Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Hands-on Review: An Unworthy Successor

Samsung Galaxy Note 5
Samsung Galaxy Note 5

For readers, my opinions on this device (ATT 64Gb version) is based off the experiences I had with this device for the passed few days since launch day (Aug 21, 2015). I will continue to update this review in the future. This review should be the similar to Galaxy Note 5 on other carriers such as Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

When the brash, fat and squat original Note made its debut, Samsung’s competitors jeered, tittered and cackled. The consensus in the electronic realm was that it was too large, too unwieldy and entirely too cumbersome to be palatable as a phone. 5 years later, the Note has firmly established itself as a pacesetter. And the competitors are no longer laughing. Instead, they have fallen in line with the exemplary obeisance of a Roman soldier.

With the Note 5, it is clear that Samsung has come a long way from yesteryears, when its phones were easily the most unappealing plastic hunks on the market. Its efforts to create more premium-looking devices is evident in this version. I’ve owned Notes 2, 3 and 4, and the Note 5 is the slimmest and most attractive yet of the line, with a glossy glass back and a redesigned stylus that pops out when depressed. Its design manages to make the unwieldy phablet more comfortable to hold in one hand than its predecessors. Packing an upgraded 16-megapixel camera which is capable of live YouTube streaming, it’s hard not to be impressed by its social media credentials. The front facing camera is a selfie-lover’s dream, having attained 5 megapixels; a notable increase from the prior model’s 3.9 megapixels. By far my favorite new feature is the ability to jot notes on the phone screen while it remains turned off. And proximity charging is a cool, if not head-turning feature. Fast charging was introduced in the Note 4. This latest version charges even faster. The tiny speaker is now at the bottom of the phone, correcting last year’s monumental mistake that found the Note 4’s speaker on its back, muffling output.

In operation: The Note 5 maintains the respectable 2,560 x1,440-pixel resolution of last year. It ships with Android 5.1 Lollipop; a nod and salute to Google’s juvenile notion of naming an operating system after teeth-rotting appetizers. The oftentimes uneasy marriage between Google’s Android and Samsung’s Touchwiz appears less fractious than in prior iterations. More, the Note 5 will be eligible for an upgrade when Android 6.0 Marshmallow makes its debut. The operating system has been so efficiently implemented this time around as to improve battery life over and above the Note 4. With moderate use – a handful of emails, texts and one 30 minute call – it lasted about 16 hours. Which is impressive. This figure will vary for every Tom, Dick and Harry. Err, and Jane as well. Toggling on WIFI, Bluetooth and location services will deplete battery faster, as will a brighter screen. My recent switch from Sprint to T-Mobile may have also contributed to the battery’s stellar performance. In my current location – Middle Kingdom, by the banks of the River of Delirium, U.S. of A. – Sprint’s service is rather lacking, leading to a faster battery discharge. Any mobile phone will conserve battery best when its cellular service provider has abundant signals in any given geographical location. The converse is true: with a weak signal, the phone continues to search for a connection, depleting the battery faster. Since cellular providers are better in some locations and worse in others, a savvy consumer should research the issue before selecting one. Every major service provider in the U.S. sells the Note 5.

But while some of the Note 4’s more positive attributes such as an ultra power-saving mode carried over, Samsung eliminated some of the Note’s most distinguishing features. These features were so key that I am returning this latest iteration, and renewing my relationship with my trusty old Note 4. One reason why I originally embraced the Note was because of its monstrous battery. I am a road warrior, and I needed an Amazonian who could match me step for step. To its credit, Samsung recognized early on that such a large phone would require a larger battery.The Note’s battery capacity was increased with each successive release. Even in the electronic world, or perhaps particularly in the electronic world, size does matter. This time, not only has Samsung reduced the battery capacity from 3,220 mAh to 3,000 mAh, it has also towed Apple’s line, and sealed the battery, such that it cannot be removed from the phone. No more swapping out batteries when travelling, or when it weakens from multiple charging cycles. The older Notes also came with an IR blaster, necessary for using the phone as a remote control. All of my electronic devices can be turned on with my Note 4. Handy for when the remote control plays hide and seek at the most inopportune times. The IR blaster has been eliminated in the Note 5.

Gone also is the expandable slot. Users must now think carefully about how much media they plan on handling with the phone before purchasing. Storage can no longer be increased by the simple expedience of purchasing a micro SD card. Going from 32GB to 64GB will cost the average consumer about $100 more. A micro SD card is also handy for easy transfers. Accessing the same pictures, videos and music on a different phone is as easy as sliding out the card from the old phone and inserting it in the new one. Cautious users like myself prefer to keep digestible content on an SD card as opposed to the cloud. Just ask Ashley Madison. That ability is gone. The Note 5 is also more dainty. I didn’t mind the faux leather back of the Notes 3 and 4, though it would have been nice to have real animal hide. After they die of natural causes, of course. Certainly. But the faux leather was tough to crack if the phone was dropped. And the leather resisted fingerprint smudges and lent Notes 4 and 5 a measure of sophistication reminiscent of Blackberry’s original Bold. That has been eliminated as well. And all this for a narrower, slimmer profile and a glass back that may not survive Galileo’s gravity test. A faustian bargain.

In a nutshell: The Note 5 is an unworthy successor to last year’s Note 4, and represents a step in the wrong direction. If you’ve never owned a Note, then this is a great phone, with lots of attributes that make sense for a phablet particularly as it relates to the stylus. If you are a previous Note owner, then gear up for disappointment with these new changes. I will hold out for 2016 which will surely bring us the Note 6. Eliminating choices for consumers and issuing a positive press release was ever an audacious move. Other than different operating systems, broadly speaking, the stylus is now the only real difference between the iPhone Plus and the Note. It will forever remain a head-scratcher to find companies attempting to eliminate competition by mimicking the products that they are competing with. Rather than distinguishing their own products even more. Go figure. It is my sincere hope that Samsung will reverse course in the 2016’s Note, which is surely coming to a theatre near you, probably in September of next year.

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