• Our Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Review: Excellence at What Cost?

    When Samsung released the GS6, it was a big departure from its predecessor. Samsung ditched the removable storage and battery that they had become known for and went in a new direction with a sealed glass and metal body.

    Now Samsung has given the same treatment to the Note 5. It eschews the Note 4ís MicroSD and removable battery for even more metal and glass.

    Is this a worthy trade-off?
    vs Note 4:

    When I hold the Note 4 and the 5 in my hands, I kind of like the exaggerated edges on the 4. It feels sturdier than the smooth curved glass back of the 5. Then again, the 5ís all glass back feels classier than the 4ís plastic back cover.

    The 5 is has extremely narrow side bezels. This plus the curved back makes it feel much narrower than the 4. Then again, if you have fat baby hands like me then you have to hold the 5 very carefully because it's very easy to accidentally press the screen.

    To me, the 4 is a much easier phone to use simply because the sides are more forgiving to hold. While form over function sells phones, sometimes it isnít a good thing if youíre actually going to use the phone..

    Design-wise, the Note 4 also feels just as slick as the 5. This wasnít the case with previous versions, where the newer version was usually more elegant than the previous. Yeah the plastic back isnít as nice as a glass one but the frame makes up for this.

    The 5ís SoC is quite a bit more powerful. Unlike the GS6, the 5ís power management seems quite reasonable so this is a big plus advantage over the Note 4.

    Still, the 4ís SoC, while slower on paper, doesnít really feel much slower when you use it. When I open apps with them side-by-side the Note 5 is always faster but only by a fraction of a second.

    The 5ís screen is a bit brighter, which is always a welcome upgrade with AMOLED displays, since they need the extra light outdoors. Like the 4, the 5 has a noticeable colour shift when you view it off angle which is distracting.

    The camera is also a bit better - itís more sensitive.

    Iím very unhappy that the 5 ditches the 4ís removable battery and MicroSD. While this does allow Samsung to include the slick curved glass back, losing those 2 features is too steep a price to pay.

    There are actually 2 more features you lose with a 5 that no oneís going to notice. First off, the UV meter is gone - I actually use this feature so Iíll miss it but Iím probably the minority. The infrared blaster is also missing. I have mixed feelings about it - while an IR blaster can be useful, Samsung never shipped their Galaxies with useful Infrared software so this feature was probably vastly underused.

    Right now, the Note 4 is running 5.0.1 while the 5 is running 5.1. While I expect both phones to remain reasonably up-to-date, I think the 4 will stop receiving updates before the 5, simply because itís older.

    To be honest, between the 2, Iíd probably pocket the money, get a Note 4 and pop a MicroSD in it. Itís easier to use and still a very competent phone.

    vs Galaxy S6 Edge +:

    The Edge + is basically a Note 5 with a curved screen, a slightly narrower body sans the S-Pen.

    What I find more interesting is that the Note 5 will only be available in North America and Asia (who knows if this will change). Whatís even more interesting is that the Edge + costs more than the Note 5 or to put it more simply; Curved screen > S-Pen.

    Does this mean Samsung is throwing in the towel with the Note series? Is marketing a stylus to customers too difficult? My guess is no.

    Does this mean that Samsung thinks customers value a curved screen more than a stylus? Keep in mind my experience that a screen which curves away on the sides actually detracts from usage. Then again, it enhances the ownership for some simply because itís cool and different - Possibly.

    Do curved screens cost more than adding a digitizer and pen? Maybe.

    Thatís really the choice, do you want to pay extra for a curved screen and lose the S-Pen or save a few bucks and get a S-Pen and a flat screen.

    Samsung toutes that the curved edge allows for a few more functions but as far as Iím concerned, most users arenít going to bother using them.

    To make things more complicated, in Canada, the Plus is available in 32 and 64GB sizes while the 5 only comes with 32GB. Neither has a MicroSD so pick wisely.

    vs LG G4:

    Speaking of not having MicroSD, if you donít want something with expandable memory take a look at the LG G4. The G4 is cheaper and has a MicroSD slot. It also has a removable battery and while the back isnít quite as elegant as the 5ís glass, in Canada LG tosses in a leather back with the G4 which is quite slick in its own right.

    On paper, the G4 isnít as fast but when you use them side-by-side itís hard to tell which is faster.

    While you ďonlyĒ get 3GB of RAM with the G4, thereís a case of serious diminishing returns when you go from 3 to the Note 5ís 4GB of RAM so again, itís an advantage on paper only.

    Both cameras take fantastic pictures but the Noteís is a little more responsive. The multimedia capabilities on both are top notch.

    The G4 has a 5.5Ē 2560x1440 display while the Note has a slightly larger 5.7Ē display with the same resolution. Both are excellent

    I do think that the G4 is an easier phone to use because the bezels are more reasonable.

