The Note has been one of Samsung’s most successful range of Android devices. The phablet version, announced annually at the IFA event in Berlin, has in some respects superseded the Galaxy S series as Samsung’s flagship Android product, with new design ideas and specs to match or better anything else on the market.
The Galaxy Note 4 has been announced and it is as impressive as ever. But how does it compare to last year’s Galaxy Note 3, and does it offer enough to make it worth upgrading?
Galaxy Note 4 dimensions
- Size: 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5mm
- Weight: 176g
Galaxy Note 3 dimensions
- Size: 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm
- Weight: 168g
The Note 3 continues Samsung’s recent refocussing on design. Introduced with the Galaxy Alpha the new design language maintains the same basic styling as seen on the Note 3 and keeps the soft touch, faux-leather back, but also has a metal frame along with 2.5D curved glass for added robustness. The Note 4 comes in Charcoal Black, Frost White, Bronze Gold, and Blossom Pink versions.
Despite the larger display the Note 4 is just 2.3mm taller and 0.2mm thicker than the Note 3, while also managing to be 0.6mm thinner, though the screen is no edge to edge.
Galaxy Note 4 key specs
- Processor: Snapdragon 805, 2.5GHz
- RAM: 4GB
- Storage: 16-64GB
- Battery: 3220mAh
Galaxy Note 3 key specs
- Processor: Snapdragon 800, 2.3GHz
- RAM: 3GB
- Storage: 16-64GB
- Battery: 3200mAh
Pure specs are the one area where you can guarantee the Note devices will shine, and the Note 4 is a step up over the Note 3 in every respect.
The long-awaited Snapdragon 805 processor will deliver significantly faster performance along with greater power efficiency, and while the addition of an extra 1GB of RAM probably won’t be massively beneficial in every day use, it will certainly ensure that the phone can handle Samsung’s software additions with ease, as well as being equipped for OS updates for a couple of years.
The Note 4 includes fast charging for the battery, which charges the battery to 50% in just 30 minutes.
The battery is just 20mAh larger than on the Note 3, but Samsung is claiming a 7.5% increase in battery life, through lower power consumption, and the battery saving mode from the S5 is also included.
Galaxy Note 4 display
- Size: 5.7-inch
- Resolution: 1440 x 2560 pixels
- Pixel density: 515 ppi
Galaxy Note 3 display
- Size: 5.7-inch
- Resolution: 1080 x 1920 pixels
- Pixel density: 386 ppi
The Note 3’s display was pretty great in itself, and the 4 upgrades to a 2K display with huge 515 ppi pixel density. How much benefit this really offers is questionable—you may need to put the two devices side by side in order to even tell the difference.
Still, 515 ppi is undeniably impressive, and will help make the Note 4 even better for reading. We’d file this one under ‘nice to have, but not essential’.
The Note 4 launches with Android 4.4 and has a newly refined, and less gimmicky version of Samsung’s software (formerly called TouchWiz on top of it).
One of the main enhancements comes in a beefed-up multitasking view that enables you to not only work on two apps on screen at the same time, but also to quickly switch between full screen views for both of those apps using the floating button that will very soon become a ubiquitous part of Android in Android L.
Of course, a lot of the new software features will likely make it to the Note 3 as well in the form of OTA updates. There’s no news on this yet, but we’d expect both devices to get an Android L update in the near future.
The camera in the Note 4 is similar to if not the same as that seen in the Galaxy S5 earlier this year. It is one of the best cameras available in Android devices today, if not quite able to match the best elsewhere such as on the iPhone or the Lumia 1020.
It’s also a big improvement in the camera from the Note 3. Not only is image quality better, but the focussing speed is much faster, and the software is somewhat more refined and easier to use.
OIS has been added for stabilised shots in low light.
The front camera has also been upgraded to a 3.7MP offering with f1.9 aperture, which should ensure decent quality images in low light.
The heart rate monitor on the rear, brought over from the S5, doubles as a shutter button for the front facing camera. It’s touch sensitive and requires no pressure, so won’t introduce any motion blur to the shot.
The Note range has always been about the S Pen, and its development continues on the Note 4.
The S Pen is now an integral part of the Note experience, rather than the optional extra is has tended to be in the past. Among its new features mouse style functionality that enables you to copy and past text or select multiple images quickly, bypassing the fiddly long press or tap, tap, tap system required on every other touchscreen device.
The sensitivity of the S Pen has also doubled in the Note 4, and Samsung claims writing on the screen is now more like writing on piece of paper.
Third party S Pens will also be available through high-end pen maker Mont Blanc. It isn’t yet know if they will be compatible with the Note 3 or older Note devices.
As has been the trend with Samsung recently, the Note 4 is an incremental, not revolutionary, update of its predecessor.
It’s better in key areas. The transition towards metal rather than flimsy plastic in the build is welcome; the camera is a noticeable step up from last year’s model; Samsung’s software is less cluttered than it was in its previous generations, and the S Pen continues to offer a rich experience.
All of which should make the Note 4 one of the best Android phones of the year. If you’re a Note 2 user and want to stick with Samsung (as opposed to, say, switching to LG), then the upgrade is a no-brainer. For Note 3 users it’s less clear—there’s some great stuff here, but the Note 3 is still going strong.