Long live the phablet! Samsung's new Galaxy Note 4 seems ready to take the big-phone baton from the Galaxy Note 3 and run with it. The new model keeps the familiar 5.7-inch size but upgrades the resolution. The cameras are better, the CPU is faster, the battery is bigger and there's improved pen support.
People who already own a Note 3, like me, have a big decision to make: to upgrade or not to upgrade. Based on the specs, features and our hands-on experience with the Note 4, it's an awfully tempting smartphone. But should you take the plunge?
|Galaxy Note 4||Galaxy Note 4 Edge||Galaxy Note 3|
|CPU||2.7-GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805||2.7-GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805||2.3-GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800|
|Storage||32GB or 64GB (up to 64GB microSD)||32GB or 64GB (up to 64GB microSD)||32GB (up to 64GB microSD)|
|Screen Size||5.7-inch HD Super AMOLED||5.6-inch HD Super AMOLED |
+ 160 pixel Edge screen
|5.7-inch HD Super AMOLED|
|Resolution||2560 x 1440 pixels||2560 x 1440 + 160 pixels||1920 x 1080 pixels|
|Front Camera||3.7 MP||3.7 MP||2 MP|
|Rear Camera||16 MP||16 MP||13 MP|
|Battery Size||3220 mAh||3000 mAh||3200 mAh|
|Size||6.04 x 3.09 x 0.33 inches||5.96 x 3.24 x 0.33 inches||6.0 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches|
|Weight||6.2 ounces||6.14 ounces||5.9 ounces|
Weighing 6.2 ounces, the Note 4 is heavier than the 5.9-ounce Note 3. The additional heft is at least partly due to the Note 4's metal frame, though the back is still a soft-touch plastic. Samsung opted for an all-plastic chassis on the Note 3. The Note 4 is also slightly taller and thicker than its predecessor (6.04 x 3.09 x 0.33 inches vs. 6 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches).
If pink is your color, then you'll definitely want to upgrade. For me, not so much. Both the old and new Note come in black, white or gold as well.
The 5.7-inch screen size hasn't changed on the Note 4, but the resolution sure has. The Super AMOLED display now offers 2560 x 1440 pixels — a true upgrade from the 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution on the Note 3. That's quite a jump, which means you should expect more detail. Granted, not much media is available at that resolution, but for now, you can record your own 2K content and play it back. There's also some quad-HD media available on YouTube and other sites.
Samsung also promises a brighter screen on the Note 4, but we've yet to put the handset through our lab tests to confirm that claim.
Just by the numbers, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 should offer better performance. The CPU on the Note 3 was powered by a speedy 2.3-GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800, but the Note 4 steps that up to a 2.7-GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805.
Both the Note 3 and 4 pack 3GB of RAM, as well as 32GB of storage, but the Note 4 will apparently also be available with 64GB.
The battery is slightly bigger on the Note 4, at 3220 mAh vs. 3200 mAh on the previous model, so hopefully, this phablet will last even longer than the T-Mobile Note 3's epic 11 hours and 15 minutes. We'll have to see whether the new quad-HD screen on the Note 4 consumes more power. Regardless, you'll be able to engage Ultra Power Saving Mode to make the device last longer between charges and the Note 4 will charge up to 50 percent in just half an hour.
The Note 4 steps up the rear camera's resolution from 13 MP to 16 MP, but that's not the only improvement. Samsung baked in optical image stabilization, which is great at keeping shots steady as you zoom in. The company claims you'll be able to zoom up to 8x and still get a sharp pic.
Samsung has made its phablet more selfie-friendly, boosting the front camera's megapixel count from 2 MP on the Note 3 to 3.7 MP on the Note 4, while delivering a 90-degree wide-angle lens. You can go even wider than that, but you'll need to enter a special mode.
S Pen Enhancements
What the specs don't show is that the Note 4 makes better use of its S Pen. The handwriting feels smoother now than on the Note 3, and it works just like a PC mouse. For example, you can select text just by swiping. You can also capture and pin notes quickly to the home screen, as well as use Snap Note to take a picture of notes on paper or board and then convert them to S Notes.
What About the Note Edge?
The Galaxy Note Edge will be a more premium smartphone than the Note 4 flagship, offering all of the same features and similar specs, plus a curved Edge display that runs along the right side of the device. With this second screen, you'll be able to glance at notifications, sports scores, stocks, Twitter trends and more. The Edge screen will also provide instant access to your favorite apps via shortcuts and contextual menu options within supported apps.
However, some of the Note Edge's specs do differ from the Note 4's. The Edge is a hair lighter (6.1 vs. 6.2 ounces), and its battery has slightly less capacity than the Note 4's (3,000 mAh vs. 3,220 mAh). The main display on the Edge is slightly smaller, at 5.6 inches, but you get a separate 160-pixel Edge screen, too.
I love the look and extra functionality of the Note Edge, but I'd like to know the price — and whether the Edge display impacts the device's performance and battery life — before I can say whether it's truly superior to the Note 4.
The Note 4 looks like a better smartphone than the Note 3 in every way, from the sharper display and faster CPU to the beefed-up cameras. I wish this sequel didn't weigh more, but otherwise, it looks like a winner.
Should you upgrade? I plan to upgrade to the Note 4, but your decision will likely depend on whether you're on a contract and, if so, where you are in that contract. Never owned a big-screen phone before? If you prefer Android, then you should definitely scoop up the Note 4. Multitaskers who always want to be in the know may prefer the Note Edge.
Anna Attkisson is the managing editor at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Follow Anna Attkisson @akattkisson.