Introduction

From an oddball that everyone was laughing at to becoming one of the most important Samsung announcement of the year - the Note series got to a place where now everyone else wants to be in too, including Apple. Samsung isn't in too big a trouble just yet, but profits just can't keep climbing forever and the company needs the Galaxy Note 4 to become a success in a way the Galaxy S5 couldn't.

That's some heavy burden to carry, even more so considering competition is at an all-time high, now that Apple finally entered the phablet game. Yet the fifth Galaxy Note phablet (you didn't forget the Note 3 Neo, did you?) is as well prepared as one could hope for. Amazing hardware is what put the Notes on the map, but two generations after the original the software support finally caught up to make last year's Galaxy Note 3 a genuinely exclusive package.


Samsung Galaxy Note 4 official images

Now the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 comes to finally add the last seemingly missing piece of the puzzle - the exclusive design. A metal frame and a curved glass over the screen along with a refined faux leather back work together to make the latest phablet one of the handsomest pieces of hardware around. And as you can see in the list below, Samsung didn't have to make compromises elsewhere.

Key features

  • 5.7" 16M-color QHD Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen with curved Gorilla Glass 3
  • Android OS v4.4 KitKat with TouchWiz UI
  • LTE Cat 6 support
  • Quad-core 2.7GHz Krait 450 CPU, Adreno 420 GPU; Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 chipset
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 16MP OIS camera with 2160p video recording @ 30fps, 1080p @ 60fps, 720p @ 120fps
  • 3.7MP front-facing camera, 1080p video recording
  • Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA, Download booster
  • GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS
  • 32GB of built-in storage; microSD card slot
  • S Pen stylus
  • Enhanced Multi-window multitasking support
  • Fingerprint scanner with PayPal support and private mode access
  • microUSB 2.0 port with USB host and MHL 2.0
  • Bluetooth v4.0
  • NFC
  • IR port for remote control functionality
  • Standard 3.5mm audio jack
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • Heart-rate monitor
  • Active noise cancellation with a dedicated mic
  • 3,220mAh battery

Main disadvantages

  • Rear-mounted mono speaker
  • microUSB 2.0 is a downgrade over microUSB 3.0 on the Note 3
  • The uneven gap between the metal frame and curved screen glass takes a few points away from an otherwise excellent build
  • No enhanced resistance to liquids or dust
  • Wireless charging support only with an optional back cover

The first QHD AMOLED screen, the first Snapdragon 805 smartphone to go global and the best S Pen yet - the list of things for Galaxy Note 4 owners to brag about is certainly not a short one. But a flagship's worth is not in the number of exclusive features - the areas where it fails count double against it. And while the Galaxy Note 4 has very few things to be ashamed of, it's our duty to check against any nasty surprises.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 studio shots

So, we set to explore each and every feature of Samsung's latest flagship. The first rendezvous back at IFA went well for the Galaxy Note 4, but will it survive a proper in-house audition? Let's find out together - join us on the next page as we start exploring the exterior.

Retail package

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 comes in a box not much taller or wider than the phablet itself. It contains the usual accessories - a powerful A/C adapter that can reach 2A for Quick-charge compatible devices, 1.65A elsewhere, a cable and a headset.

Since the Galaxy Note 4 switches back to the microUSB 2.0 port the cable is a familiar affair - instead of the microUSB 3.0 plug found in the box of its predecessor.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The retail package and its contents

The headset is an in-ear design, the remote has three buttons (pick-up and volume controls) and flat, tangle-free cables. The quality of the headset is quite good for a bundled piece - in terms of both build and audio quality, although it still can't properly replace an expensive set of headphones that you purchase separately.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 360-degree spin

Standing at 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5mm and weighing 176g, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is basically identical in size and slightly heavier than its predecessor (151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3mm, 168g). The minor increase in thickness is mostly down to the curved glass on top, which requires more space than a conventional flat glass.

A comparison Samsung would very much enjoy is the one to the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. The first Apple phablet is slimmer at 7.1mm, but has a far more disappointing footprint of 158.1 x 77.8mm despite offering a smaller 5.5" screen. Huawei on the other hand would gladly point you in the direction of the Ascend Mate7, which stands at 157 x 81 x 7.9 mm and packs a whopping 6" screen. So, all in all, Samsung did a good job of slimming down the Galaxy Note 3 bezels, but others have done even better.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The Galaxy Note 4 sized up against the iPhone 6 Plus, the Galaxy Note 3 and the Vibe Z2 Pro

Design and handling

The Galaxy Alpha was called that way because it was the first to showcase the new Samsung design direction - combining plastic back with a metal frame to ensure excellent durability without compromising the premium feel. And while the first attempt wasn't quite perfect due to the glossy plastic used at the back of the 4.7" smartphone, the second attempt is rather impressive.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 combines a faux leather finish akin to the one on the Galaxy Note 3 with a metal frame, but also adds a curved glass to become a real looker of a smartphone.

While still made of plastic, the back looks and feels very similar to leather. The only change here is that the stitching is now gone as the company has obviously taken the criticism to heart that it makes the whole thing look overdone and actually, faker. The new finish feels much closer to leather to the touch so the imitation is much better this time around.

The metal frame feels great to the touch and adds quite a lot to the premium feel. More importantly however, it should solve a long-standing issue with Samsung handsets where the silver-paint on the plastic frames would chip and peel off with time to really spoil the overall look of the company's phones.

Finally, the curved Gorilla Glass 3 on top of the screen comes to improve the appearance as it looks better than a flat panel, but also the handling as swipes now feel more natural. We've enjoyed curved glass on top of the screen since the Nokia N9 came around, but it wasn't until this year that they are finally making their way to some properly slim phones so you don't have to choose one or the other.

There's one niggling issue with the design though. As early adopters found out, there's a gap between the edge of the screen and the metal frame - it's not as bad as initial reports made it look (certainly not wide enough to fit a business card), but it's there and somewhat spoils the design. Not so much at first sight, but there will certainly be dust accumulating over time. Worst of all, the gap's size varies and is not symmetrical on both sides.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The Galaxy Note 4 is definitely a looker

As far as we understand, the frame is raised a bit higher than it needs to so it offers extra protection in those cases when you drop your Galaxy Note 4 face down. And while that might be a valid concern, we would really have preferred if Samsung sacrificed a tiny bit of durability here to achieve the seamless front panel design.

Still, all things considered, the Galaxy Note 4 marks a very important achievement for Samsung. It's arguably the first time that its device looks better than a direct rival by Apple. Granted, the Cupertino giant didn't quite get the iPhone 6 Plus right, but it's still a position Samsung must've been dreaming about being in for year and it has finally achieved it - in the hand the Galaxy Note 4 feels more like the iPhone 5S than the iPhone 6 Plus.

That's not all, the Samsung phablet also has the lead in handling - while neither phablet is particularly comfortable for single-handed use, the Note 4 with its smaller footprint and three low positioned keys has an edge. Add the extra phablet experience that the Koreans have, which results in lots of software optimizations (you can even shrink the whole UI to only take about 4" to have everything within reach) and you get a generally more manageable package.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The Galaxy Note 4 handles reasonably well considering its size

Controls

Above the 5.7" display you'll find the earpiece, the newly upgraded 3.7MP F/1.9 front-facing camera capable of 1080p video recording, the proximity sensor and the ambient light sensor. The IR gesture sensor of the Note 3 is gone as the Note 4 doesn't have the air gestures - obviously Samsung has decided that polishing those and making them usable isn't either feasible or worthwhile.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The array of sensors above the screen

Under the display, we find the typical Samsung three button layout consisting of a physical Home button with capacitive Back and Task switcher keys each side. As usual, the home button has an aluminum frame for a subtle accent.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Two capacitive and one physical button sit under the screen

Despite being made of a new material, the sides of the Galaxy Note 4 aren't anything new in terms of controls. There's the power/lock button on the right hand side on which the thumb nicely rests and the volume rocker on the left. The volume rocker could have been lowered a little bit so as to be more easily accessible.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Again we are left without a camera shutter key

As we mentioned, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 switches back to microUSB 2.0, but the port is still located at the bottom. The 2.0 port is slower for data transfers and while we wouldn't say it's too much of a loss on a mobile _phone_ (even if you have a 128GB microSD card you should still be able to fill it up reasonably quickly) the sense of downgrade isn't pleasant and certainly not one we welcome on a flagship device. On a positive note, the unsightly large hole required by a microUSB 3.0 connector is gone too.

