Samsung Galaxy Note5 review: Better in every single way, but one
Once again, Samsung makes the best phablet money can buy
- Excellent 5.7-inch Super-AMOLED display
- Extended functionality with improved S-Pen stylus
- Made from glass and aluminium
- Improved ergonomics with curved back
- Competitive 16MP and 5MP cameras
- Fast wireless charging and support for Cat9 LTE
- No support for expandable microSD memory
- Only offered as a 32GB variant
Price$ 1,099.00 (AUD)
A lot of the Note5’s DNA comes from the Galaxy S6 range released earlier this year. Some of these changes might come off as familiar, but compared to its predecessor, the Galaxy Note 4, the Note5 represents a complete overhaul.
Note smartphones have always been powerful, but the liberal use of plastic made them less desirable. This isn’t the case with the Note5. Its list of ingredients include an aluminium chassis and Corning’s Gorilla Glass. Bevelled edging and precision drilled ports on the smartphone read like a craftsman’s signature. Then there’s the colour, which will change depending on how the light falls as it bounces between multiple nanocoatings. “Black Sapphire” is what our Note5 box reads, although the phone itself glows every shade from navy blue to deep black.
Using these materials is one thing; beating them into a shape that is accommodating is another. The hallmark of a Note smartphone is its large screen, and subsequently, a body that is often too big. This is why the next achievement is all the more commendable.
Samsung has managed to make the Note5 more powerful and yet smaller. Measuring the bezel from the screen to the utmost point of the chassis puts the bezel at 2mm. Place the phablet alongside its predecessor and, even though it has the same sized screen, the Note5 manages to take up less space.
Another design trait makes it more comfortable to use. The back of the smartphone wears the kind of curves found on the Galaxy S6 Egde. They aren’t being used for some novelty display; in this instance, they make the large smartphone easier to hold.
These small tweaks in design give Samsung a leg up over Apple. The Note5 has a larger, richer screen than the iPhone 6 Plus, and yet its body is lighter, shorter and not as wide.
The Note formula is a two-fold experience. The first pertains to its screen, which in this case spans 5.7-inches and has a 2560x1440 resolution. It has an astounding 529 pixel-per-inch (ppi) density, in a market where the iPhone 6 Plus has a 401 ppi.
The screen on the Note5 highlights Samsung’s strength as a hardware manufacturer. The display is based on a Super-AMOLED panel, and this is a critical point of difference between it and the majority of smartphones, which settle for an LED-backlit LCD display. Every one of its pixels can be switched on and off as they cycle through 16-million colours, from bright whites to true blacks. Here’s the bottom line: the Note5 has the best display on a smartphone to date.
Complementing the stellar screen is the S-Pen Stylus. It has played a core role in the identity of the Note experience, but this year marks its first major upgrade, and it comes in the guise of an age-old trick. Samsung has ingeniously given the S-Pen a spring loaded clicky top, similar to those found on pens housing a retractable ink cartridge. The small move makes the stylus easier to slide out of the smartphone, as a press of the button causes its head to poke out, while giving a subtle nod to its ancestor, the humble pen.
The dynamic screen-and-stylus duo provides a layer of additional functionality that eludes other smartphones. The screen has enough real-estate to display more than one application at a time. Couple it with the stylus, which can be used to illustrate diagrams, jot notes or for precise navigation, and the Note5 will appeal to a select few professionals in need of the versatility afforded by pen and paper.
A new software perk makes this phablet all the more attractive. Yesterday you needed to print PDFs, sign them, scan them and then send them off. The Note5 streamlines this process by making it possible to sign PDFs right from the smartphone. The process now goes: open, sign, save, send. No need to waste paper, no need to waste time.
Writing on the smartphone does involve a learning curve. The large screen is still smaller than a piece of paper, and at first some apprehension stops your palm from resting on the screen, even though it is smart enough to not interpret your palm print as an input. A week or so later and the nuances that make up the Note experience become second nature.
There is but one shortcoming. The back of the Note5 has the same fantastic camera as the Galaxy S6. It bulges from the body and this makes it hard to write on the phablet when it is laying flat against a desk. It waddles from side to side, much like a table at a cafe that has one leg shorter than the others. This irk ultimately discounts the note taking experience.
An innovation introduced by this phablet is wireless fast charging. The convenience of charging a smartphone wirelessly is marred by long charging times. Take the Galaxy S6, for instance. Charging its 2550 milliamp-hour battery wirelessly from flat to full takes a whopping three-and-a-half hours.
Integrated into the Note5 is a larger 3000 milliamp-hour battery. A fast wireless charging pad will replenish the battery in two hours, although we couldn’t test the claim — the fast wireless charger is an $89 optional accessory. Charging the smartphone from Samsung’s micro-USB fast charger will replenish its battery in 90 minutes.
Overall battery life fares well. We used the Note5 as our primary smartphone for the better part of a week and found it would last longer than a day on average. Our most consistent result was 26 hours, though we did record an outlier of 32 hours.
