Samsung invented the phablet category when it unleashed the original Galaxy Note on the world back in 2011.
Sure, there had been big phones before, but this was the first from a major manufacturer, and signaled that maybe the tide was turning away from mini mobiles.
Fast forward three years, and you can’t move for mega phones. 5 inches has quickly become the standard size, rather than a gargantuan novelty. Even Apple has launched a big blower.
Those who mocked the original Galaxy Note are strangely quiet now.
The Note 4 is the latest in Samsung’s line up, and brings plenty of improvements over last year’s model.
First impressions and design
This is the first Galaxy Note that isn’t bigger than its predecessor.
We’re not complaining – 5.7 inches is quite big enough. There are some cosmetic changes though.
We’ve long been critics of Samsung’s plasticky flagships. If you’re charging £600 plus, you can’t get away with a build quality that’s like Fisher Price.
Samsung has listened, and – hot on the heels of the metal-framed Galaxy Alpha – has eschewed the all-plastic design of the Galaxy Note 3 in favour of a metal border on the Note 4.
It’s also given the plastic back a leather-effect finish.
This doesn’t mean the Note 4 can rival the iPhone 6 Plus or HTC One (M8) in terms of design. But it’s a step in the right direction.
Other than that, it’s business as usual design-wise, with the same S Pen stylus and button layout as the Note 3.
As you’d expect, Android 4.4 KitKat comes as standard.
Samsung hasn’t given any indication of when it will be upgraded to Android 5.0 Lollipop.
We’d imagine it will move quickly to bring it the update, but the fact it runs its own Touchwiz UI may slow things down somewhat.
The Galaxy Note 3 launched around the same time last year, and got KitKat in January.
Here’s hoping the Note 4 will get Lollipop sooner rather than later.
We’re not huge fans of Touchwiz. Its icons still look a little amateurish and its design language is inconsistent.
We’d much rather Samsung went with pure Android, or stripped it right back.
Having said that, it is better than it used to be. Samsung has clamped down on the bloatware and only offers a few extras like Knox, S Voice, S Health and S Planner.
For the most part, they’re poor imitations of Google’s own features like Voice Search and the Calendar.
There are dedicated third-party apps that do a better job, too.
And so onto the hardware.
Samsung may not have enlarged the screen, but it has bolstered its resolution.
It now boasts a mighty 2,560x1,440 pixels (aka QHD or 2K), which is on a par with the LG G3. Though the Note 4’s is ever so slightly larger.
It’s also larger and sharper than the screen on the iPhone 6 Plus, which manages a paltry 1,920x1,080 pixels.
Samsung has also upped the camera resolution from 13 megapixels to 16.
The capsule-shaped home button makes a reappearance, as does the S Pen stylus, which slots into the bottom of the device.
Like on the Note 3, there’s a fingerprint scanner built into the home button, and a heart rate sensor on the back under the camera.
It’s also quicker than its predecessor, thanks to a 2.7GHz quad-core processor (the Note 3 only had a 2.3GHz chip). It has the same 3GB of RAM as the previous Note.
In terms of storage, we’re looking at 32GB, but it can also take microSD cards up to 128GB.
The Note 4's screen is a sight to behold.
If you’ve seen a QHD screen before, you’ll know how bright and sharp they are, and at a whopping 5.7 inches, it really shows off whatever you’re looking at.
Movies really pop, and it’s great for playing games, as you have enough room for on-screen controls.
Technically it has a slightly lower pixel per inch count than the LG G3 (515ppi to the G3’s 534ppi), but in practice the slightly larger size more than makes up for it.
A humble 1080p screen looks positively drab next to it.
The camera takes excellent pictures with plenty of colour.
But just like its predecessor, the results are a lot less impressive in low light. 4K videos also look stunning, especially on the crisp and large screen.
You won’t struggle to hear them either, as the speakers go nice and loud. Crank them up to full, and you’re guaranteed to irritate the whole bus.
The sound quality does suffer though; bass is nowhere near as chest-thumpingly impressive as on the HTC One (M8), and there’s plenty of distortion at higher volumes.
Like the Note 3, this handset lets you shrink the window to a more manageable size for one-handed use.
To do so, you place your thumb halfway up the side of the phone and swipe towards the middle of the screen and back again in one smooth motion.
It doesn’t work every time, and it’s nowhere near as intuitive as tapping the home button twice as on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
It lasts a full day before needing a recharge, which is impressive given the screen size.
Plus you can juice up 50% in just 30 minutes thanks to the Fast Charging feature. Which is handy if you have to dash out.
As phablets go, this is still one of the best, though it is facing increased competition from the iPhone 6 Plus, LG G3 and Google Nexus 6.
Its size means it won’t be for everyone. And it’s not a massive improvement over the Note 3, so it’s probably not worth upgrading, unless your contract is up or you can’t live without the better screen.
- 5.7-inch SuperAMOLED screen
- 32GB internal storage
- 128GB of expandable memory via microSD
- 16-megapixel camera with autofocus
- 3.7-megapixel front-facing camera
- Android 4.4 KitKat