It's that time of the year again, when our poor techies souls will be faced with an abundance of great handsets, barely half a year after we acquired the latest and greatest. You might have been a tad disappointed when the Galaxy S5 was announced with "only" 2 GB of RAM, no OIS, and biometric sensors of dubious usability, but it's still arguably one of the best all-around flagship handsets now, that is why we took it for a spin at the IFA expo, pitting it against the mighty new Note 4.
There is no arguing that Samsung did a good job with the Note 4's design, keeping the chassis fairly thin and compact for the screen size, while at the same time preserving the signature removable back cover that gives you access for a battery swap, or a storage expansion. The phablet actually resembles the Galaxy Alpha design decisions, with its metal rim surrounding the sides, and the protruding headphone jack area. The Galaxy S5 has a removable back cover, too, though, so we'll move on, and point to the abilities brought around by the S Pen stylus, whose precision drawing on the now-QHD display might tip the scales in the Note 4's direction.
With Note 4, Samsung kept the 5.7" screen size from its predecessor, but did the unimaginable, and equipped the large Super AMOLED panel with a 1440x2560 pixels Quad HD resolution, as is the latest trend in the biz. This gives you larger canvass to work and wield the S Pen stylus with, but adds to the Note 4's dimensions in a significant way, compared to the 5.1" 1080p screen on the S5. Samsung is getting the oversaturation of its gaudy AMOLED display colors in check recently, and the Note 4 is no exception, offering several screen modes to choose from, similar to the S5. Samsung's S-line flagship is able to reach 600 nits of peak brightness, though, making it one of the best phones for outdoor usage, whereas the crazy pixel density of the Note 4 means you'll have to live with a bit less backlight seeping through.
Apart from a few new wallpapers that are consistent with the QHD realities of the Note 4's screen, and the S Pen apps paraphernalia, there isn't much difference between the TouchWiz editions of the Galaxy S5, and the phablet. It sports the modern flat look at places, while looking totally different in others - inconsistency we already wrote about
numerous times. Still, Samsung's Android overlay remains one of the most functional and feature-rich interfaces out there, with a smorgasbord of options that put even battle-hardened Samsung users to the point of confusion at times.
Processor and memory
The Note 4 wins this round hands down, as it sports the newest commercially available Snapdragon 805 processor, clocked at 2.5 GHz, while the S5 makes do with the previous-gen 801. The 805 brings a bunch of 4K-related optimizations, namely fluid encoding, decoding and streaming of the high-res imagery. It's not that the Galaxy S5 feels underpowered, but the Quad HD display, and the mighty 16 MP camera with OIS of the Note 4 are better served by Snapdragon 805. In addition, the 2 GB of RAM on the S5 tip the scales even further in the direction of the Note 4.
Both handsets share the same rear camera resolution - 16 MP - while the Galaxy S5 sports Samsung's ISOCELL technology that on the whole saturates the colors a bit, exhibiting some lively visuals. It produces sharp, well-defined photos with plenty of detail, and has the S5 rank consistently at the top in our camera comparisons, even during nights. The Note 4 takes this torch, and passes it further, adding optical image stabilization tech. The OIS kit, along with the more powerful image processor allows it to use slower shutter speeds and soak more light in without blurring the scene, as well as apply effects, and switch between stills and 4K video in a jiffy.
Note 4 vs Galaxy S5
What can we say - we are pretty impressed with what Samsung was able to churn out in the case of the Note 4, and, given the big-screen device trend, can predict even higher blockbuster sales than of its predecessor. The phone is better than the S5 in many ways, chief among which are the processing power, and the options that the large high-res display, and the precise S Pen stylus, make possible. Granted, the S5 is more compact thus easier to handle, but surprisingly not by much, so the only reason to pick it before the Note 4 would be its already diminishing price tag.