Samsung Galaxy Note 4 hands-on preview

The Note 4 is official - and we've already had a play with it. Here's what we think of Samsung's new flagship bigphone

 

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a mystery no more. And it's even got a curved-screen brother in the form of the crazy Note Edge.

From its 2K screen and powerful Snapdragon 805 innards to its S Pen powers, souped-up camera and VR gaming tricks, it's got enough new features to leave gadget fans salivating.

We were lucky enough to get some hands-on time with it at IFA 2014, so read on for our first impressions. 

READ MORE: Meet the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge - the 3-sided Note 4

A screen that's dripping with pixels. And colour

 

The obvious headline with the Note 4 is that it has a 2K display. The screen size itself is unchanged from the Note 3 at 5.7 inches, but the resolution is now an LG G3-matching 2560x1440. That gives it a whopping great pixels per inch count of 515 - that's slightly lower than that of the G3's smaller 5.5in screen, but it's still higher than most rivals and we didn't notice any difference in sharpness. We did, however, notice a difference in colour.

Unlike the G3, which has an LCD panel, the Note 4 uses Samsung's Super AMOLED display, and the results are simply stunning.

If you've seen the Galaxy Tab S range of tablets then the Note 4's screen will be instantly familiar. Colours are punchy enough to wallop your retinas (in a good way), and its true blacks easily trounce those of the G3, thanks to AMOLED's ability to completely turn off pixels to render black.

Some users might find the unrealistically vibrant colours a little OTT, but a quick play around with the display settings lets you tone things down a bit, resulting in more realistic colours while retaining the deep blacks.

The Note 4 uses the same Adaptive Display technology found in the Galaxy Tab S range, which means that it automatically adjusts its colours according to the warmness and brightness of ambient light. We didn't get to test this out in detail, nor were we allowed to take the Note 4 outdoors to test its performance in bright sunshine, but if the Tab S screens are anything to go by, the Note 4 should handle the sun's rays with ease.

READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy S5 review

Premium at last

 

The body of the Note 4 has also received a welcome upgrade. The faux-leather back returns, but it feels softer, grippier, and less cheap than the rear of the Note 3. Not only that, but there's a Galaxy Alpha-like metal band wrapped around the entire edge of the device. It feels sturdy and more luxurious, which is exactly what we want to see from Samsung's flagship devices.

Yes, it still lacks the weighty metal feel of the HTC One (M8), but it's a definite improvement over its predecessor. The extra grip will come in handy too, given its size.

Slipping the Note 4's rear cover off reveals a removable 3220mAh battery and microSD slot, which should keep power users ticking along nicely. The Note 4 also retains the Galaxy S5's rear heart-rate monitor and home button fingerprint scanner.

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Power in spades

 

We expect the MY variant of the Note 4 to land with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 805 processor and 3GB of RAM, making it one of the most powerful smartphones ever.

Qualcomm's new chip is beefy enough, in fact, to turn the Note 4 into an Oculus Rift-like VR headset, when slotted into the Gear VR.

READ MORE: Samsung Gear VR hands-on review

Not only is the 805 more powerful, but because its more efficient, Samsung has told us that the Note 4 actually surpasses the Note 3 when it comes to battery life, despite having to push all those extra pixels. We'll have to reserve our judgement until we spend more time with a review unit, but if true that'll be a seriously impressive bit of jiggery-pokery.

More after the break...

More megapixels, with OIS to boot

 

The Note 3's 13MP camera is gone, replaced by a 16MP effort with built-in optical image stabilisation.

We didn't have enough time to take photos with multiple devices in a controlled environment, so you'll have to wait for our full review to see how we rate it against its peers. But what we can say now is that it focuses on subjects quickly, and pictures taken with it (and viewed on its screen) appear to be sharp and detailed. We didn't get a chance to put the optical image stabilisation through its paces either, but if the LG G3's performance is anything to go by, we expect the Note 4's low-light shots to improve as a result.

The front-facing camera also has a new wide-angle selfie mode, which sweeps across like a panorama to capture you and your entire host of pouting comrades without cutting anyone off. Useful if you like that kind of thing.

READ MORE: What the Apple iPhone 6 needs to do to become our favourite again

S Pen - better than ever

 

The S Pen of course returns, and this time it packs in twice the sensitivity, along with new fountain pen and calligraphy pen options.

Again, we were only able to spend a brief time doodling with it at the launch event, but our first impressions were very positive. Writing feels natural, and the pressure, speed and even tilt of the device itself all affect the thickness and opacity of the virtual on-screen ink in a totally natural way.

The S Pen can also be used to highlight text and select multiple photos, by holding down its function button and dragging across, similarly to the way you would on a PC mouse. In practice it worked well: selecting chunks of text was much quicker using this method than holding down text and selecting it with our fingers.

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Software

The Note 4 wouldn't be a Samsung device without a slew of software extras. There were far too many to test out in the short time we had with the device, but from what we saw there are a few useful features for Note fans to look forward to.

Multi Window returns, allowing you to multitask with two selected apps running side by side and thus making the most of the screen's real estate. A new voice recording app also makes use of improved noise cancelling technology, thanks to the Note 4's three microphones. Samsung showed us a demo in which up to eight different directional voice recordings could be isolated even in a noisy, crowded environment, and the level of detail was impressive.

Ultra Power Saving mode also returns, converting the Note 4 to a basic call-and-messaging device in order to squeeze the most out of its battery.

READ MORE: The 30 best free apps for Android

Initial verdict

 

The Note 3 was a superb phone, spending many a week in our Smartphones Top 10, but the Note 4 has all the ingredients to surpass it. Its screen is bright, vibrant and sharp and its insides are some of the most powerful we've seen to date.

Throw in an even better S Pen, a specced-up camera and an improved design, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Samsung's new gigantaphone. 

Of course we'll have to reserve our final judgement until our full review, but on first impressions it looks as if Samsung has ticked all of the right boxes - and even created a few new ones for good measure.

READ MORE: Apple iPhone 6 preview

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Samsung Galaxy Note 4 hands-on

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 hands-on preview
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