Review: Updated: Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Introduction and designLooking for the latest in the Note series? Then you’ll want to check out the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. What to know what’s next? The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is launching very soon.

Introduction and designLooking for the latest in the Note series? Then you’ll want to check out the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. What to know what’s next? The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is launching very soon.

Some said it would never catch on, but over four years on from the original Galaxy Note phablet the fourth generation device – the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – launched.

The Galaxy Note’s big screen and S Pen stylus are certainly not for everyone. The Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge offer a more mainstream (and updated) smartphone setup, while the Note 4 brings together big power, a big screen and big productivity – even if it is a little long in the tooth now.

If you’re after a top-end smartphone which won’t break your palm, pocket or handbag then you’re probably in the wrong place – this isn’t even the best Note handset anymore – but the Galaxy Note 4 still has a lot to offer.

You can now pick it up for under £400, US$400 (around AU$500) if you don’t want to be tied down to a contract. That makes it decidedly cheaper than the Note 5, S7 and S7 Edge.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is up against the likes of the Nexus 6, LG G Flex 2, Huawei Ascend Mate 7 and the steeply priced iPhone 6 Plus.

It’s also no longer the newest flagship in Samsung’s fleet with the introduction of the Galaxy Note 5, while the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge provide the most cutting edge tech and an improved design.

Unlike the previous three iterations Samsung hasn’t deemed it necessary to increase the screen size of the Note 4, so it sticks with the same 5.7-inch dimensions of the Galaxy Note 3. It’s not the same screen though, as Samsung has given the Galaxy Note 4 a hefty resolution boost – but more on that on the next page.

When it comes to design Samsung has definitely listened about its latest line-up feeling plasticky in the hand and has decided to give the Note 4 more of a premium finish.

There’s a metal rim surrounding the handset, shielding the rest of the chassis like a velvet rope protecting celebs from real people in a club.

It sports exactly the same shape, style and rounded corners as the Galaxy Alpha, only on a bigger scale and thanks to the increased size the plastic rear is more noticeable here than it is on the Alpha.

Samsung has tried to make the removable plastic cover feel more premium by giving it a leather effect finish, but there’s still no fooling your hand with that unmistakable texture.

It’s not on the same level of design as the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge which ditch plastic altogether, so if you really don’t like this cheaper material then consider these two instead. The new Note 5 has taken the design a step further by mirroring the all metal and glass stylings of the Galaxy S6. If you’re looking for the most premium phablet then head over to the newer Note in the series.

In-depth review: Samsung Galaxy Note 5

A plus side to this though is the plastic rear does provide good grip – vital when you’ve got such a large handset in your hand and even though the Galaxy Note 4 is a touch wider than the all metal iPhone 6 Plus, I found the Samsung is easier to hold.

Even though the 6 Plus has a smaller, 5.5-inch display, it’s actually taller than the Note 4 – something else the Samsung has over its Apple rival as it makes the phone more balanced in the hand.

Add to that the placement of the power/lock key on the right of the Galaxy Note 4 and you find that even for a big phone the key buttons are still easy enough to reach (if your palms are on the larger side).

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 measures 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5mm, almost the same as its predecessor and smaller in width and depth than the Galaxy Note 2, which is impressive considering this is the first of the Note series to sport a metal frame.

I’ve also been using the 5.5-inch OnePlus One recently and there’s really not a lot to choose between the two in terms of size.

It’s safe to say then, if you’re already accustomed to the larger league of smartphones then the Galaxy Note 4 will feel right at home in your palm.

I really like the way the Galaxy Note 4 feels in the hand and having used the Note 3 on a number of occasions, it definitely feels different and refined enough – plus it’s light too, just a touch over the weight of the Note 3 at 176g.

Samsung’s tried and tested physical home key still resides at the bottom of the screen, providing a location for the Korean firm to stuff in its fingerprint scanner, and that’s flanked by two touch keys.

To the left of the home button is the Multi-tasking key, while on the right you get Back. Both Back and Multi-tasking are completely hidden when not illuminated by the backlights, providing a clean finish to the front of the Galaxy Note 4.

Some shuffling of the Note 4 in the hand is required to get your fingers in the right position to reach these during one handed use, and you’ll need to be careful not to drop it.

Round the back you’ll find a 16MP camera, LED flash and the heart rate monitor which also features on the Galaxy S5, S5 Mini and Galaxy Alpha.

In the bottom corner you’ll also notice the end of the S Pen stylus hiding inside the body of the Galaxy Note 4, while behind the removable rear cover there’s a microSIM port, microSD slot and a sizable 3220mAh battery.

