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Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: Is it worth the upgrade?

Michael Sawh by

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: Is it worth the upgrade?

Should you buy the Note 4 or stick with the Note 3? We've lived with both and here's our verdict on Samsung's phablets

Samsung's phablet has paved the way for oversized phones to become the norm. Now the likes of the Xperia Z3, the HTC One M9 and even the iPhone 6 Plus have proved that big is the way forward.

The Galaxy Note 4 (which has since ben updated with the Note 5) is in a league of its own and one of the best smartphones we've used recently. But how does it compare to the previous model, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3? We thought last year’s version was great, if not quite perfect.

Has Samsung finally perfected the design in the Galaxy Note 4? Spending time with both handsets, here's why we think you'll consider making the upgrade.

Watch our Samsung Galaxy Note 4 video review

Related: iPhone 6 vs Samsung Galaxy S6 in-depth comparison

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: Design

Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Plastic, Metal trim, removable back, 176g, 8.5mm thick

Samsung Galaxy Note 3: Plastic, Leather effect removable back, 168g, 8.3mm thick

The most common criticism of Samsung phones is that they often don’t look or feel all that expensive. The company is trying to address this with phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Alpha and the new Note 4. Thankfully, it shows.

There's still the leather-effect plastic back, but rather than having naff chromed plastic running around the sides, the Note 4 use real metal. It's a cool anodised aluminum finish that's a darker shade than the one found on the Alpha.

Samsung's also managed to slim down the bezel even further this year. There’s hardly any bezel on the Galaxy Note 4 at all, making it ever so slightly narrower than the Note 3. This makes it a little easier to handle, and the gently curved back also makes it fit more snugly for one-handed operation.

The texture on the back has been changed a little, too. While still essentially based on the texture of leather, it’s a bit less of an obvious copy this time. The cartoonish stitching of the Note 3, which is actually just a pattern embossed into the plastic, has been binned in favour of something a bit lower-key, a bit classier.

The silhouette of the phone is also a tiny bit different, with a boxier design. Samsung's gradually sharpened up the Note series’ curves since it began in 2011, presumably in an attempt to shave off some excess fat.

As ever, the Note 4’s S Pen stylus slots into the bottom of the phone. The changes Samsung's made are all positive ones, and for that reason the new Note wins on the design front.

Related: Note 5 vs Note 4: What's new?

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: Hardware extras

Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Heart-rate sensor and fingerprint scanner

Samsung Galaxy Note 3: More conventional IR transmitter and NFC

The S Pen is, to a large extent, what the Note series is all about. However, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 also benefits from a few other bells and whistles that hadn’t yet been made ‘standard’ across top Samsung phones last year when the Note 3 came out.

We’re talking about the fingerprint scanner and heart-rate sensor. Both were introduced in the Samsung Galaxy S5, and both are found in the Galaxy Note 4, the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge but not the Note 3.

The fingerprint scanner sits underneath the Home button under the screen, and can be used to unlock the phone and authorise PayPal payments. It’s a neat extra, especially as something to show off to iPhone 6-owning friends who brag about their Touch ID sensors. Can you live without it? We'd say yes.

However, we really don’t think it’s one of the Note 4’s more important changes. As you have to glide your finger over the centre of it rather than just holding a digit there, it doesn’t always work, especially when you’re trying to do it quickly.

The heart-rate sensor on the back is less problematic, but it’s also less remarkable. Using S Health you can track your heart rate on the Note 4, but you can monitor your heart rate pretty easily with just about any phone as long as it has a rear camera and an LED flash near the lens. Aside from those hardware requirements, all you need is a heart-rate app – there are free ones on Google Play.

There’s new stuff, certainly. But these little extras don’t merit upgrading from the Note 3 to the Note 4, in our opinion.

Both phones have most extras you might see in other high-end, feature-packed phones, such as an IR transmitter and NFC.

Related: iPhone 6 Plus vs Note 4: Battle of the big phones

Note 3 S-Pen (top) and Note 4 S-Pen (bottom)

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: S Pen

Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 2048 dps pressure sensitivity

Samsung Galaxy Note 3: 1024 dps pressure sensitivity

If hardware extras are what you’re after, the Note series' S Pen is where it’s at. While there are some new software features this time around, the core hardware that makes the Note 4’s S Pen stylus possible is similar to the Note 3’s.

