Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review: it’s a big deal

November 7, 2014

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Samsung has had a downturn recently, with earnings tanking quarterly and many observers wondering if their “time” had come. They may be down, but Samsung is not out. The Galaxy S5 and Note 4 carry the flags for Samsung’s handset division, and between the weird concept devices and middling mid-rangers, these two pack the most firepower. The Note 4, the bigger of the two, is the latest in a long line of devices that set the trend we’re currently experiencing in smartphone sizing. Is it one of the lone bright spots in a crowded market, or has Samsung really lost a step?

Hardware

The Note 4 is what you’d expect from Samsung. Lot of plastic with a little pizzaz, the Note 4 is immediately handsome and familiar. Pick it up, and the solid feel resonates. Though big, the Note 4 remains solid without feeling dense; light without feeling cheap.

The home button is there, as usual (and with the fingerprint scanner), just like the light-up stagnant buttons on either side to take you back a step or bring up recently used apps. The back is plastic, but not the fake-stitching skeumorphic nonsense Samsung has been doing lately. I’m happy they dropped that design philosophy.

The cameras, audio jack, power button, volume rocker — they’re all where you would expect. The bottom has a holster for the stylus, and it slips away comfortably.

Here are the main specs for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4:
5.7-inch Quad HD AMOLED display, 2560 x 1440 resolution
2.7GHz quad-core processor
3GB RAM
32GB Memory, expandable: supports up to 128GB micro SD card
16MP rear camera, 3.7MP front-facing
3220mAh battery

Stylus

As styli go, the one included with the Note 4 isn’t really great. It’s slim, and likely not envisioned as a heavy-use add-on, though. Still, it’s slim, and awkwardly light.

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The lone button sits right around 1/3 the way up the pen, making for an awkward tap with a finger if you hold a pen closer to the tip. Tap it twice, and the Note 4 brings up a quick menu of things you can do like cut out something from the screen, take and annotate a screenshot, or write a quick memo.

Other than that, the stylus is mostly a digital pen. It’s a nice inclusion, but likely not something you’ll use often in normal situations.

Battery life

There’s a monster under the hood, and it’s the battery. The Note 4 might be big, and require a lot to push pixels all over that screen, but it still powers you through a day without issue.

I was able to get through a day of moderate use with the Note 4, and almost all the way into the next day, too. If I were to use it in heavier situations — like streaming Netflix or a decent amount of navigation — I’d say a day-plus is easily obtainable.

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Camera

The big screen makes for a nice viewfinder, and the camera is typical Samsung fare. It’s good — really good — but not world beating. I took it along with the DROId Turbo I recently reviewed, and snapped some pics (that’s why they may look familiar).

I do prefer Samsung’s more iOS camera interface, with a tap on the screen to focus, and a dedicated shutter button. The size is a bit cumbersome for use as a camera, though.

The problem

There is still one thing to note (pun intended) here: Samsung made this phone. As such, the Note 4 has their take on what a smartphone is, should be, and will be for the foreseeable future. That’s a problem.

Though they recently updated their own OS visually, Samsung’s Touchwiz is still ugly, bloated, and downright clumsy. Unlike other devices with skins, say LG’s G3 or the HTC One, the Note 4 obfuscates Android in the worst way.

I get why TouchWiz is so massively bloated, I really do. Samsung wants to give us all the things in one package, and that’s admirable. For 2010. It’s 2014, and we now understand apps, how they work, and where to find them.

IMG_20141106_110926658-XL

Samsung needs to democratize their bloated, clumsy, ugly Touchwiz, plain and simple. Take those services and distribute them via the Play Store, and let me decide what I do and don’t want. It would take a shift away form the current model, I know, but that’s exactly the point.

Besides, Samsung could then update their devices and services faster. They make decent stuff — really, S-voice, Smart Remote, etc. aren’t necessarily “bad” — and I wish they’d have the courage to stand behind them.

Use

The size of the Note 4 is still polarizing. If you can manage the size, you’ll love using the device day to day.

Between the amazing screen, more than respectable battery life, and powerful spec sheet, the Note 4 is not going to disappoint. Samsung didn’t iterate with the latest Note, they down-shifted and put the big-phone genre into overdrive.

In case you were wondering, yes — the Note 4 is a bit too large for single-handed use. I don’t have small hands, and it’s just not easy with one hand. Samsung has a method for shrinking the screen to a smaller size, which is neat, but without taking advantage there, normal phone use-case scenarios will leave you using both hands.

IMG_20141106_111152248-XL

Verdict

Samsung knows Apple is lurking with the iPhone 6 Plus. The Note 4 is the answer to that. It’s as classy a phone as Samsung could make provided their plastic-and-removable-batteries mindset.

The real question I’m supposed to answer here is whether or not you should buy this device. So let me just go ahead and say that yes, yes you should.

The Note 4 has impressive battery life, a gorgeous screen, and a spec sheet that won’t let you down for a solid two years. It’s impressively dense and solid, and looks as polished as you could hope for. The Note 4 sets the standard for Samsung devices, plain and simple.

