To date, I’ve used all of Samsung’s Galaxy Note devices. I’ve owned two of the three previous Galaxy Note smartphones – the original and Galaxy Note II – and loved them both. I really enjoyed the Galaxy Note 3, as well, but never felt compelled to buy it for personal use. But I’ll get into that in a second.
All year, I’ve been waiting – like many of you – to see what the Galaxy Note 4 is all about.
I reviewed the Galaxy Note 3 for AT&T back in October of last year and gave it one of the highest scores I’ve ever given a device in a review: a 9.3 out of 10. The only cons I listed were that it might have been too large for some users, TouchWiz was dated and clunky, and Samsung did a poor job optimizing the extra screen real estate.
I wanted to love the Galaxy Note 3. In fact, I wanted to buy one for myself, but never felt its hardware complimented the phone’s power all that well. The faux-leather backside, complete with fake stitching, were in poor taste only made worse by the plastic trim which was meant to emulate the pages of a closed notebook. The analog was lost on most people – me in particular. The Galaxy Note 3 neither looked or felt nearly as premium as it was trying to be.
TouchWiz has gotten marginally better over time, but it was especially bad on the Note 3. It was still an overbearing hodgepodge of useless features, bloat, and an unsightly splash of color.
In other words, my issues with the Galaxy Note 3 were entirely subjective. I didn’t like the appearance of the software or hardware. I’ve always loved the S Pen, size of the Note series, and what the product line stood for – getting more out of and doing more with your smartphone.
That’s why I had such high expectations for the Note 4. A while back, Samsung mentioned it would be implementing new materials and updating its design language. So there was hope a Galaxy Note handset would, for the first time ever, both look and feel like an actual premium device. Paired with some of the newer versions of TouchWiz we’ve seen, I was hopeful Samsung would build yet another Note I couldn’t resist.
I was at the Note 4 event in Berlin, where both people on Twitter and much of the media at the event were somewhat let down by the announcement. People called it iterative and boring. I, on the other hand, was quite impressed with the phone and am seriously considering the Note 4 as one of my next daily drivers.
Last Monday I explained what was on my Galaxy Note 4 wish list: a bigger battery, more storage, more apps in Multi-Window, new S Pen tricks, slimmer bezels, and better build quality. Samsung hit almost every one of those points in exactly the manner I expected.
To say the Note 4 has a bigger battery is a bit of a stretch. The Note 3 came with a 3,200mAh battery. The Note 4 has a 3,220mAh cell. In terms of capacity, that’s a negligible difference, and claims of an arbitrary percentage increase (Now 50% more efficient!) never seem to make that much of a difference in the day to day. But Samsung managed to include one of the most logical features to aid in one of the most frustrating parts of keeping a phone with a large battery charged: rapid charging. Samsung claims you can charge from zero to 50 percent charge in approximately 30 minutes. That’s a big deal, considering that took nearly an hour before. So while the charge may not last much longer, it won’t take nearly as long to charge. As we found with the Oppo Find 7a, that’s a nice feature to have around.
As for storage, Samsung wasn’t very clear on the storage options on the Note 4. The base model comes with 32GB – double that of the Note 3’s base storage. The Galaxy Note Edge will come in both 32GB and 64GB, but a 64GB model of the Note 4 was not mentioned, which is pretty strange. Still, 32GB as a base model is a standard that should have been put in place a year or two ago.
More apps in Multi-Window didn’t happen, and I never actually expected it to. However, Samsung did update Multi-Window. They noted that it was easier to activate than before – a demonstration I missed during the event and couldn’t manage to replicate during my limited hands-on time. Apparently, you can minimize any Multi-Window-compatible application into a floating window using the S Pen and a simple gesture. I could never get it to work, but I’m going to chalk it up to user error. Either way, more functionality in Multi-Window is welcomed, even if it should be opened to all applications.
The S Pen can now screen capture multiple images in what Samsung calls Smart Select. You can capture several different screen shots of selected parts of the display and send them all at once to keep from jumping back and forth between applications. Gather all the data you need at once, then send it in a message or email. This seems very helpful.
But most importantly, this update is about the hardware. RAM is the same as before: 3GB. The camera is a slightly higher resolution, but this time it’s optically stabilized. And the Snapdragon 800 has been swapped out for the Snapdragon 805. It’s got all the new bits and bobs, but it looks and feels so much better this time around.
I noted a few weeks ago, following the Galaxy Alpha announcement, that metal alone doesn’t always make a phone better. While that’s true for most phones, the Galaxy Note 4 is an exception. It’s a premium handset that had cheap, flimsy hardware. It was a symbol for the best of the best in all categories – battery, display, RAM, processing power, etc. – yet it featured a design that was largely reminiscent of the Galaxy S series.
The Note brand needed an identity of its own, but the faux leather wasn’t enough to portray the message.
Finally, the Galaxy Note series has the design it deserves. On the show floor, it felt so much more premium, even on a tether.
Yes, it is an iterative update. But what more could you ask for from Samsung in the Note 4? The only thing that comes to mind is Qi wireless charging, and there will probably be OEM and aftermarket Qi battery doors.
The hardware situation is all but fixed. Now, the biggest – and only real – hurdle is putting up with TouchWiz every day.