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The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has to be the second most anticipated Samsung smartphone for 2014, after the Samsung Galaxy S5.

The main difference between the two flagships is the display size, the Note 4 features a larger 5.7-inch (vs 5.1-inch) screen and the S Pen which is absent in the S5.

The most surprising announcement for this Note device is the Edge limited edition, which is a similar device that offer a one-side rounded edged display with unique user interface innovations. I saw  it at IFA in Berlin and we only got unit of the regular Galaxy Note 4 for this review.

The Galaxy Note 4 is  available without contract for $700  and for $299.99 with a 2-year contract.
The Edge limited edition will be more expensive and is expected to be available at the end of 2014.

Specifications

  • Size 5.7 inch screen size (confirmed)
  • Dimensions 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5mm – (6.04 x 3.09 x 0.33″)
  • 2.5D Glass
  • Display Quad HD resolution (2560×1440 ) (confirmed)
  • Processor Snapdragon 805 4-core 2.5 GHz
  • Android 4.4.3
  • Micro SD
  • Internal storage 64GB
  • Max storage capacity 192 GB
  • RAM 4GB
  • One Micro SIM
  • Rear Cam 16 MP
  • Front camera 3.7 MP aperture F1.9
  • Colors: white, black, gold and pink
  • Full Galaxy Note 4 Specifications, and compare the Note 4 with the Note 3, compare the Galaxy Note 4 with the iPhone 6 Plus

What’s new?

Quad HD display

The Galaxy Note has been significantly improved on the hardware side, with a Quad HD (2560×1440) Super AMOLED display, a 16 Megapixel rear camera with Smart Optical Image Stabilization.

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Enhanced cameras

Samsung has improved the aperture of the 3.7 Megapixel front camera to f1.9 to capture 60% more light. Selfies being the trends on social networks, the note 4 gets a selfie button on the back just below the LED flash and a wide selfie feature with a 90 degree shooting angle (vs 77 degree in the previous model) that expands up to 120 degree when using the wide selfie feature.

The 3220 mAh battery (unconfirmed capacity yet) is able to charge at 50% in 30 minutes and offers  an ultra-power saving mode.

Improved S Pen and software

The S Pen sensitivity has been doubled from 1024 to 2048 levels, which is the new standard for high end stylus today. Some features that work in combination with it have been added such as Smart Select in the Air command menu, the Note taking widget and the new virtual pens accessible from the S Note application. A  new Snap Note function allows to convert a picture of your analog note into an editable image.

Improved noise cancellation and voice recording

Samsung put some effort in the voice recording quality by adding a third microphone to enhance reduction. This allow users to access a selective playback feature in the voice recording application, you can listen separately up to eight different people who have been recording during a meeting.

Processor and RAM

Other unconfirmed new hardware features include the Quadcore Snapdragon 805 2.5 GHz (from a Snapdragon 800) with 4 GB RAM.

Industrial Design (very good)

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On the design side, Samsung retained the similar form factor and design of the Galaxy Note 3 with subtle enhancements. The faux stitches have disappeared while the Samsung’s signature faux leather back cover remains. This more minimalist approach makes the device a tad more stylish. Samsung listened to the critics and decided to go for a metal frame instead of a plastic one painted with a faux-metallic finish. The  aluminum frame combined with the all-glass front, conveys a premium look and enhances the overall built quality. The Note 4 is a hair heavier (176 grams vs. 168 grams) and larger than its predecessor (8.5 mm vs. 8 mm thin) for the same screen size (5.7”), and is still not rugged,  unlike the Galaxy S5. The Galaxy Note 4 is comfortable to hold and still very light despite its large size. You can see in detail what has been changed from the Galaxy Note 3 in our comparison page.

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By comparison, the iPhone 6 Plus, which is similar in size and weight, looks a little more minimalist and personally, I find it more elegant for that reason. The Apple device is also thinner (7.1 mm vs. 8.5 mm) with a smaller display (5.5” vs. 5.7”) – and is maybe a little more bendable, although Consumer Report debunked the claims.

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On the front you can see (photos the home button at the bottom and the 3.7 MP front camera above the 5.7” Quad HD display. On the left side, the volume rocker is located at the top. The 3.5 mm audio jack is placed on the top, close to the right corner, and the IR transmitter is close to the left corner. The USB connector is at the bottom, in the center. The back cover is removable and hides the SIM card and the SD card slots. The 16 MP camera lens is at the top of the back cover with the LED flash and the heart rate monitor just below, and above the logo. At the bottom left, you will find the speaker.

