Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Review: The Best Android Phone

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Review: The Best Android Phone

I know that the title is going to catch a lot of shit, because when you say that anything is the best of anything, well, let’s just say this is the Internet.

Except it’s true. The sad truth is that the Android market is in a pretty terrible state. Most OEMs are using the Snapdragon 810 in their flagships, which has a well known throttling issue. Other OEMs are using the Snapdragon 808, which is only marginally better than the Snapdragon 810 when it’s fully throttled.

Even at it’s most powerful point, the Snapdragon 810 doesn’t even come close to the Samsung Exynos 7420 that powers the Galaxy Note 5, as well as the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, and S6 Edge+. Just look at the benchmark scores. The Snapdragon 810 tops out at about 52,000 on AnTuTu. The Exynos 7420 tops out around 70,000.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5: Specs

CPU Octa Core Exynos 7420, 2.1 GHz Quad Core ARM Cortex-A57, 1.5 GHz Quad Core ARM Cortex-A53
GPU Mali-T760MP8
Display 5.7″, 1440p, 518 ppi, AMOLED
Body 153.2×76.1×7.6 mm, 171 g
Camera 16 MP, 5312×2988, 5 MP Front
Video 4K – 30 fps, 1080p – 60 fps, Front 1440p – 30 fps
Aperture f/1.9
Sensor Size 1/2.6″
Focal Length 28 mm
Storage 32/64 GB
Battery 3000 mAh
Price $739/$839 (AT&T)

You know, I pointed out that the Android market is in a bad state because of the processors that they’re using, but there’s more, and when I write this is going to be clear that the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is making the best of a bad situation.

The 1440p display is completely unnecessary. The only benefit is VR, although no one really uses it for that. On the other hand, there are tons of disadvantages, such as the drain on the GPU and the battery.

The 4 GB of RAM is also excessive. No mobile app is going to take advantage of that, considering that the vast, vast majority of Android devices have less than 2 GB of RAM.

One thing that’s disappointing is that the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 only comes in 32 and 64 GB models. They don’t have expandable storage anymore, so a 128 GB model is necessary.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5: S Pen

The S Pen was really what drew me (pun intended) to the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. It’s the same thing that drew me to Surface Pro 3. With the Surface Pro 3, you click the top of the pen, OneNote opens, and you start taking notes.

With the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, as soon as you remove the S Pen, the phone assumes you’re going to do something with it. If the phone is asleep, you can immediately begin taking notes, which was the feature that I really loved.

The one limitation to taking notes while the phone is asleep is that you’re limited to the screen real estate of the device. Remember, when we talk about screen real estate, we’re usually talking about resolution and how things are scaled. Here, we’re talking about handwriting.

If something comes up and you need to start taking notes, you pop the S Pen out and start taking notes, but once you fill the screen, you can’t scroll down a bit and take more notes. I hope they fix that in an update.

Of course, if the phone is unlocked when the S Pen is removed, there’s a lot more that you can do. A menu opens that gives the option to take an action memo, you can open S Note, you can use Screen write, which takes a screenshot and you can write on it, or you can use Smart select, which allows you to take a portion of the screen and choose to write on it.

You can also add up to three additional shortcuts. S Note is one of the shortcuts by default and it’s the only of the S Pen options that can be removed. I added OneNote as a shortcut.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5: Display and Design

The display and design generally follow the same principles as the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge. It’s a beautiful 1440p Super AMOLED display, coming in at 5.7″.

A couple things about the display. It is beautiful. Like the Samsung Galaxy S6, it’s probably the best display on the market. As always, I do not credit that to the resolution. I don’t think anyone can tell the difference between 1080p and 1440p on a smart phone. It’s weird that a lot of people have a hard time understanding this.

People like to say, “Well, if the Note 5 has a better screen, how can you say that there’s no advantages of 1440p over 1080p?” Seriously guys, there are other factors at work here. One of those factors is that the display is AMOLED rather than an LCD panel. An LCD is backlit while AMOLED pixels can be turned off, allowing for true blacks and it also allows for more vibrant colors.

Normally, there are a lot of disadvantages to 1440p. First of all, the only advantage to 1440p over 1080p is if you use virtual reality and you use it enough to be OK with all of the disadvantages, which include battery drain and it being very harsh on the GPU.

Oddly enough, I found gaming on the Galaxy Note 5 to be a pretty great experience, which was not the case with the Samsung Galaxy S6. It would appear that they’ve worked out some issues with the GPU.

The design of the Galaxy Note 5 is pretty great. As I said, they followed the same design principles as the Galaxy S6, which is to say that they used the glass panel on the back and the metal frame, along with the same color scheme.

The Galaxy Note 5’s design did differ in a couple ways. The sides are curved, making the larger phone easier and more comfortable to hold. They did not do this with the new Galaxy S6 Edge+, which is the same size; however, they curved the screen instead of the back panel, making it more uncomfortable to hold and to use.

It’s important to note that, for the most part, the Galaxy S6 Edge+ is just a Galaxy S6 Edge with a bigger screen and 4 GB RAM instead of 3 GB RAM. The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is basically a Galaxy S6 with 4 GB of RAM instead of 3 GB, an S Pen, and no 128 GB model. All four phones have the same processor, GPU, camera, front camera, screen resolution, and fingerprint reader.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5: Rear Camera

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5’s rear camera is the same as the Galaxy S6’s rear camera, which is to say it’s pretty awesome. It’s a 16 MP sensor with an f/1.9 aperture and a 1/2.6″ sensor.