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Samsung still needs to start fresh with Touchwiz, and they might be, but that’s a subjective topic. Some people love TouchWiz; they’re used to it, and it works for them. Touchwiz isn’t bad, either. It’s just dated and bloated.

Though the Note 4 isn’t without problems, there’s enough cool stuff to keep you hanging around. Multi-screen lets you run two apps at once, the stylus has some use cases for professionals, and the improved screen real estate will keep you happy in a tablet-less home.

The Note 4 can be had via all major carriers, with subsidized costs starting at right around $299.


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  • Chris Beavans

    This phone is great! worthy upgrade from the Note 3! Bad ass period! If you don;t like touch wiz download google launcher it takes touch wiz away! The note 3 lagged! This one does not! Best android phone out there!

  • mike

    Lol touchwiz is not ugly, its the best looking software out there! Damn biased reviews!

    • Petter Forsberg

      Touchwiz is the worst skin out there, you can barely even feel that you’re using Android. Vanilla, Sense or Paranoid are the top choices!

      • Bob

        Touchwiz is awesome. Maybe with Android 5.0 (Lollipop), the stock Android will get closer to Touchwiz experience.

      • lovelaptops

        Let me just add my voice to the anti-TW-bashing crowd. I have a GalaxyS4 phone, a Nexus 7 and a Galaxy Note 8 tablet and I use all three every day, so I am intimately familiar with the differences, pros and cons. In a nutshell, TW is not the terrible skin Samsung-bashers like to say it is – it probably was worse in previous years, and it is so hard to shake an old perception – and it is mostly hideable with 3rd party launchers as noted by others and it is absolutely getting better and better. I experience the “pure Android experience” every day on my Nexus 7 (2013) and while it is a bit cleaner (than Touchwiz as I have set it up in my devices) it’s actually a very boring, low-end appearing UI and it lacks both features and easy ways to adjust them that Touch Wiz provides. Also, there was a great deal of improvement between my GS4 and GN8, to the point where I’d say the TW on the GN8 is an all around better UI than the stock Android of the Nexus 7 (Samsung did a great job of adapting TW for a 2-column set up which makes it unnecessary to have, for example, 4 partitioned Settings modules in the GS4. Also, it’s absolutely the case that once you get used to TW., there is nothing remotely unpleasant about using it, any more than upgrading to the newer model of a device or program. Two more things: where Samsung deserves criticism is the ridiculous numbers and types of features it throws into each device – especially because 50% of them don’t work very well. Once you’ve tried each once you can decide which ones are useful and functional and then you completely conceal the others so they provide no distraction. As for lags, I don’t think TW is necessarily too “heavy” to run lag-free, but the Samsung engineers have to do something given that there are occasional lags (less face it, we have become awfully spoiled!) that just shouldn’t happen with the massive hardware they use. I’m told the Note 4 exhibits no lag at all. Oops, I said 2 more and there is one to finish with: the S pen is the single most advanced and valuable feature added to any device, bar none. Every other device out there has complete parity of major functions, but only Samsung has a highly advanced, evolved active digitizer screen by Wacom (who make the tablet digitizers used by digital artists using the best quality devices) and if one is used to using a pen with another device or learns how to use it in a GNote device, it’s impossible to understate how much it adds to the productivity and real-life vaule of a smart phone.

        Samsung/Touch Wiz fanboy? No, not at all. I can take or leave my GS4 and am hoping the GN4 is as much better a device as the majority of reviews have said. As for my GN8 tablet vs. Nexus 7, it is a little laggy, but that’s partially due to older gen of hdwe, and it happens to have a 1280×800 screen (vs. 1920×1200 on the Nexus), though in my uses I find the extra 1″ of real estate is worth more than the higher resolution on a smaller screen that I have to zoom in on text just to read it. The Nexus 7 is slick, sleek, fast, and while it gets Android updates more quickly than the Samsungs, the first new upgrade invariably has many bugs and by the time Samsung puts it into their flagships, the core Android OS upgrade has been worked out.

        To summarize, with the exception of reliability and customer support, the brand and model of a device in this ultra-rapidly reinventing-itself world mean little, and you have to judge each device on its merits – not on the previous problems with its older models, even older versions of its proprietary features and software. Peace.

  • Robert Rieter

    So sick of the “touchwiz sucks” reviews. There are lots of alternatives out there. Once you own a note, nothing else compares. You won’t use the s-pen? I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.

  • Bob

    Galaxy Note 4 Touchwiz is awesome and I bought Note 4 for mainly its note taking capabilities. I now use it for meeting notes every day at work and it is very close to paper experience (5.7″ screen is totally usable). If needed, you can easily convert those to PDF & email. You can also set up for the Note (S-Memo) to open automatically whenever you pull the pen out. It is just amazing. Anytime you have an idea that you want to write down, just pull the pen out, S-Memo opens up, write it & save it. No need to worry about paper & ink pen. You always have your Note 4 with you!

