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Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Review: Hands-on

The Good

  • Stunning design
  • Killer screen
  • Excellent camera

The Bad

  • Expensive
  • Unconfirmed for the UK
  • Fingerprint magnet

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Hands-On Review @ IFA 2015: We’re still holding out for UK availability, but in the meantime IFA gave us the opportunity to go hands-on with Samsung’s biggest and brightest handset yet.

Design

Say what you will about Samsung’s design aesthetic in 2015, but the Note 5 packs the same class-leading fit and finish that was introduced with the launch of the Galaxy S6 twins back at MWC, giving it great looks and top notch build quality.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 design packs the same class-leading fit and finish as the S6.

Of course such a departure also means that this year’s Note sports the most radical design changes in the product family’s history; made most apparent by the phone’s lack of expandable storage and removable battery. This will come as the biggest sting to long-time Note users, as previous iterations stood as some of the last remaining examples of such features in a high-end device.

In contrast to the S6 Edge+ it’s the phone’s glass back, not front that’s curved, which you could argue helps ergonomically when in-hand. The narrow sides of the metal frame also give the phone the appearance of being thinner than it actually is, but even at its thickest point it’s still a highly respectable 7.6mm thin.

The sides of the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 metal frame give the phone a thin appearance.

The defining feature of any Note is its stylus and the Note 5’s S Pen is as satisfying as to use as ever. Aside from adding that extra level of tactility and being highly responsive, the sealed body also means that it now packs a spring loaded design that slots into to metal frame. When in use, the S Pen’s spring mechanism doesn’t serve any additional purpose sadly, but it gives you something to fiddle with between scribbles.

Screen

Samsung’s liberal use of Super AMOLED technology might mean the Note 5 doesn’t pack the most accurate colours in the business, but it surely has one of the prettiest and most effective displays out there.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Screen is a Super AMOLED display.

Where Samsung has really worked its magic is with the screen’s surround. Thinner bezels and smaller overall dimensions, without reducing the previous Note’s 5.7-inch display size help up the level immersion users will encounter for both HD videos and games.

OS

The changes are for the most part subtle when set alongside the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge but the TouchWiz-flavoured Android 5.1 Lollipop OS does pack a few extra tweaks and changes all its own.

Naturally there’s support for a PayPal-certified fingerprint sensor (something that won’t see native Android support until 6.0 Marshmallow), which accepts soft presses, rather than unreliable swipes. S Health and the complimentary heart rate sensor are also present. The apps drawer icon has undergone a slight design change and there are a wealth of methods for multitasking on that expansive display, whilst the biggest extras are all S Pen-related.

Sliding out the S Pen on the Note 5 brings up Air Command

Sliding out the S Pen as ever brings up Air Command, which now uses a full screen interface and features familiar functions like ‘screen write’ and ‘action memo’, but other options like ‘smart select’ have been uprated and you can pin your own compatible apps in there too, like Evernote or Adobe Acrobat.

The best new inclusion is unquestionably the ability to write on the screen without having to wake the phone up. Extricating the S Pen whilst the phone is locked launches a grey on black version of S Note, ideal for jotting down ideas or reminders at a moment’s notice and a huge additional strength with regards to use cases for the S Pen.

Performance

As with every Note, Samsung has packed this phone with top tier specs – the same Exynos 7420 64-bit octa-core chipset as the S6/Edge/Edge+ paired to 4GB of DDR4 RAM. That means plenty of power to drive the phone’s feature-rich user experience and handle 4K video recording, multitasking and gaming like a champ; perhaps making it the most powerful phone on the market.

Where things fall down a little bit is with storage and battery. As the Note 5 keeps things locked away from the prying fingers of users, you’d think they’d make sure that they’d put their biggest cell to date inside, but the 3000mAh power plant in the Note 5 is actually smaller than last year’s model – which early reports suggest only gives you a day’s worth of use before running dry.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 S Pen

The only saving grace is perhaps the Note 5’s fast-charging capabilities, which include support for fast wired and wireless charging, provided you have the compatible charging plate.

Unfortunately the only way to get more storage into your Note 5 will be to buy a larger capacity version. With 32GB and 64GB models on offer at launch and word of a 128GB model waiting in the wings.

Adding insult to injury, Samsung took the Note 4’s IR blaster away too. Why exactly, we’re not sure, but we’re going to miss flipping through TV channels without having to hunt for the remote first.

Camera

Extensive use of Samsung’s S6 family has taught us that right now it makes the best smartphone cameras in the business and as the Note 5 packs the same 5-megapixel front-facer and 16-megapixel rear snapper, we have little reason to believe that it won’t be any less of a master when it comes to capturing stills and video.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5's back features the camera.
The Note 5’s back features a killer camera, but it’s also a magnet for fingerprints.

As with last year’s Note, the 5’s rear camera employs a combination of DIS (Digital Image Stabilisation) and OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation), which means handheld video footage feels super smooth and macro or low-light stills retain detail without shake, blur or excessive noise.

Fans of apps like Periscope or Meerkat will appreciate the phone’s ability to live stream to YouTube, even over a mobile data connection and selfie fans will enjoy using the heart rate sensor on the back as a shutter key when taking photos using the front camera.

Verdict

There’s a lot to love about the new Samsung Galaxy Note 5, primarily thanks to its killer hardware, beautiful design and unique feature set, but locking away the battery and storage will sting many long-time Note fans.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Verdict

Add to that top-tier pricing of between £600 and £700 and the fact that right now the only way us Brits can get ahold of one is by importing it (until Samsung decides to bring it to Europe) and grabbing the Note 4 or the S6 Edge+ seem like far more approachable alternatives for the time being.

Specification

Screen size5.7-inches
Screen resolutionQHD (2560x1440)
Weight171 grams
OSAndroid 5.1 Lollipop
Rear Camera16-megapixel w/ single LED flash, F1.9 aperture and OIS
Front camera5-megapixel w/ F1.9 aperture
Processor2.1GHz/1.5GHz octa-core Samsung Exynos 7420
Memory4GB RAM
Storage32GB/64GB (non-expandable)
4G LTEYes
Bonus featuresHeart rate sensor, fingerprint sensor, Samsung KNOX security, optical image stabilisation, download booster, S Pen, fast wireless charging, YouTube live streaming

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