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Display (Excellent)

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Quad HD (2560×1440) is not yet the new standard in the 5+ inch display category, only the LG G3 (5.5” – 538 PPI) and the Galaxy Note 4 (5.7”-515 PPI) features that resolution. In comparison, the iPhone 6 Plus delivers only 1080P, and for a large 5.5” display that results in a lower pixel density of 416PPI.

The Super AMOLED technology tends to produce more saturated colors that looks a little less natural than the one rendered on an IPS LCD, although you can select different settings to obtain a similar effect. My preference goes to the saturated colors because it makes my pictures look brighter than the reality. Additionally, Super AMOLED delivers deeper contrasts and darker black.
That technology tends also to make it a little harder to see properly in direct sunlight when compared to an IPS display on the iPhone 6 Plus.

Multimedia / Entertainement (very good)

Video Playback

The amazing Quad HD display is a large part of the fun in the entertainment experience, and to make sure everything is smooth and crisp, I played a few HD videos stored locally. The image quality is stunning and the sound quality very clear, the volume is not overly loud but quite powerful.

Next-gen voice recording

Samsung pushed the envelope on the voice recording side with the addition of a third microphone for noise reduction and the selective playback feature. It is possible to separately playback up to eight different voices that have been recorded simultaneously in a noisy room. The demo was quite impressive, the Samsung played a sound file that was recorded in a noisy room and the playback on the Note 4 was crisp and clear with absolutely no background noise.

Camera (very good)

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Front:
For once, the front camera got some enhancement with a 3.7 megapixel (MP) sensor and an F 1.9 wide aperture that captures 60% more light. The idea might be to allow people to take better selfies at parties in dark nightclubs. The selfie experience has been improved with the heart rate monitor on the back acting as  the shutter button for selfies and a 90 degree shooting angle (vs 77 degree in the previous model) that expands up to 120 degrees when using the wide selfie feature.

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Back:

The camera on the back got bumped from 13 MP in the previous model to 16 MP and now has an optical image stabilization feature that prevents shaking and allow to capture more light in dark environments. Just like the Galaxy S5, the Note 4 gets 4k video capture, a feature that is absent from the iPhone 6 an the iPhone 6 Plus, both devices delivers 240 fps slow motion while the Note 4 remains with the standard 120 fps.

To try the camera and image quality for still photo capture, I have shot numerous pictures in various lighting conditions, with and without HDR. Overall the image quality is excellent. When compared to the iPhone 6 Plus, the image quality is quite similar, with a slight advantage for the Galaxy Note 4 in low light. At night, the iPhone 6 Plus produced images with more noise than the Galaxy Note 4.

We still need to set up a test to check the quality of the optical image stabilization, especially to see how it compares to the iPhone 6 Plus.

 

S Pen (very good)

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The S Pen has been significantly improved, the sensitivity has been doubled from 1024 to 2048 levels and delivers an amazing experience which is almost comparable to draw  with a pen on a paper. Samsung has come a long way since the Galaxy Note 1 , at that time the lack of sensitivity prevented a good control of the quality of the lines I was producing while drawing.

The new S Pen offers 2048 levels of sensitivity, which is the new standard in the smart stylus world now. The high sensitivity produces different type of lines, depending on the speed or the inclination, the opacity of the line will vary. The mouse button allows to select multiple items in the same screen, it is very practical for selecting multiple photos in the gallery or a long text easily in an email.

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Samsung Software improvements

The Galaxy Note 4 runs Android 4.4 Kitkat and provides the same user interface as the Galaxy S5.

The most important piece of software that Samsung delivers with the Note lineup since the Note 3 are the features accessible in the Air command menu and the S Note application that work with the S Pen.

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The S Note application  is now accessible as a widget from the home screen (photo above). There are two new pens in the Note application now, a fountain pen and a calligraphy pen. (see photo below)

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Smart Select is the new addition in the famous Air Command menu which is accessible by hovering the smart pen on the home screen and clicking on the mouse button. Smart select allows users to select any portion of a screen in any application and collect them as images to share or save. (photo below)

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In the photo gallery above you can see how you can collect mutiple portions of the screens and share them.

Snap Note is another new feature that converts a photo of your analog note into editable images. The image to text is not available though.

Action Memo is now accessible by pressing the button and double tap the tip of the pen. There you can call from a handwritten phone number or directly click on a handwritten url to open the corresponding web page in the browser.