This, then, was the Note handset with the most premium and accomplished look and feel to date. Samsung is finally providing the build quality its top-end devices have been yearning for and it’s since gone even further towards premium perfection with the Galaxy Note 5.

Samsung has managed to keep the dimensions manageable – it’s certainly a lot easier to hold than the 6-inch Lumia 1520 and Ascend Mate 7 – and while the iPhone 6 Plus may look sleeker, the Galaxy Note 4 boasts a bigger, better screen and very similar dimensions.

Key features: display and S Pen
You’ll want to see this

Samsung’s Galaxy Note series is all about the screen. The original Note arrived with a 5.3-inch display, which seemed ludicrously big against the 3.5-inch iPhone 4 and 4.3-inch Galaxy S2 – yet fast forward to now and 5-inch+ smartphones are the norm.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 rocks up with a 5.7-inch display – the same size as the Galaxy Note 3 – and it’s been given a resolution boost over its predecessor.

In fact the Note 4 joins just a handful of smartphones boasting a QHD display, providing it with a rather eye-popping 515ppi pixel density thanks to the 2,560 x 1,440 resolution.

That puts it on par with the 5.5-inch LG G3 and LG G4, although the LG phones can lay claim to a slightly higher pixel density, but at this resolution you’re unlikely to see the difference.

This means the screen on the Galaxy Note 4 is sharper than the full HD offerings on the iPhone 6 Plus (401ppi), Nokia Lumia 1520 (367ppi) and Huawei Ascend Mate 7 (368ppi) – and the good news doesn’t stop there.

Early in 2014 DisplayMate dubbed the Galaxy S5 “the best performing smarphone display” thanks in part to Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology, and that tech is also featured on the Galaxy Note 4.

Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays have been around for a while now, providing vibrant, vivid colours that really pop and make for an impressive viewing experience, and the Note 4 is no different.

Coupled with the QHD resolution and something Samsung calls ‘adaptive’ display – that sees the screen change to suit your lighting environment – the screen on the Note 4 is truly fantastic.

Text and images are crystal clear, which makes for a superb reading and viewing experience – which is exactly what the Note 4 needs as it encourages you to consume media and work on the go.

The screen on the Galaxy Note 4 also has – unsurprisingly – support for the S Pen, which itself has also been upgraded since the Note 3.

A pen in disguise?

With the new S Pen for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 sensitivity and accuracy have been pushed up a notch, providing you with a more enhanced writing experience.

I was impressed with the precision I could achieve with the S Pen, and it’s certainly the best handwriting experience I’ve had on a smartphone.

The Galaxy Note 4 is able to keep even the smallest of words legible, and reproduction of strokes on screen is instantaneous so you keep the natural flow of your writing.

Of course it still isn’t the same as writing on actual paper, and I found it a little tricky taking notes while holding the Note 4 in my hand. It’s a lot easier to place it on a flat surface and scrawl on it as you would a piece of paper.

The S Pen isn’t just for writing though: you can also use it as a replacement for your finger, allowing you to move apps and files around the phone with ease.

The S Pen is still a very divisive feature, with some Note users swearing by it while others find themselves ignoring it most of the time.

Click the button on the shaft of the S Pen and the Air Command menu will appear on screen, allowing you to jump into Action Memo (a floating S Note window), Smart Select, Image Clip or Screen Write.

Both Smart Select and Image Clip allow you to highlight a particular section of the display, with the former able to recognise any text in your selection while the latter allows you to pull out an image and save it to your scrapbook for use later on.

I found their uses relatively limited day-to-day, although they were fun to play around with and for some they will be useful tools.

Screen Write potentially has a wider scope of use, allowing you to annotate the screen you’re viewing – be it a map, text message, picture or just the home screen.

Once edited you can then share the finished article via social media, email, text message or just save it for a later date.

With a selection of different drawing tools you can generate a variety of effects using the S Pen, which is much better than your finger when it comes to precision editing.

Fingerprint scanner, heart rate and S Health
Fingerprint Scanner

Apple really stumbled upon something when it launched Touch ID on the iPhone 5S, providing users with an extremely simple yet secure way of unlocking their handset.

Unsurprisingly other manufacturers have tried to mimic the success of Touch ID, and Samsung is no different with the Galaxy Note 4 joining the Galaxy S5, Galaxy S5 Mini and Galaxy Alpha in the fingerprint scanning stakes.

Like Apple, Samsung has opted to imbed its digit scanner in the physical home key below the screen – but the South Korean firm’s implementation isn’t quite as clean cut.

While on the iPhone (and the rear of the Hauwei Ascend Mate 7) all you need to do is place your finger over the home key for the handset to recognise your print, on the Note 4 you’re required to swipe your finger over the pad.