Both styli use a digitiser layer in the screen that enables the use of a pressure-sensitive accessory that doesn’t need its own power source. And the result is something special.

Although not widely publicised, the S Pen technology is powered by Wacom, the company that makes the most popular professional-grade graphics tablets. As well as being pressure-sensitive, this technology means the Note 3 and Note 4 can sense the presence of the pen before it even touches the screen.

The new software tweaks within the Note 4 focus on opening up the creative potential of the S Pen stylus and making it easier to use. This includes the ability to select copy in web pages when previously you had to go through the more fussy process of cutting it out. Sensitivity has also been massively increased this time around, with the Note 4 able to sense 2048 levels of pressure to the Note 3’s 1024. It’s real high-end hardware.

Writing and drawing is more fluid, making this still one of the best styli bundled with a tablet, perhaps only rivalled by the one supplied with the Nvidia Shield tablet.

Related: Note 4 apps that need to get better

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: Screen

Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 5.7-inch 2560 x 1600-pixel Super AMOLED

Samsung Galaxy Note 3: 5.7-inch 1920 x 1080-pixel Super AMOLED

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has quite a remarkable screen. It’s the first QHD Super AMOLED phone display and is a big step up from the Note 3's Full HD display.

This provides the same sort of ridiculously high pixel density you get in something like the LG G3, but with the additional benefits of a Super AMOLED panel. Pixel density is much, much higher than the Note 3, which uses a slightly more conventional 5.7-inch 1080p Super AMOLED screen.

So, both displays are the same size, but the Galaxy Note 4’s is a lot sharper – with a whopping 515ppi pixel density. There's some question as to whether this extra sharpness really makes all that much difference, as the 386ppi Note 3 is still very sharp, but the more discerning among you will be able to spot the upgrade.

What really makes a good impression is the same colour accuracy that Samsung introduced in the Galaxy S5. Use the Cinema or Photo modes in the latest Samsung phones and you’ll get really wonderful colour reproduction.

If you want one of the best screens there is on a phone, then the Note 4 is the winner here.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: CPU and Power

Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Exynos 5433 or Snapdragon 805

Samsung Galaxy Note 3: Exynos Octa 5420 or Snapdragon 800

With the top Samsung phones, assessing power isn't always just a case of looking at one CPU. Both the Note 3 and Note 4 come in different variations that use Qualcomm Snapdragon processors and Samsung’s own Exynos ones.

Last year, we much preferred the Snapdragon 800 version of the Note 3 to the Exynos 5420 one. The Exynos sounded more exciting, as it has eight cores rather than four, but as the Note 3 can only use four at once, you don’t really get octa-core power. The design is really more about efficiency.

This year, the situation is a little different. The Snapdragon 805 version of the Note 4 uses a 32-bit CPU, but the Exynos 5420 is a true 64-bit processor. We’re actually slightly disappointed to see the Note 4 use a 32-bit CPU when the 64-bit future is on the horizon. It really matters because Android 5.0 Lollipop will soon bring full support for 64-bit processors.

But how do the two generations of Snapdragon and Exynos chipsets compare?

The Snapdragon 805 is not a huge step up from the 801 of the Galaxy S5 or the 800 of the Note 3. They use the same Krait-based architecture, and each is basically a turbocharged version of its predecessor. You get more power, but technically they’re fairly similar.

Related: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Note 4

The Note 3’s Snapdragon 800 is a 2.3GHz processor, while the Note 4’s 805 a 2.7GHz one. However, it’s in the GPU that we see the real performance boost.

The Adreno 420 of the Note 4 is about 40 per cent more powerful than the Adreno 330 of the Note 3. It’s this that'll make the new phone capable of handling high-end 3D games at native 2560 x 1600-pixel resolution without dropping any effects.

So what about the Exynos 5433? We could easily call this what the Exynos octa-core processor should always have been. Unlike the Note 3’s Exynos 5420, all eight cores can be used at once, and it’s a real 64-bit processor. It’s the future, in other words.

Having a 64-bit processor also means the Note 4’s 4GB of RAM makes a good deal more sense. In a 32-bit system, the amount of memory that can be addressed at once is limited to 4GB, meaning that having any more than 4GB is pointless, and even the whole 4GB generally won’t be able to be used.

There’s no such limit with a 64-bit system, where the addressable memory space is so vast that it doesn’t bear thinking about in mobile terms.

