Samsung doesn't reinvent the wheel with the Note 4, it just makes the ride even smoother
Spend a few minutes with the new Samsung Galaxy Note 4, and this much is clear: Samsung, wisely, is not rocking the boat. It's got a good thing going with its oversized smartphone, and it's going to keep on keepin' on. Now think about what you might have improved from the last phone in the Note line. Higher-resolution display? Better camera? More sophisticated hardware design? (And ditch the faux leather stitching?) Even more S Pen functionality? And maybe borrow some of the fun we've had in the Samsung Galaxy S5?
This, and more —be sure to check out the full specs — is what makes up the Galaxy Note 4.
Come along with us now as we take a brief tour of Samsung's (next) next big (and bigger) thing. This is the Galaxy Note 4.
Galaxy Note 4 video hands-on
More: Check out the all-new Galaxy Note Edge!
Galaxy Note 4: What's new in hardware
Look, if you've been around the Galaxy Note 3 or the Samsung Galaxy S5 in the past year, you largely know what you're looking at here in the Note 4. Samsung's not shy about using the word "phablet," and this year's model continues the line as you'd expect. Large display — same 5.7 inches diagonally. But the main difference you'll see is in the quality of what's on the screen. The resolution has been increased to quad-HD (or QHD for those who prefer acronyms. And that resolution is exactly what we'd expect to see in a phone of this size in 2014.
It's not that a 1080p display looked bad in the previous Note, it's just that things look that much better now. You'll find yourself not saying "Know what? This looks pretty good most of the time." Now it looks really good all of the time.
While that might be the most important change, it's perhaps not the most visible. For that, we'll flip around to the back of the phone and take a look at the rear battery cover. It's still removable (as is the battery it contains). But gone is the faux leather stitching that tormented so many of us for the past year. It's still got that leatherette texture to it, and it still varies depending on what color phone you're rocking. (White is less soft, black is better, etc.) But the less skeuomorphism the better, if you ask us.
The back is also where you'll notice that the camera housing and flash area look almost identical to the Galaxy S5. And, indeed, the Note 4 camera has been upgraded to the same 16-megapixel resolution. But that's not the end of that story. At long last Samsung's gotten OIS — that's optical image stabilization — into the mix. If you've never used a phone with OIS attached to the camera, the short version is that it makes just about everything better. Less blur. Sharper images. And Samsung promises that low-light shots are much improved in the Note 4, taking care of one of our bigger complaints about the Galaxy S5.
And, yes, that's the same heart-rate sensor that's on the Galaxy S5. And it's actually gained a little more functionality as well, adding the ability to serve as a selfie shutter button.
One last external difference is that finally we're seeing Samsung move to metal construction. It's akin to the newer (but not as high-spec'd) Galaxy Alpha, but it in no way looks or feels like the mostly metal HTC One M8. The chamfered edges actually look more like what you'd find in 2013's HTC One M7, or maybe in one of those Draco aluminum bumpers. That's a good thing on both counts, and it goes a long way toward helping us forget all those years spent with shiny chrome plastic. Samsung's done good here.
One little gem in the battery department. Well, more accurately in the charging department. Samsung's rigged up some quick charging that will take the Note 4 from dead to 50 percent charged in just 30 minutes. Samsung wasn't too forthcoming with the details on how that's being done — Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 hasn't quite made it onto devices yet, and Samsung didn't explicitly say that's what it's doing here. It is separate, though.
Other than that, there aren't a whole lot of surprises here on the hardware front. The S Pen is still siloed in the butt of the phone. The speaker grille is still small and found on the lower left in the rear. Same old centered home button and multitasking and back buttons. All in all, it still looks and feels like a Samsung phone. It just looks and feels like a better Samsung phone.
Galaxy Note 4: The software side
It's a little tougher to get excited about the software on the Galaxy Note 4. There's just not really anything that stands out, insofar as new and exciting features go. There's no new design language to learn. There aren't any radically difference uses for the S Pen. (Though there are a few smaller ones, which we'll get to in a second.) In fact, if there's one thing that stood out to us in our brief demo time with the Galaxy Note 4, it's that the software just worked, and without noticeable lag. That's been one of our bigger complaints about Samsung software in the past couple of years, and it's even more so to come out of a demonstration like this without the feeling that there's still some work to be done. That said, we're not dealing with carrier-bloated models yet. So we'll approach this muted excitement with a bit of trepidation.
But, still, the bottom line is we've got Android 4.4.4 — the most recent version of Android — with all of Samsung's bells and whistles on top of it. Very nearly the exact same experience as on the GS5 — and that's a good thing.
What's new are features here and there. The S Pen can now serve more mouse-like functions (that's Samsung's phrase for it). Hover over the screen, hold the button on the S Pen, and it'll select words, just like if you had a mouse on a desk, clicked and dragged. (So, sort of the same.) Multi Window has been improved, making it even easier to do two things at once. (The number of apps that can take advantage of Multi Window is still limited, but a good many of your everyday apps should be covered.)
The bottom line (so far)
We've had but a brief time with the Galaxy Note 4. These are the main things that stand out: The use of metal in the casing, a 16-megapixel camera with OIS and a new front-facing camera, adaptive charging to quickly get you to 50 percent, and updated features for the S Pen and Quick Window. If you pictured an updated Note with some features carried cover from the Galaxy S5, this is very much what you'd see.
Oh, and the Note 4 powers a little thing called the Samsung Gear VR.
The Note 4 will be available on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and US Cellular starting in October. You'll be able to get it in "Frost white", "Bronze Gold" (which is what you see in this post) and "Blossom Pink".