Galaxy Note 5 review: great build coupled with solid performance

3
9.2 Excellent

The Galaxy Note 5 is packed with the highest-end specs on the market. It performs well, but just like every Samsung device it has its hiccups. It's sad to see the removable battery and expandable storage go, but the performance and build quality almost make up for it.

  • Design 9.5
  • Display 9.8
  • Performance 9.2
  • Camera 9.1
  • Battery 8.5
  • User Ratings (3 Votes) 9.7

The Galaxy Note series has never really seen a flop as the Galaxy S series did with the S5, but Samsung continues to alter their device’s appearance. It started earlier this year where Samsung debuted a completely revamped Galaxy S6 that featured no plastic on the device at all. It was inevitable that the Galaxy Note 5 would receive the same treatment, but was it warranted?

The Galaxy Note line has always been dubbed the “power user” device, but it also included a removable battery and expandable storage. Many longtime Galaxy Note cried foul once the Note 5 was announced and it was to bypass the “power user” features. Does not having a removable battery and expandable storage ruin the Note line? Is glass and metal really all that? Let’s take a look.

Design

Before 2015, Samsung was always mocked for their lack of thought when it came to their phone designs. It was usually the S series that caught all of the flack as the Note series would build upon what the consumers liked and disliked. The Note 3 was a huge upgrade to what the S4 brought to the table; Samsung devices lost their weird curves and started to become more squared.

The Note 4 took it a step further by throwing the S5’s design completely out the window and following the path of the Galaxy A series. It was the first Samsung flagship device to ship with a metal frame, but still carried on the ability to have expandable storage and a removable battery.

Galaxy Note 5 front view

Once the Galaxy S6 was debuted and contained no removable battery and no expandable storage, Note users, myself included, began to worry. Sure enough, the Note 5 was announced on August 13th and it came with a metal frame with Gorilla Glass 4 flanking it on either side. No removable battery or expandable storage. Samsung sacrificed what many thought made their devices popular to go with a more premium and appealing design.

Galaxy Note 5 bottom

I must say, I do think the Note 5 is designed very well. It feels excellent in the hands, the buttons a very tactile and clicky, and the phone has no creaky plastic anywhere to be found. The Note 5 is considerable thinner at 7.6 mm than the Note 4’s 8.5 mm thickness. Not only that it is slightly less wide and less tall coming in at 76.1 mm versus 78.6 mm and 153.2 mm versus 153.5 mm of the previous device. It is pretty incredible that Samsung can fit the same 5.7 inch display in a device that is 2.5 mm less wide. They also still found a way to make the device shorter even with a slightly larger home button to accommodate a larger finger print sensor.

As for the rest of the device, if you read our Galaxy S6 edge review you are already pretty well-versed in the great Samsung redesign. The front of the device still looks like a Samsung device with the large home button on the bottom flanked by capacitive keys and the huge SAMSUNG branding on the top of the device above the in-call speaker.

IMG_20150930_160437889

As always, the power button can be found on the right side of the device whereas the volume buttons are on the left. On the Note 5 the volume buttons are two separate buttons instead of one rocker found on the Note 4. Like I mentioned earlier, the buttons a very firm and tight to the chassis, something that is always appreciated. The charging port can be found on the bottom next to the re-located speaker and re-located headphone jack. On the Note 4 the headphone jack was on top of the device and the speaker was on the back. The S-Pen stays put, but this time uses a push-to-eject mechanism for releasing the pen from its hold.

Galaxy Note 5 back

The back of the Note 5 holds a centered camera with the flash and heart rate monitor off to the right. Previously the flash and heart rate monitor was found below the camera. An interesting thing about the back of the device is that it curves down towards the chassis, almost like the S6 edge/edge+ do on the front. This makes the device extremely comfortable to hold. All help is appreciated when holding a device that has a glass back and rounded metal edges.

Display

The display, is amazing. Did you expect that?

Samsung has always been the leader in display technology and this 5.7 inch Super AMOLED QHD display is no different. The Note 5 comes in with 515 ppi just like its predecessor, but this display is much more accurate and efficient (not to say the Note 4’s was either). Colors are replicated amazingly and of course Samsung likes to saturate them, but their display does a great job. To top it all off, it features Gorilla Glass 4 which doesn’t hold finger prints and is very clear and durable.

Galaxy Note 5 display

The AMOLED panel on the Note 5 may have one of the best brightness ranges I have seen so far in a device. I never have a hard time seeing my display in direct sunlight which is usually a problem for most devices. Not only that, I can turn the brightness all the way down at night time and it doesn’t blind me at all.

Performance

When the Note 5 rumors were flying around after the S6 was announced, it was long rumored that it would feature an upgraded Exynos 7420 processor, the 7422. Well it turned out that Samsung thought the Note 5 would do fine with the standard 7420 processor and just pack another gigabyte of RAM on board. Who can blame them? The Exynos 7420 is still among the top performing processors in the mobile world.

