After countless rumors and leaks, Samsung did indeed unveil the new Note5 phablet today, earlier than the usual September IFA announcement, as this year the company is on a mission to outrun Apple and be the first to get its large-screen device to the masses.
The Samsung Galaxy Note5 adopts the new design language that Samsung premiered with the S6: a metal frame sandwiched between two pieces of toughened glass, but it also features the signature for the Note series S Pen that now comes with improved functionality (most notably, you can now pull out the stylus and start writing right on the lockscreen, no need to fire up an app).
More refined design and lots of horsepower, but no microSD card and no removable battery
That's just part of the reason why people get the Note series. The other part is that it's traditionally been an absolute beast in terms of specs, and this year's Note5 is no exception: it's got a 5.7-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display, a 14nm octa-core Exynos 7420 system chip, and it is the first Samsung phone to come with 4GB of RAM. It's also got a 16-megapixel rear/5-megapixel front cam combo, and an ample 32GB of storage in the base model.
As it switches to more premium materials, though, Samsung has sacrificed a few of its signature features: the Note5 does not support microSD cards for expandable storage, it does not have a user-removable battery, and there is no added protection from the elements.
This, however, is just scratching the surface, so let's not wait out and dig deeper right away.
Design: Galaxy S6-inspired, with a slight curve for a better fit
The Samsung Galaxy Note5 adopts the design language of the Galaxy S6 practically entirely, and to the uninitiated consumer it will look a lot like a blown up S6. Gone are the times of plastic Samsung phones - after the switch to glass and metal for the high-end Galaxy S series and then the transition to metal for the new A series of mid-rangers, now the Galaxy Note phablet series are the latest in the Samsung family to get a premium overhaul with a metal frame sandwiched between two pieces of glass (there is a white and black version to choose from at launch).
The Note5 is a phablet, aka a large phone, but it comes with a slight curve on the back that makes it a bit more comfortable to hold and use the device with one hand. The exact dimensions of the phone are:
153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6mm, and it weighs 6.03 oz (171g)
A blown-up Galaxy S6 with a pop-out S Pen
In terms of button layout, the Galaxy Note5 is practically unchanged from the Galaxy S6: you have a large physical home key up front, right below the screen, and that contains the touch (rather than swipe) type fingerprint scanner. On the right side of that button there's a capacitive multitasking key, while on the left is the back key. The remaining physical buttons are on the side: the power/lock key on the right hand side, and the volume rocker on the left, and both are clicky and metal-made like the whole frame.
The glass back of the device is - just like the one on the S6 - very reflective, but also non-slippery, which is definitely a convenience. On the downside, it does act as a fingerprint magnet and can get messy really quickly. The Note5 also supports wireless charging, and you'd need to buy a separately sold Qi wireless charging cushion in order to use that.
The big highlight and signature feature of the Note5, however, is without a doubt the stylus. It is located on the bottom right of the phone, and rather than having to manually pull it out, you can now just slightly push it and it will pop out slightly via a spring-loaded mechanism. This is a small touch, but it does make a difference as it is easier to use the S Pen this way.
Samsung keeps pushing its AMOLED displays into a territory of higher efficiencies, better calibration, and this latest Super AMOLED panel in the Galaxy Note5 measure 5.7 inches and has a Quad HD resolution (1440 x 2560 pixels). While not as sharp as the Quad HD Galaxy S6 with its whopping 577ppi of pixel density, the Note5 is still one of the sharpest devices on the block with pixel saturation of 518ppi. In reality, it's hard to find any evidence of pixelization, and looking at the screen - amazingly - looks a lot like looking at paper.
5.7-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display
Sharpness aside, there is one more nagging issue with displays these days and that's proper calibration and color accuracy. Luckily, ever since the Galaxy Note 4, we're seeing consistent improvements, and we have no reason to doubt that the Galaxy Note5 is another step forward. Just keep in mind that Samsung traditionally labels its most accurate screen mode 'Basic' and you have to manually change to it from settings.
Interface: A facelift for TouchWiz, new S Pen functions and Samsung Pay
There is a big overhaul in the beautiful cartoony land of TouchWiz: it's been redrawn with a new icon style and it's further optimized to run smoother and minimize that well-known 'TouchWiz' lag. The new icons look largely familiar to the old ones, but now they have a solid color background with rounded edges, an effect that reminds us of good old Symbian/MeeGo days.