Both phones are well equipped in the power department, so you should have no problem with more intensive multitasking operations.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: Software

Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Android 4.4 KitKat with TouchWiz UI

Samsung Galaxy Note 3: Android 4.3 JellyBean with TouchWiz UI

Like all of Samsung’s top-end phones, the Note 4 will use a version of the custom Samsung Android UI. However, the Note 4’s is a generation on from the Note 3’s.

It benefits from the improvements made in the revamped version of the TouchWiz UI seen in the Galaxy S5. That means a bit less bloat, some simpler visual style points and the new settings menu. It’s a bit overblown, with its simplification backfiring on occasion, but it’s not bad. And generally it looks better than the Note 3’s interface.

The good news is that along with stripping back the bloatware, some of the more gimmicky settings have been left out of the Note 4. The underwhelming Magazine UX has gone, too, replaced with a new Flipboard-powered widget.

Arguably the Note's best software feature is MultiWindow, and it's even better on the Note 4. The Samsung phone's big screen is ideal for running multiple apps at the same time, and now you have the added bonus of being able to run pop-up windows that you can move around the screen.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: Camera

Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 16-megapixel Sony sensor with OIS, LED flash

Samsung Galaxy Note 3: 13-megapixel sensor, LED flash

Last year, we found that the Note 3 had a slightly worse, but essentially similar, camera to the Galaxy S4. This year, the Note 4 may even have a slightly better camera than the Galaxy S5.

The Note 3 has a 13-megapixel main sensor and the Note 4 a 16-megapixel sensor, both made by Sony. The Galaxy S5 has a Samsung-made ISOCELL sensor that we wish had made its way into the Note 4, because it’s fantastic.

Samsung’s previous camera sensors haven’t been much to brag about, but the 16-megapixel ISOCELL sensor in the Galaxy S5 is pretty special. The Note 4's sensor is a bit more conventional, but it's still a lot better than the Note 3’s.

Note 3

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 photo sample

Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 photo sample

With OIS on-board this is one of the best all-round cameras we've used. Optical Image Stabilisation means you'll experience less hand-shake blur when using slower shutter speeds in low light, which in turn means more light will get to the pixels. The Note 4 also offers an improved front-mounted selfie camera, with a 3.7-megapixel sensor to the Note 3’s 2-megapixel one.

It builds on the S5's shooting functionality, making it one of the best all-round smartphone cameras we've used. Whether it's close-up macro-style images or from a distance, the Note 4 delivers greater detail, improved sharpness and generally more vibrant image quality compared to the Note 3.

HDR mode is one of Samsung's strengths and it really impresses on the new Samsung phablet. While low-light shooting isn't entirely free from some image noise, OIS does manage to produce brighter, more detailed images when shooting conditions are more challenging.

Like the S5 and the Note 3 you can shoot video at up to 4K resolution, although you have to sacrifice some of the more useful camera modes such as Dual Camera and HDR. That's not a big issue here, as Full HD 1080p footage is still strong and the addition of optical video stabilisation is another reason you'll get better results from the new Note.

Verdict

If we’re honest, we were a tiny bit disappointed with the Note 3 when it arrived. It just wasn’t quite the upgrade over the Note 2 that we were hoping for.

With the Note 4 it's an entirely different story. There's the design improvements, a better camera and the screen is a massive upgrade from the Note 3. If you're buying the Note 4 for the S Pen, the software that makes best use of it isn't radically different, but it's a more fluid and accurate experience.

The Note 4 is still one of the priciest big phones to buy, but if you are sold on the Galaxy Note vision, then it's a no-brainer to make the upgrade. Especially if you live in the UK and want a Note 5.

Go to comments

Tor Guy

August 18, 2014, 4:59 pm

Incorrect, the Note 3 also has textured plastic, not Faux leather.

Uatme Jay-v

August 18, 2014, 7:04 pm

I get caught in the hype I have samsung on instagram they say nothing but the note 4 there's no commercials no one came forward from Samsung don't believe no one knows

PopeJamal

August 19, 2014, 12:49 am

The GN3 had a Snapdragon 800 processor when that was the best ARM processor on the market. How was that "pokey" at the time?
Slapdash!

Sofi7

August 20, 2014, 4:40 am

It's actually both on the Note 3 - it's plastic textured to look like leather, thus the faux leather. "Faux" is French for "fake" or "false".

fredphoesh

August 20, 2014, 11:11 am

précisément

quanxavier

September 19, 2014, 8:42 pm

I actually own the Note 3. After reading this review, I'm gonna stick with it. Thanks this saved me some time from going into the T-mobile store and testing it out.

