Starting with the Galaxy S6 earlier this year, Samsung finally introduced the world to a major design overhaul, ditching plastic in favor of a glass and metal unibody design. The new look was well received by consumers and the media alike, though the change wasn’t without its sacrifices. The new design did away with Samsung staples such as removable batteries, microSD, and removable backs. While many were excited to see the Note series get a similar premium upgrade, others weren’t so optimistic about the idea of losing power user staples.
Although the Note 5 might have left behind some of the same staple features as the Galaxy S series, now that the dust has settled, we can safely call the Note 5 one of the best smartphones of the year, and arguably the most technologically advanced at that. Still, for those that crave microSD, removable batteries, and a removable back, the Note 4 remains a solid choice. While the handset is now a year old, the phone has aged very well and is still more than capable with keeping up with most users needs.
The Note 4 and Note 5 both share a lot of similar DNA, but they also represent two different and opposing Samsung design philosophies. For those that are curious how the two phones stack up against one another, this quick look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 vs Galaxy Note 4 is just what you’ve been looking for.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in August of 2015, but has been updated to better represent how the two phones compare now that the Note 5 has been on the market for a while. This article could be especially helpful for those considering upgrading to a Note 5, or for those that aren’t sure which member of the Note family better suits their needs.
We’ve historically always seen a separation in design languages when comparing Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S series and Galaxy Note series, but that is no longer the case with the Galaxy Note 5, with a design that is clearly reminiscent of the Galaxy S6, featuring a premium metal and glass unibody construction. We were happy with the new build quality direction Samsung took with the Galaxy S6, and it’s great to see these aesthetic changes make their way over to the Galaxy Note line. The big difference here is the curves along the sides of the back of the Galaxy Note 5, which not only looks great, but allows for the device to rest more comfortably in the hand.
With its faux leather backing and metal frame, the Galaxy Note 4 isn’t an unattractive device by any means either, but the switch to the new build material with the Galaxy Note 5 gives it a more premium look, and the latter also feels more substantial in the hand, when compared to the plastic leather texture found with the former. There will be some nostalgia associated with the Galaxy Note 4 though, with its removable back cover allowing for access to a replaceable battery and microSD card slot, features that are no longer available on its successor.
As far as specific design elements go, both devices are actually quite similar, with both featuring the signature Samsung home button up front, integrated with fingerprint scanners in both cases, along with the volume rocker and power button found at their usual positions on the left and right respectively. Noticeable differences are in the move of the headphone jack from the top and the single speaker unit from the back, with both now at the bottom in the case of the Galaxy Note 5. While front-facing speakers is still the best way to go, this placement is still a better option over the Galaxy Note 4’s rear speaker.
All said and done, these are both very attractive smartphones. While Samsung’s decision to go with more premium materials this time around may turn some fans away because of the associated compromises, at least from an aesthetic point of view, the changes are certainly great.
Both the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy Note 4 feature 5.7-inch Super AMOLED displays with a Quad HD resolution, resulting in pixel densities of 515 ppi. These displays aren’t far off in terms of quality, but as Samsung continues to improve on their display technology, the screen of the Galaxy Note 5 does seem a touch brighter and more vivid. Both displays allow for a fantastic viewing experience in any case, and there are no losers in this department.
Performance and hardware
Under the hood, the Galaxy Note 5 features a few notable changes that should make the device faster than ever. This time around, Samsung decided to favor their in-house octa-core Exynos 7420 processor, and backed by 4 GB of RAM, the processing package of the Galaxy Note 5 should result in great performance and smooth multi-tasking. That said, the Galaxy Note 4, with its Snapdragon 805 processor and 3 GB of RAM is no slouch in the performance department either, and we’ve had no problems putting the device through the most difficult of tasks.
In other hardware is where some key differences are seen, with the unibody design of the Galaxy Note 5 resulting in a lack of a removable battery and microSD card slot, both features that are available with the Galaxy Note 4. Galaxy Note 5 users will have to depend on only the 32 GB or 64 GB of built-in storage, and along with expandable memory, the Galaxy Note 4 also comes with 32 GB of internal storage available.
While both smartphones feature fingerprint scanners, the touch type implementation found with the Galaxy Note 5 is certainly the one we prefer, compared to the swipe style iteration seen with the Galaxy Note 4. Both devices also comes with heart rate monitors on the back, with the vertical positioning of it on the Galaxy Note 5 making it slightly easier to use.
Of course, the marquee feature of the Galaxy Note series is the S-Pen stylus, and like previous Galaxy Note devices, the S-Pen itself has also been redesigned and now has a more premium design, that looks a lot more like an actual pen. The Galaxy Note 5 also brings a slew of new features that take advantage of the S-Pen, but it is likely that at least some of these features will also make its way over the Galaxy Note 4 in future updates.
Not only is the battery no longer removable, but the capacity is also slightly smaller, with the Galaxy Note 5 packing a 3,000 mAh battery, compared to the 3,220 mAh unit of its predecessor. Removing the ability to swap out the battery and reduce the capacity likely won’t fare well in the minds of consumers, but more thorough testing will be required before we can make any final judgments. Both devices do come with fast charging capabilities, and the Galaxy Note 5 also comes with built-in support for both the PMA and Qi standards of wireless charging, while the Galaxy Note 4 requires additional accessories.
The Galaxy Note 4 features one of the better smartphone cameras around, courtesy of its 16 MP rear shooter with OIS, which is overshadowed only by the current crop of Android flagships, and produces clear, well-balanced shots both indoor and outdoor. It also comes with a 3.7 MP front-facing unit that works well for most users and covers their selfie-taking needs.
The Galaxy Note 5 also comes with a 16 MP rear camera, that is very similar to what is found with the Galaxy S series flagships, and also packs a 5 MP front-facing camera with a wide angle lens. The camera of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge are widely regarded as some of the best in the business, and that story should continue with the Galaxy Note 5 as well, and we can’t wait to put this camera through its paces.
The Galaxy Note 5 runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with the latest iteration of TouchWiz on top, and this version will also soon be rolling out to the Galaxy Note 4 as well. The more toned down version of the TouchWiz UI is a contributing factor to the smooth performance of the device, but that doesn’t mean that it is particularly lacking in features, that take advantage of the new S-Pen.
On the Galaxy Note 5, when the display is switched off, you can now use the S-Pen to capture a memo and it also comes with a revamped Air Command menu, which blurs most of the screen, and actually looks really good. The S-Pen also comes with a new Scroll Capture feature that lets you capture an entire page (and not just what’s visible on the display) and annotate it using the S-Pen.
So there you have it for this quick look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 vs Galaxy Note 4! With a more robust and substantial design and premium build quality, upgraded processing package and hardware, improved S-Pen stylus, and better software experience, the Galaxy Note 5 is certainly a worthy successor, but Samsung fans will certainly wax nostalgic about the removable back cover, replaceable battery, and expandable storage that are available with the Galaxy Note 4.
As for which you should buy? The Note 5 is the obvious choice if you want to be on the bleeding edge of tech. For those that are looking to save some money, or who can’t live without some of the missing staples removed from the Note 5, the Note 4 still remains a great choice however.