While this process isn’t in itself much of an issue, the poor implementation of the service from Samsung is hampering its effectiveness.

I reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini earlier in 2014 and quickly fell out of love with Samsung’s digit reader as it simply didn’t work well enough.

Thankfully it looks like Samsung has tried to address this issue on the Galaxy Note 4, firstly by getting rid of the “five strikes and you’re locked out” rule which drove me up the wall on the S5 Mini.

Instead of locking the handset for 30 seconds after five failed finger swipes (which happened a lot with the S5 Mini) the Note 4 seemingly lets you go on and on until you get it right.

You’ve still got to ensure you’re swiping down the centre of the home key, and you can’t go too quickly or too slowly, otherwise the Note 4 gets a bit grumpy.

As well as using the fingerprint scanner to unlock the Galaxy Note 4, you can also use the biometric test to verify your Samsung and PayPal accounts, and as an alternative way to sign into websites on the internet.

While the system is still some way off a successful scan first time, every time, I did find that in general there were fewer occasions demanding a third or fourth attempt.

It’s still frustrating how frequently it doesn’t work though (especially compared to the iPhone), and trying to swipe a thumb while holding the Note 4 in the same hand is near impossible – you’ll want to use both hands to grip the handset so it doesn’t fly out of your hand.

Samsung has signifcantly improved its finger scanner again for the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge and its quick, accurate and hassle free – putting the Note 4 to shame.

Heart rate monitor and S Health

Something else the Galaxy Note 4 has inherited from the other top end Samsung smartphones in 2014 is the rear mounted heart rate monitor, allowing you to keep track of your pulse.

Reviews for Samsung’s other handsets have already pointed out that a heart rate monitor is far better suited to a smartwatch or fitness band, but the Korean firm seems intent on including the tech on its phones.

It can be tricky to line your finger up blind, and I often found I had to double check my placement which in turn added unnecessary time to proceedings. I far prefer using the Gear Fit or Moto 360 to check my heart rate.

The good news is it does appear to work, just fire up the S Health app, select heart rate and place a finger over the sensor. After a few seconds the Note 4 will give you a reading and it’ll save all your results so you can look back at your history.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 also claims to be able to measure your stress level using the heart rate monitor, though it’s unclear just how scientific this reading actually is.

Both feed into Samsung’s S Health app, which helps you to keep track of your diet, fitness and exercise and the Galaxy Note 4 comes with a built in pedometer to count the steps you do each day.

It runs in the background and uses pretty much no power, so you needn’t worry about switching it on and letting it do its thing.

S Health will also try and work out how many calories you’ve burnt based on your activity, and there’s an exercise mode allowing you to track a stint of walking, running, cycling or hiking.

If you’re really keen you can also track your food intake, weight and sleep (with the aid of a third party device).

There are plenty of fitness applications and wearables which offer similar services, but it’s handy to have an option pre-installed on the Galaxy Note 4 and S Health works well.

Interface and performance

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 comes running Android 4.4.4 KitKat, the final iteration of the chocolate snack based operating system, but the upgrade to Android Lollipop has now been available for quite a while.

The Lollipop update on the Note 4 provided all of Google’s latest sweet treats, including improved lock screen notifications, better Android Wear integration, Smart Lock and slicker performance.

The Note 4 is now benefitting from Android Marshmallow too, which only started rolling out to handsets in June 2016. The update brings with it improvements to Google Now, battery life boosting tools, greater app permission controls and more.

Of course this wouldn’t be a Samsung handset if the Korean firm hadn’t done some tinkering with the operating system, and its familiar TouchWiz interface is present on the Note 4.

The good news is that Samsung’s 2014 update to TouchWiz is much more refined than previous offerings, with fewer pre-installed bloatware apps and redesigned icons making everything look a lot smarter. The bump to Lollipop has improved on this again, with cleaner icons and less clutter.

Some Android fans will still find it clunky in places, and it doesn’t have the same simplistic feel to is as stock Android, but I found it perfectly palatable to use.

The lockscreen of the Galaxy Note 4 gives you the option to launch directly into the camera or the dial pad for an emergency call, plus it can also display information such as the time, date, weather and even how many steps you’ve taken during the day.

In a similar fashion to HTC’s Blinkfeed news aggregation service on its smartphones, Samsung has partnered with flip board to give you easy access to the latest headlines by swipe left to right on the home screen.

Pull down from the top of the screen – which can be tricky when using one hand due to the size of the handset – and you’ll access the familiar notification bar.

