One weekend with the Galaxy Note 4 – belated first impressions

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I was at the launch event in IFA when Samsung announced its latest phablet. Time goes so fast, it still feels like that was only a few weeks ago. I remember being impressed by the device after only a 30 mins or so with it. But, I was due an upgrade last week, and since I have already used (or already own) a number of other handsets, I felt the Note 4 was the best bet. I paid my upfront fee and got the device on Friday. And in that time I’ve learned a few things about the device, its features and about myself and my own preferences.

S-Pen

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Samsung has single-handedly created and – in my mind – dominated the phablet market. Not because it has the only good large-screened device. It doesn’t. The iPhone 6 Plus and Nexus 6 are both fantastic phones in their own right. But the Note adds that something extra – the S-Pen.

I normally snarl sarcastically or make cynical comments about Samsung’s gimmicks. Because, let’s be fair, there have been many of them. In fact, probably too many to list individually. But I don’t think the S-Pen is one of those. It’s actually useful, and I’ve found myself grabbing it at any opportunity to doodle a pointless drawing, or make a quick action note. Even sometimes scrolling through pages when I’m bored of using my thumb. And its Air Command functions have come in handy on more than one occasion.

One thing I will say about the S-Pen which, perhaps, is a more a user issue than a Samsung problem: I still don’t like writing with it for extended periods. As much as I normally love to write with a pen on paper, S-Pen on glass doesn’t feel natural to me. Yet. And as big as the screen is, it still feels cramped for writing on.

Apparently I like Big and Small

I’ll confess something: I really like using iOS and Android side-by-side. There are great arguments for using one over the other from both sides of the fanboy fence. But having used an iPhone 6 Plus for a couple of months, I discovered that I liked having iOS on a smaller device. It’s easy to hold in one hand, on-screen icons don’t look like they’re drowning in a sea of wallpaper, and the phone fits comfortably in my pocket.

All that said, I’m really enjoying the experience of having Android on the Note 4. It’s big, but it’s not as big as an iPhone 6 Plus. It fits in my pocket, and I’ve got a case that doubles as a wallet which means I don’t have to carry two phones plus a wallet around with me. It may be bulky, but it’s one less thing to worry about.

It also means that for whenever I want to check videos, play games or browse the web, I can use the Note 4’s huge display. Then I leave my iPhone for daily communication with friends and family using iMessage and FaceTime.

It also means that my iPhone is now very much my personal device. Because I review so many phones for PhoneDog, I still need one constant device for my home life. One with shared calendars, and my tado app which controls my heating based on location. (That thing gets really confused if you’ve registered a handful of devices, with some left sat at home and nobody in.)

Display is both impressive and ever-so-slightly disappointing

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The Samsung’s huge 5.7-inch display is hugely impressive. It’s a 2K display with a resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels. 515 pixels per inch is nothing to be sniffed at. It’s crazy sharp, and unlike the 5.5-inch display on the LG G3, the colors are vibrant and full of life. Text is crisp, without looking over-sharpened, and contrast is good. Blacks are dark, but not quite as inky as the new Moto X. Still, overall, very good. Except for one tiny, insignificant thing which always bothers me: Viewing angles.

Now it’s not like you stop being able to see what’s on screen at different angles. It’s not even like you lose lots of brightness, as can be the case sometimes. It’s just that whites take on a blue-ish tint when you’re not looking at the screen head on. It’s not a massive problem, but it does grate on me a little.

Things I don’t like

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I’ve never liked TouchWiz. I don’t hide that fact. I’d rather the Note 4 came shipped with stock Android (with Air Command thrown in). Not only would TouchWiz be gone, but I’d also be more likely to be on Android 5.0 right now, instead of being stuck on KitKat.

Needless to say, I’ve taken measures to hide TouchWiz as much as possible. I’ve installed Google Now Launcher as my default home launcher, and I use Hangouts as my default SMS app so I don’t have to look at Samsung’s hideous user interfaces. But I still can’t hide the horrible blue notification drop-down menu, or the Settings screens.

