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Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Hands-on

Samsung’s flagship phablet has been refreshed and it has a feast of new high-end features in tow. QHD display – check. Premium metal body - check. Integrated fingerprint scanner, improved S-Pen sensitivity and significant audio enhancements – check, check, check. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a beast.

Unlike the Galaxy S5 which landed earlier this year, the Galaxy Note 4 appears to have lived up to expectation – on paper at least. We’ve had an early play out at IFA 2014 to see just how close the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is to smartphone supremacy.

Watch our hands-on video of the Galaxy Note 4


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Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Design

After years of criticism, Samsung has finally got its smartphone design act together. Hot on the heels of the Samsung Galaxy Alpha – the company’s first metal bodied Android handset – the Note 4 has adopted premium materials.

Sleek, brushed metal edging offers a real air of refinement to this high-end device. Yes, there are certain echoes of the iPhone 5S design in the Note 4, but we don’t really mind. At 8.5mm thick, the handset is suitably slim and its reassuring weight is spread evenly across the phone’s 5.7-inch body. The result is a device that feels solid and comfortable in the hand. What’s more, in a rarity for Samsung, it looks good too.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

There are still some trademark Samsung design faux pas, however. The mock leather rear of last year’s Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is once again present. Although better than cheap, stock plastic, this is far from our favourite addition to an otherwise stylish smartphone.

Not one to stick with standard black and white, Samsung will offer four Note 4 colours at launch. Joining the traditional monochrome options will be ‘Bronze Gold’ and ‘Blossom Pink’ options.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Screen

The Note 4’s screen is the phone’s calling card. The first Note handset to retain the same screen size as its predecessor, the Note 4 has prioritised quality over inches. With Full HD panels now old hat, Samsung has bestowed the 5.7-inch Note 4 with an LG G3 rivalling QHD display. That’s a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution and an image density greater than 500 pixels-per-inch.

First impressions of the Note 4 screen are simple – wow. Combining a QHD resolution with Super AMOLED technology, this screen is simply stunning. Colours are rich, vibrant and numerous in their subtleties. Pixels are a forgotten hindrance. Instead images are razor sharp and unbelievably detailed.

Using the phone, we were able to zoom in to stills and video content without any image degradation or distortion. Video playback was immersive and fluid, and black levels were seriously deep. Viewing angles are also hugely impressive.

The more time we spent with the Note 4, however, the less we noticed the improvements over a ‘standard’ Full HD panel. The new panel makes little difference when viewing text-heavy web pages, making notations using the S-Pen stylus or launching many apps. That said, once our hands-on time was up, we didn’t want to give the device back.

Samsung claims that it has managed the battery drain issues associated with the move to a QHD display with software tweaks. This, however, is something which we will need to test further during a future full Note 4 review.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Features and Camera

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 offers more power than we can ever imagine needing on a smartphone. The phablet runs Qualcomm’s latest 2.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor alongside 3GB of RAM.

This combination means all tasks, commands, app launches and functions are handled with simple, graceful aplomb. During our hands-on, the phone never once stuttered or struggled. It effortlessly sailed through everything we could throw at it.

About more than just chasing the specs race, the Note 4 adds some of the Galaxy S5’s more popular hardware features. The phone’s swipe-based fingerprint sensor incorporating home button has made the jump across for added security. The S5’s rear-mounted heart rate sensor is also present.

Working with Samsung’s S Health software package, this sensor is supposed to offer accurate well-being data in a seamless fashion. As we found with the S5, however, this addition appears to be a law unto itself. During early tests, results were inconsistent and the sensor temperamental. While we must stress this was a pre-production handset we used, the results weren’t promising.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Further echoing its market-leading sibling, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 features the same 16-megapixel camera as that found on the Galaxy S5. In a first for the Korean manufacturer’s flagship line, however, the snapper has been bolstered by optical-image-stabilisation functionality.

Given the closed-off, environment of our hands-on with the Note 4, we have as yet been unable to fully put the camera through its paces. Stay tuned for our full Note 4 review coming soon for a more detailed look at the phone’s imaging abilities.

What we can say now, however, is that the camera is highly responsive and early test shots were not only sharp and deep, but handled less than ideal lighting conditions with ease. Viewing images back on the QHD display is a joy.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Selfie lovers, you’ve not been left out either. A secondary, 3.7-megapixel camera sits up front on the Note 4. This snapper has been handed an f/1.9 aperture for improved results. As with most front-facing cameras, however, in our demo area we found selfies to be a little noisy and flat.

The Note 4 battery is a 3220mAh Lithium-Ion battery. Although Samsung’s claimed 20 hour ‘standard use’ battery expectancy will make nightly charges a must, the Phone has a trick up its sleeve to make this more manageable.

Quick charge features mean the Note 4 can hit a 50 per cent charge in just 30 minutes. As you would expect, we need more time with the device to quantify these claims.

Despite the number of hardware similarities, the Note 4 feels like a completely different, more well-rounded and thought-out handset to the Galaxy S5. A lot of this comes down to the phone’s software and S-Pen credentials.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 S-Pen and Software

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 runs Google’s latest Android 4.4 KitKat OS skinned with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. As such, although easy to navigate, the phone feels a little samey and repetitive. Given its TouchWiz base, the Note 4 has been brimmed with Samsung’s mass of self-branded bloatware too.

Making use of the phone’s 5.7-inch panel though, the Note 4 offers impressive multitasking options. Similar to the rival LG G3, the Note 4 offers a variety of multi-window options.

Want to check your calendar while looking for flights online? The two windows can sit side by side in split screen mode. Take a picture while reading photo tips? The camera app can be opened over other software in s moveable, pop-up window. The options are numerous and all easy to manage and control.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

We found these multitasking options really help give the Note 4 a true advantage over many of its high-end rivals, such as the HTC One M8. We look forward to a further play soon.

The Note 4’s main software, enhancements, however, incorporate the phone’s trademark S-Pen stylus.

The company’s trademark stylus has been given a boost, offering twice the pressure sensitivity as its predecessors. That’s now 2048dps. The results are Wacom levels of control and sensitivity. Note taking now replicates true paper writing, with angle and tilt of the S-Pen affecting the nature of the resulting lines.

On top of this, the Note 4 can now take photos of text, annotations or notes and convert it into digital form which can be manipulated.

Although we found some of the Note 4’s new S-Pen controls to be a little clunky at first - there is a steep learning curve - we were quickly using the stylus to good effect.

While we need more time to fully test the features, on first impressions it appears Samsung has finally come close to making the S-Pen an invaluable asset for the masses.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

First Impressions

While the Samsung Galaxy S5 fell a little short on expectations, the Note 4 has already stolen a little bit of our hearts. The phone’s screen is simply stunning, power is there in abundance and the camera looks to have been given another sizeable boost. With improved stylus integration and a stunning design thrown into the mix, we can’t wait to get the Note 4 in for full review.

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