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Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: What's new?

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Which Note should you take note of?

If you’re a hardcore Android phone, there’s a good chance you’re looking forward to the Galaxy Note 4 more than the Galaxy S5, or even iPhone 6. It’s a phone for real enthusiasts, packed with technology that you don’t get anywhere else.

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.

Has Samsung finally perfected the design in the Galaxy Note 4? It certainly seems like it might have. We’re going to have a look at how this exciting new phone compares to its predecessor. There are a lot of changes to note, folks.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: Design

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 like the Samsung Galaxy Alpha and the new Note 4.

They still have the leather-effect plastic back, but rather than having chrome plastic that’s basically impersonation metal running around the sides, they use real metal. The Galaxy Note 3 has one of those old-style fake metal outlines, and it’s not a particularly great look.  The Note 4 uses cold, hard metal.

Samsung has 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 less wide than the Note 3. This will make it slightly easier to handle, as well as a bit more snazzy-looking. 

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 plastic, has been binned in favour of something a bit lower-key, a bit classier.

The silhouette of the phone is a tiny bit different too, with a slightly boxier design. Samsung has gradually sharpened-up the Note series’s curves since it began in 2011, and we image it’s necessary to get the phone as small as possible while fitting in a gigantic screen.

As ever, the Note 4’s S Pen stylus slots into the bottom of the phone.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: Hardware extras

Note 4: Heart rate sensor and fingerprint scanner
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, 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 5S-owning friends who brag about their TouchID sensors.

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 a bit less remarkable. Using S Health you can track your heart rate in the Note 4, but you can monitor you heart rate pretty easily with just about any phone as long as it has a rear camera and an LED flash nearby the lens. Aside from this hardware, 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 book.

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

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: S Pen

If hardware extras is 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 the similar to the Note 3’s.

Both styluses use a digitiser layer in the screen that enables a pressure sensitive accessory that doesn’t need its own power source. These two factors are key to making the S Pen as special as it is.

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 focuses on opening-up the creative potential of the S Pen stylus and making it a bit easier to use. Sensitivity has also been massively increased this time around, with the Note 4 able to sense 2,048 levels of pressure to the Note 3’s 1,024. It’s real high end hardware.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: Screen

Note 4 – 5.7-inch 2,560 x 1,600 pixel Super AMOLED
Note 3 – 5.7-inch 1,920 x ,1080 pixel Super AMOLED

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has quite a remarkable screen. It’s the first QHD Super AMOLED phone display we’ve seen.

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 is 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 we’re just as excited about, though, is seeing the improvements in colour calibration and 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

We’ve not yet had a chance to compare the Note 4 with the Note 3 and Galaxy S5 side-by-side, but rest assured it’s high on our to-do list for when we get our review unit in.

This has the potential to be one of the best mobile phone screens ever made, much as the Note 3 remains a high performer. 

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: CPU and Power

Galaxy Note 4: Exynos 5433 or Snapdragon 805
Note 3: Exynos Octa 5420 or Snapdragon 800

With the top Samsung phones, assessing power is not 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 8-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 L 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 on from the 801 of the Galaxy S5 or the 800 of the Note 3. They use the same core Krait-based architecture, and each is basically a turbo-charged version of its predecessor. You get more power, but technically they’re fairly similar.

The Note 3’s Snapdragon 800 is a 2.3GHz processor, 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 will make the new phone capable of handling high-end 3D games at native 2,560 x 1,600 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 make the Note 4’s 4GB of RAM make 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 it doesn’t bear thinking about in mobile terms.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: Software

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, its kind of simplification backfiring on occasion, but it’s not bad. And generally looks better than the Note 3’s interface.

We’ll be looking a bit closer into the Note 4’s software improvements in our full review, due soon.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Note 3: Camera

Note 4: 16-megapixel Sony sensor with OIS, LED flash
Note 3: 13-megapixel sensor with 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, the Note 4 a 16-megapixel sensor. Both sensors are made by Sony – while the Galaxy S5 has a Samsung-made ISOCELL sensor, it doesn’t feature on the Note 4 – sadly, because it’s fantastic.

Samsung’s previous camera sensors haven’t been much to brag about, but the 16-megapixel ISOCELL sensor Galaxy S5 is pretty special. It offers increased full well capacity, which in turn increases the effectiveness of each little bit of the camera sensor. The Note 4 sensor is a bit more conventional, but is still a lot better than the Note 3’s one.

With OIS on-board too, the Note 4 could prove to be one of the very best mobile phone cameras ever seen. It could also solve one of the Galaxy S5’s only real camera issues – shooting in low light is quite slow as it makes a composite of multiple images.

OIS lets a camera use a slower shutter speed, meaning it can take in more light without needing any fancy processing or causing hand shake blur.

The Galaxy Note 4 will also benefit from the huge improvements made to the HDR mode seen int eh Galaxy S5. In summary, the Note 4 camera is a whole lot better than the Note 3’s camera.

We’ll have to wait for our review unit to test this out fully, but we’re excited.

The Note 4 also offers an improved selfie camera, with a 3.7-megapixel sensor to the Note 3’s 2-megapixel one.

Early 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.

However, the Note 4 has the potential to be incredible. Improved design, much improved camera and one of the most advanced mobile phone screens ever made make the S Pen-wielding phone truly exciting. In three words – bring it on. We can’t wait to try it out some more for our full review.

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