Samsung launched the new Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone at IFA 2014 in Berlin, alongside a surprise Galaxy Note Edge with a curved screen. The new Galaxy Note 4 offers various improvements over its Galaxy Note 3 predecessor, including a Quad HD screen, better processor and other improved specs. Here's our Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review. See also: Best smartphones 2014.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review: Price
As usual, the Galaxy Note range fetches a high price and the Galaxy Note 4 will set you back £599 which is a big chunk more than the Galaxy S5. It's worth noting, though, that it's cheaper than the similarly sized iPhone 6 Plus which is £619 and has half the amount of storage.
The overall design of the Galaxy Note 4 is similar to that of the Note 3, with the same size screen, a faux leather textured back that we're still not overly keen on, and similar dimensions and weight. See also: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 vs Note 4
One slight difference is that the Note 4 has a metal frame, although only the shiny bevelled edge is obviously metal. There's none of that tacky stitching found on the Note 3, though, so we're pleased to see that go and although it provides good grip, the rear cover is yet again extremely thin plastic which feels cheap. Luckily it doesn't feel too bad when clipped into place.
The Note 4 is 8.5mm thick (8.67 mm by our measurement), so slightly thicker than its predecessor but by no means a chunky device. However, we'd class it as a phablet with its 5.7in screen, so don't expect to be able to fit it in your front pocket easily.
Like the iPhone 6 Plus, the phone is best used with two hands although there are features to help out which we'll cover later in the software section. The Note 4 is tall so things feel unbalanced when reaching for the physical and touch sensitive buttons which are below the screen. The back button is particularly hard to reach one-handed.
It weighs a hefty 175g which is a few grams more than its predecessor and makes it a heavy smartphone. The size and weight means you've got to be happy with its phablet particulars if you're going to splash out.
The Note 4 is available in Charcoal Black, Frost White, Blossom Pink and Bronze Gold. We got hands on with a Frost White model, which we thought was a bit on the sparkly side for our liking. If sparkly is your thing, though, Samsung has teamed up with Swarovski to offer some extremely sparkly crystal back cases for the Note 4.
Of course, it also comes with the S Pen, which is what gives this phablet the 'Note' in its name. This slots into the phone at the bottom next to the microUSB port and can be placed either way round. See below for more details on the S Pen.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review: Screen
The screen on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is stunning. It's the same 5.7in as the Note 3, but this time Samsung has introduced a Quad HD Super AMOLED display, following in the footsteps of LG with the LG G3. That's a resolution of 1440 x 2560, which means a whopping 515ppi pixel density.
While using the Note 4, we found that the screen had an incredible sense of depth, and we can imagine that it'll be difficult to go back to full-HD once you've used a smartphone or tablet with a Quad HD screen like this one.
Samsung says that the Note 4 has a 2.5D glass screen, which it says is inherited from the Galaxy S3. It means that the edges are slightly curved, which is designed to make swiping at the edges of the screen easier. We didn't notice much difference, though.
Not only does the screen look ridiculously crisp, it has excellent viewing angles from any direction and has bags of brightness. We've use the screen at very low brightness most of the time.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review: Hardware
Inside the Galaxy Note 4 is a 2.7 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 Processor (or a 1.9GHz Octa-Core processor in some countries). It's a super-speedy processor, which also has 3GB RAM and Adreno 420 graphics, and we found it to be extremely smooth and snappy when launching and switching apps.
We expected impressive results from this powerful smartphone and on the most part we got them. As you can see in the table below, the Note 4 is a speedy device and the first to break the 3000 barrier in GeekBench 3. However, it couldn't outpace the iPhone in the graphics department and disappointed a little in the SunSpider web browsing test.
Galaxy Note 4
iPhone 6 Plus
Built-in storage for the Note 4 is 32 GB and that's the only capacity available, but Samsung has included a microSD slot to allow you to add up to 128 GB additional storage to the device.
Connectivity includes the faster 802.11ac WiFi, and Samsung has included 4G LTE (Cat 6), NFC, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, MHL 3.0 and IR blaster. It also offers the Download Booster, first seen in the S5, which pairs 4G and WiFi to offer a theoretical maximum download speed of 400Mb/s. You couldn't really ask for more.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review: New features
Like the Samsung Galaxy S5, the Note 4 has a Fingerprint Scanner beneath the home button, and a Heart Rate Monitor located on the back of the device beneath the camera. The latter may only be useful for fitness fanatics but it can do clever things like measure your blood oxygen saturation level and even stress level. The fingerprint scanner doesn't work as well as Apple's Touch ID, still requiring an awkward swipe.
