By Rich W Woods
Perversion: the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.
Innovation: a new method, idea, product, etc.
Almost a year and a half ago, when I started For the Love of Tech, I called my reviews User Reviews. The reason for this was because the products that I was reviewing were products that I used for my day to day life. I wasn’t getting free review units, I wasn’t getting flown out to California for an iPhone event, and I wasn’t under the threat of not being invited back if I gave something a bad review.
I stopped calling the User Review in favor of Review and a title because more and more, I was getting devices for the sole reason of reviewing them. They were no longer devices that I used for personal use; however, I have always stayed true to the idea of giving honest reviews. This is why reviews at For the Love of Tech don’t come out the same day that the product launches. It comes a couple weeks later, after I’ve spent some time with the device.
That being said, this is going to be an honest review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Some will love me for it and some will hate me for it, but there is one thing I can promise you: the facts you will read are true and the opinions you will read are honest.
Let’s start with the title, a Perversion of Innovation. This is a statement about the Galaxy Note 4 as well as Samsung itself. Starting with the Galaxy S4, Samsung started putting ridiculous features in their phones, features that no one would use but sound cool coming from the mouth of the AT&T salesman. When Samsung started touting that you could use a Galaxy S3 to tap a phone against another to share a playlist or that the Galaxy S4 would watch your eyes to scroll through something you were reading, people started to say that Apple can’t innovate anymore.
Samsung had perverted the definition of innovation. If not, then they had certainly perverted the public perception of the word. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is no different. It ships with 67 apps preinstalled and five pages of settings. That means that if the user downloads one app, it gets buried under that pile of apps, but we’ll get further into that in a bit. First, we’ll quickly brush over specs.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Specs
|Processor||2.7 GHz Snapdragon 805|
|Display||5.7″, 1440p, 515 ppi, AMOLED|
|Body||153.5×78.6×8.5 mm, 176 g|
|Camera||16 MP, 5312×2988, 3.7 MP|
|Video||4K – 30 fps, 1080p – 60 fps, Front 1440p – 30 fps|
|Focal Length||31 mm|
|Storage||32 GB, Expandable to 128 GB|
It is impossible to know how a device will perform by looking at specs alone. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is the first device to use a 2.7 GHz Snapdragon 805 processor; however, it’s only 200 MHz more powerful than competing flagships that use 2.5 GHz Snapdragon 801 and it has twice as many pixels to push as flagships with 1080p displays.
Aside from that, it has 67 preinstalled apps. While the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is designed to handle those processes running in the background, as the user begins to install his own apps and those begin to run in the background, the device is going to slow down.
Of course the user has the option to disable some of these 67 apps, which will ultimately uninstall the app; however, should a user really have to sit and disable 67 apps on a brand new phone?
Before we go further into the day to day use of the phone, let’s check out the camera.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Camera
For all of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s faults, the camera is really great. With the AMOLED display, the pictures look absolutely beautiful. So far, we have compared the camera of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 to the Sony Xperia Z3, iPhone 6 Plus, OnePlus One, LG G3, and Nokia Lumia 1020.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 uses a 16 MP camera, which is super fast for the high resolution. It has lots of cool camera modes, such as rear-cam selfie, virtual tour, and beauty face.
Rear cam selfie allows the user to take a selfie with the rear camera. In this mode, the user can choose where his face will be on the camera, and when he turns the phone on himself, it will beep when his face is in the right spot and take a picture two seconds later.
Virtual tour is an interesting feature that allows the user to take a virtual tour of something in the same way as Google Street View works. This is an interesting feature; however, if the user wishes to share the virtual tour, he can only share it as picture files or a video file, making it essentially useless. Again, it’s Samsung.
The front facing camera records 1440p video, which makes the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 one of very few phones to record 1440p video at all. After all, the user records video on a smart phone because the user eventually wants to do something with it such as display it on a television, right? There are no 1440p televisions that I’m aware of. It’s just a video that will end up scaled down to 1080p, but takes up twice as much space. Again, it’s Samsung.
Due to some confusion as of late, I should note that to enlarge an image, simply click or tap it.
So let’s take a moment to explain these photos. The third row from the bottom shows how well the phone focuses as well as the power of having 16 MP to play with. The second row from the bottom are selfies taken with the rear cam selfie feature, and the final row are selfies taken with the front facing camera.
