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Flagship contendor of the year – Samsung Note 4 – Review

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Back in the year 2011, the first Samsung Note was announced. It was just a gigantic device with a stylus and the term phablet cropped up. Samsung started the large screen cult and it had caught on like wild fire. Three years later I find myself holding the latest version of the Note series, the Samsung Note 4. Samsung is largely criticized for its lack of design innovation. With the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, there is not much innovation, but Samsung has tried really hard to improve and it is evident. At Rs 57000, it is definitely an expensive piece of hardware to own. But this flagship device has a lot to offer in terms of features and performance.

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Design
Probably three years ago a 5.3 inch device was considered large, but now it has become quite common. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a 5.7 inch screen just like the Note 3. Samsung has thankfully not stretched the size but to improved the quality of the display. The Note 4 doesn’t feel like a cheap plastic device anymore. With a metal rim running along the edges and perfectly chamfered corners, the Note 4 screams premium from all angles. The form factor gives a feel that it is a thin device, but its negligibly thinner than the previous version of Note. The cold metal feeling when held in hands and the perfectly chiseled chassis had definitely upped the design standards for Samsung.

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The back panel is removable and its a thick leather-like plastic which doesn’t have a fake stitching like the Note 3. It is soft to touch and adds a grip to the hold. Once removed, there is a slot for microSD card and Micro SIM. A long removable 3220 mAh battery occupies the rest of the area. Along the top of the back you will find the 16Mp camera with heart rate sensor and UV sensor. On the front you have the 3.7 MP camera above the 5.7 inch display protected by a corning gorilla glass. Below the display the physical home button that has a finger print sensor in it. The bottom has the micro USB slot flanked by 2 mics on its sides. Underneath the phone is the S Pen neatly tucked away. The top has the 3.5mm audio jack and IR blaster with a single mic.

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Display
The display is 5.7 inch diagonally and it supports 1400 x 2560-pixel QHD (Quad HD) resolution. Samsung has used PenTile Super AMOLED panel for that vibrant colors and deep black levels. Its a great screen for gaming and also reading. It has a pixel density of 515ppi and it is very crisp. At times it is a bit over dramatic, but it is punchy and pleasant for people who love a little more saturation. Samsung has also managed to keep the saturation levels with acceptable range. The adaptive backlight technology not only adjusts the brightness of the screen in accordance with the ambiance, but also adjusts the screen warmth and contrast.

The screen has Adaptive, AMOLED Cinema, AMOLED Photo and Basic display modes. The Adabptive and Basic modes are close to reality while the AMOLED modes are over dramatic and I would avoid them. I watched a full 4K movie clip on the screen and I must say it is an out-of-the-world experience. Actually I can’t explain it much in words, you must experience it yourself.

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S Pen
The S Pen is a signature tool with the Note Series. The S Pen in Note 4 is similar to the ones we saw in the earlier version. It has a better grip due to the ridges and somehow I found myself always searching to locate the clicker. It has good pressure sensitivity and the screen also gives it a slight friction to give a pen and paper feel. Once the S Pen is pulled out the Air command dial pops up with 4 options. Action memo is the most useful of all which can take some quick notes and also do a handwriting recognition and act on it. The new S Pen is able to select any text from the screen and it can be looked up on the dictionary. The new S Pen lets you choose the type of pen or writing tool and it emulate the feel. My personal favorite is the fountain pen. S Pen is a fun to use feature, but I don’t see any value addition to every day usage. I checked with a Note 3 user and he mentioned that he never took out the S Pen in a long time. Again, its a good to have feature and I wouldn’t judge the Note by its Pen.

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Camera
The Note 4 has a 16 MP camera with f/2.2 wide aperture lens. It has optical image stabilization. The camera app is surprisingly very easy to use. It does not have a lot of mode, but instead has a 3-4 basic but frequently used modes. It also has the options to download and use other modes, which I refrained from. The quality of the primary camera is a great improvement when compared to any Samsung devices so far. You can also manually adjust ISO, White balance and metering modes. The Note 4 camera has a tacky sharp focusing mechanism and it is very quick. I didn’t like the quality of the photos when the HDR was turned on, but other wise the colors are closer to reality. Samsung has finally listened and decided not to over saturate colors and over sharpen details. The color reproduction is the best we have seen in any Samsung line up. The images are sharp in daylight and low light performance is also impressive. As the Note 4 has optical image stabilization, low light images are not blurry and even in challenging light conditions, the focusing is pretty fast and accurate. The front camera is a 3.7 mp wide angle shooter and I would say ‘not-bad’ for it performance. Note 4 has the capability to shoot videos at 4K resolution. OIS is really good in videos and it results in a smooth and sharp video clips.

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For high resolution sample images, click here.

2K Video Sample 

4k Video Sample

Performance
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is armed with the latest Snapdragon 805 chipset with a quad core 2.7 GHZ Krait 450 processor and a super fast 600 MHz Adreno 420 GPU. It has 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal memory which is expandable with a microSD card. There is also a Exynos chipset powered Note 4, but that is not the one in focus for this review here. The device shows no sign of lagging or frame drop. It is super fast in the UI performance. Almost all interactions are instantaneous except multi tasking screen. Though it runs the heavy touchWIZ UI on it and even when I had loads of apps running the background the device was super fast and never huffed and puffed at all. I had 10 apps open in the multi window at the same time and yet inter-operability was smooth. If you see the bench mark score below, it may appear that there are better scoring device in the market but again a closer look at reality will reveal that such a marginal difference does not make any difference at all. Note 4 is one of the best performing flagship device of the year 2014.

performance
Software
Note 4 runs on Android 4.4.4 and will soon be updated to Android 5.0. But it runs on TouchWiz on top. Though Samsung has tried its best to improve the performance of the TouchWiz, it still lacks that design finesse. It apears to have a rudimentary visual design language when compared to Stock Android or even any other custom ROM out there. It has loads of features built into it. I am not sure if all the features would be of utility value to the user, but it definitely is a huge pile of unnecessary functions stacked on top of each other. Samsung needs to invest some thought in design-for-purpose strategy and needs to revamp TouchWiz.

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Battery
The battery is a 3220 mAh Lithium Ion user replaceable battery. By the capacity it is same as the one we saw in the Note 3, but the battery performance in Note 4 is way ahead. After a day long of heavy usage, I still had some juice left towards the end of the day. Also the next day when I plug the device into the charger, it charges quickly, thanks to the snapdragon’s quick charge technology. Users who have rooted the device and installed custom rom (still based on touchWiz) have reported a significant improvement in the already awesome battery life.

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Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a industrial quality premium mobile device. It is priced at Rs 57000 in the market and that is definitely an expensive affair. Its closest rivals are the Nexus 6, iPhone 6+, LG G3, HTC One M8 and ofcouse the flagship killer Oneplus One. When you weigh the pros and cons of all these device, the Note 4 definitely comes on top. Unlike the earlier Samsung devices, owning such an expensive device definitely gives you a premium feel every time you take it out of the pockets. But the moment you unlock the screen, the outdated touchWiz design reminds you to earn for a better design quality. Note 4 is a great performer both as a cellular device and as a smartphone. It offers rich entertainment experience and feels premium all over. The S pen is a good tool, but I have my doubts on its usefulness along with many other touchWiz features packed into this device. That apart, this is the best premium Android smartphone the year 2014 have given us.

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