Also at the bottom sit a couple of mics and the S Pen compartment.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

A switch back to microUSB 2.0 means slower data transfers, but prettier port

The top features another mic and the 3.5mm audio jack, plus the IR blaster that Samsung has been putting on most of its flagship Galaxy devices over the past couple of years.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Yet another mic sits on top

Then we get to the back, which is very similar to the Note 3, save for the absent stitching and the loudspeaker grille, which has been moved here from the bottom of the phone. You get the same nice feel of leather, a kind of finish that also proved itself quite durable in the long run.

While the position at the bottom seemed like a good thing at first as it's harder to muffle when the _phone_ is lying flat on its back practice showed that it wasn't. The reason was that the speaker on the Galaxy Note 3 would very often end right underneath your finger when playing a game or watching video and you wouldn't be able to hear anything unless you specifically adjust your grip.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The loudspeaker has returned to the back panel

You can pop the back cover open to reveal the 3,220mAh battery (basically no upgrade over the 3,200mAh unit of the Galaxy Note 3) along with the microSIM and microSD card slots. The slots aren't stacked on top of each other like on the Galaxy Note 4 predecessor, but have their own separate compartments. However the microSIM slot is still blocked by the battery so hot-swapping isn't an option - changing the memory card on the go is possible though.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Taking a peek under the cover

Display goes QHD

As customary for the series, the display of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is the highlight feature alongside the S Pen support. This is the first year when the diagonal remains unchanged at 5.7", but the resolution got a massive boost to QHD - 2560 x 1440 pixels. This means that despite its ample surface, the Super AMOLED panel offers a mind-blowing 515ppi - way above the 300ppi Retina threshold and easily better than any of its direct rivals.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The first QHD screen is a beauty to behold

Samsung has again went for the diamond-shaped PenTile matrix, although given the sheer number of pixels their sub-pixel arrangement will hardly affect the perceivable sharpness of the screen.

Here's how the layout looks under a microscope. The diamond-shaped PenTile uses OLED sub-pixels of different sizes as each color has different levels of power efficiency and longevity. Sub-pixel rendering is employed to properly distribute each of the primary colors.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The default screen mode comes to underline the Super AMOLED panel's key strength, high contrast, by producing overly saturated colors that make every image look like it's going to pop out of the frame. Yet if you are a professional that requires absolutely accurate colors or simply aren't a fan of the slightly unrealistic images there's the professional photo mode, which turns the panel into a proper photographic tool - with colors as true as possible.

The Samsung AMOLED panels have been improving at a great pace with each new generation and this latest effort is further proof of that. Giving you a choice between saturation and accuracy, and comfortably beating its rivals at either end is an impressive achievement, but with the inherent AMOLED strengths in the equation, you get arguably the most impressive screen in the market.

Yep, the practically infinite native contrast and the low reflectivity that makes sure you enjoy most of it in brighter environments are still here, alongside the impeccable viewing angles. There isn't much else one can wish for.

But enough words, let's give you some more numbers. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4, as we said, has a practically unlimited contrast ratio, as it's capable of displaying black by simply turning off individual pixels - AMOLEDs light up only the parts of the screen that display a color different than black.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 291 399
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 149 379
Apple iPhone 6 0.17 207 1230 0.61 740 1213
Apple iPhone 6 Plus 0.17 208 1197 0.52 705 1361
LG G3 0.14 109 763 0.72 570 789
Samsung Galaxy S5 274 529
Oppo Find 7 0.22 248 1135 0.4 448 1123


The Super AMOLED panel on the Galaxy Note 4 isn't the brightest when compared to some LCDs, but it can go higher than its predecessor. Note that some users report that the Auto Brightness mode can push the brightness higher than the brightness slider would allow you to. We didn't observe this in our test lab.

Sunlight contrast ratio

  • Nokia 808 PureView
    4.698
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    4.033
  • Apple iPhone 5
    3.997
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3
    3.997
  • Apple iPhone 6
    3.838
  • Samsung Galaxy K zoom
    3.675
  • Nokia Lumia 930
    3.567
  • Apple iPhone 5s
    3.565
  • Samsung Galaxy S5
    3.549
  • Alcatel Idol X+
    3.527
  • Apple iPhone 5c
    3.512
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    3.509
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Neo
    3.487
  • Motorola RAZR MAXX
    3.42
  • Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III
    3.419
  • Nokia Lumia 925
    3.402
  • Gionee Elife S5.5
    3.386
  • Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4
    3.352
  • Samsung Omnia W
    3.301
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    3.174
  • Samsung I9000 Galaxy S
    3.155
  • Samsung Ativ S
    3.129
  • Samsung I9190 Galaxy S4 mini
    3.127
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom
    3.118
  • Nokia N9
    3.069
  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    3.023
  • Samsung Galaxy Note
    2.97
  • Samsung Galaxy Premier
    2.958
  • Sony Xperia Z1
    2.95
  • HTC One S
    2.901
  • Samsung I8730 Galaxy Express
    2.861
  • BlackBerry Q10
    2.856
  • Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II
    2.832
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus
    2.801
  • BlackBerry Z30
    2.79
  • Sony Xperia ZR
    2.672
  • Huawei Ascend P1
    2.655
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    2.616
  • Sony Xperia T3
    2.609
  • Nokia Lumia 900
    2.562
  • Motorola Moto G 4G
    2.546
  • HTC One Max
    2.537
  • Nokia Lumia 720
    2.512
  • HTC One
    2.504
  • Motorola Moto G
    2.477
  • Sony Xperia Z
    2.462
  • Xiaomi Mi 4
    2.424
  • Samsung Galaxy S III mini
    2.422
  • LG G Flex
    2.407
  • HTC One (M8)
    2.371
  • Motorola RAZR i
    2.366
  • Sony Xperia ZL
    2.352
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    2.307
  • Oppo Find 7a
    2.279
  • Alcatel One Touch Hero
    2.272
  • Apple iPhone 4S
    2.269
  • HTC Desire 600 dual sim
    2.262
  • Nokia Asha 311
    2.25
  • LG Nexus 5
    2.228
  • Nokia Lumia 820
    2.193
  • HTC One (E8)
    2.185
  • Nokia Lumia 920
    2.17
  • HTC One X
    2.158
  • Nokia N8
    2.144
  • Nokia Lumia 620
    2.142
  • Nokia 515
    2.134
  • HTC Desire 500
    2.129
  • Sony Xperia acro S
    2.119
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note
    2.119
  • Nokia Lumia 1020
    2.103
  • Oppo Find 5
    2.088
  • Sony Xperia SL
    2.078
  • Nokia Lumia 630
    2.056
  • BlackBerry Z10
    2.051
  • Samsung I9295 Galaxy S4 Active
    2.022
  • Apple iPhone 4
    2.016
  • HTC One mini
    2.003
  • Xiaomi Mi 3
    2.001
  • Huawei Ascend P7
    1.992
  • LG G2
    1.976
  • OnePlus One
    1.961
  • Oppo R819
    1.957
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia ray
    1.955
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    1.944
  • Nokia Lumia 1320
    1.941
  • HTC One mini 2
    1.94
  • Samsung Galaxy Camera
    1.938
  • Sony Xperia J
    1.932
  • Acer CloudMobile S500
    1.931
  • LG Nexus 4
    1.926
  • LG G Pro 2
    1.922
  • Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3
    1.913
  • Nokia Asha 308
    1.911
  • HTC Butterfly 2
    1.905
  • Sony Xperia T
    1.894
  • HTC Desire X
    1.878
  • HTC Windows phone 8X
    1.873
  • HTC Butterfly
    1.873
  • HTC Butterfly S
    1.867
  • Huawei Ascend P6
    1.865
  • Huawei Ascend Mate
    1.845
  • LG G2 mini
    1.838
  • LG G3
    1.82
  • Nokia Lumia 1520
    1.813
  • HTC Desire 616 dual sim
    1.797
  • Sony Xperia V
    1.792
  • HTC Desire 816
    1.783
  • Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
    1.772
  • HTC Desire 700 dual sim
    1.769
  • Sony Xperia U
    1.758
  • Meizu MX3
    1.754
  • LG Optimus G
    1.753
  • Sony Xperia T2 Ultra
    1.74
  • Sony Xperia SP
    1.733
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    1.691
  • Oppo Find 7
    1.691
  • HTC One V
    1.685
  • BlackBerry Q5
    1.682
  • LG Optimus Vu
    1.68
  • Xiaomi Mi Pad 7.9
    1.672
  • LG Optimus GJ
    1.666
  • LG Optimus 3D Max
    1.658
  • HTC Desire V
    1.646
  • Samsung Galaxy Xcover 2
    1.632
  • Samsung Galaxy Ace 3
    1.622
  • Jolla Jolla
    1.605
  • Sony Xperia Z Ultra
    1.578
  • Sony Xperia go
    1.577
  • Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 I8160
    1.566
  • Samsung Galaxy Core
    1.563
  • LG Optimus G Pro
    1.552
  • Motorola Moto E
    1.545
  • LG Optimus 3D
    1.542
  • Nokia Asha 302
    1.537
  • BlackBerry Curve 9320
    1.488
  • Sony Xperia M
    1.473
  • Oppo N1
    1.47
  • Meizu MX 4-core
    1.462
  • Nokia Lumia 610
    1.432
  • Samsung Galaxy S Duos
    1.4
  • Samsung Galaxy Grand Neo
    1.393
  • Sony Xperia M2
    1.393
  • Samsung Galaxy Grand 2
    1.38
  • Sony Xperia E1
    1.372
  • Nokia Lumia 625
    1.371
  • Gigabyte GSmart G1355
    1.361
  • Sony Xperia L
    1.351
  • Samsung Galaxy Mega 5.8
    1.35
  • Xiaomi Redmi 1S
    1.35
  • Sony Xperia M2 Aqua
    1.331
  • Sony Xperia miro
    1.324
  • Samsung I9082 Galaxy Grand
    1.321
  • Samsung I8530 Galaxy Beam
    1.315
  • HTC Desire C
    1.3
  • Nokia X
    1.291
  • Sony Xperia C
    1.283
  • Nokia Asha 503
    1.281
  • Nokia Asha 501
    1.27
  • LG Optimus L7
    1.269
  • Nokia Lumia 510
    1.268
  • Samsung Galaxy Fame
    1.245
  • LG Optimus L9
    1.227
  • Meizu MX
    1.221
  • Samsung Galaxy Young
    1.22
  • Sony Xperia E
    1.215
  • Nokia XL
    1.204
  • Sony Xperia E dual
    1.203
  • Asus Memo Pad 7 ME176C
    1.198
  • Samsung Galaxy Pocket
    1.18
  • Nokia Asha 305
    1.178
  • Nokia Asha 306
    1.175
  • Sony Xperia neo L
    1.169
  • Sony Xperia tipo
    1.166
  • Nokia Lumia 520
    1.161
  • Samsung S6802 Galaxy Ace Duos
    1.148
  • Samsung Galaxy mini 2
    1.114