I don’t particularly like the feint pinstripe finish on the front panel either. But that’s not something I notice unless I’m close up. I’ve also noticed that it tends to change its mind regularly on its own performance. Sometimes it’s zippy, quick and fluid. Other times it decides to ignore when I press the power or home button to activate it.

Overall

No smartphone is perfect, but I’ve not experienced anything with the Galaxy Note 4 (yet) which will put me off having it as my daily Android phone. At least for the near term. I’ve not had chance to play around with the camera yet, and I’ve not had long enough to judge how good (or poor) the battery life. Some days I’ve managed to get from 100% to 0% in a day because I’m using it almost constantly. Other days I’ve got to the end of the day and had plenty of juice left.

What do you guys make of the Note 4? Have you used one? DO you own it? What’s your favorite feature? Let me know what I should check out on Sammy’s latest monster.

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  • D_Wall__

    I preordered the Note 4. Then Tmobile got the Nexus 6, I just recently jumped to the Nexus 6. My reasons, I dont like Samsung Bloat, I dont use the Pens, QI Charging and Dual Facing front Speakers are a HUGE selling point for me. The Note 4 is a great device. One of the Few Samsung ones i like. Pure Android is hard to beat.

    • Cam Bunton

      I agree with all your reasons. At the time, with the Nexus 6, I was between that and the Moto X. The Moto was on sale, and the N6 was really hard to find, and also didn’t come in leather. So I went Moto. ;-)

      • Mike

        I went with the iPhone 6 Plus because of all the crap Samsung adds. Nice device other than that. So I know exactly what you mean.

      • Chris

        Have you done the front facing speakers yet?? I’m sure you have as a phone reviewer on the HTC One series. But man, I didn’t think I’d care at all. I was like “ah neat whatever I don’t really do much audio on my phone” but after using the Nexus 6 I’m not sure I can buy another phone without front facing speakers…

        • Cam Bunton

          Yeah. For media consumption, they’re fantastic. I’ve used them on the One M7, M8, Desire 816, Desire 820, Moto X and Xperia Z2 and Z3. Nothing like it for watching movies/gaming.

      • Adrayven

        Nice review Cam!

        I ended up with the iPhone 6 Plus.. very happy with it. I have the iPhone 6 Plus BookBook wallet case.. I was doubtful about wallet cases at first, but I was eager to get down from a wallet and phone to just a single item. Man, really love the combo.. Got the BookBook on a great cybermonday deal.

        Removable and build in hard case stand are killer features for me.

        One day, I see a digital life with no wallet.. just phone.. I shop at a lot of Apple Pay locations (I know, your EU atm, so not something you can benefit from yet).. Meijer (where I shop) and most restaurants here support it, official and unofficially..

        I looked many times at the Note 3.. almost went for it.. If their wasn’t an Apple, I’d likely have the Note 4.. lol

  • Verizonthunder

    I love my samsung galaxy note 4. Also purchased a swarovski crystal back cover in cosmic silver looks stunning.

    • Chris

      omfg are you serious hahahaha. I can’t believe someone actually bought that back.

      • Verizonthunder

        I love it was on sale at Verizon wireless website for $49.99 was $149.99. Looks great I sure get a lot of attention with compliments. It’s not for everyone but will cause envy.

        • Flabbergasted

          You PAID $50 for that p.o.s back cover!?! I’d be hard pressed to pay FIVE dollars for it. No offense, but It looks like the glitter monster vomited all over the back of a phone. wow… just wow, smh, P.T. Barnum is proven right every day…..

        • Verizonthunder

          Better than $150. I am not complaining and the details are more appealing in person at least it’s a name brand company that samsung partnered with than slapping on some knock off that will not come even come close to the real deal.

        • Matt Pankey

          You didn’t have to pay for it so don’t worry about it.

        • JJCommonSense

          I have the Purple Swarovski back.. I love the crystals but the damn silver paint has pretty much rubbed away, exposing white edges on my black phone. If It wasn’t for the fact that I paid $26 for it (Best Buy employee discount), I’d be raising holy hell….. never drop your phone!

        • Verizonthunder

          I was contemplating on purchasing the purple swarovski crystal back cover also though I was disappointed that in the USA you only have two choices but love the sunset gold which is online only on ebay.

