Living with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, week 1: boy, this thing is big

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

When I was given the assignment of reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 in the long term, a flurry of mixed feelings rushed through my mind. On one hand, I knew that Samsung's phablet was an outstanding phone, and using it as a daily driver for over a month was going to be, in a way, a privilege. But on the flip side, I had never been a fan of extra-large phones. A phone that I couldn't comfortably carry in a pocket or handle while holding a mug or a bag of groceries in my other hand didn't make much sense to me. Perhaps my opinion on the matter was about to change? The answer to this and many other questions should arrive at the end of the long-term Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review which I'm working on practically 24/7. 

Now, if you're wondering what a long-term review is, wonder no more as it is exactly what it sounds like. In a nutshell, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has been my personal smartphone for a week now, and it will remain in my possession for a total of 5 weeks, during which I'll be logging my experience, including all positive and negative impressions that might accumulate. At the end of each week, I'll be posting an update on my progress, focusing on a particular set of features and/or specifications. Today's topic – design.

Is bigger really better?


As I stated above, extra-large phones have never really been my cup of tea. That's why it was highly likely for this paragraph to be a rant against the Galaxy Note 4's gargantuan proportions. But instead, I chose to give Samsung's phablet a fair chance at winning my heart, and to tell you the truth, I got used to its size more quickly than I thought I would. That was probably because I could genuinely appreciate the benefits of having a large screen. Being the YouTube addict that I am, I now watch videos mostly on the Note 4 and only occasionally on my laptop. Playing games, as little time as I have to dedicate to this, has become a greater pleasure. Also, I think it is kind of cool having the option to split the screen in two and run apps side by side. I don't use this feature often, but when I do, I'm glad it is at my disposal. 

Of course, I still hate how I practically can't tie my shoes or sit comfortably with that thing in my pocket. And single-handed use is frustrating in general, at least in my case, even though my hands are of above average size. Yes, even when I enable single-handed mode, which shrinks the interface to a fraction of its height and width. All in all, I'd say that I'm okay with the size of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 now that I've used it extensively for a while. I'm not in love with it by any means, but I'm glad I embraced it with an open mind. 
 

It's a material world


For the record, I treat my gadgets as babies. I'm always careful while handling a phone, and it must have been years since I last dropped one by accident. Sure enough, I've been treating the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 with the same level of attention and care. But it is showing signs of wear, although these were most likely caused by whoever used the handset before me. Tiny scratches can be seen on the phone's metal frame; nicks are present on the display as well. These, however, are barely noticeable and only when looked at from a certain angle. 

As for the snowy-white back of the phone, it is still in pristine condition, and it has never bothered me that it's basically a thin sheet of plastic. As a matter of fact, I'd take that any day over a fragile glass-made back cover. The leather-like texture is more slippery that I wish it was, but grip has never really been an issue in my experience. In a nutshell, a Galaxy Note 4 should endure the tests of time well if you take good care of it. And the coating on the solid metal frame most likely won't chip off easily. Owners of Galaxy phones with plastic frames know what we're talking about.


Buttons, buttons, who's got the buttons


When it comes to smartphones, there's a heated debate on whether physical or virtual on-screen buttons are better. While both solutions have their pros and cons, I've been perfectly happy with the physical keys on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – it's very satisfying when you press the the home key and it responds with a nice click. It feels analog, and I like it. The capacitive buttons get the job done, but I find them a bit uncomfortable to operate with the thumb on the hand I'm holding the phone with, and I've pressed them by accident more than once while holding the phone in landscape orientation. As for the power and volume buttons, I have absolutely nothing bad to say about them. 

What I'm quite unhappy with, on the other hand, is the fingerprint scanner. It works, but not as well as it should, and that has been causing me plenty of frustration. When the Note 4 fails to unlock, it is either because I'm swiping too fast or too slow, or because I'm swiping sideways, not vertically, or because my finger isn't precisely positioned in the center of the scanner. It gets even worse if my hands are slightly moist, like right after I've washed them. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a high-end product, and half-baked features like its fingerprint scanner don't belong on it. Yesterday, I totally gave up on it and disabled the fingerprint lock. 