    While I think that the Note 5 should cost more than the G4, itís tough to figure out why it costs so much more. Really, unless you absolutely must have a Samsung youíre probably better off with a LG G4.

    • Samsung Exynos 7420
    • 4 Cortex-A57 cores @ 2.1Ghz, 4 Cortex-A53 cores @ 1.5Ghz
    • Mali T760MP8 GPU
    • 5.7Ē 2560 x 1440 Super AMOLED display
    • 4GB RAM
    • 32GB storage
    • 16MP rear camera f/1.9 with autofocus
    • 8MP front camera
    • Android 5.1.1
    • 3000mAh battery
    • Wireless charging
    • Quick charge support
    • LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12,13/17/20/29/30
    • 802.11ac (2x2)
    • 171g
    • 153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6mm
    • Heart rate monitor
    • S-Pen stylus


    The Note 5 has a very striking finish. Itís blue with a mirror finish. It kind of reminds me of the Motorola KRZR from a while back.

    Samsung managed to make the Note 5 very narrow for its size by shrinking the bezels. Next they curved the the sides on the rear of the phone to make it fit more nicely in your hand. The effect is quite dramatic.

    However, I do find that it causes me some usability issues. First off, the bezel is so narrow itís hard to not touch the screen accidentally. The bezel around the menu buttons is very small to so I accidentally pressed the back and task switcher a few times when I was playing games - itís quite annoying. The Galaxy S4 had a similar problem.

    Holding it is like holding a pizza without a crust or a burger without the bun - things are going to get messy.

    If youíre going to get the Note 5, you might want to pick up a case for it to give you a little more space between the screen and the sides.

    The buttons are really nice. Theyíre easy to find, have a nice click and give the right amount of feedback.

    Like the GS6 pair, the Note 5ís home button doubles as a fingerprint reader which you donít have to swipe to use.

    Itís really convenient and works exceedingly well. Other Android phones need to get fingerprint readers ASAP.

    The NanoSIM slot is located at the top.

    Overall, while undeniably sleek, the Note 5ís body has some serious usability issues. If you plan on getting one, you either need to re-learn how to hold your phone or get a case.

    As the 5 is a Note, it comes with Samsungís S-Pen stylus. It has 3 improvements over previous ones. First off, itís a bit more solid than the Note 4ís.

    Itís also a tad longer but the biggest improvement is that the ended is now spring loaded. It clicks and pops out when you press it. So, when itís in the phone, you press the tip to pop it out which makes it easier to pull out.

    The click is cool at first but gets annoying really quickly. I guess Samsung figured people were starting to get used to their annoying ďSamsung WhistleĒ message alert so they added the click.

    Like the GS6, the Note 5 doesnít have a removable battery. Instead, the whole device appears to be glued together with no exposed screws anywhere. All this means is that replacing the battery will probably be quite an ordeal.


    You get a 5.7Ē 2560 x 1440 Super AMOLED display which is a bit brighter than the Note 4ís display.

    The off-angle colour shift that you got on the Note 4 is also present on the Note 5.

    Otherwise, itís an excellent display. Colours are natural looking, whites are very pure and blacks are extremely deep. It remains viewable even outdoors in direct sunlight.


    Like the Note 4 and GS6, the Note 5 has a 16 megapixel camera. It doesnít appear to be all that different from the GS6ís camera.

    This isnít a bad thing as the GS6ís camera is one of the very best cameras on the market.

    Samsung also has one of the better camera softwares available. It manages to balance lots of features without being too cluttered.

    One new feature is that you can record video and send it straight to YouTube. You can send a link to up to 20 people. It actually works but thereís about a 20 second time delay.

    Like the GS6, thereís a Pro mode with features like:
    • exposure control
    • shutter speed
    • ISO
    • white balance
    • manual focus
    • color mode
    • RAW mode

    Note that you lose burst mode when you use RAW mode - this is pretty typical.

    I love how you can double press the home button to launch the camera. When you do this, the Note 5 is one of the fastest phones around at launching the camera app.

    The Note 5 is also has one of the fastest and most responsive cameras.

    Video quality is excellent. It can capture 4K video.


    In the past, Samsung has been criticized of putting too much software on their phones which chews up their available storage.

    Samsung has tried to address this by making some of the extras optional.

    Still, the Note 5 is pretty feature packed. Theyíre re-emphasizing SideSync which mirrors the Note 5 to your computer (PC or MAC) or compatible Samsung tablet.