Under direct sunlight, the Galaxy Note 4 is able to retain excellent contrast and stay legible even in the most brightly lit environments.

You can find all about our display testing routines here.

Redesigned S Pen

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 comes with a redesigned S Pen, which is notably slimmer than the one inside the Galaxy Note 3, while retaining the same elliptical shape. The slimmer body would have made it a bit hard to handle, but Samsung has successfully offset this by adding fine ridges on its surface, improving the grip.

The overall result is on par with the previous generation - the new S Pen has very similar handling, while the button on its side isn't much different either. This is to say it's not exactly the most comfortable button around - far from it - but it's about as good as can be expected given the size of the stylus.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The updated S Pen handles similarly to its predecessor

Along with the S Pen, Samsung has also replaced the Wacom digitizer on the Galaxy Note 4 itself, making it more sensitive. The new digitizer can recognize 2048 different pressure levels - double that of predecessor and, while you won't be able to actually make 2 thousand lines of different thickness, you definitely gain more control and handwriting feels even more natural now.

Battery life

The battery life was a bit of a question mark hanging over the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, considering the screen resolution has nearly doubled, with the battery capacity remaining almost unchanged. 3,220mAh sounds like a pretty ample battery, but we were curious how it compared to the stellar endurance of its predecessor.

As it turns out, our worries were in vain as Samsung has done more than enough on the back-end to compensate for the new more powerful chipset and the higher-res screen. The new phablet managed to last longer than the Galaxy Note 3 by just over 10h, posting the overall great score of 87h.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

An important note is due here though - while the Galaxy Note 4 score is excellent, the competition has moved forward too, so its rating isn't as impressive as it would've been last season.

Learn how we test here.

Latest, less-bloaty TouchWiz

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 runs on the latest available Android 4.4.4 KitKat customized by the most recent incarnation of TouchWiz for smartphones. Samsung has added multiple features that increase productivity and enhance security but also reduced the number of S apps and features out of the box. Most of the gimmicky air gestures are no longer in service on the latest Note 4 and in their place Samsung has put a lot of multitasking features, which we welcome wholeheartedly.

Here's a quick video to get things started.

The lockscreen no longer has widgets aside from a few special controls. More importantly, you can now fingerprint-secure it - the Galaxy Note 4 can be set to recognize up to three fingerprints. If those fail for some reason (e.g. wet fingers), the phone will ask for a password so you'll never get locked out.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The lockscreen

The main homescreen is the usual affair of widgets and apps with four docked shortcuts next to the app drawer shortcut on the far right.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Homescreen

You can move homescreens around, place widgets and choose a transition effect. You can also enable and disable Flipboard's Briefing, which replaces the left-most My Magazine pane.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Rearranging the homescreen

On by default the Briefing pane differs from the My Magazine pane by name only. Both are powered by Flipboard and you get categories (e.g. News, Business, Facebook) are displayed as tiles, each displaying its top article. You can reorder and hide the tiles. Once inside an article, you can browse more articles in that category with the familiar Flipboard effect.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Briefing

The notification area is similar to what we've seen on recent Galaxy smartphones (Galaxy S5 and Alpha) with its design and circular icons. The toggles work as usual and below them are two buttons (S Finder and Quick Connect) and below that is the brightness slider, which can be hidden to save space, but you're stuck with the two buttons.

Recommended apps are gone, though.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Notification area

S Finder can search through the phone's memory for just about everything. At the very end of the search you'll get the option to search Google but we feel a productivity boon has been lost here - it would've been much better if S Finder listed the top Google Search results as a default instead of forcing one more step upon us.

Quick Connect allows you to connect to devices through Wi-Fi Direct and Bluetooth and mirror your screen or share media.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

S Finder • Quick Connect

The app drawer has multiple windows that can be reordered. It lists apps but can also hold folders of apps.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

App drawer

The app switcher is thankfully changed. Gone are the small app thumbs with inexplicable teal backgrounds and now you get a vertically-scrollable list of apps much like in Google's Android L - thumbs are very big and responsive and scroll naturally.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Task switcher • Task manager

The settings menu is a vertical list of apps divided into categories. At the top you can place a list of favorite apps as quick settings. You can alternatively choose the old tabbed settings menu.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Settings menu

Samsung has reduced the number of features you get in the TouchWiz UI. We prefer this approach as it makes TouchWiz more focused on the content and less inclined to place design elements everywhere for their own sake. The task switcher interface is the best example of this.

Still, TouchWiz remains probably the most feature-packed Android OS incarnation around and you'll have to bump into endless pop ups and agree-or-not prompts but once you've set up the Galaxy Note 4, it's smooth sailing from there on.

The TouchWiz on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a kind of immersive mode on at all times. Android users with on-screen buttons may be familiar with immersive mode but for the rest of you - it's the mode which hides the status bar and navigation buttons bar while in certain apps. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 constantly pushes the status bar behind the content so that you enjoy the whole screen real estate.

It's easy and intuitive to bring the bar back (if you want access to the notification area, for example) by doing a swipe.

Multitasking features, S Pen, S Voice

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is the latest flagship phablet for Samsung and as such carries the very latest in multitasking abilities. Some things have been improved over the previous Galaxy Note 3 and S Pen has been made much more powerful.

Multi window is here and allows you to place two apps side by side. You can adjust the divider so that one app will get more room to itself. There's a sidebar (accessible by pressing and holding the back button) with all the Multi window-supported apps and you'll need to drag them to the screen.

