IFA had nothing on Samsung, the Galaxy Note 5 is still the best new phone

IFA 2015 was a show for smartwatches. The Gear S2 took the press by storm with its beautiful design, rotating bezel, and new and improved Tizen operating system. The Moto 360 and Asus Zenwatch got updated hardware, and Huawei showed off their own Android Wear smartwatch. LG updated its Watch Urbane with a new, limited run gold edition called the Luxe, and Alcatel OneTouch unveiled its waterproof, dustproof Go Watch with a four-day battery. But for all the strides smartwatches made at the Internationale Funkausstellung (that’s longhand for IFA), there were virtually no new smartphones to be found, and even fewer on a flagship level.

z5-ifa-hands-onThe only truly notable high-end smartphones announced at IFA this year were the Sony Xperia Z5 and Z5 Premium. The Snapdragon 810 SoC and 3 GB RAM within each device scream high end, and with waterproofing, quick charging, microSD support, and fingerprint scanners, both phones are easily the most feature-packed phones from Sony’s lineup. The frosted glass back on the Z5 (mirrored glass on the Z5 Premium) looks and feels much nicer than the glossy back from Xperias before it, and the entire design has been redone to feel more ergonomic. So what’s stopping the Xperia Z5 from becoming the new Android phone to beat? The Galaxy Note 5.

We’ve already spent a consider amount of time with the Galaxy Note 5, giving it the full review treatment and pitting it against the Galaxy Note 4 the LG G4. Hell, it’s even been my daily driver for the last week or two, and it was my main traveling companion while covering IFA. But what exactly is it about the Note 5 that puts it at the top of our radar? Put simply, it’s the most complete and elegant package of Android phone currently on the market. The camera is absolutely top-notch, beating out just about every other smartphone there is. The display, with the widest range of brightness settings, outstanding outdoor and side visibility, vibrant and true-to-life colors, and an absurdly high quad-HD resolution, is better than anything else on the market. More importantly, Samsung’s software offers compelling and functional features that truly take advantage of the large real estate — something many large phones fall short on. And the S Pen. Oh, the S Pen.

alaxy note 4 vs galaxy note 5 s penSure, the S Pen has been the cause of much frustration in the most recent Galaxy Note controversy, what some people are referring to as “Pengate,” but it’s the very defining feature of the series itself. Over the years, users have shrugged the S Pen off as an unneeded feature, and many leave it in its silo receptacle for the duration of the phone’s use. This year, however, Samsung took extra measures to make its stylus more useful and compelling than ever before. When the S Pen is removed from the phone, the display utilizes its AMOLED nature and allows the user to jot quick notes and doodles on the screen with very little impact on battery life. It’s also ejected using a clicking mechanism for the first time, rather than the simple slide-out method from before, and some have theorized that this was partially intended to invoke a desire to pull out the S Pen, regardless of necessity. Again, not everybody is going to use the S Pen, but Samsung is clearly making an effort to make it more useful, and it certainly adds new functionality to your phone.

z5-premium-hands-onNow to be fair, the Xperia Z5 and Z5 Premium do have some major advantages over the Note 5. Waterproofing can be a huge deal for the outdoorsman, and if you bemoaned Samsung’s omission of microSD support … well, Sony has you covered. We have yet to spend quality time with the Xperia Z5 family, and the battery life and software performance are still up in the air, so it’s entirely possible that Sony’s new flagship smartphones could beat out the Note 5 in a few ways … but based on our time with past Sony phones, it’s hard to say for sure. Samsung definitely knew what it was doing in unveiling the Galaxy Note 5 (and Galaxy S6 edge+) before IFA, and if you already bought one, it’s safe to say that you still won’t have to feel envious of another device for quite some time.

Are you jazzed for the new Xperia lineup? Or is the Galaxy Note 5 more your style? Was there another smartphone from IFA that has a place in your wallet?

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Hayato Huseman