Galaxy Note 5 review: Samsung's best sets the bar again

  • Editors' rating
    9.7 Spectacular
  • $489.99

Pros

  • Awesome design elements
  • Stunning display with minimal bezels on all sides
  • Fantastic industry-leading camera
  • Improved S Pen design and functionality
  • Priced less than comparable Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Cons

  • Fingerprint magnet glass back
  • Acceptable, not outstanding, battery life

It's no surprise that Samsung launches new Note devices at the end of every summer, but I honestly wasn't really considering buying one this year. With all of the new sub-$450 Android smartphones, likely new Nexus, iPhone 6S Plus, and flagship Lumia devices I figured I would save up my PayPal phone fund for one or more of those.

While one of these other phones would satisfy me, regular readers know I tend to purchase the best smartphones and the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is currently the top dog. Thus, I couldn't resist trying one for myself and the awesome T-Force team, lead by Chris, worked to get the phone into my hands quickly after the T-Mobile website failed to capture the shipping method I selected.

Specifications

  • Processor: Samsung Exynos 7420 octa-core 64-bit
  • Display: 5.7 inch Super AMOLED at 2560x1440 pixels resolution
  • Operating system: Android 5.1.1
  • RAM: 4GB (LPDDR4)
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, MIMO, Bluetooth 4.2 LE, ANT+, NFC, GPS, MST
  • Storage: 64GB UFS 2.0 internal
  • Cameras: Rear 16 megapixel with f/1.9 aperture and 5 megapixel front facing camera
  • Battery: 3000 mAh non-removable with fast charging and fast wireless charging technology
  • Dimensions: 153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6 mm and 171 grams

As you can see, there is nothing missing from the Galaxy Note 5. Actually, Samsung leads with the fastest available RAM, fastest internal storage, new fast wireless charging technology, and magnetic secure transmission (MST) wireless payment technology. Combined with the other leading specifications, there is nothing else out there that beats the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

Hardware

The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge blew me away when I first opened up the retail box and that same feeling occurred when I opened up the Galaxy Note 5. Samsung was able to take its new design and improve it in the Note 5 with curved edges on the back, along with minimal side, top, and bottom bezels. The Galaxy Note 5 feels even more expensive than it is, clearly outclassing the new lower cost Android smartphones.

The display is absolutely stunning and with the minimal bezels I can't stop staring at it. Fonts can be changed in style and size, but I do notice that some widgets appear with very small text that can't be changed.

The front and back are Gorilla Glass with a metal, beveled edge frame around the entire phone. The front glass transitions nicely into the metal frame. There are four breaks in the frame, two each at the top and bottom, that help with the cellular signal.

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The 3.5mm headset jack, microUSB port, speaker, and S Pen silo are all found along the bottom. In order to remove the S Pen, you simply press down on the S Pen top and then pull it out. There are reports that people have been putting the S Pen in the silo with the telescoping end first. If you are writing normally on the display, there is no rational reason someone would have the wrong end pointed toward the device and S Pen, but I guess not even Samsung can design a product for everyone.

Hardware home buttons help me improve my efficiency and the one on the Note 5 is perfect. The fingerprint scanner performs flawlessly, even better for me than the iPhone 6 Plus. I've been using the double press to launch the camera and am no longer ever missing a shot.

Speaking of the camera, Samsung goes toe-to-toe with the LG G4 as two of the best smartphone cameras available today. The camera software is easy and powerful with full support for RAW in Pro mode. The flash next to the camera continues to serve as the heart rate monitor while the S Health software also helps you capture SpO2 and stress.

Two key features missing from the new Galaxy Note 5 are the removable battery and microSD card. A third missing feature that may be important to a few is the infrared transmitter. I wrote about and lamented the loss of the removable battery and microSD card, but when I sat down and took a serious look at my own usage of smartphones over the past five years I found that these are not issues at all for me. Samsung made design trade-offs that resulted in these removals and I'm just fine with them.

  • Approximate number of smartphones I've owned with replaceable batteries over last five years: 6
  • Number of times I have swapped out a battery: 0
  • Number of smartphones I've owned with microSD expansion card over last five years: 10
  • Number of times I have shuffled the microSD card: 0
  • Number of times a microSD card was reformatted because of issues: 4
  • Number of times I have used the IR functionality beyond a technology demo: 2

Software

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 runs the latest version of Android with TouchWiz. TouchWiz has been lightened up significantly while also providing users with the ability to customize their experiences.

You will still find quick actions in the notification shade, but you can limit what appears there to just one row of icons and in any order you prefer. The app launcher screens can be organized however you like or you can just tap the A-Z icon to view your app shortcuts in alphabetical order. You can change up the home screen panel grid. It's also very easy to apply a theme to change up the entire look of your Note 5.

There are a few Samsung, Microsoft, and T-Mobile apps installed out of the box, but the number of Google apps has been reduced and you can disable or hide many of these preloaded apps.

A press and hold of the home button launches Google Now. You can also switch that up to Cortana if you desire. A double press launches the camera. The camera software is very functional with capture controls positioned over on the right edge and other quick settings on the left. You can tap into different modes, including selective focus, panorama, slow motion, YouTube live broadcast, and more. There is support for downloading and repositioning other modes too. An integrated photo editor is present while you can also now quickly and easily create collages right from the photo viewer.