A selection of quick links are housed across the top, while brightness control and toggles for S Finder and Quick Connect bridge the gap to your notifications.

To help you tackle the big screen nature of the Galaxy Note 4 you can shrink select pre-installed app windows down to make them easier to reach one-handed.

Unfortunately there’s no support for third party applications, so you’re rather limited to Samsung’s suit of apps and extras such as Google Play.

All you need to do is drag down diagonally from the top left corner and the app will pop out of full screen mode and into a smaller form factor.

Tap the grey dot at the top of the window to bring up the menu from where you can minimise the app into a floating bubble on screen – much like Chat Heads from Facebook.

I did find that on several occasions I accidently shrunk the app I was viewing when trying to access the notification bar. Not a huge issue, but it can get frustrating if you do it several times in a row.

When minimised you can move the floating window round screen, resize it, and access the Android interface behind it, giving you an added level of multi-tasking.

As with previous Note devices you can also get two applications side by side on screen and the best way to do this is by holding down the Back key below the screen.

This will bring up a column of apps on the right hand side of the Note 4’s display, and from here you can drag two onto the main part of the screen to snap them side by side.

Your choice here is limited to some pre-installed apps such as calculator, camera, contacts and email, but there is some third party support including Facebook and Whatsapp.

It’s a simple and effective system, but I question its usefulness on a smartphone – there’s a better case to be made for its use on tablets.

Some may find themselves using this all the time, but during my review I very rarely bothered.

The multi-tasking button makes it quick and easy to jump between applications, and the fluid interface of the Galaxy Note 4 means there’s little delay jumping from one to another.

Samsung has played with the design of the multi-tasking menu, with a series of stacked cards showing all your currently running applications.

Scrolling through and swiping to close, is a fluid experience, plus there’s the option to close all at the bottom of the screen, as well as jump into Task Manager.

Something I did find from continued use with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is its rather aggressive vibrate.

While many of the smartphones I’ve reviewed gently hum on my desk, the Note 4 has a much stronger vibrate function.

That’s great if it’s in your pocket as you’re more likely to notice is, but it did lead to some strange looks in the office when I had it out on my desk.

As I’ve already alluded to the performance of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is impressive, and so it should be considering it’s packing a 2.7GHz quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM.

That means Android 4.4.4 KitKat runs very smoothly, and I didn’t experience any slow down or lag during operation.

Applications and games loaded quickly, and even with apps opening in the small floating window view there was not noticeable dip in the performance.

I ran the Geekbench 3 test on the Galaxy Note 4, and after several goes round it averaged a score of 3351. That trumps the likes of the HTC One M8 (2951), iPhone 6 Plus (2911) and Samsung Galaxy S5 (2905), and shows just how much power is packed into the Note 4.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a slick performer and the refined TouchWiz interface and excellent QHD display makes this an enjoyable phone to use day to day.

Battery life

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 packs in a sizable 3220mAh battery which, unlike many of its rivals including the Nexus 6, iPhone 6 Plus and even the new Galaxy S6, is removable.

For those who always find themselves away from a plug socket the ability to swap out a dead battery for a fully charged one is an enticing proposition.

In fact it houses the same size battery as the newly announced Nexus 6, while the QHD toting, 5.5-inch LG G3 can only boast a 3000mAh power pack.

It’s a touch bigger than the 3200mAh battery inside the Galaxy Note 3, and with the Note 4 having a vastly enhanced display you may initially worry about its battery life potential.

The good news is I had no trouble getting the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 to last a whole day on a single, with it generally having 20%-30% of juice left in the tank when I got into bed.

That’s with moderate to heavy usage, with a couple of hours of Spotify music, a couple of hours of gaming, some light web browsing, emails plus a variety of calls, texts and social media activity.

Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8 though, the Note 4 won’t go for almost two days – you’ll still need to practice the nightly charging ritual here, but you’re unlikely to ever find yourself dashing to a power point.

Running the TechRadar 90 minute HD video test with the brightness on full and various accounts syncing over Wi-Fi saw the Galaxy Note 4 drop 19% – a respectable performance that puts it above the iPhone 6 Plus (27%) LG G3 (25%) and HTC One M8 (23%).

The battery performance on the Note 4 isn’t quite as good as the Galaxy Note 3 then (which lost 13% in the same test), but with day-to-day usage you’re unlikely to notice much of a difference.

Put that QHD screen to work for an extended period of time though and the percentage will tumble, but perhaps not as fast as you may expect.

If you do find yourself in the red zone and near a plug Samsung’s fast charge cable is able to recharge approximately 50% of the battery in just 30 minutes, providing a welcome boost of power.

