As Apple reportedly preps a ginormous 5.5-inch iPhone 6, Samsung is ready to defend its phablet crown with the Galaxy Note 4. The device boasts a super-sharp quad HD display in a sturdier metal frame, as well as a very fast Snapdragon 805 processor. Coming to all four major carriers (and US Cellular) this October, the Note 4 also offers optical image stabilization for the back camera, a wider-angle selfie camera, pen enhancements and other software tweaks.
Although it lacks the flashy second screen on the curved Galaxy Note Edge (also announced today, Sept. 3), I came away impressed from my hands-on time with the Note 4.
I immediately noticed that the Note 4 felt heavier in my hand compared to the Note 3 (6.2 versus 5.9 ounces), but it’s a reasonable trade-off for the more premium build quality. Instead of being ringed in plastic, the Note 4 has a metal frame that gives the handset a sturdier feel. The back sports Samsung’s familiar soft-touch, leather-like finish. Bored of black, white and gold? Samsung also showed off a pink version (don’t worry, it’s a pale Blossom pink).
As with previous Notes, the back panel is removable, which means you can access the battery and microSD Card slot. Unfortunately, unlike the Galaxy S5, the Note 4 and Note Edge are not waterproof. Interestingly, the company has also chosen to downgrade the USB 3.0 port on the Note 3 back to a standard USB 2 port. However, few users will notice a difference.
Not to pick on the LG G3, but the Note 4 is quad HD done right. Although it packs the same 2560 x 1440 pixels, the Note 4′s 5.7-inch panel is brighter and offers wider viewing angles, thanks to its underlying Super AMOLED tech.
For now, there’s not much you can do with this sky-high 518 ppi (a 30 percent improvement over the Note 3), but you’ll be able to record videos and play them back at the Note 4′s native resolution. Here’s hoping apps and games are also on the way.
Samsung didn’t just step up the resolution on the Note 4′s camera (from 13-MP to 16-MP). It should also provide steadier shots, made possible by optical image stabilization. During a demo, a Samsung rep zoomed up to 4X on an object, and the Note 4′s live view looked a lot less shaky. Plus, Samsung promises you’ll be able to zoom up to 8X and still get a sharp photo. That may be the case outdoors, but indoors in low light I noticed a fair amount of noise.
A fan of selfies? The Galaxy Note 4 boasts a 90-degree, wide-angle front camera that shoots at 3.7-MP. During a quick test I didn’t see much of a difference versus previous smartphones until I engaged a dedicated special wide-angle mode. Stretching the range to 120 degrees, this mode stitched a shot together by guiding my hand to tilt the device, after which the Note 4 processed the image. It all worked, but it requires patience some may not have.
Take note, stylus lovers. The S Pen on the Galaxy Note 4 provides a smoother writing experience with more natural friction. More important, the pen now acts more like a PC mouse, allowing you to select text just by dragging the tip of the pen over the words you want to highlight. I especially like how you can now easily pin scribbled notes to your home screen, making it easy to retrieve that shopping list when you get to the store.
Samsung has stepped up its software game in other ways. With Multi Window, you can now minimize an app to icon size and have it follow you as you go to other apps. So, for example, you could quickly launch the dialer with a tap while you’re in the calendar app with the tap of the pen or your finger. You can also resize this pop-up window.
Samsung also makes it easier to discover which apps support Multi Window mode. Within the recent apps menu, which has been redesigned, you’ll see what looks like an open book in the top right corner.
The internal battery on the Galaxy Note 4 has a little more capacity than the previous version at 3220 mAh (up from 3200), but that’s not the whole story. Like the Galaxy S5, the Note 4 features an Ultra Power Saving mode, which can extend your standby time up to 24 hours. In this mode, you’ll have much less functionality and the screen will go monochrome.
When it comes time to juice up, you’ll be pleased to learn that the Note 4 can reach 50 percent power in just 30 minutes. That’s just half the time of the Note 3. The Note 3 was already one of the longest-lasting smartphones, so I’m excited to see if the Note 4 can up the ante. It won’t be easy, however, as I suspect that the quad HD screen will eat into some of that runtime.
The Galaxy Note 4 may very well be overshadowed by the fancier Galaxy Note Edge when shoppers see its curved secondary screen later in the fall. But for those looking for a more straightforward big-screen phone, the Note 4 looks like it will be the phablet to beat come October. With plenty of speed, a jaw-dropping QHD display, a first-class camera, and a pen that feels more natural and useful, the Galaxy Note 4 should be ready to take on whatever Apple has up its sleeve.