Samsung has unveiled the Galaxy Note 4, along with the kind of tasteful upgrades we’re not used to seeing from the company that brought us the heart-rate monitor and temperamental fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S5.
It was always going to be interesting what Samsung did this time around. The Note 3 was our favourite large-screened handset of 2013. It was a simple and fantastic device that defined the big-phone genre for another year.
The Note 4 has a lot to live up to, and there was every chance that it would be buried under the weight of bloated ‘features’ and useless bells and whistles. Happily, this hasn’t happened.
Samsung has long opted for chromed faux-metal plastic rims in its phones, which many argue detract from otherwise handsome design. This year, the Note 4 is encased in real aluminium; a design choice that suggests an end to what has been a chief complaint against Samsung smartphones.
There’s something reassuring about a device that reminds you of its merits before you even turn on the screen. Don’t underestimate the simple gratification granted by the added weight and coolness of metal when you pull your phone out of your pocket and hold it in your hand.
The Korean giant’s new-found attention to upgrades-where-they-matter is not restricted to switching out one design material for another. Everything that could stand to have been improved upon from last year seems to have been attended to, while any new questionably-useful features are absent.
This attention to basic features means that you end up paying for the stuff that you use, and not for gimmicks whose novelty wears out within the first month.
It’ll be one of the most powerful devices on the market, sporting a new processor (Snapdragon 805) and 3GB of RAM. On-board storage is a generous 32GB, with a microSD slot for expanding that a further 64GB.
The raw grunt will be useful for the new window feature Samsung has implemented. Swiping from a top corner inwards while in an app turns it in to a small window that hovers over whatever is underneath. From here you can continue to interact with it and even resize it if you like. Up to 16 applications can be run in this mode simultaneously.
Like the Note 3, the screen is 5.7-inches, measured diagonally. Considering that 6 inches is fast becoming the standard, it’s relieving to see a little restraint being employed here. The extra 0.3 inches between the Note 3 (last year's model) and its contemporaries was the difference between fitting it in your pocket, and relegating it to a bag.
That’s not to say the screen hasn’t been improved. Its resolution has been bumped up about 75% to a quad-HD 2560 x 1440 panel. That’s the same resolution found on the LG G3, or double the pixels on your standard HD TV.
The rear camera has been bumped from 13MP to 16MP, which in itself says little, but if it’s as good as the Galaxy S5’s same 16MP shooter then it’s going to be hard to beat. The front-facing cam has been upped, too, and you can now activate it by tapping the rear-side heart-rate monitor.
Overall Samsung looks to have nailed the phablet market for one more year running. Of course, this year marks the first time that Apple is expected to enter the race with a 5.5 inch iPhone. If our initial impressions of the Galaxy Note 4 are anything to go by, Apple, or anyone else fronting a big-screened phone, has a difficult task ahead.