Samsung Galaxy Note 5 full review

The Samsung Note series has always stood out of the crowd, mainly thanks to its larger-than-life display and the inclusion of a stylus, or S Pen as it’s called. When the Note was first announced, people were shocked at the size of the 5.3in display – after all, the average screen size in 2011 was only 2.6in, but over time people have come to adore its style and what the phablet can offer. Fast forward to August 2015 where Samsung officially unveil the much-rumoured Note 5, boasting a new premium design and improved S Pen. Fans of the Note series were excited to get their hands on the device – that was until the company announced that the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 wouldn’t be coming to UK shores. Read our Galaxy Note7 review: Hands-on with the phablet from 7th heaven.

Also see: Best Black Friday Phone Deals

Fortunately, Samsung now appears to have changed its mind, and the latest rumours suggest the Note 5 will come to Europe in early January 2016. It could even launch here sooner, to take advantage of the Christmas buying period.

If you want to go hands-on with a Galaxy Note 5 today, though, you may have to import one. With this being said, our review handset was sent to us by Mobile Fun and while the company won’t be stocking the Note 5 itself, it offers a range of Galaxy Note 5 accessories for those of you lucky enough to get your hands on one.

So, are we missing out by not getting the Galaxy Note 5 in the UK? Or have users dodged a bullet by not being able to purchase the phablet? Read our review and find out.  

See also: Best smartphones of 2015

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review: Design and build

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is the latest in the Note family, and is frankly gorgeous. Samsung is finally moving away from plastic smartphones and moving towards premium aluminium and glass combinations that won’t disappoint. The sleek and lightweight design of the Note 5 is beautiful, and we think it’s one of the best-looking smartphones on the market right now.

It’s available in a variety of colours, including Black Sapphire, Gold Platinum, Silver Titan or White Pearl. We’ve gone hands on with the Black Sapphire model, a navy and silver colour combination that catches the light in just the right way, showcasing its subtle, understated colour for maximum effect. The famed S Pen has also had an aesthetic upgrade, now sporting a matching aluminium finish for a more premium look.

The Galaxy Note 5 measures in at 153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6mm and weighs a lightweight 171g. Let’s compare this to Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus, which measures in at a slightly larger-but-thinner 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1 mm. Not much difference between the two, right? Then you’ll be shocked to know that while the iPhone 6 Plus boasts a 5.5in display, the Note 5 houses a slightly larger 5.7in display. This means that while both phones are very similar in terms of dimensions, the Note 5 boasts 0.2in more screen real estate for your money – and it’s a beautiful display at that, too, but we’ll come to that later. Also see: 100 funny things to ask S Voice

The Galaxy Note 5 is made from Series 7000 aluminium – sound familiar to anyone? It should, as it’s the same aluminium that Apple use in the Apple Watch, and is what the iPhone 6S is expected to be made of too. What’s so great about Series 7000 aluminium? While being sixty percent more durable than standard aluminium, it’s also lightweight, making it the perfect material to use in a smartphone. Paired with the Series 7000 aluminium is Gorilla Glass 4, Corning’s latest creation that aims to protect both the front and the back of the Note 5.

The slightly curved edges and back plate make holding the Note 5 a lot easier, especially with one hand and for long periods of time – an important factor to consider when discussing phablets. You’re able to easily reach the other side of the screen with a finger without risking a drop due to the extra grip that the curved design provides.

See also: Best new phones coming in 2015 & 2016

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review: Display and S Pen

Let’s move on to the features that make the Galaxy Note 5 what it is – the display and accompanying S Pen. The S Pen is one a feature of the Note series that fans love, which has improved in both functionality and design since the release of the original Samsung Galaxy Note. The Note 5 brings along a completely redesigned S Pen, boasting a sleek aluminium body that looks gorgeous compared to the S Pens used in previous Note devices. It includes a push-button end, which allows for easy access when inside the Note 5 – simply press down on the Pen and it’ll pop out, ready to be used.

The S Pen boasts improved and more accurate pressure sensitivity compared to the S Pen bundled with the Note 4, which itself was in line with top-of-the-range Wacom styluses at the time. After using the S Pen for only a few minutes, it becomes apparent that the Note 5 and S Pen do a great job of interpreting angles and swoops, and although a smooth display means you may slip when writing, it’s impressively accurate and enjoyable. We’re not huge fans of using styluses with smartphones, but we found ourselves using the S Pen for a variety of tasks on the Note 5.

