At this point, the Galaxy Note line needs little introduction. After all, the Galaxy Note is Samsung’s biggest success in mobile. While Apple redefined the smartphone and tablet segment, Samsung defined the phablet segment. Despite widespread skepticism, the original Galaxy Note was a massive success. Combined with the Galaxy S2, 2011 was a watershed year for Samsung as they leapfrogged other Android OEMs. Since then, we’ve seen continuous improvement from year to year with each Galaxy Note. While there were competitors, Samsung managed to hold on to their first-mover advantage for multiple generations. However, with the release of Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus we see one of the first significant threats to Samsung’s dominance of this segment.

The Galaxy Note 4 is Samsung’s latest iteration of the Galaxy Note phablet, and on the surface Samsung has put their best foot forward. With the highest bin of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805 or Exynos 5433, the latest generation AMOLED display, a 16MP camera with OIS, and a new design, the Galaxy Note 4 encompasses some of the best hardware that Samsung can deliver. I won’t spend too much time here, but the spec sheet below should cover most of the key points.

  Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Samsung Galaxy Note 4
SoC 2.26 GHz Snapdragon 800 2.7 GHz Snapdragon 805
RAM/NAND 3 GB LPDDR3, 32/64GB NAND + microSD 3GB LPDDR3, 32GB NAND + microSD
Display 5.7” 1080p Super AMOLED 5.7” 1440p Super AMOLED
Network 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Qualcomm MDM9x25 IP block UE Category 4 LTE) 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Qualcomm MDM9x35 UE Category 6 LTE)
Dimensions 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3mm, 168 grams 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5 mm, 176 grams
Camera 13MP Rear Facing, 1/3.06" CMOS size (Sony IMX135), 2.1MP FFC 16MP Rear Facing w/ OIS, 1/2.6" CMOS size (Sony IMX240), F/2.0, 3.7MP FFC w/ F/1.9 aperture
Battery 3200 mAh, 3.8V, 12.1 Whr 3220 mAh, 3.85V, 12.397 Whr
OS Android 4.4.2 with TouchWiz UX Android 4.4.4 with TouchWiz UX
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.0, USB3.0, GPS/GNSS, MHL, DLNA, NFC 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1, USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, MHL, DLNA, NFC
SIM Size MicroSIM MicroSIM

While all of these things are easily discovered, the most immediate impressions always come from the design of the phone. In this respect, Samsung has done a surprisingly good job. On the front of the phone, we see a relatively standard design for Samsung. This entails a pattern on underneath the glass, which appears to be a bit shimmery in nature, along with dark black pinstripes. This causes a noticeable pattern in the capacitive buttons when lit, as with the LED notification light. There’s the standard earpiece and Samsung logo on top of the display, and a home button on the bottom, which serves as a fingerprint scanner as well. This home button is noticeably clicky in nature, and feels much better than the Galaxy Note 3’s home button.

On the sides, we see a similar level of improvement. The volume rocker, which is on the left side, and power button, which is on the right side, feel fantastic in comparison to most phones, and is quite close to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in feel. Unlike most Galaxy smartphones, we see an aluminum frame that runs all along the side of the phone, which also has a chamfered edge to eliminate sharp edges. In this area, Samsung has made serious strides as the frame really helps to make for a better in-hand feel that far exceeds what we saw with the Galaxy Note 3 or even the Galaxy S5. Along the top of the frame are cutouts for the 3.5mm headphone jack and IR port which enables TV remote functionality. Along the bottom of the frame, we see the microUSB 2.0 port. While this is technically a regression from the microUSB 3.0 port in speed and power delivery, I suspect compatibility issues and the ungainly design of the microUSB 3.0 standard justified a move back, at least until USB Type-C is ready for shipping devices.

On the back of the phone, we see some more changes. Instead of the downward-firing speakers of the Galaxy Note 3, we see that the speaker has been moved to the back of the phone. The design of the back cover is more an evolution of the Note 3’s back cover than the Galaxy S5’s, which has a noticeable faux leather pattern although the feel is closer to soft touch plastic. There’s also no stitching to try and make it seem more like leather. Instead, at the edges it seems to meet with the metal frame. A similar level of fit and finish is seen around the LED flash module, which is now flush with the back cover instead of sunk into the phone as with the Galaxy S5.

Overall, the design of the Galaxy Note 4 is massively improved. While it isn’t quite as amazing as the rounded design of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, it’s one of the best designs I’ve seen for a phone with a removable back cover. The only complaint I have is that Samsung should use a flat black pattern under the glass to accentuate the high contrast of the AMOLED display, but this is quite minor in nature.

Software: TouchWiz UX
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  • synaesthetic - Saturday, October 18, 2014 - link

    Isn't that the whole point of using Android? I mean, it's kind of a trainwreck when OEM skins and carrier bloatware gets involved. If it wasn't for custom OS flashing I would probably be using a Jolla phone or hanging onto the old Nokia N9. Or just using an iPhone. I mean, if I can't tweak and customize, then my problem with iOS largely disappears.
  • snake2332 - Wednesday, October 22, 2014 - link

    That literally is the first thing I do, but I'm not average. However, do average consumers read anandtech? I think not, so there is some relevance to arguing against uhuznaa's statement since a fair amount of people won't be using the stock ROM at all.
  • tralalalalalala40 - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    So you want him to root the phone to get a proper test. That sounds like an accurate way to model the average consumer use. ha
  • snake2332 - Wednesday, October 22, 2014 - link

    Who cares about the average consumer here?
  • seanlumly - Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - link

    This review is good, but lacks discussion (or mention, for that matter) about Gear VR, a very significant first-step development in the world of mobile phones. If nothing else, VR may have an effect on the decisions surrounding critical hardware found in future mobiles.
  • theduckofdeath - Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - link

    I noticed that too. the Gear VR is actually one the toys I'm looking forward to the most over the next few months.
  • seanlumly - Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - link

    Me too! And while I'm looking forward to it, I'm confident that it is a bold and important step for the industry. It potentially adds an alternative to large-screen TVs that have become standard, and open up new ways of sharing information. More importantly, the mobile phone is so ubiquitous that this lowers the cost of VR significantly, and puts it into more hands.

    Such a thing deserves serious mention in a review of this device as its a serious development.
  • theuglyman0war - Monday, October 20, 2014 - link

    if this is a petition for the interest in the future coverage of vr and phones strapped to my face with rubberbands then count me in pleeeze ( me to )
  • firstever - Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - link

    From the brightness tests, the display is 331 nits. How is the readability in the daytime? What does the auto boost do to make the display brighter?
  • theduckofdeath - Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - link

    With a contrast ratio of nearly 1,000,000:1 it has a dynamic range in the region of 1000 times better than any LCD display.

    That gigantic difference means that those miniscule differences in the specs sites like Anandtech always loves to focus on are pretty much irrelevant. I think it was GSM arena who made an visual comparison of outdoor readability on all major brands a few months ago, and even though the GS5 had around half the brightness of the "best" competitors, the GS5 was a lot more readable outdoors.

    The adaptive brightness increased the outdoor brightness of something like 100 nits on older Samsung devices, I guess this is in the same region.

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