  • SEBA

    I guess I am the total opposite. I don’t like android bloatware (google +, gmail, news, games, music and video apps) they are all disabled. I prefer Samsung Apps vs Google, can’t wait for Tizen.

    • Cam Bunton

      One man’s bloatware is another man’s treasure?

      • SEBA

        Yeap

        • Cam Bunton

          I have to say, the Amazon Fire TV remote app is a godsend.

  • Cellphone Chris

    Similar to Apple, but to a smaller degree, Touchwiz and Samsung apps have become very useful if you’re using the ecosystem. I don’t consider them bloat as much as people do who solely use their handset and nothing else that it compliments. I own a Samsung Smart TV and bought the Homesync device on sale for $99 for my dumb TV. Throw in the original Gear watch, and I’m woefully invested in Samsung. I’ve used HTC and vanilla Android in the past, but the ease of screen mirroring, remote controls, and the S-Pen have me hooked. Every time I consider a new device, there are no huge benefits that I’d trade the convenience of the ecosystem for. I’m considering using my Jump upgrade to get the Note Edge, but I just invested in a wireless charging back and spare battery charger for the N4. I’m enjoying NEVER having to plug the phone in!

  • TEA

    You forget the best feature. I can’t believe you haven’t used the camera. I also use the SpO2 monitor on back, I’m a pulmonary patient and I check my pulse ox daily. The screen is unblemished and unbelievable. Try looking at it outside in the sun with auto brightness on and adaptive display. Only thing I wish this had was water resistance. And the feel of the phone is FINALLY QUALITY

  • David Liebert

    How do you like the wallet case. I have been thinking of picking that up. Does it get it the way more then it helps?

    • Verizonthunder

      The best wallet cases can be found on ebay just type in samsung galaxy note 4 wallet case.

    • Cam Bunton

      It can get in the way a little. But it depends how you hold/use the Note 4. There are tons available on Amazon/Ebay. I went with a slightly pricier one because I hate buying cheap faux leather cases.

    • alches

      The Samsung view Window Flip case is excellent but make sure it is Genuine. A friend bought one online for $5 still branded as Samsung but no contacts to connect with the phone itself. He had to install other software to make it sort of work and increase the screen sensitivity so you can interact with the phone through the cover, but the sensitivity is a problem then for other operations. The genuine case is ideal and nothing else to install – it just works. The only drawback can be when taking photos – you can’t really fold it back because you are then taking the photo through the cover glass as well (OK if it is spotlessly clean maybe) but it may degrade the photo. No more using the buttons to turn the screen off and lock the phone, the View Cover does it all, just close it.

    • peter

      I have been using a wallet case since the note 2. Best case I have found is on amazon. Search for shop-leather. Their oil rubbed ones are great. The leather holds up, and almost looks new after a year of hear use. Down side they are 45. But you get what u pay for. But get a good screen protector before you use a wallet case. All of them tend to rub a little.

    • Cellphone Chris

      I recommend the SView flip case with wireless charging. Costs a little more than the regular SView, but I’ll never go back from using Qi!

  • n900mixalot

    I’ve been a Note fan from the beginning and TouchWiz is not a problem for me at all. This is the most flexible of all Android phones and the most productive, because of the S-Pen and multitasking. The hidden features are abundant and very useful. Definitely look them up, there are tons. Like the home button minimizes all pop up windows at once. Also the Note 4 construction is magnificent.

    The Nexus 6 is great but I can’t help but come across way too many quality issues. Force restarts, unglued backs, DOA devices … the quality control is horrendous. I know every device has a few duds including Note 4s out there, but the Nexus 6 seems to be the champion of faulty manufacturing and bad updates from Google. At least RMAs don’t seem to be a major issue, but that’s quite inconvenient. That’s a huge drawback. Who wants a device that has software issues just because they are getting updates first? Not I. I’ll wait for stable builds that only have a factory reset required to get things up and running again.

    The iPhone 6+ had a few false starts but Apple seems to have been good at replacing as well.

    For me it is the Note 4 but the Nexus 6 and 6+ seem to share the top spots for their respective categories as well. Good start to Q1 2015 for these three!

