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Galaxy Note 5 Review: Samsung’s Stylus Smartphone Reborn, Part 1: Advances

The Galaxy Note 5 is Samsung’s latest stylus smartphone that brings everything you love about the big screen plus the S Pen stylus and its in-built functionality back to the market in a refreshed version. Of course, the Galaxy Note 5 is no mere “refresh”: it has been, to use a statement of the Korean giant, “reimagined, redesigned, and redefined” for a new generation of smartphone users that want to do more with their phones than take photos, send texts, and make phone calls.

The Galaxy Note 5 is another look at what should define the phablet category, but it isn’t without its criticisms or critics. While the Note 5 has a newly designed body and S Pen, some new software additions, world-leading cameras, an improved fingerprint sensor-embedded home button, and an all-new Theme Store to help Note users customize the look of their device for the first time in Note history, Samsung’s latest device is plagued with the Pengate controversy, doesn’t contain a microSD card slot or removable battery for the first time, has a smaller battery size than last year’s Galaxy Note 4, and has a risky design that is fragile when stacked up against the elements.

With these claims out of the way, let the Galaxy Note 5 review journey begin.

Galaxy Note 5 Advances

Design

Galaxy Note 5

The Galaxy Note 5 sees a redesign from the hardware appeal of its predecessors. Samsung started redesigning the Note lineup with the Galaxy Note 4’s metal frame, but the Galaxy Note 5 sees the front and back cover redesigned. Where there was once a plastic leather or “pleather” design, Samsung has now utilized Gorilla Glass 4 display panels on the device front and back.

With the Note 5’s new redesign, Samsung decided to also redesign the S Pen to some extent. Whereas the old S Pen still featured the “faux leather” look, the Galaxy Note 5 stylus substitutes the faux leather for something of a brushed aluminum appeal. At the top of the S Pen, Samsung has placed a “clicky top” that mimics those of true-to-life ballpoint pens. This new addictive feature (clicking the pen top in and out) may appeal to your brain when you’re relaxing at your desk after lunch, but it’s not there for that reason alone: Samsung implemented it in the Galaxy Note 5 S Pen in order to highlight another new feature: the Note 5 S Pen’s “push to eject” feature. This factor of the experience mandates that you first push, then slide out the S Pen so that you need not have your fingers crawl the slot in order to pull the stylus out. Samsung has done this to make it even easier to get ahold of your S Pen, should creativity strike, no matter where you are.

If you’re wondering, the same gorgeous 5.7-inch, Quad HD Super AMOLED display with a screen resolution of 2,560 x 1,440p returns in the Galaxy Note 5 – with an even more improved color reproduction output than before. It’s Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays that draw you in anyway, which leaves you helpless and destined to fall in love with the Galaxy Note 5.

Software

Galaxy Note 5 software

As is expected, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 emerges with some new features this year that are sure to please Note device lovers who are ardent fans of the Korean giant’s most prestigious (though, sadly, not most popular) smartphone. Two new features of the Galaxy Note 5 will enhance your S Pen experience: 1) Off Screen Memo and 2) Scroll Capture.

Off Screen Memo

Galaxy Note 5 off screen memo

Off Screen Memo is a feature that lets you write on your display, even when the screen is “off” (the screen goes black). To use this function, you need only enable “Off Screen Memo” in your S Pen settings. When you use your S Pen on the black screen, you’ll notice that your device will write in a color that you can see, even though the screen is black. Once you write something, then put your S Pen back into the device slot, the Galaxy Note 5 will save your memo in the company’s S Note app.

Samsung’s Off Screen Memo is a useful feature because you no longer need to fumble with your lock screen or even your fingerprint authentication to jot down something you’ll need immediately or later on in the day. Samsung’s Off Screen Memo will make you want to pull out your new S Pen more than you ever dreamed.

Scroll Capture

Galaxy Note 5 scroll capture

Scroll Capture is another feature that enhances Screen Write. If you’ve been a Note user for some time, you’ll remember Screen Write. Screen Write helps you take a snapshot of whatever it is that’s on your screen (for example, a Christmas wish list). The problem up until now, however, has been that you could only take a screenshot of a small portion (the top portion) of the screen. If you wanted to snap a screenshot of the whole, long webpage, you had to take multiple screenshots and activate Screen Write multiple times to do so.

Not anymore.

The Galaxy Note 5’s Scroll Capture allows you to use Screen Write to take a screenshot of the webpage, then scroll to include additional portions of the webpage, or all of the webpage, in the screenshot. Once you’re done with the entire screenshot, you can send it to social media, email, text messaging, and so on. Scroll Capture comes in handy for screenshots of battery life on a device, or your long Christmas shopping receipt in which you got every new Microsoft Xbox One game you ever wanted.

Theme Store

Samsung faithful are not strangers to Samsung’s new Theme Store, but we’re pleased to announce that the Galaxy Note 5 is the first Note device to have access to the new Theme Store, out of the box. What this means for Note 5 users is that they now have access to even greater customization for the Note device than they’ve ever had.