Galaxy Note 5 AnTuTu Benchmark

With the Exynos 7420 processor which has four cores clocked at 2.1 GHz and four more cores clocked 1.5 GHz and 4 GB of LPDDR4 RAM, the Note can essentially bowl anything over. It powers through benchmarks and can multi-task no problem. I was actually really impressed with this feature this year as nearly all apps can be handled side by side, minus the camera. You can easily watch a YouTube video while scrolling through your news feed.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 multi tasking

Although it can power through benchmarks and multitasking, it still has TouchWiz. I must say, the Note 5 is the best running Samsung device with its own software, but it still has its issues. Samsung employs aggressive RAM management for unknown reasons, although many think its to keep TouchWiz fluid. It isn’t the worst thing, but when you are going back through your opened apps, it will have to completely reload. For a device with 4 GB of RAM, it is kind of disheartening, my Nexus 5 did a better job.

Although I say that, don’t let that deter you. The Note 5 is by far the best performing device I have ever used, even with its flaws. There is just no processor on the market as of this review that can compete. If only there was a Google Play Edition, we could see the true potential of Samsung’s hardware on a stock operating system.

What keeps the Note series away from Vanilla Android, is its trademarked S-Pen. I have used the Note 3 and Note 4 previously, and the Note 5’s S-Pen is a huge upgrade. The interface for using the S-Pen is much easier to navigate and it also allows for users to add their own shortcuts to software.

On top of that, the S-Pen seems more sensitive than ever and replicates real-world writing very well. Along with the updated interface and S-Pen, the Note 5 includes a new feature. When the screen is off, you are able to remove the S-Pen and write on the black screen and take notes instantly. This is thanks to the great AMOLED display on the device.

Camera

Along with the display, Samsung also takes extra pride in how their camera functions. Samsung always goes top-of-the-line in the imaging department, so that means the Note 5 is no different. The Note 5 features the same 16 mexapixel camera found on its younger siblings earlier this year, meaning it has an f/1.9 aperture great for low-light. To top that off, it has optical image stabilization. On the front, it has a 5 megapixel camera with auto HDR.

Galaxy Note 5 camera

Samsung has finally found a good balance between keeping the image looking nice and not over sharpening. I have found that the majority of my pictures are as crisp as ever and look amazing when blown up on a monitor. Once again, the camera is only a double press of the home button away, which launches in under .7 seconds.

I never have an issue with Samsung cameras, so the Note 5 is no different. Colors come up nicely and texture is replicated very, very well. It also excels at extreme close-ups, but when the subject is far away, it naturally loses out on detail. Even with an f/1.9 aperture, low-light shots still show some noise, but that is expected. It still comes up better than expected in my opinion. Especially when comparing it to other devices. If you would like to see the images at full resolution, head over to here.

The picture of the Blood Moon was taken at full 10x digital zoom, I just threw it in here for fun.

Battery

Coming off of using the Galaxy S6 edge, I knew that the Exynos 7420 processor was definitely efficient, the problem was that Samsung packed a battery in the device that was considerably smaller than its predecessor. To no surprise, Samsung cut some battery size to keep the device as thin as possible. That leaves us with a 3,000 mAh battery versus the 3,220 mAh battery found in the Note 4.

In this situation, the good definitely outweighs the bad as the Exynos 7420 sips power and leaves the Note 5 lasting quite awhile. It makes me wonder though, how much longer the battery would have lasted if the battery would have stayed the same size.

Galaxy Note 5 battery 2

I would consistently get at least 4 hours of screen on time in a full day. My day consists of going to school, where service is terrible for 8 hours, to work for 6 hours where service is excellent. This would be mostly without WiFi, as most reviews I see brag about amazing screen on time, but it’s connected to WiFi. The standby time is also quite good, as I could leave it sit over night and lose under 3% battery. The reason I mention all of this is because battery life is so dependent on conditions, so I try to get the best representation as possible.

Conclusion

Although the Galaxy Note 5 lacks some features that made it “power user” friendly in the past, it makes up for it in design and raw performance. Samsung finally looks like they are trying to build and innovate rather than stay static with what they know. The radical redesign coupled with the newly improved S-Pen makes the Note as good as ever.

The Note 5 has seen an upgrade in every category from design, to performance, to even software. It is definitely a worthy device, no matter the slight problems that it is. The issues with Samsung’s TouchWiz are far outweighed by the ability for the Exynos 7420 processor to power through. The same goes for the removable battery as it is more than enough to get me through a day, especially with quick charging. The only thing that you can’t replace is expandable storage.

Overall, the raw performance and updated design might be enough to get you to upgrade from the Note 4 or another phablet, but don’t feel like you have to.

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About Author

I skateboard, listen to metal, write on my website Phone Probe, and love messing with new phones. Currently I'm using a Nexus 6P running Chroma with franco.Kernel as my daily driver running stock Android. Find me on Reddit at /u/kinnesotan

3 Comments

  1. I love the fact that you use data rather than WiFi to test the battery because i think using data is the best way to test the battery life of a phone.. Good review

  2. C Bruce Albert on

    I have the Note 5 and have had it since released, by far the very best device that i have owned. The phone is a real bonus. I would love it if it were just a hand held computer. It is almost flawless.
    Thank you Samsung!!

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