Multi tasking, one of the key differentiators of the Samsung experience on Android, now offers a new gesture interface: you can reduce any screen from any compatible application to view it in a small window on top of a second application. For example, you can reduce the camera and operate it on top of the email application or the phone application, or any other application that is compatible with multi tasking. The user experience could be better for this feature, for instance, I wonder how many people will figure out that you need to activate it in the settings first to make it work, and then, know to long press the back button to access the application tray from where you drag and drop 2 applications you need to work with simultaneously. It is also not obvious to find how you get rid of the multi-window when two applications are running, the best way out I found was to use the back button.

Fingerprint reader the fingerprint reader seems to have been improved since the S5, which was not working always well. I could unlock my phone immediately and did not did several attempts to do so, something that happened a few times on my S5.

Performance

The Galaxy Note 4 is equipped with the latest 2.7 Ghz quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor and 3 GB of RAM. On the paper, this is one of the most powerful SoC available on the market and we can expect it will be reflected in the benchmark results (coming soon) So far, the perceived performance is very good, the user interface is very responsive and the keyboard is slightly faster than the one on the Galaxy S5.

Battery (very good)

The great new addition to the battery is the fast charging that allows to get roughly a 50% charge in only 30 minutes (we tested it). The Galaxy Note 4 gets almost the same battery capacity as the Note 3 (3220 mAh vs. 3200 mAh) and it last roughly two days with a low intensity usage. We tested it for high intensity usage by palying a HD video locally stored in the device for 30 minutes and the results were pretty good: the Galaxy Note 4 can play 10 hours of HD video on one charge.

Galaxy Note Edge Limited Edition

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The new Galaxy note 4 is really well designed and packs a number of improvements that will make users’ lives a little easier and more fun. However, there is nothing really innovative so far… except for the amazing Galaxy Note Edge limited edition! (Compare the specifications of the Note 4 and Note Edge)

With this unique device, Samsung is experimenting on a new type of user experience while delivering a beautifully crafted design labelled “modern fluidic” by the design team. The principle is quite simple: the display expands on the smooth edge of the right side of the smartphone, and this additional space is not just there to make it pretty, it adds a new dimension for the user interface.

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Basically the edge of the smartphone becomes an additional navigation bar from where users can quickly access the core functions such as the phone app, the contacts, the message app, the browser, the camera app and the Google folder (see photo above). We can see that there is more real estate for additional applications on the home screen. The new Edge design might provide a more comfortable user experience,  since the most used applications are literally placed under the tip of  the finger – we need to try the Note Edge over the course of a few days to make sure this innovative user interface is really convenient.

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The Edge display is also used for additional mini applications (see photos above and gallery below) such as the timer, the stop watch, the torch, the ruler and the voice recorder. Notifications such as the weather updates will be displayed there as well. (photo above)


Once inside an application, the app menu disappear from the edge and is replaced by the local commands of the current application in use, for example the camera options are accessible from there (photo below).

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Conclusion (Excellent)

The Galaxy Note 4 is an excellent high end smartphone that delivers impressive performance with an improved user experience. The quad HD display is amazing and the S Pen experience has been significantly enhanced, the 2048 levels of sensitivity make the Samsung phablet a genuine drawing tool.
The 13 megapixel camera with the new optical image stabilization feature produces high quality still images and allows for 4K video capture, a feature that is absent from its rival, the iPhone 6 Plus. Additionally, Samsung pushed the envelop quite a bit on the selfie experience, thanks to the 3.7 MP F1,9 front camera sensor, the wide selfie feature and the heart monitor turned into a shutter.  Overall, the galaxy Note lives up to our expectations

 

Filed in Breaking >Cellphones >Reviews. Read more about Android, Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy Note Edge, IFA, IFA 2014 and Samsung.

Key SpecsGalaxy Note EdgeGalaxy Note 4
StatusReleasedReleased
Resolution2560x14402560x1440
Size (Diagonal, Inches)5.6"5.7"
Processor NameSnapdragon 805
4-core
2.7 GHz
Snapdragon 805
4-core
2.7 GHz
Max. Total Storage Capacity128 GB96 GB
Megapixels16 MP16 MP
Battery Capacity (mAh)3000 mAh3220 mAh
Street Price$700$700
Complete product dataSamsung Galaxy Note Edge Full specsSamsung Galaxy Note 4 Full specs
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