Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy Note 5

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Samsung continues to improve its stylus-toting phablet(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

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Samsung kicked off its pre-holiday product announcements today with two phablets, the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+. Gizmag was on the ground in New York City, and got some hands-on time with the pair of handsets.

If you've followed Samsung leaks during the last month or two, then today's launch didn't offer many surprises. This time rumors were right on the money with both of these phones, which are nearly identical to each other.

Like the Galaxy S6 did earlier this year, the Note 5's design is a big step forward for the lineup. Last year's Note 4 already took some steps in that direction, with its aluminum frame, but the Note 5 goes all premium. Gone are the last two models' pleather backs, replaced by smooth, sloped Gorilla Glass 4.

It feels great in hand: big screen, but something less than a ridiculously big phone. After phablets transitioned from novelty to the norm, it looks like the next step in their evolution is to get a little smaller, while keeping the same spacious screens. Shave away extraneous space until they're eventually all screen (or close to it).

The Note's S Pen (stylus) doesn't get the metal finish we were hoping for, but it does have a metallic one – faux metal plastic, that is. It looks and feels better than the Note 4's pen, but despite its new premium focus, it does show that Samsung is still willing to cut a design corner or two:

An even bigger addition to the S Pen is its new clicky-cap (our word, not Samsung's). When the pen is inserted into the Note 5, flush with the phone's bottom edge, you just press its end and – click! – it pops out a bit. This makes it much easier to slide out, avoiding all the fingernail-fiddling that you had to do on older Galaxy Notes.

Once the pen is out, you'll notice the cap doesn't have any functional purpose (except perhaps nervously clicking it when you've had too much caffeine).

Penmanship feels even smoother than it did on the Note, and the more solid feel of the pen's tip gives it more of a writing with a real pen feel than ever before. The leap here isn't as big as it was from the Note 3 to 4, but it's still noticeable.

With each new Note, Samsung always adds some new pen-based software to the mix, and this year is no exception. Our favorite from the demo is the ability to take multi-page screenshots. After activating the option from Air Command, a pop-up option asks if you want to continue scrolling your screenshot. Choose yes, and take a long screengrab – great for capturing documents or entire web pages.

Another cool feature is the ability to take notes on the screen when it's turned off. Pull out the S Pen, jot something on the black screen (the digital ink is a white-ish color) and save it if you like. It removes a step from the process of jotting down a quick thought.

The Galaxy Note 5 has the same display specs as last year's model: AMOLED, 5.7 inches, Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440) resolution. It looks just as stunning as it did on the Note 4 did a year ago.

The Note 5 also jumps up to 4 GB of RAM (last year's version had 3 GB), and when paired with its 64-bit octa core processor, the phone continues to feel zippy even when jumping from app to app.

In the last couple years we've seen both fast charging and wireless charging grow in popularity, but the Note 5 (and S6 Edge+) puts them both together. You can't test charging times in a hands-on area, but Samsung says its new fast wireless charging can juice up a dead Note 5 to 100 percent in just two hours.

If it works as advertised, this will solve our only gripe with wireless charging. You'll no longer have to choose between convenience and speed.

The Note's camera has the same specs as the GS6's (16 MP rear, 5 MP front) and we suspect they're the same sensors. The GS6's home button double-tap shortcut is here as well. Our sample shots in the hands-on area looked great and (unsurprisingly) much like the GS6's shots.

From where we stand now, the Galaxy Note 5 looks pretty much like what it needed to be. Much more premium build, more convenient pen and more productivity-based software additions. With each generation, Samsung has made its flagship phablet more like a digital pen and pad. Nobody talks about PDAs anymore, but Samsung's phablet is continuing their legacy in everything but name.

For our quick look at the Note's curved-screen sibling, be sure to check out Gizmag's hands-on with the Galaxy S6 Edge+.

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