Do you Note?


Now seems to be the right time to mention the S Pen stylus that comes along with Samsung's phablet. If you've read our Galaxy Note 4 review, you are probably familiar with what it is meant to be used for. You should also know that it rests in its dedicated silo. At first, pulling the S Pen out required lots of force, but over time, the mechanism holding it in place has definitely loosened its grip, thus making the stylus easier to pull out.

Technically, the S Pen is a sophisticated accessory. It registers 2048 levels of pressure, its tip can be detected while hovering above the screen, and if you lose or leave the stylus behind, your Note 4 will notify your with a beep. None of this is possible with a run-of-the-mill capacitive stylus. But to many users, including myself, it simply won't matter as they'll have little to no practical use for the S Pen. I tried taking notes with it, but I found it neither faster nor more convenient over using a note-taking app like Google Keep and the Note 4's trusty virtual keyboard. Besides, my handwriting isn't particularly elegant. Is it good for drawing? Well, I do like to draw, but drawing with a stylus on a glass surface doesn't feel very natural, although I'm sure a dedicated artist will grow used to it over time. The S Pen simply cannot simulate the feel of a pencil or brush stroking against paper or canvas.

To be continued...


So yeah, that's what I have to say about the design of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 based on my personal, first-hand experience. Of course, there's more to come as I'll be using the phablet for at least 4 more weeks. I've yet to cover its stellar and not-so-stellar performance, as well as my impressions from one of the best cameras on a mobile device to date. So stay tuned, spread the word, and drop a line in the comments below if there's anything in particular you'd like me to focus on.

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Related phones

Galaxy Note 4
  • Display 5.7" 1440 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP / 3.7 MP front
  • Processor Samsung Exynos 7 Octa, Octa-core, 1900 MHz
  • Storage 32 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3220 mAh(20h 3G talk time)

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75 Comments

1. LebronJamesFanboy

Posts: 671; Member since: Mar 23, 2013

You get used to the size of the note 4 pretty quickly. However, if you're coming from a Nexus 5, iPhone 6, or any other smooth phone, the touchwiz lag is the killer. Hopefully this is corrected.

2. Nick_T

Posts: 184; Member since: May 27, 2011

What lag? My recent apps take just 4 seconds to load.

4. LebronJamesFanboy

Posts: 671; Member since: Mar 23, 2013

LOL....

9. ianbbaa

Posts: 332; Member since: Mar 20, 2013

There are some lags even on iOS on my new iPad mini 2 with retina. And quess what - i compared side by side with my 2yr old NOTE 8 that was not fresh installed and this N8 loads apps similar or a bit quicker than the ipad. I could see some stutter on the ipad with stock 8.1.1 and also after upgrade to 8.2. Whoo and i even got hang on the ipad but i realized that ios doesnt tell you this as every android does with dialoge like"Unfortunatelly this and that stopped." So is my first experience with Apple product - i realized that it isnt that better software wyse, but display and sound are great. Anyway - i am gonna to return the ipad as it doesnt offer any tiny hair of an upgrade to my current old Note8 as a tablet.

11. willard12 unregistered

Is Lebron James using a Note 4?

10. TyrionLannister unregistered

Is that really true? What other places have you encountered the lag? Are you using the Snapdragon or the Exynos variant as the Exynos is much faster in day to day use. Is that recent apps problem even there in S6?

13. ianbbaa

Posts: 332; Member since: Mar 20, 2013

My note 3 NEO with HEXA and 2GB ram only in compare to Note4 does hardly lag. It runs sweet, recent apps normal, even switching into one-hand mode is instantly done with no redrawing or something. I believe better specced Note4 can not do things like this.

