Samsung's "BIG" Next Big Thing: Galaxy Note 5 (REVIEW)

available in three flavors

available in three flavors

written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)

You’re probably wondering why I am reviewing this phone almost two months after the initial release date. Aside from wanting to get a grasp of it, I also felt it wasn’t fully complete yet. When I reported on the release of the Note 5 (along with the S6 Plus) another exciting feature was also announced, and that was Samsung Pay. I didn’t feel like writing two articles and wanted to give you a good grasp of the device now that Samsung Pay is officially live.

So! The Galaxy Note 5! This generation of Samsung smart phones takes a huge step away from how their devices have looked in previous iterations. The Galaxy Note 5 is no exception, aesthetically… the first change you’ll notice is the enclosed metal unibody design with glass instead of the plastic faux leather back plate. This also means that the rear plate no longer pops off, making easily swapping batteries and expanding storage a thing of the past. This may prove to be a major deal-breaker for many a Samsung device enthusiast, and I don’t blame you. If you loved being able to easily swap batteries when your device was dying or expanding your onboard memory, this is a major point to consider considering the Note 5. 

Personally, I am loving it! For clarification, before switching to Android, I was part of the iPhone camp since launch! I was one of those guys getting a new iPhone every year and hanging on the release information at WWDC or any other Apple press event. My reasons for breaking-up with iPhone are fairly well documented, I felt that in the years between the iPhone 4 and the 5S, there was such a lack of innovation to the device I craved something more… and Android was just the thing I needed to shake it up a bit. As a former iPhone user, I was used to a more luxurious feeling device. The plastic backs and faux textured feel that came part and par for most of the devices running Android made me feel like it was a downgrade… call me shallow, but if I had the choice to pick between a device made of plastic or a device made of glass, aluminum, or ceramic; I’m going for the higher end materials. Trimmed down and appearing much sleeker and slimmer than the Note 4, as a “unprotected tech” enthusiast, I am loving how the Note 5 feels in hand. The luxurious aesthetics of the Galaxy Note 5 immediately set this version apart from last year’s Note 4. I’m okay with limiting what I can swap out with my device when the phone feels this… incredibly sexy.

a beautiful design with a striking form factor

a beautiful design with a striking form factor

The Note’s signature S-Pen receives an upgrade in some very useful ways. Now featuring a spring loaded release, you just push it in a little and the S-Pen pops out slightly, making for easy removal and instantaneous use. Note taking is a breeze, and the most useful new feature I’ve been utilizing as of late has to be the ability to take notes directly from the lock screen. Previously, I had the Note 4… dug it… loved it… loved my S-Pen… but taking hand-written notes always felt a little bit cumbersome. You had to pop the S-Pen, open the app, write, blah blah blah blah and all that jazz. Say you have your device locked, you can pop the S-Pen and write directly on a black screen, without ever unlocking your device. This fast note taking further bridges the digital movement with the speed and ease of use of just grabbing a pen and a scrap of paper. I’ve found this feature to be a bloody godsend, from taking a quick note when on a client call or just jotting down a quick grocery list; while I did use the S-Pen quite a bit on my Note 4, I found myself using the S-Pen as my go-to note taking almost every time with the Note 5.

revamped S-Pen

revamped S-Pen

Running on Android Lollipop, the interface is snappy with almost zero lag… a quick killing of all open apps does the trick and I found that I didn’t have to load any of the memory management apps I used on my Note 4. Running on a super fast 2.1 GHz Quad-core Cortex A57 and boasting 4 gigs of RAM, this device is a beast that keeps on going all through the day. A 16 megapixel rear camera that also shoots 4k video (though at 30fps) is impressive for capturing every day shenanigans… or just taking pics of your lunch. A decent 5 megapixel front facing camera isn’t much to write home about, but it still stands as one of the best “selfie-cameras” on today’s smart phone market. The 5.7” Quad HD Super AMOLED display makes everything pop with vibrant colors and super sharp video. I can totally spend a good minute watching YouTube videos on this thing. The speaker does leave much to be desired, if you crave a better audio experience, I suggest using headphones or even then enclosed basic Samsung earbuds. Battery life has been up and down, some days I notice I need to charge my device by lunch, other days I find it lasting al the way to the end of my work day. I’m a bit of a power user and most of this is my fault, but I never felt like I taxed the device’s 3000 mAh Li-Ion battery at all, coupled with Samsung’s impressive power-saving features, the whole non-removable battery thing became a clear non-issue.

takes notes super quick

takes notes super quick

The fingerprint scanner is dramatically improved from last year’s Note 4; before, you had to drag your fingerprint down the home key to unlock your device, this made using your fingerprint to unlock the device slightly awkward… and more times than not, doesn’t register. On the Note 5 this detection is near instantaneous; much like the impressive fingerprint sensor on Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6S. I admit, I hated using the finger print sensor on my Note 4, but using it on the Note 5 has been a delight. I suggest registering multiple fingerprints on your device, your thumb and index finger from both hands make good choices.

impressive camera tech

impressive camera tech

Samsung’s take on Android does leave me wanting in some respects. I feel that the default Samsung keyboard is too packed and immediately loaded the Google keyboard as my default input. While some people may dig it, personally I disabled Flipboard when customizing my home screens, it always felt like it slowed down my device and since disabling it my Note 5 ran much smoother than when just out of the box. But in some respects, it does leave me amazed… here is where I go into Samsung Pay. Not just a clone of Google Wallet or Apple Pay, where Samsung Pay differs is in the use of it. While Google and Apple run payments through NFC, this leaves many older technology POS systems unable to utilize your digital wallet. What Samsung has done was bring the future to the past, utilizing a coil inside the device, Samsung Pay can send the magnetic information of your credit card directly to the device as if you swiped your payment card. This immediately made the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 a win for me, and why I wanted to wait until Samsung Pay went live to write this review.

Samsung Pay, a personal highlight of this year's Galaxy line

Samsung Pay, a personal highlight of this year's Galaxy line

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VERDICT:

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is a sleek and sexy device, though if you are resistant to change and felt that the removable battery and expandable memory was a must sought after feature, you may want to look elsewhere for your phablet needs. If you are like me though, and keep most of your data in the cloud the inability to expand storage won’t be an issue; the impressive battery life and Samsung’s winning suite of power saving options make the inability to remove the battery a moot point. The inclusion of Samsung Pay (also available on the Galaxy S6/Edge/Plus) make this device as useful as it it beautiful. Gorgeous construction, eye popping screen, all in all an amazing device. Apple always liked to tout their devices as “magical”… personally, I feel that Samsung’s done quite a stellar job throwing a bit of fairy dust into this generation’s Note 5, while I don’t feel like this is the Avada Kedavra for the iPhone it is just as magical… my patronus is an Android.

From the original announcement

From the original announcement