All of the photos were taken in different lighting conditions as well as from different distances. The photos look fantastic, but if you need something to compare it to, check out some of the camera comparisons and see how it measures up to competitors.
The one things that really stands out to me about this camera is that the photos are super sharp. The focusing feature on the Galaxy Note 4 is second to none. It does good in low light, but other phones such as the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Sony Xperia Z3 do better.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: S Pen
The S Pen is the feature of the Galaxy Note line of phones that puts the Galaxy Note line in its own class. There are no mainstream phones that exist with a pen, nor are there any that are pressure sensitive.
The Galaxy Note 4 uses WACOM technology and the pressure sensitivity is only useful when using the pen. The pressure sensitivity is not present while using a finger. This is true of all WACOM displays.
The S Pen is a niche product. It can be used for a number of things. If the user is an artist, he would certainly want that pressure sensitivity to draw; however, it certainly seems he would rather do that on a WACOM tablet such as the Surface Pro rather than a 5.7″ smart phone.
It can also be used to present additional options. When the user tales the S Pen from it’s holster, it will display Air Command options on the screen. Hovering the pen over certain things will display additional options for that as well.
The other thing that a user can do with the S Pen is multitasking. It allows the user to use multiple apps on screen at once. Like I said, there is a niche that this feature will be useful for, but not for the mainstream.
The phone will wake when the S Pen is removed and if the phone goes to sleep before the S Pen is reinserted into its holster, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 will give the user an alert.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Display
The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 uses a 5.7″ 1440p AMOLED display. AMOLED is a display technology that allows for certain pixels to be turned off, allowing for black colors to be truly black. It’s really beautiful. Nokia and Motorola also use AMOLED displays in their flagships.
The negative part of the display is the resolution. 1440p is not necessary and since the processor has almost twice as many pixels to push as it would with 1080p, it will affect performance.
Apple defines Retina as 326 ppi, meaning that at an average distance, a user could not see any pixellation. 515 ppi is well beyond anything that is necessary to have Retina. Again, it’s Samsung.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: User Experience
The user experience is what really kills the beautiful display and fantastic camera of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Nothing really works well.
If there is one company that Samsung would love to be like, it’s Apple. They would absolutely love to have that kind of control over their platform and according to the courts, they have copied quite a bit from Apple.
The iPhone 6’s fingerprint scanner is the gold standard to compare the Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s fingerprint scanner to and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s fingerprint scanner just doesn’t measure up. With the fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 6, the user simply holds his finger on the scanner and it unlocks the phone.
With the fingerprint scanner on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, it frequently takes multiple tries. The user will be told to swipe slower or swipe in a more vertical motion. It’s more of a hassle than it’s worth.
Fingerprint readers shouldn’t be implemented in a smart phone unless they work well. If they don’t, it’s simply bloating the phone. Again, it’s Samsung.
The stock keyboard is actually one worth mentioning. It is the first onscreen keyboard that I’ve seen that has the numbers above the letters.It’s great because the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 actually has the screen real estate to do it. It is very convenient to not have to switch to a different keyboard just to type a number.
The Settings app on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has five pages of settings. Like the rest of this phone, it’s just a mess. Those five pages are Applications, General, Controls, Device, and Connections. Can you guess which page S Pen is on?
Again, it’s Samsung. Samsung has long been known as a company that throws whatever they can against the wall to see what sticks. The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge is a prime example of this, as is the eyeball scrolling we all remember from the Samsung Galaxy S4. These tons of ridiculous features are why Samsung phones need so many Settings as well as why they feel so bloated.
S Voice is Samsung’s own attempt at Motorola’s Moto voice commands; however, it’s even a perversion of that. Aside from the fact that it just works poorly, it doesn’t have the same capabilities that Moto has.
With the Moto X, if the user says “What’s up?” the Moto X will read the time and all of the user’s notifications. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 will say “not much”. With the Moto X, if the user says “Good night”, the Moto X will not give any notifications until the user says “Good morning”. With the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, it responds “Good night”, but still sets off alerts.
S Voice is another attempt by Samsung to add another feature that people might find useful, but doing a poor job of it. The problem with throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks is that users have to suffer with a poor product.
S Health is an app by Samsung that does the whole fitness tracking thing. The primary idea is that the phone can track a user’s step, much as a Fitbit or Android Wear watch could. It also has a heart rate sensor, an SpO2 sensor, and a bunch of other features, like excursive tracker.