The cable (and plug) is included in the box, so you won’t have to go out and spend extra cash on another lead.

There will be times though when you’re not near a power source, or don’t have the correct cable to hand, but the Galaxy Note 4 has you covered here as well.

Samsung’s impressive power saving mode which has featured in the likes of the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Alpha also finds its way onto the Note 4, allowing you to make the most of those last few drops of juice.

You get the choice of ‘power saving mode’ and ‘ultra power saving mode’ on the Galaxy Note 4, with the former restricting background data and performance while also giving you the option to switch to a greyscale interface, saving you precious power from the QHD display.

Ultra power saving mode is far more aggressive, as it totally changes the interface to one which gives you access to just a few core apps (phone, texts, emails, web browser) as well as providing a simplified greyscale design.

When turning on this mode the Galaxy Note 4 makes some pretty bold claims, including “days” of standby life, but to be fair to Samsung it does make a difference.

It’s not a mode you’ll find yourself using all that often, but when you do hit the red zone – and at some point you probably will – you’ll be thankful it’s there.

Camera

What can I say about the camera on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4?

It’s a 16MP lens equipped with a dual-LED flash along with auto- and touch-to-focus – that’s hardly ground breaking information, and it mirrors the Galaxy S5 in terms of general specs. Something the Galaxy Note 4 does have over the S5 though is OIS (or Optical Image Stabilization, if you prefer).

OIS fights against camera shake, and also allows you to take better pictures in lower light by automatically extending exposure time.

It’s not just the rear camera that’s been given some love by Samsung on the Galaxy Note 4, with the front facing snapper gaining a 90 degrees lens allowing you to fit more of your mates into those all important selfies.

Fire up the camera app – which can be done direct from the lock screen if you’re in a hurry – and you’ll find it’s not as cluttered as previous Samsung offerings.

The Galaxy Note 4’s camera app may not be as sparse as Apple’s offering on the iPhone 6 Plus, but there are fewer options available with a big shutter and video record keys at the bottom of the screen making it obvious what you need to hit.

There’s also a Mode key down here, which on previous Samsung devices opened up a volley of different settings. On the Galaxy Note 4 however you get just three options pre-installed.

I say pre-installed, as there’s an option to download further modes from Samsung’s App Store including Animated Photo, Sports Shot, Sound & Shot and Sequence Shot.

These are typically features I rarely, if ever, use, so not having them cluttering up the menus in the main camera app is great.

The options that are already loaded are Rear-cam Selfie, Selective Focus and Panorama, which should all be pretty self explanatory.

Switch to “Rear-cam Selfie” or flip to the front facing camera and Samsung’s beauty mode will be activated by default, smoothing your skin and increasing the size of your eyes.

There’s a sliding scale from 0 (off) to 8 (max beauty), with the highest level making you look a little scary, while I found 3 was almost passable as someone’s genuine complexion. It’s fun to play with, but ultimately pretty pointless.

Back to the main screen and at the top of the display you’ll find a centralised HDR toggle, flanked by an option to switch between front and rear cameras and the settings menu.

For anyone fearing that Samsung has removed the more technical tools on the camera then there’s good news. Tucked away in settings is exposure, ISO, white balance and metering, giving the more proficient photographers among you a wider scope of adjustments.

You can also set the volume keys on the left of the Galaxy Note 4 to act as shutter keys, something I found very useful on a phone this size.

So what about the photos the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 takes? Are they any good?

Yes.

I’d even go as far as to say that the camera of the Galaxy Note 4 is one of the best mobile snappers I’ve had the pleasure of using.

The stunning QHD display makes for an excellent viewfinder, even in brighter conditions, and the Note 4 is capable of capturing a huge amount of detail.

Colour reproduction is great, HDR generally performs well and up close you can snap some top notch macro photos.

In low light the Galaxy Note 4 also does pretty well, and while it hasn’t mastered this area entirely, you’re still able to grab some decent images which you’d happily show off to others.

I did find from time to time that the auto-focus needed some manual assistant with a tap of the screen to tell the Galaxy Note 4 what to focus on, but these occasions were few and far between.

Check out some of my sample shots from the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 on the next page.

Camera samples

Click here for the full res image

Click here for the full res image

Click here for the full res image

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Click here for the full res image

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Click here for the full res image

Music, movies and gaming

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is made for media with its 5.7-inch QHD display, punchy 2.7GHz quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM and microSD slot providing everything you need to enjoy movies, music and games on the go.

With a slim frame and textured plastic rear the Galaxy Note 4 is also reasonably comfortable to hold during extended gaming and movie sessions, and for such a large device at 176g it’s not as heavy as you may expect.