  • Bob

    By the way, the Note 4 camera takes awesome pictures due to optical image stabilization and better than iPhone 6 Plus in real life low light situations (such as at a dimly lit bar or restaurant). I have compared side by side and Note 4 photos are better and sharper (less grainy) than iPhone 6 plus pictures taken in a bar.

  • Rook HD

    to my opinion, LG UI is the ugliest. Touchwiz is OK as long as it doesn’t lag. Lagging is the biggest problem of Touchwiz. The multitasking function is important, yet they let it lag, at least in the Tmo version. The camera lags, too. Some frustration here and there, but overall I like Touchwiz. FOr a user loving adjusting settings like me, it’s great!

  • Nonscpo

    Thank you for the review Ive been considering upgrading my phone and have liked what I’ve seen so far in regards to this phone. I like that this phone has replaceable batteries, a big screen, and a decent battery life. I might just have to pick it up this year 🙂

  • Phyl O Butoyi

    On the touchwiz issue I have never had a problem with it plus there are so many launchers out there that take away touchwiz and if need be why dont you just root and get the bare android ROM Im on the Xperia now and I hate it whaaaat, the touchwiz interface really works for me. The things people complain about on samsung can be fixed by watching a tutorial on youtube so the bias in these reviews without telling people how easily accessed the solutions are is irritating.

    • honu

      I’m with you Phyl on Touchwiz. I don’t understand why people freak out about touchwiz when you can easily download another launcher. I use Atom launcher on my note 2 and it’s simple, easy and stylish. Combine that with Simple Text to create custom icons for apps, you can make a really unique experience without being tied to touchwiz. Like you said, there are so many work arounds for android phones now, the fact that reviewers get stuck on the company os doesn’t give users credit for knowing how to get around it and ignores the whole point of android which is that you can modify the look of your phone really easily (with some practice using different apps that help you).

  • dave

    does it have a regional simlock like the note 3? because im getting one from the middle east but im going back to the UK early next year.

  • The-Sailor-Man

    TouchWiz is the best thing that happen to Android so far. FUNCTIONALLITY. And Samsung is the main reason Android to be so popular.
    Just because apple’s propaganda and few noisy android freaks(and of course all the so called tech media) bashing TW it doesn’t represent the millions upon millions ppl that enjoy it.
    And second:
    Bashing the S-Pen here is pathetic. That’s the greatest EMBEDDED Wacom pen without need of battery. Even giving additional input functions (mouse).
    Come on . Stop the iboys reviewing the greatest devices. Please!

  • Michael D.

    There are a couple of things in this review that I really can’t agree with.

    1. Quality/plastic. Well, Note 4, follows the design of the Alpha (the frame is made of metal) and is by leaps and bounds better that all of the Samsung plastic phones we got used to. After a long time I can say that I saw a Samsung phone that I liked both for its design and its build quality.

    2. Touchwiz. Yes, it used to be awful, but not any more. It may not be the launcher of choice, but it has changed a lot for the better. It’s not as cluttered as it used to be, you can use it daily.

    Honestly, I’m tired of people talking about Samsung’s build quality and Touchwiz. Yes, they both have troubled us for a long time, but these problems do not apply to the Alpha and Note 4. I’ve preferred Nexus devices for some time and it’s true that every time I had to use a Samsung smartphone in the past, something troubled me, something didn’t feel right. I’m glad this is not the case with Note 4.

    • Solomon Hwang

      Very true. Touchwiz was ugly but with the S5 and Note 4… it simply is not. With regards to the build – the Note 4 feels very premium even with a back plastic case. The feel is great and it doesn’t feel cheap at all.

      These two excuses seem to be used all the time by all tech review sites when facing the Note 4 against the Nexus 6… I will be honest – the Note 4 is simply better than the Nexus 6 in every aspect except the UI. But that doesn’t mean that the Note 4’s UI is “ugly” – it just isn’t as nice as Google’s.

      What does seem to matter more and evidently reckons with you when using the phone in your hands is the size, the quality of the materials used, and the camera. Samsungs excels in all.

  • Illuminatus66

    I jave a rooted and customized Note 3 and it is totally awesome. Even stripped out all tje bloatware from Samsung, Verizon and Google. After doing that I have zero complaints.

  • The-Sailor-Man

    WHY all the “android”-called blogs and sites are run ALSO by iboys???? I guess this is the “genius” legacy of St.Jobs who create them? A part of His thermonuclear war, that he have used the money Apple have for.

  • Cyberphobic Technophile

    Why did this article make out seem like a replaceable battery is bad or something? That’s a major purchasing decision for me. Nexus 4, 5 and 6 lose huge points for fixed batteries.

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  • Anonymous

    Is this called review…..IF YES then its all BULLSHIT, we don’t want ur opinions,
    where are the performance test and call quality test,…. nonsense review…!!

  • Omituinen höpöttäjä

    Still waiting to get a good ROM for Note 4 to get rid of the super ugly UI. I also hope it helps to save battery. It’s ridiculous to recharge the battery sometimes two times in the same day. Normally every day. Compared to my Lumia 1520, I recharged it every third day.