Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs Samsung Galaxy S5
Interface and Functionality
The Note 4 brings a fresh take on TouchWiz, a couple of new sensors, and a renewed focus on health. The S Pen is here and it has also improved.
With Android L still to be released, Samsung ships the Note 4 with KitKat, just as it does with the Galaxy S5. Both feature Samsung’s TouchWiz custom user interface on top of Android, with some differences as the Note 4 has the newer version.
The differences in the user interface are mostly subtle: a fresh set of Quad HD wallpapers, a new, white-toned background in exchange for the dark-themed in the S5, simplifications in the UI with less icons and fields, plus more visual cues to text, and - finally - a well structured settings menu that you can customize yourself. Interestingly, be it for the faster chip or some optimizations on TouchWiz, we noticed much less of that typical lag as apps opened faster and everything seems to flow faster now. The brighter backgrounds also liven up the experience in comparison with the fairly dark S5.
Signature Samsung touches like the multi-window multitasking solution as well as the air gestures are on board on both devices. Multi-window can be used in two ways - you first enable the option in settings (bring down the Notification shade -> select the top-right icon -> enable Multi-window), and then you can use it to either: split the screen displaying two apps at the same time, with adjustable sizes, or have a pop-up, floating window on top of the other one. The former is a particularly neat way to multi-task on the large, 5.7-inch display of the Note 4.
There aren’t many new apps in the phablet, but with a couple of new sensors, the Note 4 does come with a renewed focus on health with the updated S Health app.
The new sensors are a blood oximetry sensor placed right next to the heart rate monitor and a UV radiation sensor alongside. The most common use for the ultra-violet sensor is when you want to sunbathe - start the S Health app and select the UV option, then point the phone with its rear camera facing the sun and hold it like this for a few seconds, and you get a reading showing you the UV levels and how safe it is to have your skin exposed.
The blood oximetry sensor on the other hand is now used within the pulse readings so you get a combined heart rate + SpO2 measurement, with healthy levels of SpO2 being above 95%, and everything below 90% calling for medical attention. SpO2 is a measure that indicates oxygen levels in your bloodstream, and require some explaining: doctors use such readings in a variety of cases like measuring the efficacy of lung drugs, for instance, or to detect conditions like sleep apnea or more serious conditions related to worsening oxygen circulation in the blood (those include a heart attack, asthma, pneumonia, etc). For the general public, those readings could be used as a measure for how you react to increased activity levels. Note, though, that these are not medical-grade sensors and should not be used as such. We did get slightly varying reading for blood oximetry, so if you reference the results, it’s wise to only use them as a starting point requiring confirmation from a true, medical grade device.
Other nice touches in S Health include a reminder that pops up when you stay inactive for 1 hour - the phone just tells you to get moving, promoting a healthier lifestyle. Other options have remained the same - you have nutrition tracking, fitness measurements and goals, as well as a coach by Signa for health that helps staying focused on improving your overall health including diet, workout frequency, and so on.
The fingerprint sensor is of the same swipe type as in the Galaxy S5 - it requires you to swipe from slightly above the button (actually, starting from the bottom part of the screen itself) and through the key. Others, like Apple’s iPhones, use a different finger scanner where you only need to tap on the button to register your finger scan.
Accuracy seems to have improved slightly over the original finger reader in the S5 (Samsung has pushed a few updates with improvements to the S5 as well), and we find it decent, though, not great. If our hand was not wet, we’d have the sensor working on the first or second attempt most of the times, but still it’s not 100% accurate as we would have liked. We have a bigger gripe with using a fingerprint reader positioned so low on a large device, as it’s hard to reach it, and this requires some uncomfortable hand gymnastics.
S Pen and S Note
The S Pen is the signature feature of the Note series, and in the Note 4, Samsung is finally matching the color of the S Pen to the color of the phone itself, which is a nice touch. It’s a bit easier to take out the pen in comparison with the Note 3, where you had to literally chop it out vigorously.