Video

There’s good news for film fans as the Galaxy Note 4 comes with a dedicated video app, meaning you won’t have to sift through hundreds of photos in the gallery to find all your moving picture files.

It’s a simple offering with all the basics without any confusing additional content.

Videos are displayed in a series of thumbnails, making it easy to see what you’ve got on the Note 4, and a quick tap will see you launch yourself into the player.

Play/pause, skip and scrub controls are all present and correct, and further settings can be reached via the menu key. From here you can share your film via email or on social networks.

Playback on the Galaxy Note 4 is fantastic – set yourself up with a full HD movie and your eyes will thank you as the screen pops with colour and the action is crystal clear.

The additional size of the screen on this phablet makes playback even more enjoyable and you’ll feel a smug sense of satisfaction as you take it all in on your morning commute.

As well as sticking video files on the Note 4’s internal storage or a microSD card, you can also download directly from the Google Play store where there’s a whole host of movies and TV shows available to buy and rent.

A neat feature which finds its way onto all of Samsung’s top end devices is pop out play, allowing you to shrink your video into a small window which sits on top of the Galaxy Note 4 interface.

This then gives you access to the rest of the phone, allowing you to reply to a quick text, update Twitter on your dinner or browse the web for merchandise while still watching all the action.

With so much power under the hood there’s no lag or slow down while in pop out mode, making it all the more enjoyable to use.

The single rear speaker on the Galaxy Note 4 can kick out a decent volume, but it’s no where near as good as the front facing Boomsound speakers on the HTC One M8 or HTC One M9 and you’ll be much better off using a set of headphones.

Music

Music also gets its own dedicated application on the Galaxy Note 4, and like the video player app it’s all very straight forward.

You can view your tracks by name, artist, album or genre, and a quick tap on a tune will see it start to play and you’ll be taken to the player screen with all the usual controls including random and shuffle.

If you like tinkering with your tunes you can go to the menu within the app and select Settings followed by SoundAlive.

Here you’ll get access to a graphic equaliser, and if you’ve got headphone hooked up there are a series of presets providing you with simulations including surround sound, a concert hall and more.

Playback controls can be found in the notification bar and on the lock screen of the Galaxy Note 4, allowing you to easily skip, reply or pause songs without the need to navigate back to the application.

As I’ve already mentioned the inbuilt speaker on the Note 4 can go loud, but to the detriment of sound quality with songs sounding tinny and degraded. You’re much better off plugging in a set of headphones, or an external speaker setup.

Like with movies and TV, Google has a way of pushing music at you with the Play Music section of the Play Store providing a huge library of tracks and albums for purchase and download.

Google also has its own music streaming service, dubbed All Access, providing a similar service to Spotify for a monthly fee.

Games

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is also a pretty mean mobile gaming machine, with the huge amount of power and impressive display translating into a pocketable system capable of running anything you throw at it.

I fired up the graphically intensive Real Racing 3 and the Note 4 had no trouble running it at top spec, and the graphics looked great on the QHD display.

The essentials
Contacts and calling

The Galaxy Note 4 benefits from Samsung’s solid contact management system, allowing you to pull in details of all your buddies from a variety of sources including Google, email accounts, social networks and Whatsapp.

Profile pictures are moved across too, providing a more colourful contact list and some instant visual recognition of who’s who.

It also does a reasonable job of joining up a person’s various profiles into one contact although it’s not perfect, so if you’re a perfectionist you’ll have to manually complete the missing links.

The phone and contacts apps may appear separate in the app list, but in reality they’re the same application divided by four tabs at the top of the screen; keypad, logs, favourites and contacts.

It’s all very straight forward and anyone who’s used a smartphone previously won’t have any issues navigating to contacts and making and receiving calls on the Galaxy Note 4.

A nice feature which I enjoy using on Samsung phones is the ability to quickly make a call by sliding left to right across a contact’s name in the contact list, call log or even in the messaging app.

This action launches you straight into a voice call, and if you swipe in the opposite direction you’ll be taken to a new text message screen with that person already entered as the recipient. Which takes us nicely onto…

Messages and email

You can both send and recieve text messages on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and from the off you’ve got the choice of two SMS clients.

Samsung’s own Messages app is a run of the mill offering with the addition of profile pics of your chums to make it look a little more inviting.

All the basics are there, but if you’re after something with a few party tricks then Google’s pre-installed Hangouts app may be more up your street.

Not only does Hangouts deal with text messaging, it also incorporates Google’s own instant messaging client into the app, meaning fewer trips to different apps as you attempt to keep in contact with everyone.

Both are easy to use, but the keyboard Samsung provides to enter your missives will not be to everyone’s liking.

