Known for its handwriting friendliness and screens pushing near six inches, Samsung's Galaxy Note series is the progenitor of the modern stylus-centric smartphone. It's easily the go-to choice for an Android phablet. But with LG's G3 Stylus here and the rumored iPhablet around the corner, the new Galaxy Note 4 has to work a whole lot harder. So far, it seems like it does.
What's new, what's better, and what's stayed the same since last year's Note 3? Quite a lot, actually. The physical design has been tweaked, Samsung's TouchWiz apps are more organized, and the internals are more potent than ever. If you're a Note fan, it's exactly what you were hoping for.
For the Samsung devotee, one feature will noticeably stand out: the Note's new frame. The Samsung Galaxy Alpha introduced a brave new world where Samsung built metal phones, and the Note 4 solidifies that choice of material by adopting actual metal trim, as opposed to the Note 3 and the S5's faux-chrome rim. It's a small, and for the average customer, negligible improvement, but side-by-side the improved material gives the handset a more solid and premium feel.
From left to right: faux-chrome laden Note 3 and terminator-metal Note 4
Samsung also extends a few minimal design changes to the removable backing, removing the faux stitching and changing the texture a bit. The difference is actually hard to put into words. It's still definitely plastic but retains some of the leather-ish quality of the Note 3.
Physical buttons remain in their familiar places. Power button on the right, volume rocker on the left, and twin capacitive buttons are embedded in the bezel flanking the Note 4's oblong home button. The sensors are new, though: Samsung copies over its fingerprint scanner from the Galaxy S5, bringing added security to the device and also integrating with online services for secure mobile payments, according to Samsung. The Note 4 also integrates a UV sensor for additional S Health features.
...And the improved
But, as you'd expect from Samsung, the Galaxy Note 4's screen is the star of the show. The display is undeniably stunning, with the new device flaunting the first ever QHD Super AMOLED screen on a smartphone. That's a 5.7-inch, 2560 x 1440 (515 ppi) screen if you're keeping track. I often involuntarily muttered "wow" to myself while swiping through different menus and apps, so that's a good sign.
Other times I was fawning over the Note 4's screen for completely different reasons. The Note 4, and only the Note 4, will be the screen powering Samsung's new Gear VR virtual reality headset. Although this is a niche selling point for most, it's irrefutably the most unique. Impressively, the Gear VR delivers a comparable VR experience to even the latest Oculus Rift developer kit that blew us away at CES, minus the head-tracking feature. Considering Samsung partnered with Oculus on Gear VR, that makes a lot of sense. So the extra pixels in this case might be more important than with your average smartphone because you may have them strapped inches away from your face.