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Samsung Galaxy Note 4 follow-up review: one year later

We re-review the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 a year after its launch to see if this mighty phablet is still one of the best hand-filling phones around.

Our original Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review was rather gushing, and rightly so. After disappointing with more lacklustre plastic design with the Galaxy S5 and pointless crossover devices like the K Zoom camera/phone, Samsung was finally back on form with a powerful, feature-packed phone that boasted some sexy design work.

Fast forward to October 2015 and the Note 4 has just turned one, but the birthday celebrations have been overcast by dire news for UK Samsung fans. You see, the Note 4’s natural successor, imaginatively named the Galaxy Note 5, is not set to hit Blighty in the near or even distant future, meaning phablet fans will have to stick with the Note 4 or opt for a costly import – or (shock, horror) switch to a rival company.

So, is the Note 4 still worth buying twelve months on? The short answer is ‘yes, it’s bloody brilliant’.

Read next: Samsung Galaxy Note 5 vs Note 4, what’s the difference?

For a start, it’s still a good-looking handset, thanks to the metal-rimmed edging and leathery backing that’s a serious step up from the plastic fantastic design of old. Of course, that faux leather finish still divides opinions, but regardless it feels comfortable in the palm. And these days the Note 4 doesn’t seem quite so enormous, probably thanks to the huge selection of phones over 5.5-inches that we’ve played with in 2015 (Motorola’s Moto X Style and the Nexus 6P being just two from the past month).

The Note 4 boasts a spacious 5.7-inch screen just like the Nexus and X Style and makes the most of it too. To start with, it’s a crisp and vibrant way to enjoy movies on the move, easily on par with rival phablet displays. And if you’re hoping to carry around a massive media collection, then good news; Samsung actually stuck a microSD memory card slot into the Note 4, something missing from the Galaxy S6 and this year’s Note 5.

Best of all, the Note 4 makes full use of that screen space with simple and effective multi-tasking as well as that excellent, accurate S Pen stylus. If you’re after a creative handset or something to stay productive on the go, you’ll still struggle to find anything better.

These days all of the premium phones pack in a fingerprint scanner for hassle-free, enhanced security. The Note 4 is thankfully future-proof with its own scanner, built into the home button like the iPhone 6s’. However, it has been surpassed in terms of accuracy and responsiveness by most 2015 scanners, which only require you to press your chosen digit to the sensor – the Note 4 needs a swipe, which is prone to buggering up.

Admittedly I haven’t used the heart rate sensor on the back at all since our initial Note 4 review, but then I’m not exactly the sporty type. Still, the UV mode in S Health does come in handy on sunny days, detecting how strong the sun’s rays are and warning you to slap on some sun oil if levels are high. With pale Northern skin, that definitely helps to keep me from dissolving into ash during the summer. And the built-in IR blaster is a great feature sadly missing on most modern phones.

One year on, the Note 4 is still a strong performer. The Snapdragon 805 processor can happily run two apps side-by-side without stuttering and the latest games are no hassle. Battery life is still strong too after plenty of use, happily lasting well over a day even with a lot of play and roughly six hours if streaming video non-stop, about the same as twelve months ago.

The Note 4’s 16-megapixel camera has also held up impressively well against the latest premium handsets. Everyday shots are crisp, clear and detail-packed, with a decent HDR mode and impressively fast shutter that’s only just beaten by the likes of the Xperia Z5. However, in low light it’s been surpassed by the likes of the LG G4, which captures much brighter images.

As for camera features, the Note 4 packs in all of the big ones including 4K video recording, slo-mo video and the debut of optical image stabilisation.

Twelve months on, the Note 4 is still a creative powerhouse that can just about keep up with the latest flagships and beats most rival phablets for useful features. The fingerprint sensor has been surpassed and the leathery design is still divisive, but long battery life, strong optics and that gorgeous, spacious screen are all serious plus points.

Read next: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Galaxy S6

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