The Verizon Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Review: Just As Many Features As There Are Words In The Name
Samsung phones are looked at with a certain level of contempt in the Android world. They’re easily the best selling Android phones on the planet, but they don’t necessarily represent what Android is capable of compared to phones that run a more slimmed-down version of the operating system. They certainly have their defenders, but people who know what Android can be without the heavy modifications over AOSP tend to wish more “normals” would try out something else. With all of that said, if you ever owned a Samsung Galaxy phone before this year, throw everything you think you know out the window, because Samsung did too when they designed the S6 and Note 5.
One major difference between the US variants of Samsung products this year is that they ditched Qualcomm entirely in favor of in-house Exynos 7420 chips, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The full specsheet is as follows:
- Dimensions: 153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6 mm
- Weight: 171 g (6.03 oz)
- OS: Android OS, v5.1.1 (Lollipop)
- CDMA Data – 1x and EVDO Rev0/Rev. A,
- LTE: 13(700), 4(1700/2100), 2(1900), 3(1800), 7(2600), LTE CA 13+4 (10+10);
- Other Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot; Bluetooth v4.2, A2DP, EDR, LE, GPS, NFC
- Display: 5.7” Super AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass 4
- Resolution: 1440 x 2560 pixels (2K) (~518 ppi pixel density)
- Battery: Non-removable Li-Po 3000 mAh battery
- SoC: Exynos 7420: CPU: Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57; GPU: Mali-T760MP8
- Memory: 32/64 GB, 4 GB RAM
- Expandable Memory: No
- Rear-Facing Camera: 16 MP, 5312 x 2988 pixels, optical image stabilization, autofocus
- Front-Facing Camera: 5 MP
In the box for the Verizon Galaxy Note 5 you get the phone, some instruction pamphlets, a QuickCharge 2.0 charging brick and cable, and a pair of tweezers with replacement tips for the Note 5’s S-Pen stylus.
One of the first things that I noticed upon picking it up was how much bigger it feels than the OnePlus 2 that I was reviewing previously. It’s only ~2mm taller, ~2mm wider, and actually ~2mm thinner than the OnePlus 2, but it has a much more unwieldy feel in my hand. I attribute this to the 5.7” screen, but it’s possible that the width and materials contribute to this as well.
Once I got over that, though, I really had to admire the craftsmanship that went into the design of this phone. The sealed in battery might not be something that some people appreciate, but I think that the overall feel of the Note 5 (and Samsung’s entire 2015 line of high-end Galaxy smartphones) is totally worth it. I say this, of course, as someone who hasn’t had a daily driver with a removable battery in nearly three years (starting with the Nexus 4).
There are two notable issues with the design from my perspective. The ability to break the stylus detection mechanism by sticking it in the wrong way is one. I wouldn’t call it a flaw so much as just a poor design decision. The job of an engineer is to design something to be idiot-proof; this isn’t. My other issue is that the digitizer stretches from edge to edge on this phone. I found that when I was holding the phone normally, I would frequently accidentally register a touch just because my finger is so close to the digitizer. A larger bezel would have meant a larger phone or a smaller screen, but I would have preferred one of those two (probably the latter) to what is present, here.
Touchwiz UX On The Samsung Galaxy Note 5
As has always been the case with Samsung’s products, Touchwiz comes with more features than you’ll ever use and the bloat to back it up. This is a 32GB variant of the phone but out of the box, you’ll only have about 24GB to work with after system memory occupies 8.53GB of that space. It appears as though the games can be uninstalled, but the applications that occupy the ridiculous folders at the top of the app drawer, cannot. There are no less than 11 apps that are installed on this phone from Verizon (including Slacker Radio and NFL Mobile, which may add to or detract from your experience depending on who you are).
Amazon even managed to double up when they updated their shopping app to Amazon Underground (presumably through a system update because Underground is against the terms and conditions of the Play Store) because it and the now deprecated Amazon App Store both have a home, here. The benefit of having the Amazon app store pre-installed as a system app, though, is that it can install apps much in the same way that Google Play does, so you don’t have to enable installations from unknown sources to make it work.
This is my first time using a Touchwiz-fitted device for an extended period, so I had a lot to discover. Consequently, I also can’t remark very much on its difference from previous models, but with the little experience I have had with Samsung phones in the past, this is significantly faster and more bearable than in the past.
