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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  • dakishimesan - Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - link

    You can't ignore maximum brightness. OLED screens have a high contrast ratio because their black levels are very deep, which offsets the lower brightness to still give it a high ratio. But maximum brightness still matters for visibility outside.
  • theduckofdeath - Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - link

    You can however dismiss its importance. If the dynamic range is below the thousands on one tech and maybe above the millions on the other tech, other numbers suddenly become really, really irrelevant.
  • JoshHo - Monday, October 27, 2014 - link

    This is technically inaccurate. Outdoor visibility is primarily determined by maximum brightness and diffuse reflectance, not native contrast.
  • jnb - Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - link

    I played around with an iPhone 6 Plus and the Note 4 at Best Buy the other day. I thought there was a big difference in the display with the Note 4 being much better. It is interesting to see a review like this say there are basically equal. It goes to show that you should really look at them in person and form your own opinion. These numbers don't mean anything to an average person.
  • melgross - Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - link

    That's very misleading. While the blacks are just a small bit better than the best LCD displays, the whites are half as bright. In normal lighting, the much dimmer AMOLED displays will look fine, but outside, in direct sunlight, they will be washed out.

    The GS5 is definitely not more readable outside. So just go ahead and ignore reality. Brightness is directly responsible for readability outside. It's not magic.
  • Tams80 - Thursday, October 16, 2014 - link

    It's not just brightness. I don't know what Samsung have done here, but Nokia CBD (proper CBD) increased sunlight readability without just increasing screen brightness.
  • theduckofdeath - Thursday, October 16, 2014 - link

    It's not "a small bit better", it's a much bigger difference than what you get between TN and IPS. 100's times bigger in fact.
  • skinygeek - Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - link

    Wondering how the Battery life of Exynos Variant would be . The 20nm Tech should give it an edge.
  • danstek - Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - link

    Is the graph comparing camera focus latency missing? Not showing up for me.
  • juicytuna - Sunday, October 19, 2014 - link

    It's there now, but unfortunately too late as most of the sites readership will miss out on knowing how awesomely fast the camera is.

    A stark contrast with the iPhone 6 review where the phase detect autofocus was put on pedestal and showered with confetti.

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