Michael Donnelly

September 20, 2014, 5:16 pm

You contradict yourself in this review. At the very beginning you said:

"The Galaxy Note 4 is in a league of its own. But how does it compare to the last model, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3? We thought last year’s version was great, if not quite perfect. "

At the bottom of the review though you say:

"If we’re honest, we were a tiny bit disappointed with the Note 3 when it arrived. It just wasn’t quite the upgrade over the Note 2 that we were hoping for. "

disqus_uImfbfLJw2

September 24, 2014, 2:38 pm

Hi folks. I am a bit of a tech junkie in spite of not being entirely tech savvy....
I have an observation regarding the expandable memory feature of EVERY Galaxy S or Galaxy Note device since the release of the original Galaxy Note phone....
While any available online tech specs, including Samsung.com, list expandable memory support for either 32GB or 64GB, I have found that all Galaxy S/Note/Tablet devices will support 128GB Micro SD!!

I have personally tested this on a Galaxy Note 1 phone, Galaxy Note 3 phone, Galaxy Note 8.0 tab, Galaxy Tab 3 7.0, Galaxy S3, and Galaxy S4.

I download a lot of movies. So my need for high memory is understandable. I have verified that my entire library from 128GB Micro SD will play properly when installed in the Micro SD expansion bay.

And for those who use USB OTG cables, a 4-way USB hub will certainly expand the readable memory beyond 0.5 Terabyte.... (on-board memory+128GB Micro SD+[×4]128GB USB Flash)

Try it for yourself. And enjoy having 1/8th Terabyte memory in your devices!

Allan Houston

September 30, 2014, 3:47 pm

Hi Jon,

Some thoughts on the Exynos 64bit vs Snapdragon 32bit debate.

I understand that using the full eight cores on the Exynos will probably give it a boost, but claiming it'll be faster because it's 64bit is a bit misleading.

Sure, there are some very small efficiencies that can be gained by having 64bit registers on the processor, but aside from that it's all mobile hype in my humble opinion as the overwhelming performance gains on 64bit architectures comes from the ability to address memory above the 4gb limit that 32bit processors have.

The Galaxy Note 4 has only 3gb of RAM (http://www.samsung.com/global/..., not the 4gb you mention above, so a 64bit processor will offer nearly no benefit at all. It'll be faster than it's 32bit predecessor of course, but just about every processor is faster than the one before.

Even if the Galaxy Note 4 had the 4gb RAM you claim, Linux based OSes can address pretty much up to the full 4gb (unlike Windows which tends to cap itself at 3.5gb), so again not much to be gained there.

When phone manufacturers release a >4gb RAM phone with a 64bit processor then we will most certainly start to see real gains, until then it's all marketing fluff.

Evan

September 30, 2014, 6:35 pm

Hi Allan
The wins are bigger than I expected. I saw an interesting comparison between a 64bit version of Android 4.4 (made by Intel employees) and the 32bit version last month. There was an increase of around 10% when rendering a photograph but a 50% increase in framerate on a graphics benchmark test.

Allan Houston

October 1, 2014, 1:55 pm

Hi Evan,

I think you're referring to Doug Fisher from Intel's presentation which showed the faster rendering?

He does allude strongly to the memory performance increase, with devices that have 4gb+ RAM:

Intel has been testing 64-bit chips with Android in its labs and has seen performance benefits in graphics, data encryption and decryption, decompression and applications with large data sets. Mobile devices will be able to have more than 4GB of memory, and “fewer trips to the memory” will be required to process applications, said Doug Fisher, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Software and Services Group.

It's also not entirely clear but looks like they might have been comparing 32bit Dalvik vs 64bit ART runtimes - we know already that ART is order of magnitudes faster than Dalvik regardless of whether its 32bit or 64bit, due mostly to the fact that it precompiles to rather than using a JIT strategy: http://blog.newrelic.com/2014/...

I honestly still think that 64bit processors are marketing hype at the moment - people are being lead to believe that they'll be twice as fast as their 32bit cousins, the manufacturers aren't directly claiming this but the magic of 64-is-twice-as-good-as-32 sounds so completely plausible that nobody is rushing to correct the misconception.