One of my favorite features of Touchwiz on the Galaxy Note 5 is the theme engine and theme store. That has always been one of my favorite features in custom ROMs and it’s very cool to have that come to OEM flavors of Android. The theme store has countless themes and I really appreciate the topical themes, like how they have a section for “Spooky Halloween Themes.” The themes bring new color to everything across the system, from the settings menu, to the notification drawer, to the Samsung messaging app, so everything will have the same feel once you’ve applied a theme. If I had to criticize this feature, it would be the fact that themes can only purchased via the Galaxy Apps Store, which means you need to use a Samsung account to pay for those purchases.
Speaking of Samsung accounts and paying for things…
Samsung Pay is not yet present on the Verizon Note 5 The OTA is finally rolling out, now. For the longest time, the official word from Verizon was “Verizon continues to evaluate Samsung Pay. We will keep our customers updated on any news regarding the service. Interested in mobile payments? Android Pay is now avail http://www.verizonwireless.com/support/android-pay/.” Then, like a blessing from the Big Red cell signal in the sky, it was announced via Twitter on October 6th that Verizon had finally finished “evaluating” Samsung Pay, and that it would eventually become available via a software update. Though, I never got a chance to “evaluate” it, myself.
My least favorite change to the UI from AOSP is the notification bar and quick launch buttons. In Lollipop and beyond, the ability to pull down from the notification bar with two fingers or pull down a second time when the notification drawer is already open and you have access to all of the toggles. On the Note 5, you pull down the notification drawer and you have 5 toggles immediately visible. If you want more than 5, you can swipe to the right and get a few more but if you want all of them you need to click the “customize” button at the top. On one hand, the toggles are there whenever you need them. On the other hand, they really aren’t all that attractive up there, especially when you’re using the stock Touchwiz Theme.
The Note 5 also has support for multiple windows, which is something I found myself never using other than for the sake of testing. I just don’t see the point of doing this on a 5.7” display. Only certain apps are supported and some of them only seem to be partially supported. Plus, on a screen this small you’re going to cover up the other app if you need to type anything, which would be the primary reason for me wanting to have two apps open simultaneously.
What makes the Note 5 worthy of the Galaxy Note name, though, is the S-Pen stylus. The S-Pen comes with a whole host of features to take advantage of the tech that the pen uses. When you first remove the pen from its handy sheath, you are greeted with a handful of Air Command shortcuts. These allow you to take a note on the fly or annotate over the current screen and quickly share that with someone.
If you remove the S-Pen when the screen is off, you have the option to just start writing. When you replace the stylus, it automatically saves the note. I could definitely see the use for that if you’re in the right profession.
If you have a particular disdain for efficiency, you can even use the S-Pen to write-out your messages. It’s a cool feature, but why would you ever use it rather than a regular keyboard?
Ultimately, I think that’s the theme of the vast majority Touchwiz’s features on the Note 5. They’re cool, but why would I use them for anything other than the novelty? And at the end of the day they’re taking up a lot of extra space on the device. I guess it’s fortunate that the minimum storage space is 32GB now.
The Great Big AMOLED Display
The display on the Note 5 is exactly what you would expect. Samsung makes some of the best AMOLED panels in the world and making it 2K only makes it better. Personally, I don’t see a difference between 1080p and 2K other than the fact that some games and content (I noticed it on Clash of Clans) aren’t yet prepared for 2K displays and end up looking worse in some situations.
As you would expect, the colors on this panel are very bright and vibrant, tt’s plenty bright when you’re outside, and I had no issue feeling like I was being blinded when I was looking at it in the dark. Other than the problem with pixelation in some situations, I can’t think of anything bad to say about the screen.
On a personal note, I find the 5.7” screen to be too much to use with one hand. Some people might not care or have bigger hands than I do, but that’s just my experience.
The Note 5 features only one speaker, which can be found on the bottom of the phone, opposite of the headphone jack to the micro-USB port (something that I really appreciate). Samsung has never been one to put much emphasis into the onboard audio with their smartphones and the Note 5 is no exception. Because it’s a single speaker on the bottom of the phone, it’s very easy to cover and muffle if you’re holding the phone in landscape, much like on the OnePlus 2 (at least Samsung is honest about the number of speakers).