You can also access the split screen mode from the task switcher interface.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 allows dragging of content between the two on-screen apps, which is fantastic.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Multi window

One-handed operation is here and shrinks the entire UI to a window with an adjustable position and size. You can enter one-handed operation via a quick swipe in and out from the side of the phone but it will not work with the S Pen (or when it's out of its holster).

This time around one-handed operation has a black background for the rest of the screen and not the grey one of old. This should improve battery consumption from the Super AMOLED display.

As part of one-handed operation you can enable side key panel - it offers a floating panel of the home, back and recent apps button so that you can make them easier to access.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

One-handed mode • Side key panel

Pop-up screen allows you to pop and app out of its frame to use as a mini app. Using pop-up screen you can also drag and drop content from one app to another.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Pop-up screen

Once you've taken the S Pen out of the Galaxy Note 4 body (or hover it above its display and press the side button of the pen), you get the Air Command pop up. It lists four options with the first being action memo. Last year's fifth (S Finder) has now been moved to the notification area.

The Action Memo lets you write stuff and then use it to initiate an action - i.e. add a contact name and number to your phonebook, or check out an address on Google Maps. You just need to mark a part of the text and send it to one of the supporting apps. The handwriting recognition works impressively fast and accurately - it handles just about everything you throw at it.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Action memo

Smart select is the newest option. With it you to select on-screen content and clip for later use, you can clip multiple items and share all at once.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Smart Select

Image clip is last year's Scrap booker. It lets you add pieces of your screen to... well, a Scrapbook. You don't need to take a full screenshot - just mark the stuff you need. The Scrap Booker will automatically extract pictures and text from the selected area and will save them to one of your Scrapbook categories. You can then add an optional memo to every scrapbook entry you create.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Image clip

Screen Write allows you to start writing on the display no matter what screen you are on. You can either use a clean sheet or use a snapshot of the screen you are currently using. It's the best tool for taking quick memos.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Screen write

S Note is an application that allows you to create and customize notebooks. There is a total of 18 templates to choose from but you can also create your own custom look from images in your gallery. You can sort notebooks by tag, time or location.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

S Note

S Note features the photo note camera. It's used to snap a photo of text which it can then convert to digital, editable text. However this feature is buried into the S Note app and we think it would've been way less confusing to place it as a mode in the camera app.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Photo note

Scrapbook lets you keep any content you browse through on the Note 4's screen. You need to select anything on the screen of the Note 4 by pressing the S Pen button and the software highlights it and gives you a prompt to send it to Scrapbook via an image.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Scrapbook

Hovering the S Pen over certain kinds of content can display a pop up with information. In the S Planner calendar app hovering over a date will list the events, in the gallery a hover will show you a preview of a picture of album, in the video player if you hover over a video it will silently play in a pop up. In the browser clicking the S Pen will let you highlight text and give you a copy option.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Hover • Text selection with S Pen

You can enable and disable all or some of the S Pen features in its dedicated settings menu. The motion and gestures menu has seen a big deduction in features. You can directly call a contact from the messaging app by raising the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 to your ear, mute or pause a song by placing a palm on screen or turning the device over (this will also mute the ringer).

A palm swipe on the screen will capture a screenshot. Finally, smart alert will vibrate the phone when you pick it up if you have unseen notifications.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

S Pen settings • Motion gestures

S Voice has gotten smarter as well. It can be set to constantly listen to your voice and you can set a custom command to wake it. S Voice can be used to initiate a call, dictate text, play music, open an app, change a setting, make a memo (including voice memo), add a reminder, schedule an event, set an alarm or timer, check the weather, do a search on the internet, look for local listings (e.g. nearby restaurants) and even get an answer to a question.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

S Voice

Snapdragon 805 chip

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 we reviewed comes with the Snapdragon 805 system-on-a-chip, which should be the last 32-bit high-end chipset from Qualcomm. It's built using a 28nm manufacturing process and has a quad-core CPU with four Krait 450 cores clocked as high as 2.7GHz. The graphics processor is an Adreno 420 GPU.

The Galaxy Note 4 can alternatively come with the Samsung-made Exynos 5433 with an octa-core processor with four Cortex-A53 1.3GHz cores and four Cortex-A57 1.9GHz ones. The GPU in charge in the Exynos chipset is the Mali-T760. Our review unit however is the Snapdragon version.

Let's look at the CPU performance first. Geekbench 3 and AnTuTu 5 give an all-around evaluation of the system. Here the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 scored very high results. In Geekbench 3 it was defeated (strangely) by its peers - Samsung Galaxy S5 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with Snapdragon chipsets and the Exynos-powered Alpha. It edged out the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, though.

AnTuTu 5 shows the Galaxy Note 4 as the second seed just behind the Galaxy Alpha. Basemark OS II shows an overall score along with single and multi-core scores.

GeekBench 3

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    3214
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    3011
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 S800
    2937
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    2925
  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    2884
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    2860
  • OnePlus One
    2663
  • LG G3 - EU version
    2563
  • HTC One (M8)
    2367

AnTuTu 5

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    51905
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    46824
  • HTC One (M8)
    44020
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    43164
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 S800
    42211
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    40393
  • LG G3 - EU version
    39905

Basemark OS II

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    1222
  • OnePlus One
    1196
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    1181
  • LG G3 - EU version
    1126
  • HTC One (M8)
    1126
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    1109
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    1082
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 S800
    1003
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    915

Basemark OS II (single-core)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    2588
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    2579
  • HTC One (M8)
    2428
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    2415
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 S800
    2236
  • LG G3 - EU version
    2213
  • OnePlus One
    2213
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    2114

Basemark OS II (multi-core)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    15096
  • OnePlus One
    10234
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    10063
  • HTC One (M8)
    9860
  • LG G3 - EU version
    9611
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    9446
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 S800
    9364
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    8792

The Adreno 420 GPU inside the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is very capable. We ran a series of on and offscreen tests through GFXBench and the gaming benchmark Basemark X. It's important to note that the onscreen tests should turn out with a lower framerate because of the Galaxy Note 4's (quite higher than 1080p) 1440p screen resolution.

The GFX 2.7 and 3.0 offscreen tests place the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 in second place behind the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. The difference in framerate isn't big compared to the iPhone but is considerable (in favor of the Galaxy Note 4) when compared to other phones.

The onscreen tests place the Samsung phablet way behind the competition, which is to be expected - it has the highest resolution here, aside from the LG G3.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 got points where it counted, though. Gaming shows great promise as the Note 4 topped Basemark X and finally got a win against the Apple iPhone 6 Plus.

GFX 2.7 T-Rex (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    44.6
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    41.7
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    31.3
  • HTC One (M8)
    28.4
  • OnePlus One
    28.3
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    27.8
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    27.7
  • LG G3 - EU version
    27.2
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 S800
    26.3

GFX 2.7 T-Rex (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    52.6
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    48.4
  • HTC One (M8)
    30.1
  • OnePlus One
    30
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    29.3
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    28.1
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 S800
    26.7
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    26.4
  • LG G3 - EU version
    20.5

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    18.6
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    18.5
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    13.4
  • OnePlus One
    12.1
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    12
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    11.8
  • LG G3 - EU version
    11.4
  • HTC One (M8)
    11.1
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 S800
    9.9

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    31.2
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    25.3
  • OnePlus One
    12.9
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    12.7
  • HTC One (M8)
    11.9
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    11.7
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    11.2
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 S800
    10
  • LG G3 - EU version
    7.2

Basemark X

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    18684
  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    18297
  • OnePlus One
    13129
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    12637
  • HTC One (M8)
    12396
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    11744
  • LG G3 - EU version
    11552
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    11065

Browsing benchmarks show JavaScript and HTML 5 performance on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Kraken tests the former and lists the Galaxy Note 4 as second only to the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy Alpha - a respectable score. HTML 5 performance on the Galaxy Note 4 is surpassed only by its main rival, the Apple iPhone 6 Plus.

Kraken 1.1

Lower is better

  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    4650
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    4911
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    5351
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    6043
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    6355
  • LG G3 - EU version
    6987
  • OnePlus One
    7008
  • HTC One (M8)
    10296

BrowserMark 2.1

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    3389
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    2208
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    1533
  • LG G3 - EU version
    1474
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    1398
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    1364
  • OnePlus One
    1339
  • HTC One (M8)
    1069

What you need to take away from these tables is that the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a very capable smartphone. The 1440p display resolution is tasking on the GPU (as seen in the scores above) and the multitasking features will take their tow on the processor but the Snapdragon 805 handles everything with ease.

