Samsung firmly changed the Smartphone market with their original Galaxy note.

It was huge, by market standards, and it had a pen, both radical enough innovations in their own right. Samsung read the market correctly and what followed was a sea change in Mobile, with big screens now dominating. The latest Galaxy Note is the new Samsung Galaxy Note 5. Steven Ambrose spent quality time traveling the globe with the Note 5 and concludes this is a fantastic phone.

The Galaxy Note series from Samsung is and has been a huge success, from the S-Pen to the large screen, the Note series has been the flagship of the Samsung Mobile range for a few years. The latest version simply called the 5, is by far the finest device that Samsung has produced.

The new solid aluminium casing and the smooth rounded back, coupled to the high resolution screen, makes the Galaxy Note 5 a technical and engineering mobile tour de force. The Galaxy Note 5 joins the S6, S6 Edge, and S6 Edge + family, all these devices were significant upgrades from what Samsung had produced before and are easily competitive with the best that is available on the mobile market in 2015.

The Hardware

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is a symphony of glass and steel with a silky smooth Gorilla Glass 4 front and back, wrapped around a solid aluminium frame. This lends the new Note a solid premium feel. The sacrifice has been that the battery is non removable and the memory is not expandable. These may be small matters, as the base Galaxy Note 5 comes with 32Gig memory standard. The battery life is also good for such a big screened device and charging is really very fast, with 10 minutes of charge giving 4 hours of use.


The Galaxy Note 5 is dominated by a first rate 5.7” QHD Super Amoled screen and is one of the very best screens I have seen on a mobile device. The colours are spectacular and the accuracy and sharpness is really excellent. Viewing angles and viewing in bright light are also very good. The Galaxy Note 5 now takes the now ubiquitous Nano Sim.

The internals are also cutting edge; the Galaxy Note 5 features an Octa Core Samsung made Exynos processor with 4 GB of internal Ram. Simply put the device never lagged at any point, it is hugely quick and no matter how many apps were open, the transitions were smooth and switching apps instant. Playing games made the phone really warm but overall the performance was outstanding.

As I mentioned battery life was really good no matter how many photos, mails, social media posts and games I played. I was able to get through most of a day without a recharge. Whilst travelling I did find that after around 12 hours of use I need to top up to get through a full day. In normal use by my usual bedtime I still had around 20 % of battery left. A super saver mode would allow a full day of additional use with around 10% of battery left, this would allow you to make calls and send messages though data and background apps are switched off.

The other standout feature of the Galaxy Note 5 is the camera. The 16-megapixel camera is amongst the best on Mobile devices I have used, easily as good as the iPhone 6 Plus and the LG G4 which were my reference cameras. The new iPhone 6 S Plus camera is slightly better in low light conditions and little more consistent in picture quality, but there is not much in it. The Galaxy Note 5 camera and associated software is fast and easy to use and consistently produces amazing pictures. The front “Selfie” Camera is wide angle and very good as well.

The latest iteration of the S Pen is also by far the best Samsung has produced. The feel on the glass is tactile and feels a lot like writing on paper. The S Pen has multiple modes and can be used to draw amazingly well on the screen. If using a pen or stylus is your thing, this is a really useful feature.

Samsung have also integrated the S Pen software really well and using the S Pen along with its associated apps is easy. The S-Pen is pressure sensitive and is a boon for those with artistic flair. The ability to take out the stylus and jot a note on the screen without switching on the phone was actually more useful and much cleverer than it sounds, it quickly become part of my daily use and is a feature I will miss going forward on non-stylus devices.


The software

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 runs Android 5.1.1 and will be upgraded somewhere in early 2016 to the latest version of Android version 6. Samsung still include their overlay on Android called TouchWiz, but on the Note 5 and the rest of the new range Samsung have cleaned and simplified TouchWiz substantially.

TouchWiz is still not my favourite Android skin and still feels a little old fashioned and clunky in use, however the latest version on the Note 5 is clean and fairly simple and due to the sheer power of the phone, never lags or stalls. The overall feel is very coherent and the user interface is more than usable. Android still takes far more involvement from the user than Apple’s iOS for now, though many like this.

Android will demand far more involvement from its user, that other Mobile operating system, such as having to constantly choose what app to use when, or what setting needs fiddling with for optimum use. There are still multiple apps stores with updates coming from Samsung and Android app stores, more often that you would like. There is also many duplicated apps from both Samsung and Android.

The S Pen included software is now really polished, all the apps for the S Pen are genuinely well thought out and useful, from the pop up menu once the pen in released, to the actual apps themselves. There is a polish and maturity that lacking from earlier versions.  My favourite was the note app.

All the standard android apps are there, from mail to calendars, and other functions, along with Samsung versions for many of course, overall the Galaxy Note 5 is far more integrated that any Samsung device I have used before. The overall user experience is very good and the quirks of Android and TouchWiz are easily managed with a little bit of experience.


Samsung have created a really top end premium device in the Galaxy Note 5. It is extremely well built, the fit, finish, and technical specifications are first grade.

Internally the Galaxy Note 5 has some of the highest specifications of any device available today, along with an integration of features and maturity of software that makes this one of the best Samsung devices to date, by a long shot. The S Pen is a major differentiator and if using a stylus is something that works for you, the Galaxy Note 5 makes it a pleasure.

The choice at the top end of the market is not that huge, most people will compare this to the Apple iPhone 6 S Plus, and most want to know which is better. There is no better at this level, sorry to say. The Galaxy Note 5 and the Apple iPhone 6 S Plus are both cutting edge premium top end devices, there are many other models from many manufacturers that do compete on some levels, with similar or even better specifications and with lower prices.
At this end of the market that does not tell the story at all. The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 along with its sibling the Galaxy S 6 Edge Plus occupy the rarefied top end of the market, along with the Apple iPhone and each one justifies its price and position. The choice of which one is best is left to you.
Personal choice of Android over iOS, Apple over Samsung, is what matters. You can rest assured that build quality, performance, and features are very similar, even if the user experience is markedly different. The main apps that I used offered very little benefit on one platform versus the other. Choice is always a good thing and the choice is there for you to try.
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Steven Ambrose | | |