Sound quality out of the speaker is fine. I’d say it’s better than some others that have a single bottom speaker (a la any iPhone in the last 3 years), but that’s probably only attributable to the larger speaker grille.
With the camera I would hazard to say that this is exactly what you should expect as well. Samsung makes some of the best cameras in the industry and that’s been the case for years now. Despite the fact that the Note 5 doesn’t have a laser focus, it is still really good at fixing on exactly what you want it to. The camera also has lots of cool features, the most interesting of which (in my opinion) is the “virtual shot” which essentially allows you to create a 3D photo that goes around a fixed object. Think of it as an inverse photo-sphere. A lot like photo-sphere, it’s also pretty much impossible to share the “virtual shot” unless the other person has a device or program capable of viewing those types of images.
It almost goes without saying that this is the best smartphone camera that I’ve ever used. The pictures almost always come out clearly, even in relative low-light, and the color temperature is usually very pleasing. I’m not going to pretend to be a photo expert, but I’ve had enough experience with smartphone cameras at this point to say that this one is great. Just in case you feel are an expert, here are some sample photos so you can make your own decision.
I would describe the battery life on the Verizon Note 5 as “okay.” It makes it all the way through the day, but just barely. This phone has a 3000 mAh battery, which is pretty big. The fact that it supports a fast charging method is great and it does charge relatively quickly, but it shouldn’t drain as quickly as it does in my opinion. I was only ever got about 1.5 hours of screen-on time, but the QHD screen wasn’t the biggest battery offender! The biggest problem on this phone was consistently the cell-standby. At first I thought that it was because I was using a non-Verizon SIM in the phone, but even with a whole day using just the Verizon SIM, the cell-standby was still the biggest offender. I got advice from Matt Adams that turning off the VoLTE feature (“Advanced Calling”) would help, but I had never turned it on. Verizon cellular service is great where I live (near Washington, DC), s0 there’s no reason for the cellular radio to be burning so much battery life. It’s possible that this could be fixed in a future software update, but considering the source I wouldn’t count on it.
Summary And Final Thoughts
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The Galaxy Note 5 has a lot going for it. I haven’t used any Samsung-branded devices (Did have a Nexus 10) as a daily driver prior to this, so it’s a very new experience being in the Samsung ecosystem. That said, it’s a much better experience than the few times I’ve picked up Samsung phones in the past and had to deal with their terrible Touchwiz jank. The Note 5 does occasionally lock up, but usually exiting the app that you’re in and returning to it fixes that.
In my experience with the fingerprint sensor on the Note 5 vs that on the OnePlus 2, I have to say that the OnePlus 2 has the edge. Forgiving the fact that the Note 5 doesn’t have a capacitive button and therefore can’t go straight from asleep to unlocked when you touch the home button (the capacitive technology allows for this) the unlock (and general lockscreen) experience on the Note 5 is just bad. You can get used to the lockscreen after a while, but I consistently had to reposition my finger on the Note 5 for it to read my fingerprint correctly, while on the OnePlus 2 it just worked. According to folks who have used the Nexus Imprint, it is really good too. I can’t speak from experience, but I’d be willing to put money on it being better than the Samsung way of doing it.
Over the course of using the Note 5, I was really hoping to get a chance to use Samsung Pay, but that never really happened because Verizon (as always) had to be the lone holdout among all of the other American carriers. They finally approved the system, but for me that still meant not being able to use it during my review. If carriers could stay out of the handset business (seeing as how they don’t make them) that would be just peachy. I guess we’ll see how many more years of T-Mobile throwing a temper tantrum it will take before it becomes a consumer market in the United States.
Ultimately, the Note 5 is one of the most beautiful and overall best phones on the market right now (especially if you can use Samsung Pay). I don’t know if I would buy one for myself because of the size, but the 5.7” screen definitely grew on me over the course of using it. The Galaxy S6 would probably be more fitting for me.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is available from Verizon for $29/month over 24 months on an Edge plan or $696 if you buy it outright ($4/mo or $100 more for the 64GB version). It’s also worth noting that Best Buy sells the 32GB Note 5 for $249 with a 2-year contract, so I’m not sure how that works (I’m guessing it’s a down payment to the full $699 cost of the phone).
If you have any questions other than the ones I’ve answered here, please feel free to ask them in the comments section or hit me up on Twitter or Google+.