The new S Pen also comes with a host of new software features. One particularly neat new one is the option to jot down notes right from the lockscreen: just pop out the stylus and start writing without opening any apps or even unlocking the phone. You also have more accurate stylus input with less of an input lag, and the sheer amount of things that you can do with the S Pen is expanded: you can take screenshots, write annotations, quick launch apps, and more.
The new 'Air Command' has expanded functionality as well, as the icon now hovers and grants one-tap, instant access to all S Pen tools from any screen at any time.
Samsung Pay comes to the US in September
The other big news around the Galaxy Note5 is that it will be the first phone to launch with the new Samsung Pay solution. Samsung Pay will debut in the United States in September and will work in practically all places, where you can use your card. This new payment system can work both via Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) or Near-Field Communications (NFC). Samsung is guaranteeing the safety of transition via a triad of features: KNOX encryption, fingerprint security and digital tokenization.
Processor, Memory and Connectivity: first Samsung with 4GB of RAM
The Samsung Galaxy Note5 ships with the latest Exynos 7420 system chip, a piece of silicon made using the industry-leading 14nm FinFET process in Samsung's foundries. While others are still working towards mass producing 14nm non-planar chips in the phone space, Samsung has already delivered with the Galaxy S6, and now again leverages this advantage in its new phablet. The Exynos 7420 is an octa-core chip with four Cortex A57 cores running at up to 2.1GHz, and four more power-efficient A53 cores clocked at up to 1.5GHz.
The Galaxy Note5 is also the first Samsung phone to come with the plentiful, 4GB of RAM of the fast LPDDR4 variety.
It's also no surprise that the Galaxy Note5 features 32GB of internal storage in the base model of the Note5. Last year's Note 4 made the jump from 16GB to 32GB, and this year the Galaxy S6 also made the switch, so it's only natural to have this amount of storage in the Note5. There will also be a 64GB model on sale in the United Sates, and both versions will feature high-speed UFS 2.0 storage. Unfortunately, Samsung has cut support for expandable storage via microSD cards on the Note5.
On the connectivity side of things, the Galaxy Note5 supports 4G LTE with a staggering amount of bands and peak downlink speeds of up to 620Mbps. It's also got MIMO (2x2) antennas for improved reception and dual-channel Wi-Fi, as well as NFC, Bluetooth 4.2 with support for the low energy profile, and positioning via GPS, Glonass, and the Beidou systems.
Camera: 16MP cam with OIS and a wide, f/1.9 lens
16-megapixel main camera with OIS and wide, f/1.9 lens
The Samsung Galaxy Note5 features a 16-megapixel main camera with optical image stabilization (OIS), while up front there is a 5-megapixel selfie shooter. The rear camera still protrudes ever so slightly on the back of the phone, just in case you wondered. In terms of optics, you now have impressively wide, f/1.9 lenses on both the rear and front cameras. Such a wider lens allows more light in and is a big theoretical advantage for low light shots.
The camera app is largely the same solution as on the Galaxy S6 with two modes being the big highlight: the auto mode that is self explanatory and the manual 'Pro' mode. The latter can now also control shutter speed on the Note5, for a truly full manual ride. Naturally, the 'Quick Launch' shortcut - double clicking the home key to start the camera app from anywhere - works on the Note5.
Samsung has been making some of the best cameras in the smartphone world, as proved by the Galaxy S6 and Note 4, and while we have not tested the snapper in the Note5 just yet (we hope to soon!), we expect it to continue this tradition.
Battery life has become such a critical aspect of a smartphone that all eyes are on it when a new phone launches. The new Galaxy Note5 features a reasonably large, 3000mAh battery that - interestingly - is smaller than the 3220mAh battery pack used in the Galaxy Note 4. The smaller battery could be one of the things that made it possible for this to be a noticeably thinner phone than the Note 4, and with the advances in Super AMOLED technology and the much more power-efficient 14nm system chip, we expect battery life to remain on par, or even slightly higher than that in the Note 4.
To remind you, the Note 4's official battery life measures at 20 hours of 3G talk time, 82 hours of music playback, and 14 hours of video playback.
The new Note5 also supports wireless charging out of the box and Samsung's very efficient rapid charging technology. The battery itself, however, is not user-removable.
Samsung Galaxy Note5: price and release date
Sales kick off on Friday, August 21st
The Samsung Galaxy Note5 is officially announced today and it will be possible to buy it almost immediately: pre-orders begin today at 3pm ET, while official sales start in just a week, on August 21st in the United States.
The Galaxy Note5 will be available on all four major US carriers - Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile - but pricing details are yet to come from each of the carriers.