The rest of the smartphone benefits from innovations introduced by the Galaxy S6. It has a 16MP rear camera and a 5MP front camera, both of which can compete against the best in the market.
The woeful finger scanner of yesteryear has been ditched for one that works well. It’ll read fingers quickly and from any angle, making it the preferred method of unlocking this smartphone.
An underrated change has to do with the Android 5.1 operating system, which is no longer bogged down by its TouchWiz overlay. Parts of the software is stock and many unwanted applications can be uninstalled. Only a handful of applications separate this smartphone from its Galaxy siblings and most of them support the S-Pen stylus.
Powering the Note5 is the Exynos 7420 processor, a 64-bit chipset that couples a 2.1GHz quad-core CPU with a 1.5GHz quad-core CPU. It works with a Mali-T760 GPU and 4-gigabytes of RAM. Altogether, this is one of the most powerful hardware combinations, scoring 24,638 in 3DMark’s ice storm unlimited benchmarking test, which is greater than the results of the Galaxy S6 Edge (22,123), HTC One (M9) (21,123) and LG G4 (18,662).
Letting the Note5 down is the fact it is only offered with 32GB of internal storage. Take into consideration the operating system and you’re left with 24.5GB. This wouldn’t be a problem if the phablet supported microSD cards, but that versatile feature fell victim to a revamped design.
People would gravitate to the Note range because it was one smartphone that could meet all needs. Limiting the internal memory of the Note5 pigeon-holes it as a productivity tool destined for suit pockets, laying waste to the display’s multimedia promise. Sure, customers can buy the 64GB S6 edge+, but that doesn’t have an S-Pen stylus. That too doesn't meet all needs.
Join the PC World newsletter!
Everki ContemPRO Roll Top Laptop Backpack
Linksys AC5400 MU-MIMO Gigabit router
Samsung portable 1TB T3 drive
Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop
UE Boom 2 Bluetooth speaker
Smart LED Bulb LB130
Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive
Epson EcoTank Expression ET-2500
Logitech G403 Prodigy mouse
3SIXT Ultra HD Sports Action Camera
Epson WorkForce DS-360W
Belkin MIXIT Metallic Lightning to USB Cable
Google Daydream VR headset
Lexar® Portable SSD
Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive
Huawei Mate 9
Acer Swift 7
Garmin Fenix Chronos smartwatch
Surface Pro 4
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Dell Inspiron 5000 series 2-in-1
HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450
HP Pavilion x360 13”
Blade 28 backpack by Arc’teryx
Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards
Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive
Dell XPS 13 laptop
Most Popular Reviews
- 1 Huawei Mate 9 full in-depth smartphone review
- 2 ZTE Axon 7 review: Is ZTE dumping old stock on Australia?
- 3 Oppo R9s smartphone full review
- 4 Huawei Nova Plus smartphone review
- 5 Google Pixel XL full, in-depth smartphone review: Phones just got smarter
Latest News Articles
- Android's next destination: Untethered VR headsets with Snapdragon 835
- MWC 17: What's coming, what's not, and what we really want to see
- Xiaomi planning second version of its revolutionary Mi Mix ‘bezel-less’ phone
- 5G progress at Ericsson could help enterprises work worldwide
- Apple smartphones outsold Samsung's in Q4
PCW Evaluation Team
I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.
Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!
For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.
First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.
For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.
- How to quit Pokemon Go (or to start enjoying it again)
- Huawei Mate 9 full in-depth smartphone review
- Time to ditch Foxtel and the iQ3: How to replace Foxtel packages with cheaper alternatives
- What's the difference between an Intel Core i3, i5 and i7?
- Laser vs. inkjet printers: which is better?
- TPProject ManagerOther
- CCTechnical Support AnalystACT
- TPAgile CoachNSW
- TPSenior Business AnalystVIC
- CCSenior Networks Specialist - DNS PlatformVIC
- CCBPM Technical AnalystVIC
- FTData Conversion LeadNSW
- TPAgile Project Manager. Sharepoint / PeoplesoftNSW
- CCSenior Business Analyst - Financial ServicesVIC
- CCService ManagerACT
- CCService Desk Analyst - TelcoTAS
- CCDesktop Engineer l WollongongNSW
- TPTest AnalystQLD
- TPSCCM SpecialistVIC
- FTLinux Systems EngineerQLD
- FTMonitoring Tools Support l NimSoft , SMARTS, ehealth, TivoliNSW
- TPCrystal Reports DeveloperSA
- CCFront-End DeveloperQLD
- TPEnvironment Specialist(DevOps)QLD
- FTChange Manager - Large Transition ProjectNSW
- CCWindows System EngineerNSW
- FTDatabase DeveloperACT
- FTBusiness AnalystNSW
- TPAEM DeveloperNSW
- FTSecurity Engineer - Permanent - IT Services - SydneyNSW