The Theme Store isn’t appearing on the Galaxy Note 5 for the first time in all of Samsung’s devices; it’s appeared earlier this year in the Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge Plus (see our review) and the AT&T US-exclusive Galaxy S6 Active earlier this year. The Galaxy Note 4 didn’t have Theme Store access, and, although the upcoming Android Marshmallow update may bring them to it, didn’t have this software pre-installed. This makes the Galaxy Note 5 Theme Store access all the more special in this light.

The new Theme Store allows you to download a new wallpaper and icon look that you want best. Some critics have said in recent years that Samsung’s TouchWiz isn’t the prettiest UI in the Android bunch, so Samsung has found a way to appease traditional faithful who love TouchWiz as well as those who want something different. There are even Material Design UI themes at Samsung’s Theme Store for those who prefer Google’s vanilla Android UI and Samsung hardware. Now, those who want a little of Google and a little of Samsung can have both at once. Google Play Edition devices (Samsung’s Galaxy S4 GPE, for example) were designed to meet this need, but Samsung’s new Theme Store explains why Google’s given up on GPE devices.

Fingerprint Sensor

Galaxy Note 5 fingerprint sensor

Samsung’s fingerprint sensor found in the Galaxy Note 4 was, like the Galaxy S5, given hostile criticism from tech reviewers and critics who took a certain liking to Apple’s Touch ID sensor in the home button of the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and now iPhone 6s. The fingerprint sensor wasn’t that big of a deal to me, but it certainly was to some who wanted something different than what Samsung offered. Samsung offered a true fingerprint scanner that worked according to what you’d expect a scanner to do, but consumers wanted a fingerprint register instead.

Apple’s Touch ID sensor allows you to simply place your finger on the home button and receive access to your device without any additional effort on your part. So, Samsung, encouraging the use of fingerprint sensors within Android, capitulated and gave in to this one area to encourage consumer adoption of its fingerprint sensors. I’ve put the Note 5’s fingerprint sensor through some consistent testing and I can say that it does work nicely, although you’ll still have to place your finger or thumb flat on the button (cover the entire button) in order to get the desired result. No matter how accessible technology is, it’ll never be idiot-proof – and that’s a good thing.

Battery Life and Performance

Galaxy Note 5 battery life

It’s been a pleasant experience for me with Samsung smartphones, and the Galaxy Note 5 is no different. The average on-screen time or SOT I’ve had with my 64GB Black Sapphire Galaxy Note 5 has been 8 hours, with me getting as much as 13 hours SOT with heavy use. It should be known that, to get 10+ hours SOT in personal results, you’ll need to use your device a lot – but, with average use, you may end up getting only 4-5 hours SOT (this is the average user time for most consumers who aren’t as heavily invested in mobile as my career permits). The battery life and performance results placed below, however, are intended to show you just what you can do if you push your device as far as you’d like to, even out of curiosity.

As for battery life, apart from SOT, I’ve gotten 20 hours+ on a single charge. I’ve been testing a Galaxy S6 Active with a 3,500mAh battery for the last four months, and the Galaxy Note 5 can hang with the S6 Active in battery life. With that said, if you’re an AT&T customer considering whether or not to buy the Note 5 or the S6 Active but want a stylus smartphone, you can get the Galaxy Note 5 with all the confidence of stellar battery life in the world.

Note: add Galaxy Note 5 battery stats here.

Cameras

You’ve seen these cameras before on Samsung’s Galaxy S6 lineup (including the S6 Active and S6 edge Plus), but Samsung brings back its world-best cameras to the Galaxy Note 5 so that Note faithful can take full advantage of the company’s latest camera tech.

As has been the case for all of 2015, Samsung’s 5MP front camera and 16MP back camera, both with f/1.9 camera apertures, do not disappoint. Here are a few photos from my nephew-to-be’s baby shower that was held this past Saturday. As you can see, the Galaxy Note 5 captures faces and special moments beautifully. The post-processing on the device is what makes pictures come out life-like. Don’t worry about how photos look when taking them through the smartphone camera; wait for the final product that will blow your mind.

Galaxy Note 5 Review

Galaxy Note 5 Review

Galaxy Note 5 Review

Galaxy Note 5 Review

Galaxy Note 5 Review

Galaxy Note 5 Review

Galaxy Note 5 Review

Galaxy Note 5 Review

Conclusion

The Galaxy Note 5 is reborn in Samsung’s own Galaxy Note lineup by way of its Gorilla Glass 4 and metal design, innovative software features, fingerprint sensor, and cameras. The Galaxy Note 5 does have a dark side, and we’ll cover that in our second portion of the review titled “Galaxy Note 5 Review: Samsung’s Stylus Smartphone Reborn, Part 2: Retreats.”

 

 

 

 

 

About Deidre Richardson

Deidre is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who discovered her interest for tech a little later in life. Since meeting the Samsung Galaxy S3, however, her life has been changed -- and tech's become such a big part of it. She currently owns four Samsung phones (GS3, GS4 Active, Note 3, GS5), and has owned the Galaxy Gear and Gear S smartwatches. In addition to Yologadget, Deidre writes for SamMobile.com, the largest Samsung fan site on the Web, as well as Smartwatch.me, and general tech site Aptgadget.com.