The S Pen is powered by Wacom, a leading name in professional drawing tablets, and it uses a digitiser layer built in the display that makes it possible for the S Pen to not require its own power source and still have pressure sensitivity. In fact, the new S Pen comes with double the sensitivity: it now detect 2,048 levels of pressure, compared to 1,024 on the Note 3.
The big question for most users, however, would really be a very simple one: can I use this to take notes as I usually do on paper? The answer is ‘not quite’. Despite being more accurate, for handwriting the S Pen still draws with an annoying lag, and if you want to actually be able to read what you’ve written, you need to switch to a gargantuan font, so that your notes end up looking like a kid’s first attempts at writing (especially if you jot down quickly, on the move).
In terms of pure functionality, the most impressive novelty is the ability to use the S Pen as a mouse - just pull it out, press the button and select anything on the screen as you would do with a mouse. There’s also a new Smart Select feature that allows you to cut sections of the screen and ‘collect’ them for easy access later on.
Processor and Memory
Snapdragon 805 on the Note 4 is top of the line in the Android world, and it is capable of taking the load of the Quad HD display, and still perform on par with the Snapdragon 801 on the 1080p S5.
Being the newer device, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 ships with the latest Snapdragon 805 quad-core system chip, while the Galaxy S5 runs on the earlier, Snapdragon 801 chip.
The chips are definitely more than capable to keep up as well with daily tasks as with heavier games, but there’s the occasional stutter here and there that we’re used to seeing in TouchWiz.
The change from Snapdragon 801 to Snapdragon 805 is a lot about improvements in graphics and less so in CPU compute. The reason for this is that both the 801 and 805 use a similar Krait processor with the main difference being the clock speed - the 805 can run at up to 2.65GHz, while the 801 maxes out at 2.45GHz.
The bigger change is in the graphics department: the new Adreno 420 runs at slightly higher clock speeds, utilizes a much wider memory bus, and comes with a promise for better performance and lower power consumption. Looking at benchmark results, it becomes obvious that the Adreno 420 is capable of running games on the Quad HD screen of the Note 4 at around the same frame rates as the Adreno 330 does on the 1080p Galaxy S5.
It’s worth mentioning that while most Western markets will get a Snapdragon 805-equipped Galaxy Note 4, other markets, mostly in Asia, will get a different version of the Note 4, powered by Samsung’s own Exynos 5433 chip. Unlike the Snapdragon 805, the Exynos 5433 is a 64-bit chip that makes it more future proof and ensures compatibility with all the 64-bit optimizations coming with Android L and the ART runtime. The Exynos 5433 itself is an octa-core chip with four low-power Cortex A53 cores and four performance-driven Cortex A57s in a big.LITTLE configuration.
Last year, Samsung instituted a change in the internal storage for its base Galaxy Note model starts, doubling it to 32GB and the Note 4 also comes with 32GB of built-in storage in the base version. The Galaxy S5 in comparison ships with 16 gigs on the base model. Luckily, both support expandable storage via microSD cards of up to 128GB.
Internet and Connectivity
Note 4 brings 4G LTE at up to 300Mbps (but your carrier has to catch up). Surfing is great on both, and you can use the two as a remote for your TV.
The Galaxy Note 4 ships with two browsers on board: Samsung’s own solution and Google’s mobile Chrome. Both are quick and get the job done with a few differences: the stock solution allows you to sign in with your Samsung account and get bookmarks synced this way, while Google’s Chrome has the slightly better optimized for touch card-based interface and syncs across all devices with Chrome. Loading up web pages happens at a similar speed, and zooming in and out, and scrolling around is fairly smooth.
In terms of connectivity, you get 4G LTE on both the Note 4 and the Galaxy S5. The Note 4 uses a newer modem that supports LTE category 6 with downlink speeds of up to 300Mbps, while the Galaxy S5 has category 4 with download speeds maxing out at 150Mbps. Other connectivity options include dual-channel Wi-Fi, A-GPS, Glonass, and NFC on both. The Note 4 supports the newer Bluetooth 4.1 specification, while the S5 is Bluetooth 4.0-compatible.
The two also come equipped with an infra-red beamer, and Samsung’s Smart Remote app, that allows you to use your smartphone as a remote control for electronics like your TV or air conditioner.