64-bit benchmark test, the Note5 scored 68,814, which is the same score as on devices that pack some really good hardware. We also ran the Vellamo benchmark to test the device’s web browsing capabilities, in which the phone scored 4,993 for the internal web browser, and 1,691 in the metal benchmark. These scores are indicative of the fact that the phone performs marginally better than the Galaxy Note 4 in terms of the internal browser. In the RightawareX benchmark test, the Note5 had an overall score of 1,720.
Games like Asphalt 8: Airborne and NFS: Most Wanted worked like a charm. Since the phone barely gave us any issues, we tested it using the 3DMark gaming benchmark test. In this test, the phone scored 23,324 in the Ice Storm Unlimited test and 1,217 in the relatively new benchmark test, Sling Shot ES 3.1. The synthetic benchmark figures indicate that the phone is indeed very powerful and can carry out almost every task thrown at it without any difficulty. In terms of network connectivity, the device worked just about fine, with the phone providing crisp audio quality through the earpiece and the voice through the microphone being audible enough at the other end. Google Maps took less than two seconds to lock the location, and the location based services worked fine when the phone was used inside a building.
Samsung uses UFS 2.0, which makes transferring files to and from the phone faster. The UFS 2.0 is the new standard adopted by Samsung for better internal storage management. However, the real-world performance of this new technology is barely noticeable while using apps, and it is only when you read and write large multimedia files that you get to know the speeds. We believe that the Note5 delivers great performance which is likely to get better with Android 6.0 Marshmallow on the anvil.
A long-lasting battery is one of the highlights of the Note phablets. With the Note5, Samsung has made a key change to the battery and made it a part of the unibody design. While many phones offer a unibody design, such a design only raises further doubts of the phone’s repairability in case the battery gets damaged, especially since the Note5 comes with glass panels on both sides. On moderate usage involving phone calls for about two hours, gaming for about 40 minutes, watching a 40 minute long TV show, listening to music intermittently, and using social media apps such as WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook for about four-five hours, the phone lasted for almost two days. For better power management, Samsung has added a Power Saving mode and an Ultra Power Saving mode to conserve the battery and make it run longer. The device comes with a Quick Charging feature, with which the device takes about one and a half hours to charge from zero to full, which is fantastic considering the 3,000mAh battery. While there is no question that the battery charges pretty quickly, the real question is as to how many people are going to miss the removable battery.
With the Note5, Samsung has made commendable improvements in terms of storage speeds, camera performance, UI performance and the overall system performance. The new design is what makes the Note5 stand out, but at the same time, it is slippery and also susceptible to crack if it falls. The Note5 can also be considered as the best Android-based alternative to Apple’s iPhone 6s Plus. In fact, if we had to compare the Note5 with the iPhone 6s Plus, the former wins more brownie points for the features that it packs at its price point.
However, since videos at a resolution of 2160p at 30fps take up a lot of space on the on-board storage in the Note5, the lack of expandable storage is what might disappoint avid multimedia fans who tend to load large media files on their devices. Furthermore, Samsung has not made any promises to release the Note5 with 128GB of on-board storage yet. Having said that, in comparison to the features that this device promises, the non-removable battery, lack of expandable storage and delicate glass panels are still trade-offs that we are willing to overlook.
For a premium device, the price is a pivotal factor in deciding its fate. If it is priced higher than its closest rival, then the premium device obviously falls back in terms of popularity. Samsung had launched the Note5 at a price tag of Rs.53,900 back in September, and it is now available for under Rs.50,000 from reputed online as well as offline traders. Undoubtably, the Note5 is one of the best and most stylish looking phablets which also delivers a powerful performance. Those of you who’ve loved the S Pen in the Note series, will like the new pressure-sensitive S Pen, and so this device is the best option for those of you looking for a phablet with stylus support.