  • SHON

    I have an Note Edge. I hate plasticy feel, touchwiz and speaker on the back (I think speakers should be i for the of all phones). However, it is best phablet on the market. Nexus 6 and iPhone 6 plus doesn’t even come close in terms of usability. However, they win design side. Samesong always struggled on design side.

    • Cruise Guy

      Why does the Nexus 6 not come close in terms of “usability” besides the S pen. What other features makes it more “usable?” Curious about all the additional benefits vs all the time you worked on the Nexus 6?

      • Christopher Wallace frank whit

        Multi window
        action memo
        screen write
        scrapbook smart select
        s pen active digitizer work with
        -s note, one note, Evernote, sketchbook
        -S finder searches entire phone and inside Samsung apps including s note (OCR)
        Pinning action memos to the home screen

        You may not find these things useful, but for those that use the pen, it’s indispensable.

        • skywalkr2

          Yeah – it’s the pen. I never used mine which is why i went with just big screen Nexus 6 this year. So far so happy.

  • sammy

    If you have a business and manage allot of “tasks/operations” in tandem, then the Note 4 is a must have!

    The S pen allows me to show up to a meeting with NO notebook, just my device. I take notes using Evernote and after the meeting, my secretary sees my notes and puts them into my agenda to be discussed in our next team meeting.

    >The large screen allows for multiple windows that are actually functional.
    >Very bright screen.
    >Great camera, especially the manual focus, makes my pix look professional.
    >Multiple windows in multiple sizes (for most apps) – This really comes in handy.
    >I don’t really notice the back plastic cover or screen bevel as mine is in a case so that I can drop it (like I do) or allow my kids to play with it and not worry about getting a cracked screen etc.
    >Great battery life, I get a full day out of it (and I use it allot)
    >700 compatibility (when it eventually comes around:)

  • Ashenwelt

    The G3 has a selfie screen light that makes the selfie camera way better. Every other feature the Note 4 is awesome.

  • Cupcake

    I also have the Note 4 and it’s okay. I’m not impressed with the camera at all. I prefer the camera on the Note 2 – hands down!

    • p0nch0

      Something is wrong with your camera get it exchanged.

  • D1Netz

    It is a great phone and I could agree with Android being good for this size and iOS being better for smaller devices like the regular iPhone 6.
    Disappointing is just the one Android update that came out for TMO Note4 that really made reception and gps worse rather than better. Even TMO Engineers with Note 4 recommended to back-up and reset to original OS version. Too bad the next update or Lollipop takes so long due to Sammy playing with VR. I need my Note to perform as it used to be prior to update, when updates are with a glitch, fix it rather than recommend to step backwards.

  • Matt Pankey

    Root>Xposed>Wanam = No ugly TouchWiz in the notification panel.

    • RLB63

      Root> void warranty….

      • Cellphone Chris

        I have never had a warranty claim denied for root, and I’ve processed at least 5 over the years. I didn’t even bother flashing back to stock on the last couple returns. The question is never asked; all T-Mobile confirms is that there is no physical or liquid damage. I’m assuming the devices are all wiped and reset to current sw/fw during the refurbishing process.

      • Matt Pankey

        Clearly many people root their phones. I’ve never had an issue getting a warranty replacement on rooted phones through T-Mobile.

  • I recently upgraded to the Note 4 and I’m in love with it. The only issue I have with it is the focus on the camera. I searched around online and found I’m not the only one with the issue. I hope it’s just something in the software. Otherwise, spectacular device.

    • Greg L.

      I had the same camera focus problem. It’s a hardware issue and you’ll need to request a replacement as it is under warranty. That’s what I did and my replacement works great.

      • Jose

        Yep, my Note 4 takes about 4-5 second to focus before it decides to take a proper picture! I am with Greg L on this one, get a replacement phone! Besides that, this phone is a power house!

  • J.J.

    Owned a Note 2,3, and currently a 4. I would love try a different manufacturer, but when i weigh the options/feature set , i always come back to the note as my daily driver.