The big thing that I like about Samsung cameras is that they use phase detection autofocus (PDAF). Apple uses PDAF and it’s really fantastic. It allows the user to take perfectly focused images and they look great.

A lot of the big news came at the same time as the Galaxy S6 review, such as the fact that Samsung really slimmed down the Camera app in a smart way, allowing the old features to be downloaded as plug-ins, such as rear cam selfie.

As we can see, the photos are just stunning. Low light performance is pretty great as well, but you’ll notice that when it’s really dark the PDAF doesn’t work as well in focusing the images. This is where the advantages of LG’s laser focus would come in.

Samsung also has a Pro mode for those that want to use manual controls. This is something that many smart phone OEMs are doing these days; however, Samsung seems to be the only one that can do manual controls and also have a great automatic mode at the same time.

Also, here’s a GIF from the animated GIF plug-in for Samsung’s Camera app.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 GIF

Note that the full size of the image is 640×480, but this is a sort of answer to Apple’s new live photos; however, this is much more shareable.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5: Front Camera

As with the rear camera, the front camera is the same as the Galaxy S6. This is the first year that I recall that the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note models have been so similar, but they really didn’t have to change anything. The Galaxy S6 is still one of the best four Android phones on the market, and the other three are made by Samsung, but I digress…

We were talking about the 5 MP front camera on the Galaxy Note 5. One interesting thing to note is that, like the rear camera, the front camera has an f/1.9 aperture. There is no flash like Apple used in the iPhone 6S, Motorola used in the new Moto G, and LG uses in all of their phones, but that can be fixed in a software update.

As we can see, the front camera is pretty great. One thing to note is that Samsung front cameras always seem to have a large field of view. It’s 5 MP, so you have room to crop, but you also have room in the photo for groups.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5: Benchmarks

I know that I always say this, but I’m not a fan of benchmarks. They so rarely provide any insight into a device’s real world usage. In this case, however, it does show some interesting results.

First up is the battery test done in Geekbench 3. Geekbench 3 has two settings for the battery tests. The dim screen can be toggled on or off. The left test is with the dim screen toggled off, as that’s how most of us use our phones. The right test is with the dim screen toggled, you guessed it, on.

Note 5 Battery

As we can see, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 scores pretty well in battery tests; however, we can see that a brighter screen significantly effects battery life. I also don’t think this test is necessarily accurate. I struggle to get through the day with the Note 5. This test doesn’t reflect that.

Next up is Geekbench 3 and AnTuTu benchmarks.

Note 5 Bench

As we can see, these tests show that the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and the three other Samsung devices that use the Exynos 7420 are the most powerful phones in the world. The iPhone 6S comes next, scoring around 59,000 in AnTuTu, but I’ve seen the Note 5 hit 70,000.

The multi core score is another thing the iPhone 6S can’t reach, which makes me wonder about the headlines I’ve been seeing that say that the iPhone 6S gets the best benchmark scores out of them all. It’s just not true, except for single core scores.

Next up is graphics tests, first with GFXBench 3.1 and after that, with GFXBench 3.




Note 5 GFX 3.1 Note 5 GFX 3

The GFXBench scores aren’t fantastic. This is the huge drawback to a 1440p display. It really hinders graphics performance. Like I said though, gaming is a pretty pleasant experience on this device.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5: The Elephant in the Room

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room, shall we? I’ve heard a lot of feedback about the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 about how there is no removable battery and there is no expandable storage.

First of all, get over the removable battery thing. Removable batteries are going away. This is also part of Samsung establishing themselves as a premium brand. Apple does the same thing. Charge won’t last a day? Buy a new charger to keep at work. Can’t afford a second charger? Don’t buy an iPhone!

Battery life is pretty great on the Galaxy Note 5. If you do have problems, there’s wireless charging and quick charging 2.0, so you’re good to go. You just need the proper charging appliances.

I understand the point about removable storage. I really do. I argued against it with the Galaxy S6 because the Galaxy S6 had a 128 GB model. Like I said, this is Samsung establishing themselves as a premium brand. Need more storage? Pay for it.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 only comes in 32 and 64 GB models, which is going to be fine for the vast, vast majority of people even considering the device; however, there are also people out there that got used to using a 128 GB microSD card in their phones and storing videos on it. These people will be effected.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Review

You know, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Historically, I’ve not been a fan of Samsung devices. My review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 was called A Perversion of Innovation. A few weeks later when I reviewed the Galaxy Note Edge, it was called Samsung Makes the Note 4 Worse.

Samsung phones have historically been ugly phones with a bloated OS and completely useless features.

That’s just not the case anymore. Most of the news here was stuff I already said in the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review, which was titled Samsung Finally Gets it Right. After all, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is really just a big Galaxy S6 with an S Pen and more RAM, which is totally fine.

The design changes that Samsung has made over the last year have been critical. It’s important to face the facts that design is important. People want a beautiful phone and why shouldn’t they? It’s the computer we have to look at all day.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is blazingly fast and powerful. It has a beautiful display. It has a fantastic rear camera, as well as a great front camera. Then there’s the S Pen. As I mentioned above, the S Pen was what really sold me on the Galaxy Note 5.

Overall, I give it a buy, mainly because it’s the best Android phone on the market. If you’re in the market for an Android phone, what else are you going to choose? There’s nothing else that’s worth investing a two year contract in.

About the author
Rich Woods

Being a computer programmer wasn't enough to fulfill his love of technology. In 2013, Rich founded For the Love of Tech and has been writing about his love of tech ever since.