I discover something new just about every day and one thing I found on the Note 5 is that the contacts application now provides search results containing individual contact information for the associates of my engineering firm, through Exchange, without me even having those individuals in any contact list. With the Note 5 I am able to have an advanced business device.

S Pen functionality has been enhanced with the ability to slide out the S Pen when the device display is off and write a note in white ink on a black display. With the display on, sliding out the S Pen pops out a new Air Command launcher with action memo, smart select, screen write, and S Note icons. There are also two available spots in the list for you to designate two other applications to launch with Air Command.

Pricing and competition

The 64GB iPhone 6 Plus is $849 while the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is $780 so I think there is some confusion about pricing when I read articles stating that the new Note 5 is more expensive than the Apple iPhone. The Galaxy Note 5 is $70 less than the comparable iPhone 6 Plus and offers more in terms of cutting edge technology. Thus, the price should not be a con for the Note 5 as it doesn't compare directly with the less-featured smartphones.

There is no other competition when it comes to a true phablet that integrates the use of a stylus. Primary large screen flagship competitors include the Galaxy S6, LG G4, HTC One M9, and Apple iPhone 6 Plus. The Note 5 has more to offer than all of these.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

I loved the new design of the Galaxy S6 Edge, but the terrible battery life forced me to return it to T-Mobile. Thus, when I saw the Galaxy Note 5 announced with a similar design, awesome dark blue color, larger integrated battery, and S Pen functionality at an $80 lower selling price than the S6 Edge I immediately placed my order. I actually just sold my Apple iPhone 6 Plus with the intent to purchase the next iPhone, but the capabilities of the Note 5 have me questioning whether or not I will make that purchase.

I've been using the Note 5 for a week, including during my daily train commute, while out and about with family and friends, while traveling across the country, and during very long days working and playing in New York City. So far, it has performed amazingly well with my only issue being that the battery still does not last as long as the iPhone 6 Plus I used for the last year. It gets me through a full, busy day, but just barely.

I owned a couple of Notes over the years, but never fully embraced the S Pen. The cool new pop-out S Pen and functionality so far has me writing quite a few notes and using the S Pen more than I ever have in the past. I will continue to evaluate if the S Pen is an important element, but even if it turns out not to be so the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is the best Samsung Galaxy phone yet released.

I awarded the Galaxy Note 4 a 9/10 rating and followed that up with a review of the Galaxy Note Edge with a contributor's rating of 9.5/10. Last year's Notes impressed me with design improvements over previous Notes, but Samsung took the design even further this year with the Galaxy Note 5. As a result, I'm giving the Note 5 my highest Galaxy Note rating.

Some may rant about the loss of microSD and a removable battery, but as I clearly detailed earlier these are not a concern to me and likely not a concern for the majority of smartphone buyers. The ability to more easily handle the Note 5, thanks to the reduction in width and curved glass back, and improved S Pen functionality make the Note 5 a device I plan to thoroughly integrate into my daily life.

Specifications

Cellular
Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
Type Smartphone
Integrated Components audio player, front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS, GLONASS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider not specified
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 5.1 Lollipop
Input Device Multi-touch
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, call timer, conference call, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, barometer, gyro sensor, hall sensor, heart rate, geomagnetic sensor
Additional Features Multitasking, Noise Cancellation Technology, Ultra Power Saving Mode
Security Devices Fingerprint reader
Details
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, audio player, voice recorder, navigation
Body Color Platinum gold
Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, hall sensor, heart rate, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, barometer, geomagnetic sensor, gyro sensor
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services Google+ Hangouts, MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Google+
Communications
Data Transmission EDGE, LTE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA
Wireless Interface ANT/ANT+, Bluetooth 4.2, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
Processor
Clock Speed 2.1 GHz
Processor Core Qty Octa-Core
Display
Technology Quad HD Super AMOLED
Display Resolution 2560 x 1440 pixels
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Diagonal Size 5.7 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 14.39 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.7 in
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 4 (scratch resistant glass)
Color Support color
Camera
Digital Zoom 8
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Features Fast Motion mode, Virtual Shot, picture stabilizer, video recording, Panorama, Pro mode, Selective Focus, Slow Motion mode
Media Player
Supported Digital Audio Standards MP3
Battery
Standby Time Up to 12 Days
Digital Camera
Digital Zoom 8
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Video Recorder Resolutions 3840 x 2160
Features Fast Motion mode, Virtual Shot, picture stabilizer, video recording, Panorama, Pro mode, Selective Focus, Slow Motion mode
Header
Brand Samsung
Product Line Samsung Galaxy
Model Note5
Edition SM-N920F
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Features
Sensors accelerometer, hall sensor, heart rate, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, barometer, geomagnetic sensor, gyro sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, speakerphone, vibrating alert
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Additional Features Noise Cancellation Technology, Ultra Power Saving Mode, multitasking
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards MP3
RAM
Installed Size 4 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 32 GB
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 16 megapixels
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 5 Megapixel

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Where To Buy

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (32GB - white pearl)

Part Number: SMN920VZWA

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