We review the Samsung Galaxy Note 5!
Samsung’s Note series of smartphones have always been an oddball in the tech world. When it was first released, people quite literally tried to wrap their hands around the idea of a big-screen phone with a stylus. And each year, people have (begrudgingly) accepted the Galaxy Note’s size, to the point that the big-screen wonder from Samsung is now considered mainstream, a far cry from its niche status when it was originally launched 4 years ago. This is more evident in the Note 5’s design, which borrows heavily from its sibling, the S6 Edge, a device that has always been meant to appeal to a wider audience than the Note series.
That new design direction for the Note series meant that many features that fans have always liked about the Note had to be axed. This created a lot of pushback from loyal Note users, who loved the oddball design of the note compared to Samsung’s more mainstream offerings. For better or for worse the new direction of the series is here to stay, and despite the loss of those features the Galaxy Note 5 is the best entry in the series.
Our review was done on an engineering device which features mostly complete hardware and software. Externally the phone lacks the two glass panes of Gorilla Glass 4 which makes it shinier than the a retail example, and has a numerical identifier on the back.
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 specs
- Exynos 7420 octa-core processor
- 4GB of RAM
- 5.7-inch QHD Super AMOLED display, 2560 x 1440 resolution
- 32/64GB of storage
- 16-megapixel rear camera with OIS, F/1.9, flash
- 5-megapixel front camera
- 3G, LTE
- WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS
- Android 5.1 Lollipop, TouchwizUI
- 3000mAh battery
A more mainstream design for the new age
Samsung is clearly trying to unify the design languages of all its high-end devices. It’s a trend that they started with the S6 and S6 Edge, which has now greatly influenced the design of the Note 5. The design of both devices have always been distinctly different up until last year’s offerings, but no more. The Note 5 looks and feels like an inverted S6 Edge, with the curved back and flat front. Just like the previous flagships released this year, Samsung extensively used a lot of metal and glass in the design of the Note 5, further strengthening its premium look and feel.
The frame of the Note 5 is made out of aluminum and feature chamfered edges on both sides. The curve on the back of the phone makes handling the device a whole lot easier, even if it does still have a 5.7-inch QHD display much like the previous generation. The volume rocker is on the left side while the power button is on the left. The Note 5’s coming to the PH are all dual-SIM capable. The USB port, 3.5mm audio jack, and speaker grille are located on the bottom of the phone, flanked on the right by the holster for the S-Pen. We’re a bit bummed that the Note 5 still sports that ugly camera bump on the rear much like the S6 Edge and the S6.
Samsung’s also saw fit to redesign the S-Pen for the Note 5. To disengage it, you’ll need to press on it and you’re rewarded by a very audible and tactile click before you can take it out. The phone will vibrate slightly as you pull the S-Pen out, and the Air Command menu will pop out as soon as it’s released from its holster.
New this year is the ability to write notes and doodles on the display even though the display is off, which you can then save to S-Note later. We also need to stress that it’s important to plug in the S-Pen the right way in – putting it in the wrong way will break the holster and the sensor that activates the Air Command menu which requires a costly trip to the service center to fix.
Unfortunately, there’s a trade-off for all of the nice metal and glass. Samsung has officially axed the microSD expansion for the Note 5, along with the removable battery. That means you’re stuck with 32GB of storage on your Note 5. That’s not a typo – while there are two storage options for the Note 5 (32GB/64GB) Samsung has officially said that they’re only selling the 32GB version of the Note 5 here in the PH. After the OS and some apps, we were left with just 23.82GB of storage in our review unit to play with. While that’s not too bad, some people who like using their big phones for media consumption via movies and games may be turned off at the notion of limited storage.
We’ve always loved Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays, and the one on the Note 5 is no exception. Super bright, vivid, blacks are extremely deep and color reproduction is top-notch. While some people will complain about oversaturated colors, it’s not really that evident in the display of the Note 5, and not that we really mind anyway. It’s one of the best displays you’ll find in a phone, and the fact that it’s in QHD resolution is just icing on the cake.
People who love to complain about Samsung’s TouchWiz UI will be disappointed to know that Samsung applied the same light TouchWiz touch to the Note 5 as they did on the S6 and S6 Edge. To be blunt, TouchWiz isn’t as obnoxious in this iteration as it was before, and we love the fact that Samsung was self-aware enough to rein in the UI as it was ruining the user experience with their phones.
All the apps that you’ve come to love with the Note series are still present in the Note 5, including S-Note, Action Memo, Screen Write and Smart Select. The multi-viewing feature is back, as well as Flipboard’s magazine interface that you access by swiping all the way to the left.
The phone is beastly even without new hardware
One of the things that really underwhelmed us during the launch of both the Note 5 and the S6 Edge+ was Samsung’s decision to re-use the processor in the S6 and S6 Edge in their new flagships. The Note series has almost always used the best processor available in the market, which usually meant using Qualcomm’s offerings.
This year is a little different, though. Because of Qualcomm’s overheating problems with its top-of-the-line Snapdragon 810 SoC, Samsung has been forced to rely on their home-grown Exynos 7420 octa-core processor for their flagships. We’re not going to fault them – the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge were pretty beastly machines on their own with the Exynos processor, and both the Note 5 and the S6 Edge+ get the same hardware along with a 1GB bump to their RAM.
The extra bit of RAM allows the Note 5 to be able to multi-task better than either the S6 Edge or S6, but only by a small amount. Still, there’s not much to complain about – the Note 5 is completely capable of demolishing any app or game that you try to run on it, and it’s one of the few games that can run Marvel’s Future Fight seamlessly on high settings.
Same camera, same awesomeness
Aside from the processor, Samsung also re-used the same 16-megapixel Sony-equipped snapper on the Note 5. And much the processor, we’re not going to fault Samsung for doing that – the camera on the S6 Edge was one of the best we’ve ever seen in a phone, capable of taking good photos no matter the lighting situation.
The whole “just shoot” approach that the S6 Edge had is back, with a vengeance, with the auto HDR doing much of the work for you – leaving you with the task of framing and taking photos instead of messing around with the settings.
To summarize: the camera on the Note 5 is one of the best you’ll find in a phone today, period.
Surprisingly good battery life
One of the main complaints that we had with the S6 Edge was the less than impressive battery life. We clocked in 8 hours with the S6 Edge before we had to start thinking of saving battery on really hectic days that used up a lot of battery. The Note 5 managed to get a score of 7 hours and 4 minutes, which translated to more than a day’s use. That’s rather impressive, considering that the Note 5 only has 400mAh more juice than the S6 Edge. It seems that Samsung might have found a way to stretch the legs of the phone, and that’s always a good thing.
Verdict: It’s one of the best Notes ever made by Samsung, though many won’t like where the series is going
The Galaxy Note 5 is unquestionably one of the best phones that Samsung has ever made in the series, though not everybody will like where the Note family of devices are going. The pen-toting, big screen phablet that was previously a niche product for the Android enthusiast has now been remade into a more mainstream product line, much like how an indie band has been redressed for mass-market acceptance. The removal of microSD card and user servicable battery for the favor of a unibody metal and glass design shows that Samsung’s ready to take the Note series into another direction that die-hard aren’t to keen to. While the Note 5 will lose a few die-hard fans, Samsung’s betting on getting even more with the gentrified design.
At least that’s the plan anyway.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is priced at Php 36,990.