    Theyíve preloaded Microsoft Office with the Note 5. If youíre not a Microsoft Office user, you should know that you can remove the apps. All together, they eat up close to 900MB of space. If you do use them, youíll get 100GB of OneDrive space for free for 2 years

    Samsung has changed the S-Pen software slightly. The functionality hasnít changed much but thereís one new feature. You can use it to capture entire webpages or anything else that needs to be scrolled. It screen captures a page, scroll down, captures that for up to 20 times and then stitches it all together. Apple needs to steal this feature so you can capture the EULA whenever you update iOS.


    You get the same processor as the GS6. In the past, when Samsung released new Note versions, they'd usually contain hardware thatís half a gen or a full gen ahead of its contemporary Galaxy S counterpart.

    This time around, Samsung released the Note 5 a little sooner so it shares the same SoC as the GS6.

    Still, itís one of the faster SoCís around. Since the Note 5 is larger it seems better at dissipating heat. While it can get quite warm, itís doesnít get really hot like the GS6 and GS6 Edge do.

    As a Phone:

    The earpiece is extremely powerful, thereís a volume boost feature if you need even more.

    The speakerphone is also extremely powerful that also has a boost feature.

    RF performance is excellent.

    When I reviewed the GS6 and GS6 Edge I was surprised at how awful the battery life was. Given that the Note 5ís larger battery probably only compensates for the increase in screen size I wasnít expecting much from the 5ís battery.

    Fortunately, it appears that the Note 5 is able to keep battery consumption under control. I think it will last the day for most users.

    If youíre a power user though and need to top off half way through the day. Youíll be happy to hear the Note 5 is capable of quick charging with a 15 watt charger. Just for comparison, most Ďregularí fast chargers support rates of up to 10 or 12 watts so the quick charger can be 50% faster.

    It also supports both wireless charging standards. Samsung sells a wireless charger that can charge at around 10 watts which is faster than most other chargers.

    Media Capabilities:

    Like the Note 4, the 5ís speaker is extremely powerful - one of the best around. It sounds decent too.

    Samsung told me that the Note 5 supports ďUltra High Definition AudioĒ. They didnít get more indepth than that but I figure it means that the Note automatically resamples all audio to 192hz/24bit.

    If you store a lot of media on your phone, you should keep in mind that the Note 5 does not have a MicroSD slot. While the included 32GB is probably enough for most, remember you wonít be able to expand it later if your needs change.

    If youíre used to the infrared blaster on previous Samsung phones, you should know that this feature is now gone.


    Like the GS6, the Note 5 is so good it really moves the goal posts back for everyone. However, unlike previous generations, the improvements come with a cost, you to make some compromises over previous models.

    Still, in the end Iím really not sure if I love the Note 5.

    As awesome as the screen, camera, speakers, are, the slim bezels just really gave me fits. When I game I frequently hit the back button by accident. When I hand the Note 5 to someone they usually press the screen by accident - that sort of thing.

    Itís a case of form over function. Iím sure the slim bezels are going to help move a lot of Note 5ís. However, itís just not an easy phone to hold and use.

    Do I just need to change how I hold a phone?

    The MicroSD and removable battery that had become a Samsung signature feature are now gone.

    All that makes the 5 a lot less attractive. Especially when the LG G4 brings a similar level of functionality for a lot less money.

    4 Howies out of 5.

    • display
    • performance
    • camera
    • powerful speaker/speakerphone
    • powerful earpiece
    • RF performance

    • Hard to hold
    • Removable storage is gone
    • Removable battery is gone
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Our Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Review: Excellence at What Cost? started by howard View original post
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. johnmoon's Avatar
      johnmoon -
      great review!
      I'd like to give this one a try but will wait till they come out with 64G (Already out in Korea)
      since there will be no more option to expand.
    1. dragon2knight's Avatar
      dragon2knight -
      I tried one out at my local T-Mobile, and it really wasn't that bad a phone....but I agree with you on every single point you made, and, as a G4 user, I can confirm that it's every bit as nice for hundreds of dollars less(currently the G4 is $470.00US at T-Mobile, a steal). you gotta really WANT this phone, and I simply don't.
    1. noorteam's Avatar
      noorteam -
      Hello from the UK! Enjoying your work!
    1. Tsepz_GP's Avatar
      Tsepz_GP -
      Great review as always, Howard.

      The Note5 will only be landing here in South Africa in November, but the S6 Edge+ arrived a week after announcement, clearly Samsung want us to go for their Edge device.

      I personally am not impressed, I tried the S6 Edge+ and like the brighter display but thats it, overall I prefer my Note 4, so I got it a new case and a 64GB MicroSDXC, that brings my memory up to over 90GB in total.

      The Note 4 still holds its own vs. all the phones released in 2015, I see no point in leaving it, and will rather wait for the Note 6.

      Sent from my GALAXY Note 4 via Tapatalk
    1. eddie-tech's Avatar
      eddie-tech -
      superb review! i think Note 5 is the best Note phone to date.