Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

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Samsung’s newest top-end smartphone is the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. How much has it evolved since the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 was introduced last year? Should Note 4 users consider upgrading? Those are just a couple of the questions that I’ll answer in this review. Let’s get started.

Note: Images can be clicked to view a larger size.

Hardware specifications

Processor: Samsung Exynos 7420 Octa-Core 64-bit
Operating System: Android 5.1.1 & Touchwiz
Memory: 32GB or 64GB on board memory + 4GB RAM
Network: CDMA Data – 1x and EVDO Rev0/Rev. A, LTE: 13(700), 4(1700/2100), 2(1900), 3(1800), 7(2600), LTE CA 13+4 (10+10); Global Network: GPRS/EDGE/GSM(850/900/1800/1900), HSPA/UMTS(850/900/1900/2100)
Display: 5.7” Quad HD Super AMOLED®, (2560×1440), 515ppi
Camera (rear): 16MP
Camera (front): 5MP
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, Fingerprint sensor
Headset: 3.5mm Audio Jack
Battery: 3000mAh (Fast charging non-removable battery)
Dimensions: 6.04” (H) x 3.00” (W) x 0.3” (D) inches
Weight: 6.03 oz

In the box

Samsung Galaxy Note 5
Pre-installed SIM Card (4FF)
SIM Removal tool
3000mAh Battery
USB Cable
S Pen
Quick Reference Guide


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Physical design and features

The Note 5 is available in Black Sapphire or White Pearl. As you can, see, I was sent the white version for my review. Taking a page from the Samsung Galaxy S6 design playbook, the Note 5 has been redesigned with both a glass front and back, giving it a premium look and feel deserving of the Samsung flagship device. The front of the Note 5 has thin bezels on the left and right edges and the familiar home button in the lower center. That home button doubles as the fingerprint scanner. But more about that later.

On the back of the phone, you’ll find the camera and the LED flash which doubles as the heart rate and blood oxygen sensor. The back of the phone has nicely curved sides that allow it to fit comfortably in your hand. The Note 5 is very solid and has a quality feel. It has no problems with flexing or creaking when I put it to the Gadgeteer squeeze test. That shouldn’t be a surprise though as this is a sealed phone. The back does not come off. That means that the battery can’t be replaced and there is no micro SD card slot. Both of these changes will come as a disappointment to a lot of Note fans like myself. Although two features were removed, Samsung did see fit to include wireless charging, so we can at least be happy about that.

Do me a favor and click on the image of the back of the phone so you can zoom in. Do you see the top left corner? It’s shattered. Although a glass back looks sexy and feels great in your hand, you need to be careful because it’s an extremely slippery device. Yes, I dropped the Note 5. It’s the first time I ever damaged a loaner phone in the 18 years that I’ve been reviewing products. 🙁

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The left side of the phone has individual volume buttons. You can also see the aluminum sides. The Note 5 feels nicer in your hand than the Note 4 due to the beveled edges. I distinctly remember the Note 4 almost having an almost sharp feel in my hand. This isn’t the case with the Note 5. The Note 5 is also slightly smaller in every dimension compared to the Note 4. But the difference really isn’t enough to be that noticeable.

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On the right side of the Note 5 you’ll find the wake / power button.

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On the top edge you’ll find the SIM card tray and a microphone. If you like to use your Note 4 as a TV remote, you won’t be happy to learn that the IR blaster feature has been dropped.

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On the bottom edge of the phone you’ll find the home button which is also the fingerprint scanner. As I mentioned earlier, the scanner on this phone is fantastic. It’s better than any other fingerprint scanner I’ve ever tried, including the one on the iPhone 6, which was my previous favorite. I have had a lot of issues with fingerprint scanners in the past. Basically, they just don’t want to work for me unless I try multiple times. This wasn’t the case with the Note 5. It worked 99% of the time with just one press. No swiping necessary. I loved it!

You’ll also find the 3.5mm headphone jack, micro USB charging port, speaker, another microphone and the S Pen slot on the bottom edge of the phone.

I mentioned that the Note 5 has Qi and Powermat wireless charging built in. I tested the phone with my TYLT VU wireless charging dock and two of my Nokia DT910 charging docks. The Note 5 worked perfectly with the TYLT VU charger, but didn’t want to work with the Nokia chargers until I turned the phone sideways and placed something under the edge to raise the phone about an inch.

If you’re not a fan of wireless charging, the Note 5 also has fast charging feature using a USB cable.

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The S Pen slot has been improved since the Note 4. Remember how you had to use your fingernail to grab the edge of the pen to pull it out? Now the slot is now spring loaded. Just press the end of the S Pen to pop it out so that you can easily remove it.

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When you do so, it will automatically show a menu of S Pen enabled apps that you can use. This is called the Air Command menu and you can even add your own shortcuts.

The S Pen is my all time favorite stylus. It has a very small tip that gives you a perfect pen on paper feel and experience with no lag or jaggy diagonal lines. Apple, I’m looking at you…

Display

There really isn’t much that has changed since the Note 4. The screens are the same size, have the same resolution and look just as nice in my opinion. Some people don’t care for the slightly over saturated look of the Samsung Touchwiz user interface, but I like it. Everything I tried from games to videos and image viewing looked great to me. No complaints.

Camera

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The Note 4 had a 16MP camera and so does the Note 5. It might not have been updated, but it is a very capable camera that captures crisp, vibrant images. The images above are straight out of the phone with no touch ups. The front facing camera has been upgraded to 5MP which is up from the 3.7MP front facing camera on the Note 4. That means better selfies! Oh boy!