Performance is buttery smooth aside from a half a second wait when you tap the recent apps button (but probably just nitpicking here - the same task on the Nexus 5 running stock Android takes exactly the same rime). The UI appears to run at a constant 60fps.

Phonebook is great

The dialer is the familiar TouchWiz app and features all the basics - smart dial, quick dial and even a video call button.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Phonebook • Favorites tab

The Galaxy Note 4 features auto call rejection - it can reject all calls, only calls from specific numbers, all unknown numbers and so on. Blocking mode is even more restrictive - it blocks incoming calls and silences notifications and alarms. Only contacts on the priority list will be able to get a call or a message through. Blocking mode can be set to turn on and off automatically during a certain time period (e.g. at night).

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Contact window • Auto reject settings

You can create custom vibrations for different callers (similarly to the way it's done on iOS).

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Creating a custom vibration

Stellar telephony

We had no issues with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 when it came to reception or call quality. Sounds came out loud and clear in the earpiece and callers on the other end said they hear us without issue. The noise-cancelling microphone on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 also seems to do a great job of eliminating the cacophony of the outside world.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Dialer

Samsung went with a back-facing single speaker on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Given the extra space on the phone we would've preferred stereo speakers anywhere but on the back. At least the quality and loudness of the speaker is up to scratch - it came out with an excellent score and is among the loudest phones we've tested. Things don't stop at loudness though - the sound was clear and of great quality.

Speakerphone test Voice, dB Pink noise/ Music, dB Ringing phone, dB Overall score
Apple iPhone 6 Plus 67.3 65.7 66.5 Below Average
Sony Xperia Z3 69.7 66.6 67.2 Average
Samsung Galaxy Alpha 66.6 61.7 75.7 Average
Apple iPhone 6 66.6 65.7 72.8 Average
HTC One (M8) 66.3 66.3 75.7 Good
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 N9005 70.5 66.6 78.0 Good
Samsung Galaxy S5 mini 73.5 67.7 78.7 Very Good
OnePlus One 74.8 73.5 80.2 Excellent
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 74.7 73.5 81.6 Excellent


Feature-rich messaging

The Messages app has a row of shortcuts for the contacts you message most often and below that is the list of all conversation threads. Threads feels like a standard IM app and you can customize font size, the shape of the bubbles and the background.

This app handles both SMS and MMS and features a wide variety of smilies. Note that using smilies greatly reduces the number of symbols in a message - it drops to 70 and each smiley counts for two symbols (that's because they use the Unicode format rather than the GSM alphabet).

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Messaging app

The Messages app has some cool features too - you can delay dispatch by 3 seconds (or up to 30), so you can cancel a message before it goes out. You can also schedule messages to be sent automatically (say, congratulations for a birthday).

The app also features spam protection - messages from specific numbers or containing specific phrases can be blocked. Safe mode will disable the feature that automatically makes links clickable and will scan them for potential threats.

You can set an Emergency message to go out to primary contacts when you hit the Power button three times fast. The phone can optionally take a photo (without making a sound) and send it along with the message.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has two email clients - the Email and Gmail apps. Both are well familiar by now and work just as ever. You can use them side by side via Multi window as well and use the drag and drop functionality for text.

The all-purpose keyboard

The Samsung QWERTY keyboard really shines on the ample, high-res canvas of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. It features a row of numbers above the letters and a rich set of features. You can enter text by swipe-typing (like Swype and others), as well as move the cursor or view all alternative symbols for a key (which can be great if you use special symbols a lot).

The button row has a quick dial-like feature where you press and hold a number to enter a preset phrase. This can be used for standard messages like "okay", "can't talk now" and so on.

A small floating keyboard is also available, which comes in handy with Multi Window as you can move it out of the way (and it takes up less space to begin with).

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Keyboard

Naturally there's Voice input but also handwriting recognition. You can type things using S Pen and then the software converts them into better-looking text using a handwritten font.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Handwriting

Gallery

The gallery on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 can be viewed by time or by album and filtered by several categories. Event is the basic view, which groups photos based on time and location, but it's the other modes that caught our interest.

The gallery can automatically filter all photos that have people in them, but it can do the same for pets, flowers, cars, scenery and even food. If you're the type to share what you're having for lunch on social networks, you'll be pleased to hear the app handles Facebook, Dropbox and Picasa out of the box.

Pinch zoom will change the size of the thumbnails and can also open and close individual photos. Batch operations are supported and that includes not just copy/delete but also image rotation.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Gallery

The single photo view has several shortcuts for sharing (via an app or over DLNA). The Quick Connect button in the notification area will scan for all ways you can share something in the Gallery with nearby devices.

You can easily edit images right in the Gallery itself. The new Studio option is quite powerful and can do anything from basic editing and photo collages to creating and trimming videos. It also handles the post-processing of Shot & more photos.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Editing images

The Gallery also supports highly customizable slideshows.

Images look great on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 display. By default it uses Adaptive display so that it adapts colors depending on the use case or app but you can choose any of the other three modes - AMOLED cinema, AMOLED photo or Basic. AMOLED cinema is the most saturated, contrasty of them all, AMOLED photo is less colorful but with saturated colors still and Basic voids the display of its Super AMOLED look. AMOLED photo and Basic modes offer the truest whites, especially at an angle.

Music player

The TouchWiz music player on the Galaxy Note 4 is jam-packed with features and supports a wide variety of file formats, including FLAC. Music is sorted by several categories and you can hide some categories you don't need. Folder view is available and so is scanning for DLNA servers (Quick Connect helps with this).

The Now playing screen gives you the usual options: timescroll, playback controls, an AllShare shortcut. A coverflow-like list of album art lets you know what the next song will be and is an easy way to skip right to it. The music player will also try to find the lyrics for the song you're listening to.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Music player

There's also the Music square - the phone scans your music library rating each track in terms of tempo (Exciting or Calm) and emotion (Passionate or Joyful). It can then load a playlist matching your chosen tempo and mood. The emotion axis in the graph can be switched to Age, which makes it easy to automatically create a playlist of classics or contemporary hits.

Samsung has enabled several audio-enhancement features. The SoundAlive equalizer presets are cleverly organized into a square similar to the Music Square. The presets balance between Treble and Bass, Vocals and Instrumental. You can also just tap the Auto toggle or enable a Tube amp effect, 7.1 channel virtualization, along with Studio, Club and Concert Hall effects.

The advanced equalizer view gives you a proper seven band equalizer you can tune manually and enable additional effects like 3D, Bass and Clarity.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Sound Alive • Equalizer • Adapt sound

The list of audio features doesn't end there. Smart volume will keep the sound level consistent across tracks, while Adapt sound tests the performance of your headphones and tunes the equalizer based on that.

While listening to a song you can find music controls in the notification area and the lockscreen.

Abundant video player

The video player on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 handles files from the local storage and DLNA-compatible devices. Chapter preview lets you jump to a specific scene. If you hover the S Pen on top of a video file it will start playing in a popup.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Video player • Hovering S Pen over video

If subtitles are available, the video player will automatically find and load them. You can also manually load subtitles if the video and subtitle file names don't match.

You can change the zoom mode (100%, fit to screen width and without affecting the videos aspect ratio) and there's a pinch zoom too, in case you want to get close to a specific part of the action. Instead of zooming in, you can zoom out and turn the video into a floating window with the familiar Pop Up Play feature.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Pop out video player

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 handles videos with ease. Thanks to its capable chipset it can play even the toughest of video at up to UHD resolution but had issues with some sound codecs - AC-3 was a constant bother, in some cases AAC sound codecs wouldn't produce sound as well.

Excellent audio quality

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 performance in our audio quality test was almost identical to that of its predecessor - the Galaxy Note 3.

The phablet aced the first part of our test, where it had to show how it works with an active external amplifier. The Galaxy Note 4 achieved excellent scores top to bottom and garnished them with nicely high volume levels - not HTC high, but good enough to keep pace with the rest.