Using the S Pen gives you access to AirCommand on the Note 5, which fans of the Note series will know and love. It offers shortcuts to specific S Pen-related activities including Screen write, Smart Select, Action memo and S Note. It’s ideal for those that are on-the-go, creative or just forgetful! While the apps themselves haven’t changed much in terms of functionality, AirCommand has had an Android Lollipop facelift and now includes the option to add custom AirCommand shortcuts, such as “Open Instagram” etc.

The only issue we had with the Note 5 and the S Pen is that on occasion, the Note 5 would think the S Pen had been detached and would display a message (and play a tone). The only issue was that in the majority of these cases, the Note 5 was on a table, stationary with no one removing the S Pen. We also found that it happened when the Note 5 was in our pocket, so much so that we had to manually disable the notification. This may be an isolated issue with our handset, but it’s worth taking into consideration.

But what about the display that provides you with such an exciting S Pen experience? The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 boasts a stunning 5.7in Quad HD super AMOLED screen, with a pixel density of a staggering 518ppi.

Note fans may point out that this is extremely similar to the offering of the Note 4, and they’d be right – the displays are ultimately the same, but with a great display and no real need for a 4K smartphone display, Samsung decided not to upgrade. We think this was right decision to make, especially as we imagine a 4K display would have a serious effect on battery life for a bump in quality that may not be visible to most people. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it eh?

We’ve fallen in love with the display of the Note 5. The high-resolution display is bright, vibrant and offers fantastic viewing angles. The colour representation was a bit out in places, but after watching various movie trailers and playing games on the Note 5, it was clear that this comes close to being our favourite phone display ever.

See also: Best tablets of 2015

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review: Spec and performance

It’s all well and good having a beautiful looking smartphone, but how does the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 perform? The first impressive feature of the Note 5’s internals is the inclusion of a whopping 4GB of RAM, similar to the OnePlus Two. Many believe that 4GB of RAM is simply too much for a smartphone, but they clearly haven’t used the Note 5 – thanks to the huge amounts of RAM, the Note 5 can run two apps side by side and interact with both independently with no sign of lag.

Alongside 4GB of RAM is Samsung’s own Exynos 7420 oca-core processor, which comprises of a quad-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53 and a quad-core 2.1GHz Cortex-A57. In terms of graphics, the Note 5 boasts a Mali-T760MP8 GPU, the same GPU that’s used in other high-end smartphones including the ever-popular Samsung Galaxy S6. But of course, that doesn’t mean a lot, so we ran a series of tests with the following results that should make things a bit clearer:

As you can see, the Note 5 performs pretty well against its main competitors, narrowly missing out on the top slot in our GeekBench 3 single-core benchmark (Note 5’s 1497 compared to S6 Edge’s 1501). It beat all the competition with 5149 points multi-core, however. It also performs moderately well in our graphics tests, and came out on top in our SunSpider test, which measures the internet browser performance of the device. These results place the Galaxy Note 5 up there with other premium, flagship devices and as a result should be able to handle almost anything you throw at it.

In terms of storage, you get a choice of either 32GB or 64GB, with no larger storage options available. This would usually be fine – Android users always upgrade the internal memory of their handsets, thanks to the MicroSD card slot that many handsets offer. However, Samsung made the hugely unpopular decision to remove the removable storage option from the Note 5, as it did with the Galaxy S6.

Connectivity wise, you’ll find fairly standard 802.11ac dual band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS and NFC featured in the Note 5. With regards to sensors, the device has an accelerometer, a gyro, proximity sensor, compass, barometer, as well as a heart rate monitor and an SpO2 monitor.

It, like the Galaxy S6, also boasts a fingerprint reader, though in our experience we found this to yield higher error rates compared to our experience of Apple’s TouchID and the fingerprint sensor used in the OnePlus Two. It’ll do the job, but it becomes slightly frustrating at times – especially as your only backup for a fingerprint lock is an eight-character minimum password, not a pin or pattern as we’d prefer.

See also: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs S6 comparison

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review: Camera

Another great aspect of the Galaxy Note 5 are its cameras; a 16Mp sensor on the back and a 5Mp sensor on the front. As with the display, long-time users of Note devices may notice that the rear-facing camera is pretty much the same as that of the Note 4. The camera boasts optical image stabilisation, autofocus, f1.9, an LED flash and 4K video recording at 30fps as well as a variety of different shooting modes. The Note 5 also displays HDR in real time, which provides an instant preview of the effect that helps to take better shots in contrasting light, amongst other things.

But does all that on-board tech translate to a great smartphone camera? Of course it does. Photos taken on the Galaxy Note 5 look vibrant, crisp and clear with very little to no blurring, even with (limited) movement in the shot. If that wasn’t enough, the photos are captured surprisingly fast. We don’t have an exact measurement for how long it takes for the camera to capture the image after you tap the capture button, but let us reassure you that it’s faster than many smartphones on the market – and that’s without the laser autofocus of the OnePlus Two.