That’s not to say it’s bad, but I’ve never been a huge fan of Samsung’s own board and I get the same feeling when using it on the Galaxy Note 4.

I’m able to type relatively quickly on it, but characters such as punctuation aren’t as easy to access as on other boards. I still much prefer SwiftKey which provides greater accuracy, a more efficient design and better next word prediction.

If you’re going to be doing a lot of typing I’d suggest downloading a third party alternative on the Note 4, but for casual users it suffices. If you really want you can draw out the S Pen and handwrite your messages, but I found it slow and at times frustrating so I wouldn’t bother.

That keyboard could become a real bug bear if you’re planning on firing off a lot of emails and once again you’ve got the choice of two apps to manage your electronic mail.

You get Samsung’s own email client plus Google’s Gmail app, the latter of which now accepts all email accounts rather than just the search giant’s. That means you can truly pick one app and ditch the other.

I find Google’s Gmail a much cleaner and snappier offering, but both offer the same level of features so either way you’ll be well catered for.

Internet

With strong Wi-Fi capabilities, 4G connectivity and an expansive 5.7-inch display the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is well built for web browsing.

Websites load up very quickly, with even full desktop sites appearing in a matter of seconds.

The QHD display ensures images and text are crystal clear, making surfing the web an enjoyable and stress free experience.

And to round off the choice carousel the Note 4 comes with two browsers as well – it’s pretty silly when you stop and think about the amount of duplication – and again both Samsung’s Internet app and Google’s Chrome offer very similar experiences.

There’s tabbed browsing, bookmarks, the option to force desktop mode and more, ensuring you won’t be caught short at any point.

Competition
Samsung Galaxy Note 5

There’s a new king at the top of Samsung’s phablet line up and it’s called, yep you’ve guessed it, the Galaxy Note 5. It sports Samsung’s new design language from the Galaxy S6, finally seeing away with plastic on the Note series.

It’s got more power, the S Pen has been given a few new tricks and the design is much improved. There’s no huge change in the screen or camera departments, but as a package it’s a lot more slick.

If you want the best phablet on the market then the Note 5 is what you need to get, as long as you can stand the lofty price tag attached to it. But be warned, it’s not out in the UK right now but we’re hoping it’ll launch in January 2015.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Note 5 reviewSamsung Galaxy S6

The Galaxy Note 4 is now far from the most stylish smartphone in Samsung’s stable – that accolade is now held by the Galaxy S6 (and S6 Edge), which boasts an all new metal-glass design, an equally stunning QHD display, fantastic 16MP camera and no plastic in sight.

You can get the Note 4 cheaper than the S6, but the Note is six months older and the fingerprint scanner on Samsung’s latest flagship really does put its previous efforts to shame.

The Galaxy S6 is easier to hold in one hand – and slip into a pocket – its design is superior and apart from the slightly questionable battery life it’s the best Samsung handset currently on the market.

Unless you’re desperate for the extra screen real estate – or just happen to be in love with the S Pen – the S6 is a better bet.

Read our Samsung Galaxy S6 reviewiPhone 6 Plus

There’s one handset which was clearly lining up against the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and that’s Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus.

It’s a touch smaller with a 5.5-inch full HD display versus the 5.7-inch QHD offering on the Note 4, and while the Samsung is both wider and thicker it’s the 6 Plus which has the most height.

In terms of design the iPhone 6 Plus wins out with its premium all metal body oozing class, but the metal frame of the Note 4 does kick things up a notch and it has the bonus of a removable battery and microSD slot.

Both handsets have strong camera offerings, each benefitting from OIS (optical image stabilization) ensuring you won’t be let down by your smartphone’s snapper.

Equally when it comes to price both the Galaxy Note 4 and 6 Plus demand a huge amount of cash.

If you fancy more features and functionality then the Note 4 is the way to go, but for a refined, premium experience you may be better off with the 6 Plus.

Apple’s since followed it up with the iPhone 6S Plus, which is more of the same but with improvements throughout and a heftier price tag. So if money’s no object that’s also worth a look.

Read our iPhone 6 Plus reviewSamsung Galaxy S6 Edge+

If you don’t feel the need for a stylus or do feel the need for a curved screen the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ is the obvious alternative to the Galaxy Note 4.

Being a generation newer it’s more expensive, but it’s also more powerful, has an improved camera and a vastly superior design, following the language of the Galaxy S6 with a metal frame and glass back.

The curves don’t add much beyond stunning good looks and the lack of an S Pen stylus actually makes the S6 Edge+ less versatile than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, but it’s sure to impress your friends and it will be that little bit longer before it goes out of date.

