Mobile Technology

Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy Note 5

Samsung continues to improve its stylus-toting phablet
Samsung continues to improve its stylus-toting phablet
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Samsung Electronics President JK Shin introducing the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+
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Samsung Electronics President JK Shin introducing the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+
With the Note 5, you can jot notes on its otherwise black screen, without even unlocking the phone
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With the Note 5, you can jot notes on its otherwise black screen, without even unlocking the phone
Capturing an extended screenshot
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Capturing an extended screenshot
Penmanship feels a little more natural than it did in the Note 4
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Penmanship feels a little more natural than it did in the Note 4
The new S Pen has a harder tip, which helps add to the ballpoint pen illusion
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The new S Pen has a harder tip, which helps add to the ballpoint pen illusion
The new S Pen may look like it's metal, but it's a faux metal plastic
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The new S Pen may look like it's metal, but it's a faux metal plastic
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The Note 5 appears to have the same cameras we saw in the Galaxy S6
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The Note 5 appears to have the same cameras we saw in the Galaxy S6
After clicking the top of the pen, it juts out a bit – making it easier to unsheathe
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After clicking the top of the pen, it juts out a bit – making it easier to unsheathe
Clicking the end of the pen on the Note 5
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Clicking the end of the pen on the Note 5
Samsung continues to improve its stylus-toting phablet
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Samsung continues to improve its stylus-toting phablet
The Galaxy Note 5 with S Pen
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The Galaxy Note 5 with S Pen

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.

Penmanship feels a little more natural than it did in the Note 4
Penmanship feels a little more natural than it did in the Note 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:

The new S Pen may look like it's metal, but it's a faux metal plastic
The new S Pen may look like it's metal, but it's a faux metal plastic

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.

Clicking the end of the pen on the Note 5
Clicking the end of the pen on the Note 5

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.

After clicking the top of the pen, it juts out a bit – making it easier to unsheathe
After clicking the top of the pen, it juts out a bit – making it easier to unsheathe

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.

With the Note 5, you can jot notes on its otherwise black screen, without even unlocking the phone
With the Note 5, you can jot notes on its otherwise black screen, without even unlocking the phone

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 5 appears to have the same cameras we saw in the Galaxy S6
The Note 5 appears to have the same cameras we saw in the Galaxy S6

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.

The Galaxy Note 5 with S Pen
The Galaxy Note 5 with S Pen

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+.

8 comments
JaxCavalera
Does it use the new Camera 2.0 api ? if not then meh keep trying samsung, we need manual focus! We need it for the Note 3+ and there is no legitimate excuse why it was not included as it is Samsung software not hardware preventing this.
zr2s10
I think that they should have removed the side button on the S-Pen and actually used the top button for more than pulling the pen out. I have a note 10.1 tablet, and the button on the side makes it easy to accidentally trigger menus/actions that you don't want to. It takes away from the freedom of using an active stylus when you're constantly worried about hitting that button that's, you know, right where your finger tips are at! I like the overall design (curved back is nice for hand-feel), but they made two major mistakes with this: No SD card, Non-removeable battery. This device will not sell as good as their previous version, for these two things alone. These two things used to set Samsung apart from Apple, and helped grow their business. The battery is one thing, you can always get a cheap portable charger, so you're not outlet hunting. But they used to advertise how easy it was to switch out a battery for power users, and make fun of Apple users for having to huddle around outlets. Then they drop that feature? The lack of an SD Card is what really kills it for me. I know 32/64 GB is a lot of storage, but if you're making a lot of docs, pics, and videos on this for work, you need a lot of space. It's also the fastest way to transfer a lot of files, very quickly. Especially when Android and Windows don't want to get along. I find myself transferring files this way frequently with my S5A. I predict this will sell way less than the Note 4, and Samsung will have to go back to the way they used to do things, instead of trying to be a Korean Apple. If they built the Note 5 just like the 4, but improved the internals/camera and cleaned up TouchWiz to make everything run smoother/faster, they would sell way more. Lipstick on a pig is the way they decided to make it.
Lowndesw
Well, it does have AC wi-fi. From what I read some of the later Notes did not. Think I'll stick with my Mega. It has been one very solid and reliable phone. I accidently ran over it one day in the barnyard with a four wheel drive Kubota tractor, mashed it into the ground, didn't hurt the phone but it sure messed up the $7 case on it!! If they made a BIGGER screen phone I might be tempted.
rere
I totally agree with zr2s10, I have bought every NOTE made so far but will also stop at Note 4. Note 5 is a DUD for the lack of the benefits below. No good for work or entertainment anymore. I go through 2 batteries a day and a 2 hour charge is useless also I take a lot HD video and photos for work and transferring files from the phone especially when you can't view the images like you can from a card on windows is a pain and I sometimes change cards if I want to bring some extra videos with me when traveling, that gone. why is sam samsung so intent on copying Iphone. I don't want and Iphone because of this now an Iphone 6 seems a better option because security is better and the interface is smother than android but because of the above I'll stick to my note 4 until I need to change to another brand that is keeping a battery that can be swapped out and SD card. If the bring back this flexibility I may come back but once I move to a new brand it's going to take a lot more to get me back.
Drew31186
I have had the Note 1,2,3 and 4 but I WILL NOT be buying a note 5! I left apple for a removable battery and expandable memory. This really upsets me. I guess my Note 4 and Gear S will be the last products I buy from Samsung. Samsung... I think it's time to see new people.
willemco
If I EVER had wanted an iPhone I would have bought one. Steadily the Samsung products have morphed DOWNWARDS towards iPhone standards and iPhone UPWARDS towards the downward spiralling new Samsung standards. I've made up my mind now... after 5 years my relationship with Samsung has now come to a sad end. My Note 4 is the last Samsung. Previously been kinda disappointed with the lack of software updates but the disappearance of removable battery and external micro SD card really is the straw that broke the camel's back. The Note4 will hopefully do me for for a couple of more years and by then Xiaomi and/or Huawei will have caught up or even overtaken Korean quality, so 'Thanks for having me, Samsung, but it's time to say GOODBYE forever"... It's sad to see it end this way....
Vikingvista
"Samsung says its new fast wireless charging can juice up a dead Note 5 to 100 percent in just two hours." But in just 15 seconds, I can accomplish a full wireless charge on my Note 3, and I don't need to be within 1000 miles of a power outlet. So how is the Note 5 an improvement in this regard? I should want to rejoin the airport outlet nomads? Oh well. At least I can still use the Note 5 to turn on captions, change inputs, adjust volume, and switch channels on TVs in hotels, hospitals, waiting rooms, airports, restaurants, and other public spaces. Wait, I can't? Oh well, at least I can securely transfer private encryption keys and 10s of gigabytes of confidential documents and other media on the removable SD card. What? I can't? So why would I want to downgrade to a Note 5 from a Note 3?
nzassman@aviva.ca
I was waiting for almost a year for the Note 5. My contract is up for my Note 2, but I agree with all the other comments. I often go through two batteries when I'm at trade shows, with no method of charging, so the lack of the replaceable battery lost me, too. I could accept the lack of Micro SD card, but for me the battery changing option was critical. I hope they go back to the old design by next year. I'll look for the Note4, or wait to see other offerings, as I know LG is now offering replaceable batteries. What were they thinking. They had a great design, and they ruined it.
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