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Samsung Galaxy Note 5 vs Note 4: What's New

It's time to take Note again. Samsung is back with the Galaxy Note 5, the latest in its popular phablet series. The Note 5 sports the same size 5.7-inch screen as its predecessor but in a slimmer and trimmer body. There's also more speed, a sharper front camera and an improved S Pen experience that gives you the ability to take notes with the screen off.

Are these changes worth the upgrade? Here's a closer look at what's changed and what's remained since the Note 4.

Design

Following the design language of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, the Note 5 ditches the soft-touch rear panel of the Galaxy Note 4 in favor of sleek glass. Despite the smooth finish, you can get a pretty secure grip around the device. You'll find a 16-megapixel rear camera alongside the flash and heart-rate monitor near the top of the panel. 

The front of the smartphone has a new 5-MP camera along the top. Similar to other Galaxy devices, you'll find a large Home button below the display sandwiched between two backlit capacitive buttons for Menu and Back. Like the phablet before it, the Note 5 also has a fingerprint sensor inside the Home button.  

Ports such as the fast-charge-capable microUSB are situated at the bottom of the smartphone with a headphone jack, speaker and spring-loaded dock for the S-Pen. One interesting omission on the Note 5 is the IR blaster that's been featured on the Note 4, Galaxy S5, Note 3, S4 and S6 and S6 Edge.

Weighing 6 ounces and measuring 6 x 2.9 x 0.29 inches, the Note 5 is lighter and slimmer than its predecessor (6.2 ounces, 6 x 3.09 x 0.33 inches). When it launches, the Note 5 will be available in Sapphire Black and White Pearl. Hopefully, the company will unveil other colors like Gold Platinum (available on the new Galaxy S6 Edge Plus).

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Specs

Samsung is using its own 2.1-GHz octa-core Exynos processor with 4GB of RAM in the Note 5. On paper, this means that consumers should expect a device more powerful than its ancestor's Snapdragon 805 CPU and 3GB of RAM. The Note 4 was relatively swift when switching between apps and scrolling down Web pages, but it turned in mixed results on some benchmark tests.

Like the Note 4, the Note 5 is available with 32GB of on-board storage. The Note 4's capacity could be expanded by way of a microSD card (up to 64GB). The Note 5 lacks a microSD card slot; instead, Samsung is also shipping a 64GB version of the Note 5. It would be nice if Samsung would consider releasing a 128GB edition for power users.

When it ships, the Note 5 will run Android 5.1 (Lollipop), which will have Google's new Material design and be kinned with the latest version of Samsung TouchWiz.

Since the Note 5 has a sealed battery, we hoped Samsung would have increased the battery size. The company did the exact opposite and shrunk the Note 5's battery to 3000 mAh, down from the 3220 mAh in the Note 4. Samsung softened the blow by including Fast Charging and Fast Wireless Charging with its new smartphone.

S Pen Enhancements

One area where the Note series continues to improve is the S Pen. This iteration of S Pen is smoother and more responsive than its predecessor and has a more premium feel to boot. When it's not in use, the stylus sits in its dock, until you press the small button on the bottom of the phone to release it.  

Realizing that some of us need to jot down a note or idea right now, you can scribble away on the display even when it's off. Once you're done writing, you can simply press Save to add your note to S Note.

The pen-activated Air Command menu makes a return on the Note 5 in a more streamlined, colorful fashion. You can summon this menu from any screen by pressing the S Pen button and then tapping the screen, with icons for Action Memo, Smart Select, Screen Write, S Note and Gallery. You'll also have the ability to pin additional shortcuts to the menu.

Another noteworthy S Pen feature is the ability to write on PDF files, which could prove to be very useful for some users. Plus, the S Pen can capture whole Web pages while scrolling down the length of the display.

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Camera

At 16 megpaixels, the Note 5 has the same camera resolution featured on the Note 4 with the same optical image stabilization. However, Samsung added Quick Launch capability (double tap the Home button from any screen), new filters and other enhancements. The coolest addition is Live Broadcast mode, which lets you start streaming live video right from the front or back camera straight to YouTube.

Speaking of the front camera, Samsung upped the resolution from 3.7 MP to 5 MP. So you should expect sharper selfies.

Bottom Line

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is a step up from the Note 4, but it might not be enough to warrant an upgrade. The biggest change is the phone's design, with Samsung going the glass-and-metal, no-removeable-battery route. It makes for a sleeker, more elegant device, but some will miss the ability to add storage or swap the battery.

The Note 5's Exynos processor and extra RAM should provide a faster, more fluid performance while the upgraded front camera will all but guarantee better selfies. The new S Pen features will definitely be a boon for productivity. But overall Samsung's new smartphone feels more like the Note 4.5 than the Note 5.