Plug in a pair of headphones and some stereo crosstalk creeps in - it's not too bad, but notably worse than some competitors, once again, from the HTC lineup. Take those out however and the Galaxy Note 4 can match or beat just about every smartphone out there.

And here go the results so you can see for yourselves.

Test Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD IMD + Noise Stereo crosstalk
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 +0.01, -0.04 -96.6 93.4 0.0015 0.0086 -94.2
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (headphones attached) +0.03, -0.02 -96.8 93.5 0.011 0.035 -55.2
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 +0.02, -0.07 -96.5 92.8 0.0035 0.0099 -96.3
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (headphones attached) +0.01, -0.09 -96.2 92.7 0.017 0.017 -62.1
Apple iPhone 6 Plus +0.04, -0.04 -94.0 94.0 0.0013 0.0064 -72.0
Apple iPhone 6 Plus (headphones attached) +0.10, -0.04 -94.0 93.9 0.0016 0.087 -64.1
HTC One Max +0.14, -0.14 -93.8 93.8 0.0009 0.015 -94.1
HTC One Max (headphones attached) +0.26, -0.02 -93.6 93.6 0.026 0.080 -80.4
LG G Pro 2 +0.02, -0.23 -93.8 94.2 0.0040 0.029 -93.3
LG G Pro 2 (headphones attached) +0.07, -0.02 -93.7 93.4 0.050 0.039 -73.5

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 frequency response

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 frequency response

You can learn more about the tested parameters and the whole testing process here.

16MP OIS camera, upgraded front-facing camera

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 captures images at 16MP and its sensor has a native 16:9 aspect ratio so it produces widescreen images that can be viewed in full in the gallery and on the majority of monitors.

The main camera has an aperture of f/2.2 (the same as its predecessor) but finally offers optical image stabilization, which should improve things when shooting in low light. The front-facing camera has also been improved - it now has a wider aperture of f/1.9 (so it should be a little better in low light) and has seen a resolution bump to match the screen - 3.7MP (or the screen's 1440 x 2560 resolution).

Focusing has been improved this year with the inclusion of phase detection pixels on the sensor. It's the same technology that premiered on the Samsung Galaxy S5 but it's even faster this time around. The LG G3 and the Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus offer a similar hybrid auto focus systems combining the traditional contrast detect auto focus with phase detect.

The camera interface carries the same design as the one found on the Samsung Galaxy S5. There's a column of shortcuts on the left, the middle two of which are customizable. All settings are collected into a grid of shortcuts so you can access everything easier. The camcorder shutter and settings are all located in the main camera app.

The Mode button is a scrollable list at the bottom. The shooting modes preinstalled on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 weren't many. You have selfie mode, selective focus (where the camera allows you to apply software background blur) and Panorama.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Camera and camcorder app

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 takes excellent pictures. The higher megapixel count is noticeable and we welcome the wider aspect of the images as both allow a bigger, better photo. Detail is superb, especially in the center of the photo but still doesn't degrade too much towards the far edges.

Images came out tack sharp across the frame and focusing was spot on. We noticed that the Galaxy Note 4 was very fast to lock on and even surpassed the Samsung Galaxy S5 on every occasion.

Colors aren't as punchy as those of the Galaxy S5 but are still vibrant. The white balance was spot on, finding a great middle ground between cold and warm. Scenes are well exposed and we like the dynamic range from the 16MP camera - the shadow and highlight areas of the image are well exposed.

There is some noise visible in the shadows and in solid colors (such as in the sky) but it's kept reasonably under control.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 camera samples

The autofocus when capturing close up (macro) images fares extremely well. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 can get very close to its subject (around 6cm) and capture detailed images. There is also a reasonable separation from the object and the background leading to a nice blurred effect (bokeh).

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 macro samples

HDR samples aim to expose the entire frame better by capturing a series of shots at different exposures and matching them for the final result. We like the HDR effect on the Galaxy Note 4 - it gets a lot of detail back into the shadows but also improves upon the highlights. See the examples below.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

HDR Off • HDR On

Panoramas come out at an incredibly high resolution. The maximum resolution in portrait shooting is a whopping 56.6MP (Apple just upgraded the maximum Panorama resolution for the latest iPhones to 43MP), while in landscape you get a decent 28MP. Detail is great, especially in the higher-resolution of the two and there are no visible stitching artefacts anywhere.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 panoramas

Overall, we can say that the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 carries one of the most capable cameras you can find on a smartphone. The quality is very high, detail is aplenty and things are always in focus and always sharp. The large resolution is welcome and the 16:9 makes much more sense than 4:3 (or any other ratio for that matter) on a 16:9 device.

Compared to Samsung Galaxy S5 and Note 3

We were interested to see how the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 fares against the newer Galaxy Note 4 so we shot a few images with both and have prepared some crops at 100% resolution to show you the difference. Now we won' be getting too specific just yet - we'll reserve that for the extended comparison between the two phablets.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has a 13MP snapper on the back so its photos will be smaller. The added resolution should help the Galaxy Note 4 get some more detail into the frame. However the difference shouldn't be drastic because of the difference in ratios - the newer Galaxy Note 4 captures a wider image of the scene.

Looking at the samples in good light it's clear the Galaxy Note 4 has the upper hand. It manages to squeeze a little bit more detail compared to its predecessor. However the Galaxy Note 3 doesn't lag too far behind. Truth be told, there is more noise in the Galaxy Note 3 image, especially in the sky. The noise in the Galaxy Note 4 image is better controlled and finer.

In scenes with more fine detail the 16MP snapper of the Galaxy Note 4 is clearly superior. The textures on the wall of the building below indicate just that. Not only that, but it clearly has a better dynamic range, as the highlights on the left are not blown as on the right, while keeping nearly the same exposure of the shadows.

Here go the full resolution samples of both smartphones if you want to do some additional comparing.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 samples

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 samples

When it comes to low light we pit the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 against the Samsung Galaxy S5. Both have 16MP ISOCELL cameras with identical f/2.2 apertures so the amount of light hitting the sensor should be about the same. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has the added bonus of optical image stabilization, which should allow it to snap photos at lower shutter speeds than the S5.

The images below are shot at ISO 500 (automatic ISO) and with a shutter speed of 1/10s. As you can see the Samsung Galaxy S5 has a blurrier image while the Galaxy Note 4 keeps things a little more sharp at the same shutter speed. All four images were captured handheld.

Here are the full resolution images. The first image is from the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 while the second - from the Samsung Galaxy S5.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 • Galaxy S5

Finally, we tested the new front-facing camera on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Its resolution has been increased up to 3.7MP (to match the resolution of the display) and it has a wider aperture of f/1.9 that should give it an advantage in lower light.

We're not testing low light this time, though. Below you'll find an image from the 3.7MP front-facing camera of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and another one, shot by the 2MP front shooter of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

The Galaxy Note 4's front-facing camera is a little wider but the amount of captured detail is approximately the same.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 • Samsung Galaxy Note 3

The photo quality comparison tool allows you to compare the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 against any of the phones we've tested. The ISO chart shows the resolution the Galaxy Note 4 camera can achieve (vertical and horizontal), the grey chart tests color reproduction and noise and finally the color chart gives you even more color reproduction tests along with fine detail assessment.

Photo Compare Tool
Photo Compare Tool
Photo Compare Tool

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 in our photo compare tool

Superb 4K video

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 captures 4K videos at 30fps as a maximum but also offers 1080p videos at both 30fps and 60fps and also 1440p videos at 30fps in between.

The maximum available resolution videos (UHD or 2160p) carry the highest bitrate among the pack - almost 50Mbps. The framerate was a constant 30fps and smooth enough. Audio is captured at a very high 253Kbps with stereo sound that's very clean.

The detail level of the UHD videos is impressive - it's like viewing a live, animated 8MP image (8.3MP to be exact). UHD videos carry the same good characteristics of the still shooting mode - great, vivid colors, great dynamic range and everything in sharp focus. Here goes a sample.

The regular 1080p videos at 30fps carry an okay bitrate of 18Mbps with the same great audio capture. The framerate was around 29fps but still stutter-free. There is plenty of detail in the regular FullHD video but compared to the UHD video the 4x lower resolution is evident.

Another nice feature is that you can apply lossless zoom in FullHD videos - up to 2x zoom without loss of detail.