With a great rear-facing camera, how does the front-facing camera look? Users will be happy to know that the ‘selfie cam’ been improved since the Galaxy Note 4, now boasting a 5Mp sensor, up from a 3.7Mp sensor. As well as this, it houses a 120-degree wide angle lens that’ll allow you to fit more into your photos, ideal for selfies with friends or in a cinematic environment. It doesn’t offer the same optical image stabilisation as the rear-facing camera, but it does offer digital image stabilisation with auto real-time HDR and f1.9 so as far as front facing cameras go, it’s pretty good.

The great thing about the camera software of the Galaxy Note 5 (amongst other Galaxy handsets) is that you can add additional shooting modes to the ones included by default. As standard, you’ll have access to various shooting modes including Collage, Series, Slo-mo, Fast-mo, Panorama, Virtual Object and, my favourite, YouTube Broadcast. Using YouTube Broadcast, you can instantly set up and start a live stream directly from your phone using no additional software, just your default camera app. It’s a pretty cool feature to have, that could one day change the way we interact with the news and social media.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review: Software

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 comes with Android 5.1.1 Lollipop pre-installed and unlike in previous generations, the company has seriously cut back on the amount of bloatware included – probably to do with the fact that the company has removed the MicroSD card slot of many of its flagship devices. It still features Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, but uses the same version as the Galaxy S6, which provides various visual improvements over the Note 4 interface.

The Note 5 also comes with the fairly standard S Health apps that help you track general health and fitness, and also the mobile Microsoft Office suite. As we’ve mentioned above, users also gain access to AirCommand when using the Note 5’s S Pen, the popular perk available only to users of the productivity-orientated phablet.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review: Battery life

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 boasts a 3000mAh battery which, to the dismay of many Android users, is non-removable. To make that decision. Samsung must be confident that the battery can last a full day with standard usage – but can it?

We ran a battery test during our review, which measures the time it takes for the device to run out of charge from full capacity when in use. We found that the Galaxy Note 5 can be used for 8 hours and 54 minutes before its battery dies, with an overall battery score of 5340. This should get the vast majority of users through the day without needing a top-up, but power users may struggle – however with the inclusion of fast charging technology, it’s not as much of an issue. More info about that below.

The Galaxy Note 5 offers wireless charging capabilities, which the company claims can charge a Galaxy Note 5 from dead to full in 120 minutes. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a wireless charger to hand to put this to the test, but if true, it’s definitely a plus.

For those of you without wireless chargers, you’ll be glad to know that the Note 5 also boasts fast charging technology. Fast charging is all the rage at the moment, and we can now see why. In our experience, we could charge the Galaxy Note 5 from around 10 percent to full battery in just over an hour, which proved to be useful in a number of situations – especially topping up the Note’s battery before tube journeys home after work.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review: Pricing and availability

As mentioned earlier in the review, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 will not be coming to the UK until 2016. However, this doesn't mean it can't be purchased - it just means you won't be able to get it on contract from carriers or shops like the Carphone Warehouse. There are two ways to get your hands on a Note 5 in the UK; you can buy one on eBay, or you can import one from the US. While importing sounds easy enough, its worth noting that you'll be charged an undisclosed amount by Customs in the UK before you'll be able to get your hands on it. We'd opt for eBay, but always be sure about what you're purchasing before you part with your hard-earned cash.

O2 customers should note that the SM-N920i model does not support 800MHz (Band 20) LTE, which means this model will not offer 4G on their network (Three, EE and Vodafone customers can take advantage of the phone's 1800MHz and 2600MHz LTE bands).

An SM-N920C model is also listed, which appears to support all three UK 4G LTE bands, but it's always best to check the exact specification with the seller before you buy. Learn more about how to check whether a phone is supported by your network.  

In terms of pricing, you'll be forking out somewhere in the region of £445-480 depending on the listing you buy from on eBay.

Read next: Samsung Galaxy S6 review: 4 months on, the S6 is still the best phone of 2015.


Samsung Galaxy Note 5: Specs

  • 153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6 mm
  • 171g
  • 5.7in Quad HD super AMOLED display
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • 802.11ac dual band Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • NFC
  • Series 7000 aluminium
  • S Pen
  • 4K video recording
  • 16Mp rear camera
  • Optical and Digital Image Stabilisation
  • Exynos 7420
  • Mali-T760MP8
  • 4GB RAM
  • 32 & 64GB storage
  • heart rate monitor and an SpO2 monitor
  • Android Lollipop 5.1.1
  • 3000mAh non-removable battery