Interestingly, the Note 4 also has a UV sensor, which Samsung says is the first to be found in a mobile device. It's part of the S Health system, and sits on the back of the phone. You simply point it at the sun and take a reading
The Note 4 comes with multiple microphones too, which work with the built-in Voice Recorder to lets you record in two (interview mode) and eight different directions (meeting mode). You can then pick just one direction/voice to play back if you just want to listen to what one particular person had to say within a group conversation and the software will automatically skip all other audio. This seems to work pretty well but is probably more useful for us as journalists than the average Joe.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review: Cameras
Samsung has improved the camera in the Galaxy Note 4, and we found the results to be quite impressive. The rear-facing camera is 16 Mp, with auto focus and Smart OIS (optical image stabilisation). HDR on the Galaxy Note 4 offers a live preview, so you can see exactly what your image will look like before you capture it which is a neat trick. As you would expect, it can still record 4K video like its predecessor.
Rather than bombarding you with camera modes, this time around the Note 4 has just a few pre-installed and even fewer selected to display. If you want more you can select them from the 'manage modes' section or download more from the internet.
On the front is a decent 3.7Mp camera with an aperture of f1.9. Samsung has introduced a fun Wide Selfie mode with the Note 4, so you can capture more of the environment around you when taking those all-important and extremely popular selfies with the front-facing camera.
One thing we did find is that the size of the Note 4 means taking photographs is not an exceptionally easy task. It can get a bit clumsy, particularly if you are trying to take a photo with one hand. There's no dedicated camera/shutter button which is something we'd appreciate having. Below is our test photo and video.
Galaxy Note 4 test photos and video
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review: Software & S Pen
The Galaxy Note 4 runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat, and will presumably be updated to Android Lollipop after teasing it on Twitter. Samsung has added lots of cool and useful features to take advantage of the large screen on the Note 4 and the S Pen that comes with the device. In fact, it already has a Lollipop card-style recent apps which is nice to see and the transparent clock/weather widget looks great.
Multi Window (above) isn't new but is a handy allowing you to use two apps at once in a split screen view thanks to the 5.7in display. These windows can be resized, too, to allow more space for an app that requires it, for example.
It also offers the ability to view a window as a pop-up screen that can be moved around and will let you continue working in the background. You do it with a swipe from either top corner of the screen and we've done it accidentally a number of times. It also doesn't work with every app which is quite frustrating at times.
The Galaxy Note 4's S Pen has been improved, too. Using the S Note app, the S Pen can now emulate various pen and writing types, including a fountain pen or calligraphy pen, thanks to its 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity.
I've personally found the S Pen useful simply as a replacement for my finger as an input device - it's accurate and avoids the screen getting grubby. However, it can do a lot more than that if you can get your head around the complicated feature set which takes a while to learn.
The Air Command wheel lets you access features such as Action Memo, Screen Write, Image Clip and the new Smart Select feature by pressing the small button on the side of the S Pen. By default this appears when you remove the S Pen from its holder but if you find that annoying like we do then you can change the settings to do something else or nothing at all.
While we're impressed with the Note 4, there are things about the TouchWiz software that we're not keen on. Sometimes it's the little things that get to you the most and we dislike that the massive screen is unable to tell us who a text message is from or even the first line of it when a notification is displayed on the lockscreen.
A swipe away from the main homescreen is a customised Flipboard interface which is great if you use the service but if you don't there doesn't appear to be any way of removing it so you'll have to do your best to ignore it. We're of the opinion that the user should always have the choice.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review: Battery life
We all want great battery life from a smartphone and although the Note 4 has a large 3220 mAh battery (which is removable as usual), it hasn't blown us away in this area.
Realistically, the smartphone will last a day and have a bit of charge left but certainly not enough to make it through a second meaning you'll have to charge it every night. This is a bit of a shame considering the impressive performance we saw with the LG G3 which also has a Quad HD screen.
In its favour is the ability to fast charge 50 percent of the battery in just 30 minutes and the Ultra Power Saving mode which we've seen on other Samsung phones which switches things into a simplistic grey scale mode to make those last few percent stretch as far as possible avoiding you getting completely cut off.
The Galaxy Note 4 is a bit of a handful and is rather expensive but lovers of the Galaxy Note range will likely be enamoured with this edition. It is, on the whole, a great device with plenty of power and features. As long as you're aware that you're buying a huge phone and will get the most out of what it offers. Otherwise a smaller and cheaper handset is probably a better choice the Galaxy S5 or one of its rivals.