Samsung Galaxy Note 4

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has been hailed as the phablet with the class-leading screen and display with the best implementation of a stylus. Our resident geeks on What Mobile put the claims to the test

Sometimes Samsung doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Fans gush over Apple’s ability to create new product categories overnight, yet its South Korean rival created what is arguably one of the most popular today: the “phablet”.

For the uninitiated, the phablet is the tag given to any phone so large that you might as well stop bothering to use your tablet. When Samsung unveiled the first Galaxy Note, many people dismissed it as an oversized Dom Joly-esque novelty. Yet here we are, reviewing Samsung’s fourth iteration of the Note. And it’s better than ever. It even stands up to a major contender in the shape of the massive iPhone 6 Plus – Apple’s first foray into phablet territory.

Design

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 barely strays from the formula. In fact, there’s very little different here from the design of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, but that’s okay because its predecessor was one of the best phones of 2013.

Some readers will be relieved to see Samsung calling a ceasefire in the screen-size arms race. At 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5mm, the Note 4 is only a few millimetres taller than its predecessor, with an almost identical screen and front face. You’d struggle to spot the difference.

Pick up the handset and you’ll immediately feel one change though: its body. While it tips the scales at only 176g, Samsung has finally swapped out the cheap plastic frame for a metal one.

It feels just as manageable – the power button remains in place on the right hand side – but much more premium. It’s a welcome move, and the slightly curved profile adds to the aesthetic.

Once again letting the side down, however, is Samsung’s horrible faux leather rear cover. It certainly provides grip, but it looks like a sofa the singer in an Abba tribute act might own –the white version particularly. It isn’t as awful an eyesore as Apple’s gold iPhone 6, but the full metal jacket of the regular iPhone 6 Plus wins on style.

We’d strongly suggest switching the back cover for one of Samsung’s folio cases, which activate the screen when you flip the front cover open.

On the plus side, the rear is at least removable, so you have access to a microSD slot for storage expansion, the battery, if you eventually need to replace it, and the SIM card slot.

Features

There’s even a heart-rate sensor. That’s right, a heart-rate sensor. Put your finger on it and the S Health app can give you a reading. It’s a nice option to have, though Samsung’s other hardware addition, a fingerprint scanner, is something of a flop. We’re of the view that for fingerprint security to be faster than a PIN code, it has to work every time, or why bother? Apple’s Touch ID gets it right, but the ‘swipe to unlock’ tech inside the Note 4 is unreliable. As a result, you’re unlikely to use it.

Display

Of course, a well-built phablet should be all about the screen, and here Samsung delivers. The 5.7-inch 2K – or Quad HD,  four times more pixels than a 720p HD screen – display is one of the best we’ve seen on a mobile, matched only by the likes of LG’s powerful G3. It’s pin-sharp, but importantly for a Super AMOLED display, not overly saturated, meaning photos look naturalistic rather than covered in tie dye.

At almost half a foot long, that screen size might sound daunting, especially if you’re used to an iPhone 4s or older handset. But it’s important to stress just how manageable the device is, provided you’re the type of person who doesn’t make too many phone calls. It fits in your pocket and you can type one handed.

The only thing you probably can’t do is reach the top control bar on the web browser one-handed when held in portrait mode, but that’s a small price to pay for something almost as big and even more powerful than a chunky tablet. Watch a movie on the Note 4 and, believe us, you’ll never again settle for in-flight entertainment on your travels.

Full article in Mobile News issue 581 (February 2, 2015).

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