While it’s fully possible to focus purely on hardware and ignore software in some cases, the smartphone in general is proving that such a focus tends to be a bit short-sighted as even when there is a vibrant custom ROM community AOSP-based ROMs aren’t quite as polished as what the OEM produces. In the case of the Galaxy Note 4, Samsung’s additions to the UI become even more important as Android doesn’t have much of the native framework that one might expect, especially when it comes to making use of the Wacom stylus.

As the S-Pen/Wacom stylus is so critical to the Galaxy Note, I want to address this area first. When it comes to the stylus, it’s relatively hard to justify the existence of the stylus for simple navigation, but to this end the stylus is surprisingly useful when it comes to tapping extremely small touch targets on desktop websites.

However, the real functionality of the S-Pen actually comes in the form of taking notes. These use cases include quickly taking down a phone number or writing up a task list, which are conveniently translated into actual tasks or phone numbers to be stored in the calendar or contacts list. Unfortunately, those with poor handwriting will likely find that they cannot write as quickly as one may prefer in order to have accurate transcription, but when these features work they really are quite useful and cool.

While the ability to quickly jot notes down is nice, the S-Pen features really excel when we start looking at anything that involves graphing or writing complex equations. S-Note is surprisingly useful in this regard, and while I suspect that OneNote on Windows is more effective in this use case a full Windows tablet isn’t quite a mobile device the way the Galaxy Note is.

Outside of the S-Pen, TouchWiz continues to be quite acceptable in comparison to previous variants. While multi-window has been around for a long time on TouchWiz devices, I found it quite clunky in previous variations as it required long-pressing the back button in order to activate it. This made for a pretty poor experience as this basically meant that a lot of conscious thought was needed in order to make good use of this functionality. Fortunately, Samsung has also added a multi-window button into the multitasking menu which shows up on the top right of any app that supports multi-window. This is a massive improvement in user experience when compared to previous implementations of this feature. Unfortunately, the use of this function continues to be a bit clunky as it doesn’t seem to be aware of whether the previous application supported multi-window. As a result, opening another app in multi-window when one was already using a multi-window app won’t open the two applications side by side as one might expect. This feature is also dependent upon developer support, so this requires some thinking on the part of the user to check for multi-window support. While Samsung undoubtedly has a good vision for what they want from the phablet experience, the implementation isn’t quite there.

Samsung has also implemented dual-pane landscape views for certain applications, but it seems a bit strange that this wasn’t implemented in the settings menu either. While implementing such views is certainly dependent upon developer support, there is a level of inconsistency that comes from stock Samsung applications that affects the overall polish of the experience. There are also floating windows for some applications, which can help with one-handed usability but are mostly a way of improving multitasking functionality.

In terms of overall design, TouchWiz’s aesthetics are no longer a real issue for most, although this is definitely a matter of personal preference. There really isn’t much lag in most places but I have noticed that the multitasking menu has a rather long latency when compared to most other phones. This causes a noticeable drop in the speed at which I can multitask on a phone. Most people shouldn’t have any issues with TouchWiz at this point, although I suspect that the “option overload” in some parts of the UI will confuse users in general. Samsung is likely in a bind here as they once again have to try and keep features and behavior that upgrading users will expect while also accommodating for users new to Samsung devices. Samsung in general continues to ship TouchWiz with a massive number of software features that might be of use, such as the one-handed usability gesture that automatically shrinks the display to keep content within reach of one thumb.

On the verge of hardware and software, the fingerprint scanner is noticeably improved when compared to what we first saw with the Galaxy S5, and the experience associated with the fingerprint scanner is noticeably less painful when it comes to partial matches and similar behavior. I still think that the fingerprint scanner should be moved to the back of the phone for ergonomic reasons but the implementation is workable as-is.

Overall, the software experience that the Galaxy Note 4 ships with is surprisingly functional, even if there are rough edges that need a bit of polishing. Most people should find themselves quite content with the TouchWiz UX even if there are odd bugs here and there. While the Note 4's software is definitely more functional, Apple ships a more polished software stack with the iPhone 6 Plus.

Introduction Battery Life and Charge Time
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  • Donkey2008 - Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - link

    You have to love the 3DMark "onscreen" vs "offscreen" results. As long as any Android doesn't have to actually render images on the screen for the user than it is just as fast as an iPhone. ROLMAO.
  • Announcer97624 - Saturday, November 1, 2014 - link

    I don't get the point about battery life trailing behind the IPhone 6 plus? The IPhone 6 plus doesn't have a removable battery so on a 16 hour plane ride the IPhone 6 plus is a liability not an asset compared to the Galaxy Note 4's ability to have a few spare charged batteries. While I have the European Galaxy S5 4G LTE I have a battery wallet with six fresh batteries so I can go for most of a week without charging. My girlfriend has an IPhone 5 and is now going to purchase the Galaxy Note 4 specifically because of the non removable battery on all IPhones.
  • Bikerboy89 - Saturday, November 8, 2014 - link

    Wow onscreen GPU performance is laughable. Really bad vs the competition from apple and Nvidia. My LG G Flex gets better onscreen performance in gfxbench and the iPhone 6 gets double or triple Note 4. Pretty pathetic for a flagship device.
  • MattL - Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - link

    I finally realize why your color accuracy results differ so much from display mate, where you find the iPhone is more color accurate they found the Note 4 more accurate.

    "Recently some reviewers have published articles contradicting my Absolute Color Accuracy Measurements for the Samsung Galaxy S5. For example, see this recent review in phone Arena. The problem is that these reviewers are not scientists or display experts, and are using canned display calibration software incorrectly in order to test a display, which produces incorrect results and bogus conclusions. Below is a brief semi-technical analysis...

    The Color Difference dE used by the Reviewers Incorrectly includes the Luminance: The reviewers are using retail display calibration software products that use a Color Difference measure called dE, which includes a Luminance (Brightness) Error component in addition to the Color Hue and Saturation (Chromaticity) Error component. Using the Color Difference dE is appropriate for setting the display calibration, but dE is Not a measure of Visual Color Accuracy (Hue and Saturation) because it also includes the Luminance (Brightness). The eye sees and interprets brightness and color as two separate visual issues - dE combines them together. So all conclusions based on using dE for Visual Color Accuracy are incorrect.

    Our Color Accuracy only includes Color Hue and Saturation: Since the eye sees color and brightness as two separate visual issues I measure and analyze them separately. My published Absolute Color Accuracy measurements and data analysis includes only the Color (Hue and Saturation) Chromaticity Error component Δ(u'v') or d(u'v'), which evaluates just the difference in Hue and Saturation seen by the eye, and is plotted on a 1976 CIE Uniform Chromaticity Color Diagram in all of my articles. This is the correct method for evaluating Visual Color Accuracy (Hue and Saturation). Compare my very precise and detailed Absolute Color Accuracy plots with their crude figure."

    Basically you're doing it wrong anandtech
  • kamhagh - Monday, May 25, 2015 - link

    this phone lags on ui and on games like deadtrigger2, don't trust benchmarks! specially when its samsung..... benchamrks are only meaningless numbers!(well useful in some cases)

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