Evan

October 2, 2014, 1:36 pm

Yes it was 32bit Dalvik vs 64bit ART. I did not realise there was such a difference between ART and Davik, thanks for the info. 64-bit is definitely not 2x 32bit but there are certainly some performance improvements to be had but it's in the low 10%s not the 100%s

Gabriel Grant

October 23, 2014, 8:38 pm

I can no longer surf while talking on Sprint. Why not?

The Note 4 only has one radio. The Note 2 and 3 had two radios.

At some time X in the future, Sprint will turn on VOIP and this will be resolved, but until that date, I will wish I hadn't "upgraded".

urbanegorilla

November 22, 2014, 4:10 am

Let's face it.. The speed of the phone is not an issue. That's all determined by your local cell towers and throttling by your providers. This is no different really than your Internet provider's promise of 'up to 10 MB per second.' You can have a Cray in your home, but if you have bottlenecks (or unavailable 4G) you might as well be running a Timex Sinclair.

urbanegorilla

November 22, 2014, 4:13 am

VOIP would be sweet. Our reception at home is abysmal. Our Wifi is pretty good, but the several Voip apps I've tried are pretty useless. Sprint should realize that 'automatically' connecting to Wifi 'if the signal is strong' would reduce overloading their towers. it's a no-brainer.

Kevin Young

December 1, 2014, 4:00 am

Touche

A L

December 17, 2014, 8:28 am

The Note 4 bezel is chromed plastic!

I just bought the note 4 from a local samsung store for $800+tax, thinking samsung finally used some decent materials to construct their premium phones, but I'm pretty sure they fooled us again. Look carefully at the bezel. There are some parts where the bezel is white plastic. Take the back cover off and inspect the bezel again. Underneath the paint is more white plastic. Now take a look at the bezel through the headphone jack hole, again you see white plastic where the bezel is. You'll see this same white plastic if you look at the bezel through the remaining holes (eg. Stylus hole, USB port, etc). If the bezel is metal, I'd expect to see metal when looking at the bezel through the various holes.

People complain about iPhone 6's flexing and cracking while samsung has already had this issue in the past. My S3 looks like new except around the cheap crappy plastic bezel. There are cracks at the middle from just minor flexing. Although the Note 4 is noticably better quality than my S3, I'm still a bit disappointed it has so much plastic.

On a side note, I was at the local cellphone store today and noticed the galaxy alpha had very similar construction to the note 4. However unlike the note 4, the alpha was actually made of metal.

Jim A

December 20, 2014, 5:27 pm

Sprint uses CDMA techology like Verizon which does not support talk and surf at the same time. That's why I use AT&T which uses GSM where you can surf and talk at same time.

Jose

December 23, 2014, 1:23 pm

LOL, Jim, what are you talking about? I talk and surf at the same time on my S3. Being CDMA or GSM has nothing to do with multitasking on your phone. If the phone supports it you will be able to multitask.

Luke's Domains

December 30, 2014, 5:56 am

"If we’re honest, we were a tiny bit disappointed with the Note 3 when it arrived"????

At the start of the article you said "We thought last year’s version was great, if not quite perfect"

So does that mean you'll be saying this about the Note 4 next year?

FistofBankai Shikai

January 1, 2015, 7:12 pm

So I am concerned now as I am looking to buy the Note 4, is the note 4 worth buying or not?
Thank you

QuallOfDuty

January 4, 2015, 6:35 pm

It has both. The back has textured plastic-- textured in a way to make it look sort of like leather-- faux means false. You got a lot of thumbs up while being wrong. Reminds me of Republicans.

Jeff M

January 11, 2015, 3:37 pm

Jim is right, do your research. We are not talking about multi-tasking but accessing web and phone at same time. If you are browsing the web while on the phone using CDMA, you are definitely connected to wifi. No argument here, sorry.

Jose

January 12, 2015, 3:04 am

Jeff, what do you think accessing web and phone at same time is called? Oh ya its called MULTI-TASKING, DUH.. You can agree with Jim all you like the fact of the matter is I can talk and surf or access web and phone at the same time on my S3 not just on wifi but also on the CDMA/LTE network.

Jeff

January 12, 2015, 4:13 am

Simply saying "multi-tasking" is too generalized since we are discussing two specific services, phone and Web. These services cannot be operated together with CDMA. Do some research. Or put your phone on ebay, because it's magic lol

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