Software

Although there are little tweaks here and there, not much has changed software wise between the Note 4 and the Note 5. Small things like double clicking the home button to launch the camera app come to mind. There’s also the addition of Samsung Pay and the ability to take multi-page screenshots and write notes on the lock screen with the S Pen.

Using the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 for phone calls

I experienced no issues making and receiving calls with this phone. Audio on both sides of the conversation was clear with good volume. I also did not experience any dropped calls while testing this phone.

Overall performance and battery life using the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 for day to day tasks

Without performing exhaustive benchmark tests, which I never do with my reviews, I have to say that the Note 5 performs very well. But then I can’t recall the last time any phone felt laggy to me. Launching apps, switching between apps, scrolling through long lists is no problem for the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

As far as battery life, the Note 5’s battery which I’ll remind you, is sealed, lasted through a normal workday, but sometimes just barely. This isn’t a problem for me since I have a wireless charging dock on my desk at my day job and at home. I wasn’t blown away by the battery life, but I can’t complain much about it either when you consider that this is a phablet with a large display.

Final thoughts

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is currently Samsung’s newest and most expensive device. It’s been upgraded to have a more premium look and feel that is in line with Samsung’s S6 and S6 Edge phones. But when it comes down to it, now that the Note 5 no longer has a removable battery, micro SD card slot and IR blaster, it is really just a slightly larger S6 with a built in stylus. It makes me wonder who this device is really made for. It’s like the new iPad mini which was just released from Apple. It felt almost like an after thought from Apple and the new Note 5 feels similar to me. Samsung has updated it to look nicer, but it has removed all the special sauce that made it special. The only reason to buy the Note 5 instead of an S6 is if you love the S Pen.

Source: The sample for this review was provided by Verizon. Please visit their site for more info.

 

Product Information

Price:$696 - $792
Manufacturer:Samsung
Retailer:Verizon Wireless
Pros:
  • Wireless charging
  • Spring loaded stylus
  • Fingerprint scanner works great!
Cons:
  • Slippery
  • No micro SD slot
  • No replaceable battery
  • IR blaster feature removed
Posted in: Android, Reviews
{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Greg Carter October 5, 2015, 5:01 pm

    Thanks, Julie, nice and helpful review. As my Samsung S4 gets along in years, I’m starting to think about my next phone. The Note 5 may not quite be it, but if the rumored Note 5 Active comes along with a larger battery and water/shock resistance without sacrificing other features like the fingerprint scanner, that may be just what I’m looking for.

    • Julie Strietelmeier October 5, 2015, 5:10 pm

      I have ordered the new Nexus 6P and hope I like it enough for it to become my next phone. Otherwise, I may go with a Samsung Galaxy S6 or LG G4. Although that new LG Pro looks pretty nice. 😉 Too many devices to choose from!

  • David October 5, 2015, 5:58 pm

    I’m leaning toward the Moto X Style (Pure). With a SD card, unlocked radio, and unlockable boot loader, it’s the phone I’ve always wanted for the Verizon network. They already have a alpha CM build, and it’s only been out about 1 month!!!

  • Jackie Cheng October 5, 2015, 9:15 pm

    Oh man..that sucks with the cracked back! I was thinking of getting this phone next but the curved glass doesn’t seem like it can take any sort of drop. How high did it drop from and what type of surface did it hit?

  • lou michaels October 6, 2015, 8:16 am

    Every review I have read about the Note 5 fails to mention that the micro USB port does not work with Samsung’s dedicated MHL adapter. Another feature that Samsung dropped.

  • Mike Roselius October 6, 2015, 9:31 am

    I guess I’m a little shocked about how poorly the battery life is on this device. Yes, I get that it’s a phablet w/ a big screen – but that also means it should have a bigger battery to compensate.

    If it’s appropriate to compare the stylus functionality to Apple’s – then lets also compare the battery life. By all reports, the 6+ and 6s+ battery life is for most users 1.5 days or more – not “barely through a full day”. I think this is a pretty significant shortfall.

  • Lynn Lopez October 7, 2015, 8:47 am

    I guess I will put my own 2 cents in. I came from a note 3 to the note 5. I was not interested at all in going back to the Apple universe. Personally, I do not miss the SD card slot. The fact that the phone does rapid charging and that I also have access to a wireless charging pad at work and at home make battery life no issue for me at all. I really wanted to wait for the Nexus 6P, but my Note 3 was on its last legs since I was a goober and dropped it and cracked the screen (like you this was the first time I had ever cracked a screen at all!).
    I read somewhere that the 6P was actually bigger than the Iphone 6s Plus so that means it is really a large phone. I also love the stylus and do use it every now and then with the phone. I would love though to just run pure Android! Overall I have been happy with the phone and can’t complain. I opted for the AT&T Next plan so I can upgrade in a year if there is something else out there that I want. So all in all I am a happy Note 5 user so far.

    • Julie Strietelmeier October 7, 2015, 9:17 am

      Lynn, Thanks for your comments. Just be careful and don’t drop it!

      • Lynn Lopez October 7, 2015, 9:30 am

        aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh – you have jinxed me now! LOL

  • Marko Koskenoja October 7, 2015, 10:55 am

    Another good review from Julie!

    I have used a Note 3 for a several years and love it but I very rarely use the Note 3 pen. I don’t use the pen with my Surface Pro 3 that much either. I’m not sure why I don’t in either case. Like Lynn Lopez I want to run pure Android. That and I want the biggest screen possible so my next phone will likely be a Nexus 6 or whatever is available at the time.

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