“The latest Note borrows heavily from the Galaxy S6, both in terms of specs as well as design”
Samsung. The name invokes mixed feelings amongst smartphone enthusiasts – there are those that can’t be lured towards its products, but there are quite a few that follow its progress quite keenly. The brand hasn’t deviated much from its carpet bombing approach, though over the last few months, has significantly refreshed its design ethos and choice of materials used as far as its premium handsets are concerned. There’s a special emphasis on design, and smartphones like the Galaxy Alpha (review), and the A series family are good examples of this new direction. The Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 edge (review) that were launched at MWC earlier this year also marked a huge shift, and showed that the company had finally put its ‘plasticky past’ behind it and taken a big jump in favour of metal and glass. The S series has always been a cult favourite, but the Samsung Note range has also been extremely popular globally, and has now moved into the fifth generation. Each iteration has seen significant improvements in specs, features and the capabilities of its USP, the S Pen. The new Galaxy Note5 ups the ante with regards to each of these aspects, but notably, now comes with a new design that embraces Samsung’s new philosophy. The latest phablet takes the same design direction as the Galaxy S6, embracing metal and glass to come across as a stylish-looking handset that’s more loaded than ever before. Let’s take a closer look.
It’d be impossible to miss the metal frame and the slim body even at first glance. Pick it up, and the curved glass panel at the rear makes its presence felt immediately. The posterior of the device is flat for the most part, but the sides taper towards the spine gently, making the phone slimmer at the edges. You’ll also see the large camera lens that juts out of the body slightly, flanked by the LED flash along with the heart rate monitor. There’s Samsung branding closer to the middle.
The fascia looks unmistakably Samsung, with the expansive display dominating the proceedings. The 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display rocks a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, translating to a pixel density of 515 ppi. It looks rather gorgeous – the colours look vivid and the visuals pop right back at you. A layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 4 keeps it safe from scratches. At the top of the screen lie the earpiece, sensors and the 5-meg front shooter, while the oval-shaped home key sits below, flanked by backlit navigation keys to access recent apps and go back. As usual the physical home button also integrates a fingerprint scanner.
The right spine holds the power button, while two separate volume keys are on the left. The top is home to the nano-SIM tray, while the headset socket, micro-USB port and the phone speaker are all crammed at the bottom.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Note without its partner in crime – the S Pen. This is tucked away in a silo at the bottom right corner. Unlike the previous members of the Samsung Note range which came with pull-out S Pens, the Note5’s stylus uses a spring-loaded push-to-eject mechanism. When housed inside its silo, the S Pen’s top protrudes ever so slightly, giving you just enough room to press it… making the stylus pop out and letting you pull it out completely. When it’s out, you can see that the top of the S Pen has been designed like a conventional ballpoint pen with a clicky top.
While we’re on the topic of the S Pen, it’d be worth mentioning the so-called ‘pengate’ issue plaguing the Note5. Apparently, if the S Pen is inserted into its silo the other way around, it can get stuck inside because of the way it’s designed… and can cause serious problems with the device especially as far as its S Pen capabilities are concerned. Inserting the S Pen the wrong way may be an unlikely scenario, but we fathom some users could end up doing exactly that, so this is something you should keep in mind if you’re considering buying a Note5.
The S Pen is, of course, one of the mainstays of the Note range, and its capabilities have been beefed up significantly in the latest model. The shortcut menu (dubbed Air Command) that appears when you pull out the S Pen has been redesigned, and you can even add your own apps to the list. Many of the S Pen features we’ve seen earlier on the Note5’s predecessor, the Galaxy Note 4 (review) are all there, but a new addition is the ability to take notes even when the device is on standby. Basically, all you need to do is to eject the S Pen when the phone is on standby, and start writing on the screen to take a note. Without the S Pen, the Note5 is just a larger Galaxy S6, but if you can use the stylus to its fullest potential, it can provide a big fillip to tasks like navigating around the phone’s UI, taking notes, doodling, annotating, sharing stuff and quite a bit more.
Otherwise, the software setup is basically as expected – Android Lollipop 5.1.1 clothed with Samsung’s Touchwiz UI. All Touchwiz features and preloaded stuff like S Note, S Health, Easy Mode, Private Mode, the Flipboard-powered Briefing that slides out from the left etc are there.
The camera app hasn’t changed much too, and as usual, offers a variety of modes and options, including colour filters and a Pro mode that lets you fine tune settings as per your desires. The 16-megapixel primary camera also looks the same as what we saw on the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, complete with OIS, so it should prove to be excellent in terms of image quality – something we’ll verify when we get the chance to review the Note5.
Quite a few will bemoan the lack of expandable storage on the Note5… this model is actually the first in the Note range not to feature a microSD card slot. But that’s the way it is and in that respect, the device follows in the footsteps of its closest siblings like the S6, S6 edge and S6 edge+ (first impressions). The Note5 comes in 32GB and 64GB storage variants, and our 32GB demo unit had about 22GB free to use… though this is something we’d need to double check since the demo phone could have some extra content crammed in.
With the octa-core Exynos 7420 (quad-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53 plus quad-core 2.1GHz Cortex-A57) and 4 gigs of RAM running the show, the core specs look good. Needless to add, the Note5 didn’t show any signs of slowing down in our brief usage, and promises to be a smooth performer. The 3,000mAh battery supports wireless charging as well, and the Note5 is quite loaded with respect to connectivity options – so you get the whole deal covering 4G to NFC, and everything in between.
The phablet is expected to be unveiled in India on Monday, September 7th, which is when we should be able to get its exact pricing in the country. We’ve steeled our hearts, as we expect it to be priced upwards of half a lakh rupees – so it’s not for the faint-hearted or the light-pocketed. Staunch Note aficionados should still have something to look forward to though. Samsung’s new design DNA looks good so far, but we’ve already seen the S6 family of devices carry the same look, and we hope the brand doesn’t get into the same rut it was in earlier. For now, the Note5 looks like a compelling option for those who can shell out the big bucks.