19. sergiobr

Posts: 718; Member since: Feb 25, 2013

+1 Note 3 is great !!! I´ll just upgrade to Note 5 (hope a 1.5 sensor 20Mpx and others S6 features)

69. defcon888

Posts: 39; Member since: Nov 03, 2014

Hope they keep the SD Slot...battery not being removable isn't that big of an issue for me.

59. hondaslzman

Posts: 78; Member since: Dec 29, 2014

Whatever lag you hear are from Assple fans, they are here trollling

21. maherk

Posts: 6750; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

That's true. There is always that 2 second lag the 1st time you press the recent app button after you restart the phone. The gallery also takes a 1-1.5 to fully load, but is much much faster without the micro sd. Other than those 2 issues, i don't see any lag on my Note 4 running on Lollipop. As for the fingerprint scanner, I only use it with the Fingersecurity app, but i found it useless in the case of unlocking my phone since it's not that consistent. Regarding the scuffs you found on the phone, i am pretty sure those who used it before you didn't take much care of it, mine is in perfect condition after 5 months of using it naked with no cases or screen protectors what so ever. Although i do notice tiny hairline scratches on the chamfered edges, but only if i am really trying to find something while pointing it at the sun, and surely not noticeable in normal circumstances.

65. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Here is why the gallery lags. First, if you save 100's of pictures on your phone, when you open the gallery for the first time, the gallery apps created thumbnail files for each photo. The more you have the longer it takes. Also, by default, if you use an SDcard, the sdcard is slower than internal storae, making this take longer. But that isn't lag by defeinition, the app is simply doing what it is designed to do and some changes have a much higher effect on the result. The lag when app switching.- This problem I found is linked to 2 issues. One, don't move app data to an sdcard. Same reason as above. The 2nd is how virtual machines handle app switching. I did get the issue to go away for about a week, then it came back. But it came back only after I filled up 50% of the internal storage with apps. When I had less than 50% used, it caused no issue. So what I did was move all my music and downloads to the sdcard so the only thing on my internal storage is the apps. I still ave a 1 sec delay in app switching, but so what. Any computer that has full multi-tasking suffers the same. Its not an issue, it is just how hardware works. The Apple fans who constantly bring this up, do this to make them feel better about their limited capabilities devices. They have to find one thing wrong to make them feel good for the 10 things their devices are wrong on. After all what are the main things they talk about with Android? Its aways TouchWiz, its always lag, and then they try to claim all Android users are broke and poor to buy iPhone. Same ole sheep, same old idiots, same oles hypocrites.

22. maherk

Posts: 6750; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

That's true. There is always that 2 second lag the 1st time you press the recent app button after you restart the phone. The gallery also takes a 1-1.5 to fully load, but is much much faster without the micro sd. Other than those 2 issues, i don't see any lag on my Note 4 running on Lollipop. As for the fingerprint scanner, I only use it with the Fingersecurity app, but i found it useless in the case of unlocking my phone since it's not that consistent. Regarding the scuffs you found on the phone, i am pretty sure those who used it before you didn't take much care of it, mine is in perfect condition after 5 months of using it naked with no cases or screen protectors what so ever. Although i do notice tiny hairline scratches on the chamfered edges, but only if i am really trying to find something while pointing it at the sun, and surely not noticeable in normal circumstances.

32. Simona unregistered

u taking mick ... mine half second

34. virparam01

Posts: 19; Member since: Mar 04, 2012

Would agree recent app take few seconds in cold state. but about fingerprint is isn't that bad as most of people say it. they give you 60 attempts(20 for each)for registering finger patterns. try registering at diffrerent angles mostly how you unlock it. i own one and have just 20 registered and hardly i have to try the second time. just give it a try.

42. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

which note variant are you using. snapdragon or exynos?