Some of the features work well. Others, such as heart rate or SpO2 sensor tends to ask the user to try again and again. It really doesn’t make sense to me to add these features into a smart phone. After all, if someone is really into fitness and working out, it stands to reason that he would purchase a smart watch or a fitness band for this. Does anyone really workout with a 5.7″ phablet in their pocket?
Again, it’s a useless feature of the phone. Samsung phones are filled with features that sound really cool in the AT&T Store, but have no practical applications to everyday use.
Deny it all you want, but the design of the body of a smart phone has a lot to do with the user experience. Samsung has evolved quite a bit over the years. Only a few years ago, Samsung phones were made of all plastic and they had a slippery, cheap feel. Last year’s Galaxy Note 3 saw a fake stitched leather back.
The Galaxy Note 4 uses a metal frame with a plastic back plate. The metal frame is definitely a plus for design, and the plastic plate feels strong from the outside; however, the user has to install the battery when he first gets the Galaxy Note 4, and to install the battery, he needs to remove the cheap, flimsy plastic back.
From walking around with this phone, I would hear beeping coming from my pocket. When I pulled the phone out, I would see that the phone woke in my pocket. Again, it’s just a frustrating phone to use.
When the user first downloads an app, it’s buried under the 67 apps that come preinstalled. The first app I install on every phone that I get to review is OneDrive because it’s the best solution for cloud storage of photos. Since O is right in the middle of the alphabet, it’s not easy to find.
The most common defense to the fact that 67 apps are preinstalled is that the user can install a custom ROM or disable the preinstalled apps. This is not a fair argument. After all, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. Sure, you could dig through the haystack and find the needle, but wouldn’t you just rather buy a needle? There are plenty of phones out there that are far superior to the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.
In other words, the overall experience is bad, but that is nothing new to Samsung products. The only users that I could imagine enjoy the user experience of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 are those that haven’t ever used Android devices made by a company besides Samsung.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 4: A Perversion of Innovation
About a year and a half ago now, I witnessed an AT&T salesman selling a Samsung Galaxy S4 to an unsuspecting couple. The sales pitch was horrific. He was so emphatic when he said, “With the Samsung Galaxy S4, you can tap your phone against someone else’s to share a picture. You can’t do that with the iPhone. Maybe you will be on the next iPhone. Maybe you’ll never be able to do it with an iPhone. With this phone, you don’t even have to touch the phone to answer it. When you’re watching a video and you look away, it will pause the video. You can even use it as a remote control!”
It was actually that moment that inspired me to start this web site and write a column called Why the Smart Phone Wars are Over, a column about how the smart phone market had become so mature, that companies like Samsung were just making up cheap tricks to look like they have an advantage as well as to make it look like Apple was falling behind. After all, all of those features that the AT&T salesman was touting were features that sound cool while you’re shopping, but two weeks after you get home with the phone, you shut them all off when you realize that there’s no practical use.
If you watch Podcasts about technology, you might notice that there are a lot of Samsung jokes in there. They tend to happen in the same way that the comments in this review happened. It happens in the way where if something doesn’t work right, the thought it “well, it’s Samsung”, as if it’s to be expected.
Like I said, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 certainly has a niche. There is definitely a crowd of people that want a phone like this, a powerhouse with the ability to have multiple apps on the screen at once or the ability to draw or take notes with a pen. Heck, it might even be somebody that likes those gimmicky features that Samsung is so famous for.
Having reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 at the same time as the Sony Xperia Z3 and the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, it really showed just how poorly the Galaxy Note 4 performs when it was sitting side by side with both Sony Xperia Z3s which were a pleasure to use.
Every quarter, Samsung announces that they have made a little less profits than the previous year. In fact, it is forecasted that they will drop another 60%. The enormous marketing budget that Samsung has is beginning to not have as much of an affect on the unsuspecting public that simply believes everything the AT&T salesman tells them to.
Samsung has become the joke of the smart phone industry. No one that is really involved in the technology industry actually uses a Samsung phone. The only people that you would be able to see using a Samsung phone are those that are being paid to or actually work for Samsung.
Samsung has become a perversion of the innovation that is the smart phone, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is right along those lines. It is frustrating to use and I cannot in good conscience recommend it.