And finally 1080p videos at 60fps. Those are mainly meant to show smoother motion but don't have as much detail as 30fps 1080p videos. The difference isn't dramatic - there's still plenty of detail to go around. The doubled framerate allows for extremely smooth movement in the video. 1080p@60fps videos have around 28Mbps of bitrate.

You can also directly download the - 2160p@30fps (0:10s, 59.1MB), 1080p@30fps (0:10s, 21.1MB), 1080p@60fps (0:10s, 35.9MB) samples.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 uses its optical image stabilization for videos just as well. Vertical and horizontal panning seems smoothened as you can see in the footage below. Bumps and shakes are even better stabilized as you can see in the video.

If you want to further pixel peep on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4's behalf you can venture into our video comparison tool.

Video Compare Tool
Video Compare Tool
Video Compare Tool

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 in our video compare tool

Compared to Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Both the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and its predecessor shoot UHD video at 30fps. The bitrate is around the same so the detail is also pretty similar. The Galaxy Note 4's field of view is a little wider here and that's why object appear a little smaller and hence less detailed than the ones shot by the Note 3. Color rendition is slightly different too, with the green and blue appearing more saturated than the Note 3, while the red and yellow are a little less saturated.

Since the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 uses optical image stabilization during video recording, clips turn out a little steadier than before. Below you'll find a sample that shows the OIS in action, smoothing and steadying every movement.

Internet and Chrome

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 comes with both the stock Android browser (customized by Samsung) and Google's Chrome. Both support Multi-window, but only the stock browser supports Air View.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Internet

Anyway, the interfaces of both browsers are virtually identical. Both show favorite web sites on their new tab page and can sync bookmarks and open tabs across devices. The browsers handle multiple tabs (with Incognito mode), but in Chrome you can switch between tabs by horizontal swipes from the side, which is pretty handy.

Voice input is available if you don't feel like typing up a query.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Chrome

Note that Chrome has an option to reduce traffic by compressing web pages on Google's servers before they are sent to the device, similar to how Opera's Turbo mode (and Opera Mini) work.

Looking at out page completely zoomed out there's no line of text that isn't readable on the sharp 515ppi display of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

Other apps

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a number of features that enhance the security of your data. There are basics like encrypting the phone and the external memory card in addition to the more selective Private mode option.

There's also Find my mobile out of the box. It has remote controls so you can reset and lock the device if you lose it and check its location on a map. Once reset, you can prevent the phone from being reactivated. The phone can send out a message the moment a new SIM card is inserted.

There's also a backup function that keeps your phone logs, messages, wallpaper and several other settings backed up in the cloud.

S Health is there as well. The step counter is always working in the background, keeping track of how many calories you've burned. For more accurate measurements, the Galaxy Note 4 also features a heart rate monitor.

You just press the tip of your finger against the sensor (below the camera, next to the flash) and in a few seconds you see the reading. For continuous readings, you can pair the phone with a Gear smartwatch or a dedicated sensor made by Samsung, Timex or Garmin.

Besides the basic pedometer, S Health can also track running, cycling and hiking. Goals can be set based on distance, time or calories. During an exercise the app can play music and report your progress out load.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

S Health

Having burned up some calories, you can tell the app what you've had to eat in great detail. The app has extensive lists of various foods and their energy value. Calories - both eaten and burned - can be tracked on graphs by hour, day and month.

Smart remote uses the built-in infrared port. It's a truly smart app - it carries a large database of countries and TV providers and gives you the TV schedule along with information for the different shows and movies.

Naturally it has a large knowledge of TV and set top box systems and can setup a remote even if it doesn't recognize the hardware. If you install third party apps you can control more than TVs with the IR port of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Smart remote

S Planner is the calendar on board of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. t features six different views: daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, list and tasks. For the month view, events on the selected day are listed in a panel on the right.

Hovering the S Pen over a date will show you a popup of the events for that date, which is very nifty.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

S Planner

The clock app has a World view along with the rudimentary alarm, stopwatch and timer modes.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Clock

A calculator is preloaded. Getting to the scientific mode requires you to rotate the Galaxy Note 4 although there is ample space in portrait mode.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Calculator

Finally, aside from the Google Play store you get Samsung Galaxy apps - the store for exclusive content for Galaxy smartphones. It has many titles and free content.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Galaxy apps

Final words

So there you go - time to draw the line and see how the hot favorite for the phablet throne this season did. It was a wild ride, but as it turns out, summing it up is far easier than we expected. Let's start with the key findings from our review.

Key test findings:

  • The design is really impressive and so is the build quality, but the gap around the display takes a few points away
  • Display is as good as they come
  • Battery life is excellent
  • Superb performance, proper benchmark champion
  • Audio quality is excellent
  • 16MP camera is a stellar performer, OIS works like a charm
  • 4K videos are the best in business
  • Loudspeaker loudness is a rare excellent

The Galaxy Note 4 impressed us with its look and feel, and flexed some hardware muscle while at it. The 16MP OIS camera didn't disappoint either - to say the least. The battery life was pretty awesome too, while the user interface has been nicely polished and stripped off of a lot of clutter.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The heart-rate and blood oxygen sensors will always have limited use but, as the S Health app improves, they'll be getting closer to realizing their full potential. The fingerprint sensor is also a welcome addition over the Galaxy Note 3 for those who would want a little extra security without having to type long passwords.

We particularly like the new S Pen features and the improved multi-tasking, which extend the Galaxy Note 4's advantage in terms of productivity. Indeed, there's no other smartphone in the market that can quite match the latest Samsung phablet as a productivity tool.

But, as we said in the beginning, a flagship risks being remembered for its failings rather than its achievements. We didn't quite find any of the Galaxy Note 4 shortcomings bad enough to potentially go viral in the wrong way.

We would have appreciated water resistance, we don't really like the step back from microUSB 3.0 to 2.0 and the user interface, while certainly headed in the right direction, still requires an update or two to become completely consistent, but we don't think any of this is a deal-breaker.

Stereo speakers are another item on our wish list, but maybe that would have pushed the dimensions beyond the point of reasonable. Finally, we really hope, as production catches up to the demand, that Samsung takes care of the gap around the screen and give the stellar design the flawless build quality it deserves.

What matters at the end though is how the Galaxy Note 4 compares to its peers - the ones it will be fighting for the affection of the customers.

The Apple iPhone 6 Plus is naturally the first name that springs to mind, although Cupertino's long overdue move to phablets is probably the bigger story than the device itself. Anyway, Apple's first phablet has an excellent screen, a properly powerful chipset and cool design with an impressively slim 7.1mm profile.

However it can't quite match the QHD AMOLED panel's brilliance and its camera, while also featuring OIS, lags behind in both stills and video resolution. The bezels of the iPhone 6 Plus are also way too big, making it larger than the Galaxy Note 4 and it has no microSD card slot, basically forcing you to get the €900 64GB version. Even in the realm of premium gadgets that's a lot of money - a splash that's really hard to justify unless you are already very deeply invested in the iOS ecosystem.

Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Back to Android where, somewhat surprisingly, the closest rival comes from Huawei. The fresh Ascend Mate7 fits a 6" screen in the same footprint as the 5.7" Galaxy Note 4, but sticks to the 1080p resolution. The fingerprint implementation on the Huawei flagship is better than anything else on the market right now and its launch price is €100 lower making it pretty good value for money.

If the best is what you are after though, the Galaxy Note 4 clearly comes out the favorite with its superior camera, more feature-rich UI and more impressive screen.

Huawei Ascend Mate7

Huawei Ascend Mate7

Another name you probably wouldn't expect to hear next to the Galaxy Note 4 is Lenovo and yet the Vibe Z2 Pro is ready to match the Samsung flagship on resolution and 16MP OIS camera. The offering by the Chinese giant comes short in terms of processing power though and has no fingerprint sensor or microSD card, not to mention that it's hard to find in most markets.

Again, the Vibe Z2 Pro might offer superior value depending on where you are, but can't quite match the complete package that is the Galaxy Note 4.

Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro

Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro

LG doesn't have a direct rival to the Galaxy Note 4, but the G3 flagship comes with a 0.2" smaller screen, while still offering all the QHD resolution and an optically stabilized 13MP camera with laser-assisted auto focus.