Read our Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ reviewNexus 6P

The Nexus 6P is quite a bit newer than the Galaxy Note 4, yet it’s only a little more expensive at £449/$499.

For your money you get a similarly impressive 5.7-inch 1440 x 2560 screen, a premium metal build, slightly superior specs and the stock version of Android Marshmallow, plus the promise of prompt system updates.

On the other hand, it lacks the optical image stabilisation found in the Note 4, the camera bulge on the back makes it a little ugly and it doesn’t have a stylus, which makes it a more conventional phablet than the Note 4.

Read our Nexus 6P reviewGalaxy Note 4 and Gear VR

Fancy getting futuristic? Then good news, as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is compatible with the Korean firm’s Gear VR headset, allowing you to step into virtual reality without the need for a powerful computer.

Download the two Gear VR apps, make sure your Note 4 is fully charged (or plugged in), clip the handset into the headset and away you go!

While the Galaxy Note 4 has an impressive QHD Super AMOLED display, the resolution of the VR programme isn’t anywhere near as high.

That’s because you’re looking at the screen through two magnifying glasses, and while it can be a little off putting the experience is still impressive.

Read our in depth Samsung Gear VR review

Samsung has its own store for content, oddly named Milk VR, but the selection is relatively slim for now as we wait for more developers to get on board.

There are some fun games and experiences to be found, and you can even take a seat in a cinema to watch a movie. If the action isn’t great on screen you can look around at the rows of empty seats, stare up at the ceiling and check no one is sneaking up behind you.

Unsurprisingly the Gear VR isn’t free, it’ll set you back $199 (about £126, AU$228), and that’s on top of your already expensive Galaxy Note 4. Sure it’s fun to have, but you really need to want it for it to be worth while.

Hands on gallery

Verdict

As far as phablets go there’s no question that Samsung still leads the way with its Note series.

The real testament to Samsung’s success in this arena are the number of competitors out there from the Nexus 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, to the more established Nokia Lumia 1520, Huawei Ascend Mate 7 and even the LG G4 and OnePlus 2.

Everyone wants a killer big screen smartphone, but few do it as well as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. If you’re looking for the best though, you’ll want to check out the Galaxy Note 5, or perhaps wait for the Galaxy Note 7 which is due very soon.

We liked

The screen on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is fantastic. The QHD resolution ensures absolutely everything is pin sharp and the Super AMOLED tech makes colours really pop.

Your eyes alone will thank you for picking up the Galaxy Note 4, and those of you who love gaming and watching movies on your phone it’s perfect.

I’ve also got to mention the camera here, as the Galaxy Note 4 is capable of taking some really excellent snaps.

There’s plenty of power packed in too, giving you a slick, fluid interface and the improved design with the metal frame makes the Galaxy Note 4 feel like the premium phone its price tag suggests.

It isn’t as stunning to look at or hold as the iPhone 6 Plus, Apple still wins the style war, but at least the Note 4 has a decent level of grip.

We disliked

Get over the size and the price (which has reduced now) of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and there’s little to dislike about this dominating phablet.

There will be a large number of people who won’t be able to get past the size and price of the Galaxy Note 4 – it is big, and it is expensive (although it has dropped slightly in price) – but that’s not a huge issue for this handset.

It knows its market, and Samsung provides devices in a number of tiers to satisfy almost anyone.

Want the metal design in a smaller package? Get the Galaxy Alpha. Want the latest tech Samsung has to offer? Then there’s the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge.

The S Pen has come on leaps and bounds since its introduction with the original Galaxy Note, and while the precision has increased substantially on the Galaxy Note 4 it still feels a little, well, pointless.

I found myself using it very rarely. Unless you like sketching on your smartphone, or for some reason think it’s quicker to handwrite notes than tap them out (it’s not, btw), then it provides little attraction.

Samsung still has a way to go with its fingerprint scanner as it’s nowhere near as good as Apple’s Touch ID or even Huawei’s offering, and you’ll likely find yourself turning it off after a while.

Verdict

Samsung has packed in more power, an even better display and a great camera making the Galaxy Note 4 an excellent smartphone. It may no longer be the best phablet around, but if your budget won’t stretch to the Note 5 then this won’t let you down.

If you’re already rocking the Galaxy Note 3 there’s not a huge point in upgrading, unless you really want the screen and chassis bump, but if you’re rocking an older phablet or considering picking one up the Galaxy Note 4 should on your list.

It’ll be too big for some, while the true usefulness of the S Pen is still questionable, but overlook these things and you’ll be more than happy with the now-cheaper Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

First reviewed: October 2014

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