    • jjfunk

      LG G3

  • jakester

    just bought a gold note 4 as the note edge will not work with the upcoming gear VR, crazy crazy device love it

  • Iphoneadopteer

    Touch wiz is not that bad. Really? You can’t even stand the notification menu. Google launcher is ugly with the oversized icons. We’re not comparing beauty and the beast

    • Bill Berry

      I use Launcher 8 Pro…it has some really fantastic skins and I don’t mean Windows Phone 8 either; it just works like WP8 tiles.

  • olskoolfife

    love this phone… Still don’t think it’s huge as everyone says it is…
    It just feels pretty much right size…
    I’d actually like it a shade bigger…
    could never go back to a smaller phone.
    Have to disagree about the blue tint…
    It’s your imagination there like..
    I rarely use the s-pen but can see its potential.
    It’s the best phone out there…
    The camera is stunning too.
    You can video at 4k

    • RedGeminiPA

      “You can video at 4k”

      I’m guessing you have a 4K TV to view the videos on? If not, what’s the big hype? 4K on a screen that small is utterly useless.

      It does it because it can, Samsung style. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s another check on the spec sheet that provides no real-world benefit in the current state of readily available (affordable) compatible products.

      • olskoolfife

        No big hype just an added bonus of quality video performance I can keep of the family growing up…
        I personally don’t see it as a competitive thing.. You know with the check sheets..
        If they can do it… Then they should..
        I just wanted a quality phone..
        I had a Sony Experia z when it first came out and I hated it…
        It overheated… It froze… The useless water tight gimmick was a joke…
        The seal where I plugged my headphones just wore away after a few months…
        Camera was OK… But in general it was terrible…
        the bottom line is everything comes down to preference we all know that.
        So much good choice out there…
        It comes down to the individual..
        I would never have an iPhone.. But that’s just me… I would never buy another Sony either…
        Each to there own

  • Tom mason

    Had the phone for a couple of months now, and while it is a good phone touch wiz is just too laggy. I’ll stay with this until htc makes a big phone. Htc ‘s sense overlay is hands down better

  • skywalkr2

    Had note 3. Liked it, but had no reason to use the pen. When I had the opportunity to get a great screen, bigger display, vanilla Nexus 6… I jumped at that and couldn’t be happier.

    • 9to5Slavery

      No one cares about your life story

      • skywalkr2

        Did mommy forget to pack your lunch today? Sorry you are so butthurt.

        • 9to5Slavery

          I am sorry for you. Spend time with people and not life with your phone man. If I said that to offend you then you got to change somethings in your life. You sound quite pathetic.

        • skywalkr2

          Says the guy so miserable he feels the need to troll comments.

        • p0nch0

          The irony in your comment,

        • 9to5Slavery

          You’re the one miserable. Look at you describing a phone. haha. Lame. Don’t get mad after I told you no one cares about you okay?

  • Venkata Ravindra

    I am using samsung series from note 2.
    There is a lag and heating issues as always with samsung.
    But having said that there is no better alternative for note series.
    stopped using laptop.
    Samsung is an addiction.
    I love it.

  • Shlomo Boukai

    I own a T-Mobile Note 4. I was so excited when it came out, I pre-ordered it when it was first released and was overjoyed when they sent it to me early. However, I have found my Note 4 to be unstable and unreliable. The lock screen keeps crashing making it impossible to use the phone if I use a password unlock. It frequently, slows to a crawl even with only a few apps running. I can’t send texts half of the time, I can’t answer calls half the time either as the dialer won’t connect me when I swipe to answer. During those times, I can’t make calls or receive texts either. I’ve already given up and tomorrow I will trade in my phone to T-Mobile and get the LG G3.

    • 9to5Slavery

      Upgrade to an iPhone.

  • UglyPete

    Stopped reading at “phablet”

    • an0nim0

      Stopped reading at “Stopped reading.”

  • Rob hoy

    I had a nexus 5…brilluasnt phone…fasdt sleek etc. I swapped for the note 4… I have never had a problem with bit… I love it… Its also great with the googlebnow launcher…very simiar to the nexus 5…just better… Camera is great ..appsart from thge videos over saturation of grass!!!!!