52. maherk

Posts: 6750; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Exynos. N910c

53. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

the guy that wrote the article is using the n910f I'm guess that's the snapdragon variant then. lame

70. Fallen1

Posts: 288; Member since: Nov 14, 2014

My recent apps take about half that on my note 4

17. mrej201

Posts: 226; Member since: Feb 04, 2015

what lag... lol iPhone 6plus lag more than note 4 and that's the true fact

25. MrHate

Posts: 317; Member since: Feb 09, 2015

I don't know what your are saying. Today I tested the S6 and S6 Edge and the first thing I noticed is that it feels slow/laggy compared to my iPhone 6. Just through navigating the phone I bet all the people who are using an iPhone could tell that the S6 feels slower. (feels, if it is actually slower I don't know but that doesn't matter)

26. maherk

Posts: 6750; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

So we should take your words over the hundreds of reviewers who POSTED videos of them actually trying the S6??

27. mrej201

Posts: 226; Member since: Feb 04, 2015

did you forget about animation transition

35. Awalker

Posts: 1968; Member since: Aug 15, 2013

All phones have animation transitions.

41. Macready

Posts: 1813; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

Blabla, refuted despite pushing almost 4 times as many pixels (makes you wonder what Apple did wrong with their software):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVkaY-F6Zhs And that's Kitkat, Lollipop ROM is proven to be faster still and the S6 is considerably faster than that.

45. MrHate

Posts: 317; Member since: Feb 09, 2015

These kinds of tests are pretty useless because no one is using their phone like this. This is like the stupid switching the phone on/off and all that stuff. And yes the S6 may actually be faster but it felt slower. And it's almost 2 times as many not 4 times. But still good improvement compared to the old TouchWitz days.

48. Macready

Posts: 1813; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

I posted a link to the 6 Plus vs Note 4, on the right side you see the link where they did the regular iPhone 6 (and Nexus 6 too). It was slower still and yes, with almost a factor 4 difference in pixels.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DV2X51kAVfc It's actually a good test because it's repeatable and shows loading of light and heavy apps in the real world, not once, but reloading from memory too. What's useless is a non supported claim that says: feels laggy. And then trying to hide behind subjectivity as the ultimate shield. I can do that too, but with a bit more support: iPhones feel laggy in my hands, even if they may prove faster on a stopwatch. Why? Because they still (after all these years) ignore user input during animations. What's worse, the animations have only increased in length/duration, so the sense of lag has increased in iOS 7 and 8 too. And before anyone says you can turn those animations off, the input is still ignored for the same duration... of an invisible animation. Facepalm. No, Touchwiz does not ignore user input during animations.

62. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

The S6 didn't feel slower except in your mind. Let me be honest. You are suffering from what is called the Placebo Effect. Because you and many other talk about lag so much with Android or Samsung devices in general, you automatically have in your mind to expect a laggy experience, even with the lag isn't even present at all. Now here is a more honest opinion. It took me to jailbreak an iphone and turn off the animations and compare it to a Galaxy device also with animations turned off. By default Samsung has animation set to .5x, while the iPhone was set to 1.x. Based on the animation time alone, the iPhone transitions take longer, which means the apps aren't loading as fat you think. The point of the animations is to file the gap in apps loads so your eyes think it was instant, when if you use a timer would see it isn't. Now I compared the transitions effects of the S3 and S4, with a Note 3 and 4 vs the iPhone 5/5S and I didn't have the iPhone 6 at the time. Now that I have an iPhone 6 for testing internal apps for our employees, I have a much better look at what the phone is actually doing. The downside is I can't jailbreak the iPhone 6 as it came with iOS 8.2 from ATT. But I can still use a stopwatch to test the time. Based on what I can discern, the animations are still at 1.x compared to my Note 4 default setting of .5x. So basically the transitions on my Note 4 lasts 1/2 the time of the iPhone. The last thing I tested is letting a very long webpage complete load on both devices and taking my finger and flicking the page as hard as possible once, and seeing how far the pages will scroll until they stop. Not only does the page scrtoll faster on the Note vs the iPhone, one flick got me past 80% of the page, while on the iPhone I barely made it half way. This has been proven with even a Nexus 5 vs an iPhone 5S.

63. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

cont'd I never test the speed of how fast an app opens ans closes on one platform vs another. Especially iOS vs Android. Objective C has direct access to the hardware like Windows, whereas Android is a VM. So iOS already has an advantage here. Where this advantage was very visible back in 2007, it hasn't been so since 2010. In conclusion? I am not saying some Android phone sdon't lag. I am not saying Samsung Galaxy phones don't lag. What I am saying is specifically the Note 4 without Android 5.x is still faster than the UI on either iPhone 6 model with iOS 8.2. The Exynos is much faster than the Qualcomm SD. So there is no way the S6 is slower than my Note 4. Even tho both have a 1440p display, the Note 4 is larger thus driving less pixels per inch. Thus it should be faster than the S6 in theory. However, side by side test show the S6 blowing the Note 4 and being much quicker. Its not a huge margin, but it is wide enough to see. Point? You're lying. If the Note 4 is proven to be faster than both iPhone's, then there is no way the S6 is slower than the iPhone. So either you've never used a Note 4, or a S6 and you are a lying Mr Hating trolling Samsung hating smuck, or your eyes and you brain need to be checked by a doctor when videos side by side of the S6 vs the Note 4 show the S6 is faster than the Note 4 especially with its size advantage and the Note 4 is already faster than both iPhone 6 models. I don't understand why people lie online, when you can Google and YouTube facts in an instant.

64. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35lvIOA3F2U This is the best test I've found of the iPhone 6 vs the Note 4. I peronslly don't every count any tests where apps loaded use the internet. Why? First, carriers have given network speed advantages to the iPhone users. This is especially true of GSM based carriers. Also, on wifi tests. When 2 phones are on wifi, wifi routers always process the request that came in first. Though Samsung devices have a faster wifi modem over the iPhone, if the iPhone manage to get its request in first, it will take bandwidth from the other deivce and vice versa. This is a proven fact with devices on wifi. The best way to test apps that use a network, is to use them on different networks or different wifi routers. Apps load times for me personally are not conclusive, because for example, Facebook for iOS is optimized better for iOS than it is for Android. But we gotta test something...right? But the main reason I liek this yest is because its mostly and reaosnable fair. Other than at the end, Chrome is not the Samsung stock browser, Samsung makes its own browser which is faster than Chrome. In the end, even tho the iPhone loaded apps faster, the Note 4 came back from behind with multi-tasking. In the end, the iPhone offered no advantage. Also the Note 4 boots faster than the iPhone in every single test. But considering the Note 4 is pushing almost 2M more pixels, has a display that is almost a full inch larger, where the iPhone has better single core speed vs the Note at quadcore speed where it wins, and the fact the Note after he opened all those apps had apps running in the background and the iPhone doesn't. The fact they tied in the end shows Apple iPhone has no advantage whatsoever. You may as well have the best possible hardware for the cost. The iPhone is a new phone, yet takes worse pictures than a year old S5. But you're concerned about lag? Did you see the lag in the iPhone 6? It's right in the video and it doesn't even multi-task. Imagine how fast the iPhone would be with 3GB of RAM and it still doesn't multi-task. LOL. And the S6 is faster than the Note 4, its even faster than a Note 4 even with Lollipop. But you want us to believe you tested an S6 vs an iPhone 6 and you said the S6 was slow? Just liek Steve Jobs, you iPhone lovers are just a bunch of lying sap-suckers. Liek Steve when he was showing other phones have antenna issues? Yes sure if you take your hand and wrap it around the whole phone and block ever possible access to the antenna, sure any phone will have issues, but with the iPhone 4, all you had to do was block the gaps, not wrap your hand over the whole phone. You guys are a joke and I personally liek Windows don't even liek Android. I use it because it does what I need and it offers better value for hat I pay. I dont buy what other have just because everyone buys, I buy what works for me whether anyone likes it or not.

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