The key strengths of the LG smartphone over the Note 4 are its impossibly slim bezels and its very attractive price (at €399 it's €200 cheaper than the Samsung phablet). The G3 can't hold a candle to Galaxy Note 4's battery life and comes short in a few other departments, but is certainly an interesting option for those that can't reach as high as the latest Samsung phablet.

LG G3

LG G3

Finally, an exotic alternative was provided by Samsung itself - the Galaxy Note Edge that debuted alongside the Note 4 at the IFA floor. The signature curved screen on one of its edges means this one had to extend its footprint further, but it enables some pretty cool features. The problem here (outside of the slightly harder handling) is in the premium price Samsung is charging for what it calls a "Limited Edition Concept" - which by the way comes with a duly limited availability .

We can't in good conscience say that the premium is worth it before we have given the Note Edge a proper test, but even if it is, you'll have to wait for at least a few more weeks before you are able to get it.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 looks like a favorite in all those battles without even having to reach for one of its key weapons. The S Pen, which the competition has yet to find an answer to, may be seen as a needless add-on by some Galaxy Note 4 owners, but in certain scenarios it can make a huge difference and seal the deal on its own. Just like the Galaxy Note lineup itself, the S Pen rose from a ridiculed object to a raging success and now provides some much need comfort for Samsung - it's not enough to match the Galaxy Note 4, you have to comprehensively beat it.

That's that then - the heir to the phablet throne is here and it looks like there's no stopping it from taking its rightful place. Samsung really needs a strong flagship lineup for the upcoming holiday season if it is to recover from the slight dip over the past few months and we can't think of a better device than the Galaxy Note 4 to rally the troops.

Retail package

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 comes in a box not much taller or wider than the phablet itself. It contains the usual accessories - a powerful A/C adapter that can reach 2A for Quick-charge compatible devices, 1.65A elsewhere, a cable and a headset.

Since the Galaxy Note 4 switches back to the microUSB 2.0 port the cable is a familiar affair - instead of the microUSB 3.0 plug found in the box of its predecessor.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The retail package and its contents

The headset is an in-ear design, the remote has three buttons (pick-up and volume controls) and flat, tangle-free cables. The quality of the headset is quite good for a bundled piece - in terms of both build and audio quality, although it still can't properly replace an expensive set of headphones that you purchase separately.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 360-degree spin

Standing at 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5mm and weighing 176g, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is basically identical in size and slightly heavier than its predecessor (151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3mm, 168g). The minor increase in thickness is mostly down to the curved glass on top, which requires more space than a conventional flat glass.

A comparison Samsung would very much enjoy is the one to the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. The first Apple phablet is slimmer at 7.1mm, but has a far more disappointing footprint of 158.1 x 77.8mm despite offering a smaller 5.5" screen. Huawei on the other hand would gladly point you in the direction of the Ascend Mate7, which stands at 157 x 81 x 7.9 mm and packs a whopping 6" screen. So, all in all, Samsung did a good job of slimming down the Galaxy Note 3 bezels, but others have done even better.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The Galaxy Note 4 sized up against the iPhone 6 Plus, the Galaxy Note 3 and the Vibe Z2 Pro

Design and handling

The Galaxy Alpha was called that way because it was the first to showcase the new Samsung design direction - combining plastic back with a metal frame to ensure excellent durability without compromising the premium feel. And while the first attempt wasn't quite perfect due to the glossy plastic used at the back of the 4.7" smartphone, the second attempt is rather impressive.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 combines a faux leather finish akin to the one on the Galaxy Note 3 with a metal frame, but also adds a curved glass to become a real looker of a smartphone.

While still made of plastic, the back looks and feels very similar to leather. The only change here is that the stitching is now gone as the company has obviously taken the criticism to heart that it makes the whole thing look overdone and actually, faker. The new finish feels much closer to leather to the touch so the imitation is much better this time around.

The metal frame feels great to the touch and adds quite a lot to the premium feel. More importantly however, it should solve a long-standing issue with Samsung handsets where the silver-paint on the plastic frames would chip and peel off with time to really spoil the overall look of the company's phones.

Finally, the curved Gorilla Glass 3 on top of the screen comes to improve the appearance as it looks better than a flat panel, but also the handling as swipes now feel more natural. We've enjoyed curved glass on top of the screen since the Nokia N9 came around, but it wasn't until this year that they are finally making their way to some properly slim phones so you don't have to choose one or the other.

There's one niggling issue with the design though. As early adopters found out, there's a gap between the edge of the screen and the metal frame - it's not as bad as initial reports made it look (certainly not wide enough to fit a business card), but it's there and somewhat spoils the design. Not so much at first sight, but there will certainly be dust accumulating over time. Worst of all, the gap's size varies and is not symmetrical on both sides.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The Galaxy Note 4 is definitely a looker

As far as we understand, the frame is raised a bit higher than it needs to so it offers extra protection in those cases when you drop your Galaxy Note 4 face down. And while that might be a valid concern, we would really have preferred if Samsung sacrificed a tiny bit of durability here to achieve the seamless front panel design.

Still, all things considered, the Galaxy Note 4 marks a very important achievement for Samsung. It's arguably the first time that its device looks better than a direct rival by Apple. Granted, the Cupertino giant didn't quite get the iPhone 6 Plus right, but it's still a position Samsung must've been dreaming about being in for year and it has finally achieved it - in the hand the Galaxy Note 4 feels more like the iPhone 5S than the iPhone 6 Plus.

That's not all, the Samsung phablet also has the lead in handling - while neither phablet is particularly comfortable for single-handed use, the Note 4 with its smaller footprint and three low positioned keys has an edge. Add the extra phablet experience that the Koreans have, which results in lots of software optimizations (you can even shrink the whole UI to only take about 4" to have everything within reach) and you get a generally more manageable package.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The Galaxy Note 4 handles reasonably well considering its size

Controls

Above the 5.7" display you'll find the earpiece, the newly upgraded 3.7MP F/1.9 front-facing camera capable of 1080p video recording, the proximity sensor and the ambient light sensor. The IR gesture sensor of the Note 3 is gone as the Note 4 doesn't have the air gestures - obviously Samsung has decided that polishing those and making them usable isn't either feasible or worthwhile.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The array of sensors above the screen

Under the display, we find the typical Samsung three button layout consisting of a physical Home button with capacitive Back and Task switcher keys each side. As usual, the home button has an aluminum frame for a subtle accent.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Two capacitive and one physical button sit under the screen

Despite being made of a new material, the sides of the Galaxy Note 4 aren't anything new in terms of controls. There's the power/lock button on the right hand side on which the thumb nicely rests and the volume rocker on the left. The volume rocker could have been lowered a little bit so as to be more easily accessible.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Again we are left without a camera shutter key

As we mentioned, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 switches back to microUSB 2.0, but the port is still located at the bottom. The 2.0 port is slower for data transfers and while we wouldn't say it's too much of a loss on a mobile phone (even if you have a 128GB microSD card you should still be able to fill it up reasonably quickly) the sense of downgrade isn't pleasant and certainly not one we welcome on a flagship device. On a positive note, the unsightly large hole required by a microUSB 3.0 connector is gone too.

Also at the bottom sit a couple of mics and the S Pen compartment.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

A switch back to microUSB 2.0 means slower data transfers, but prettier port

The top features another mic and the 3.5mm audio jack, plus the IR blaster that Samsung has been putting on most of its flagship Galaxy devices over the past couple of years.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Yet another mic sits on top

Then we get to the back, which is very similar to the Note 3, save for the absent stitching and the loudspeaker grille, which has been moved here from the bottom of the phone. You get the same nice feel of leather, a kind of finish that also proved itself quite durable in the long run.

While the position at the bottom seemed like a good thing at first as it's harder to muffle when the phone is lying flat on its back practice showed that it wasn't. The reason was that the speaker on the Galaxy Note 3 would very often end right underneath your finger when playing a game or watching video and you wouldn't be able to hear anything unless you specifically adjust your grip.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The loudspeaker has returned to the back panel

You can pop the back cover open to reveal the 3,220mAh battery (basically no upgrade over the 3,200mAh unit of the Galaxy Note 3) along with the microSIM and microSD card slots. The slots aren't stacked on top of each other like on the Galaxy Note 4 predecessor, but have their own separate compartments. However the microSIM slot is still blocked by the battery so hot-swapping isn't an option - changing the memory card on the go is possible though.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Taking a peek under the cover