Samsung's big stylus-toting flagship has stood up well to the test of time.
Extra perspective is always a good thing. While we strive to spend a good bit of time in reviewing a phone, nothing quite gives you a full impression of a phone like using it day-in and day-out for weeks and months on end.
The Galaxy Note 5 really won us (and many others, from the looks of it) over in our first evaluation of it — and again after two months — and now that we've reached the six month point since launch it's worth yet another revisit. It's fair to say right from the start that this big phone has held up over time, but what about the finer points of the experience? That's what we're here to evaluate.
Solid, but sometimes slippery, hardware
2015 marked a huge step forward in the hardware quality of Samsung's leading devices, and the Galaxy Note 5 is the prime example of that. It's still a strikingly attractive phone, so long as you enjoy the bright mirrored color options, and you can't deny that the artful combination of metal and glass can turn heads.
And after months of daily use, it's held up well for the most part. In terms of physical wear-and-tear, my Note 5 has never been placed in a case and looks no worse for it. Despite a few drops onto hard surfaces from cringe-worthy heights, I only have a couple small scuffs along the metal frame and some barely-noticeable scratches on the Gorilla Glass 4 display glass. I can't say the same about many of my previous phones.
The Note 5 still looks great, but the tradeoff has been how slick it can be
Despite the surprising durability, the slipperiness of the whole thing has worn on me in these six months. The curved glass on the back of the Note 5 definitely helps you get a grip on the sides, but the entirety of the back being one solid glass surface doesn't give you enough to hold onto. It's enough when you're just holding the phone and reading something, but when it comes to typing, interacting with the screen and manipulating items using one hand you start to feel it shifting more than you'd like. Add to that an almost unmanageable amount of fingerprints and smudges that accumulate on the back glass, and you have a recipe for at minimum feeling uncomfortable holding the phone and at worst dropping it.
One aspect of the Note 5's hardware that hasn't faded in any way since launch is the display. The QHD Super AMOLED Panel wowed me the minute I took it out of the box, and six months on it's still just glorious to look at every time I wake the phone from sleep. Colors are bright (although by design, not particularly accurate), everything looks amazingly crisp and the screen can get both super bright and very dim when necessary. I'm not sure what else I can expect from a display on a smartphone at this point.
What can you say about the Note 5's camera that hasn't already been said? It's a pretty common refrain at this point to gush over the speed of the whole experience and the quality of the resulting photos, and even after six months with this camera I haven't found another that matches it.
Being able to quickly launch the camera with two presses of the home button hasn't lost its utility, nor has the ability to instantly capture HDR photos in quick succession without any extra time waiting for processing. Add in the full suite of manual controls and RAW picture output when you need it, and you have a fantastic complete package.
Take a look at some of my favorite shots from the Note 5 in this gallery.
If there's a single knock to be applied here, it's that by default the Note 5's screen is so aggressive in making every image on it look supernaturally great that you get an unrealistic view of what your photos actually look like. It's great when you're viewing images on the web or want wonderful graphics in a game, but when it comes to getting the most accurate view of how other people are going to see your photos online, viewing them on your Note 5's screen gives a bit of a distorted view. (Changing the display settings to "Basic" certainly mitigates this effect.)
Hardware is one part of the story when using a phone, but there's so much more to consider when evaluating a device after months of use. It's about how all of the different parts come together to make a functional phone that you actually enjoy using every day. As it turns out, the Note 5 checks a lot of boxes here.
Software and performance
When it comes to daily performance and getting through tasks on the Note 5, it still stands up as a competitor among the fastest phones out there today. People can (and will) argue about RAM management and processor benchmarks, but when I'm using the phone for my daily tasks there isn't anything that it can't handle just fine. Whether it's quickly switching between apps, handling heavy web pages, playing games or just maintaining a smooth interface, the Note 5 gets things done and rarely has a hiccup. I'm not doing anything crazy with my phone, and surely am not pushing its limits 100 percent, but I have yet to find an issue for how I'm using it.
TouchWiz looks fine and is functional, but the pre-installed apps and services bother me
Samsung has made leaps and bounds in reducing the number of annoying and cumbersome features and apps it has pre-installed, but that doesn't mean there isn't a little room for improvement. I still haven't gotten over the annoyance of pre-installed apps like those from the Microsoft partnership (OneDrive, for example), but my biggest complaint is the duplicative system apps that you can't do anything with.
Having Samsung's calendar, contacts, email, Internet browser, etc. sitting there even when I'm not using them and have chosen a third-party alternative is bothersome. And even though I know this isn't a Samsung-specific problem, it's the one area of the software that annoys me on a regular basis — the design and function of Samsung's implementation of Android is otherwise completely fine for me.
Though I know there are plenty of factors at play when it comes to accuracy of a fingerprint sensor, the Note 5's has done an admirable job of sensing my fingers in daily use. A few months in I found the need to re-teach the phone my thumbs and index fingers after it started throwing a larger-than-usual number of errors in recognizing, but that's likely to be the case on most phones.
The one part of the fingerprint sensor experience that's faded on me is having it positioned on the front of the phone in the home button, which I've decided is a second-choice location after using the Nexus 6P for a few months (and of course the Nexus 5X and Honor 5X). While the layout takes out two birds with one stone, it can often be awkward to reposition your hand to get a proper read on the sensor.
Some will never be happy about the fact that Samsung dropped the removable battery from the Note line with this fifth generation, but from day one I've had no issue with battery life on the phone. The Note 5 is continually capable of a full day's use even when I'm pushing things hard, but I have noticed over time that it seems to drain pretty consistently no matter what I'm actually doing with it throughout the day. Whether I had a hard day on the phone with lots of cellular data use, screen-on time and app switching or I've had a more casual day at home on Wi-Fi, the battery life is roughly the same.
Functionally the fingerprint sensor is solid — I just haven't enjoyed the placement as much
Whether it's just how Samsung's system is set up or me being generally spoiled by the battery-saving prowess of Marshmallow's Doze on the Nexus 6P, I'm bothered by the standby battery drain I experience on the Note 5. The fact that it's not considerable enough to have a meaningful depletion of the 3000 mAh battery through the course of the day is important, but I wish that when I set down the Note 5 for an hour it didn't continue to drain the battery at a rate more consistent with regularly using it.
Of course the wireless charging and fast charging are still welcomed additions here for those days where I need extra juice — particularly when traveling — and I still don't have any issue with the lack of a removable battery.
The bottom line, six months on
With six months behind the Note 5, my experiences in using the phone haven't changed much when compared to our initial review, and that's a great thing. Even with months of experience using the phone and extra perspective of using other phones alongside it, the phone still looks, feels and performs how you want a high-end phone to.
We know lots of you have been using the Note 5 these last six months as well — be sure to let us know your experiences with the phone in the comments!
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