Less than a year after the previous Samsung phablet was launched, the Galaxy Note 4 keeps a familiar leather-effect rear, but encompasses it in a more premium-feeling metal frame. It's also equipped with a larger 5.7-inch Super AMOLED screen with a QHD resolution of 2,560 x 1,440, and packs extra grunt from a 2.3GHz Qualcomm 805 under the hood - compared to the Note 3's 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800.
The success of the Galaxy Note line raised a few eyebrows at first, but is now credited with leading other brands to take phablets seriously. Samsung's last model, the Galaxy Note 3, was a particular success, so it should come as no surprise, then, that their latest refinement in the stylus-toting lineup has cleared up a lot of the criticisms of cheap build quality that have been thrown at Samsung phones of late.
Following the recent announcement of their similarly metal-framed Samsung Galaxy Alpha, it's clear the top Korean outfit is changing its own design language, and moving away from the all-plastic bodies found in the S5, towards a more premium-feeling chassis to rival the competition. With an improved aesthetic and welcome specification upgrades all round, Samsung should again have the phablet market sown up - unless Apple rocks the cart in just a few short days time.
With faux leather back and plastic shell the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 struck a somewhat awkward balance between a rear that felt tactile and premium, and sides and front that felt somewhat cheaper than they should have. The overall package, though, was greeted with approval from most who gave it a whirl.
With the Galaxy Note 4, there's been a obvious effort to maintain prominence in the ocean of big-screened phones. Samsung has dropped the plastic found on the Note 3 in favour of a body that could be compared to the favourably received iPhone 5s and HTC One M8.
While the Note 4 now feels more refined than the Note 3, it's still not a full metal body construction, with Samsung opting for a metal frame surrounding a plastic chassis that at 152 x 80 x 7.6 mm and 163g. This means it's still both thinner and lighter than the Note 3's 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm form.
On the rear you'll still find the fake leather material, but the skeuomorphic fake stitching has been removed in favour of much cleaner, simpler lines. On the front, the trim either side of the screen has lost the brushed aluminium effect in favour of glossy black bars - though there's a few millimetres less of it all round to make way for the increased screen size.
The Note 4 comes with the same fingerprint sensor already seen on the Galaxy S5 along with matching dust and water-resistant credentials, and heart-rate monitor nestled in next to the rear camera's LED flash.
After Korean rivals LG stole the limelight with the G3 - the first widely-available handset to feature a QHD display - it's no surprise that Samsung has bumped the screen resolution from 1,080p up to 2,560 x 1,440, while keeping the vivid Super AMOLED technology found in the Note 3.
Those additional pixels come with a extra 0.2 inches of real estate, taking the 5.5-inch 368ppi screen found in the Galaxy Note 3 to a pin-sharp 515ppi 5.7-inch panel in the Note 4. Thanks to the even slimmer bezels around the screen, there's no noticeable increase in physical size, and the extra resolution makes using the newly improved S-Pen even more of a joy.
Last year the 13MP camera on the Galaxy Note 3 was more than adequate, but with top-end smartphones such as the Xperia Z2 and Nokia Lumia 930 upping their game to top 20MP, it was expected that Samsung would make the same gains.
It came as a little bit of a surprise, then, that the included sensor is only 16MP (the same as the S5), but it does pack proper optical image stabilisation, and 30fps HD video recording up to 3,840 x 2,160 - or as the marketing bods prefer to call it, 4K.
The front-facing camera on the Note 4 takes a reasonable upgrade from the predecessor's 2MP sensor to a 3.7MP sensor with a wide-angle lens. There's also now a side-mounted capacitive button known as Side Touch which can be used instead of the touchscreen to take photos, as well as responding to a variety of gestures that work even when the screen is off.
Performance, battery and verdict
Like the Note 3 before it, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 comes with two variants of CPU. For compatibility with European and certain American radio bands, the Note 4 is the first phone to feature the latest quad-core processor based upon the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 chipset, running at 2.5GHz and coupled with an Adreno 420 GPU and 4GB of RAM.
Other markets will see 3GB of RAM and the debut of a 64-bit processor on Android in the form of an in-house octa-core Exynos 5433, featuring four low-powered cores at 1.3GHz and four higher powered cores at 2.3GHz that works alongside a Mali-T760 GPU.
As far as storage space is concerned, the same 16, 32 and 64GB options are available as in the Note 3, while microSD storage is still present, but now capable of accepting cards up to 128GB.
The Galaxy Note 3's 3,200mAh battery was no slouch by any stretch of the imagination, easily powering the large screen and stylus-smarts for a day's heavy usage. The Note 4 has extra grunt under the hood and an extra 1.6 million pixels to drive, so the increased capacity from the 3,500mAh removable battery is extremely welcome. After all, a smartphone the size of either the Note 3 or Note 4 is verging on tablet territory, so it should be expected to last past the standard day's usage of most smaller smartphones.
Like the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Alpha, a new Ultra Power Saving Mode is included in the latest iteration of TouchWiz UI, allowing you to stretch the battery life even further without having to reach for the charger.
If you'd rather not have the hassle of plugging a charging cable like you would on a Note 3, Samsung has introduced wireless charging for the first time on the Note 4. Like the charging plate bundled with the Lumia 930, there's no wires needed - you just place the Galaxy Note 4 onto the plate to charge it, no doubt saving precious seconds.
Where the Note 3 can now be had for around £400, the Galaxy Note 4 pricing is only slightly higher than the predecessor's original price, starting at £566 (US$936, AU$1,008).
When you consider that for this you're getting a QHD display, the latest quad or octa-core processor, 3 or 4GB of RAM and an slimmer metal chassis, the small increase seems thoroughly justified.
If you already own last year's Galaxy Note, then you'd have to be a die-hard Samsung fan or have deep pockets to upgrade so swiftly.
While the Galaxy Note 3 is still a phone that performs in most regards, the vastly improved aluminium frame makes Samsung's Note finally feel like a premium handset on the outside to match the top-flight specs that lie inside.
An uprated processor, QHD screen, larger battery and improved camera are all welcome specification improvements that leapfrog anything currently available from LG and HTC.
Of course there are still some predicted features that Samsung wasn't quite ready to deliver, such as a wrap-around display and retinal scanning security features. But as annual updates go, Samsung has delivered everything we could have reasonably expected.