Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 5

Introduction and design

Update: New Samsung Galaxy Note 5 phones as of January 2016 fix the jammed S-Pen problems, and there are rumors about a UK launch date. This review has been revised to reflect these changes.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is a phone that’s either a game changer or deal breaker for longtime fans of the Android phablet, now that it has a premium look and feel.

Its 5.7-inch display, super-fast processor, improved camera and S Pen stylus are joined by a new, glass-and-metal design that reflects the solid construction of the Samsung Galaxy S6.

That makes it a huge leap over last year’s Galaxy Note 4, which backed the phone in cheap, textured plastic. Samsung’s build quality is fit to compete with the aluminum iPhone 6S Plus, Huawei Mate 8 and Nexus 6P.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

All of this comes at a cost, however. There’s no microSD card slot for expandable storage or removable battery to swap out, like on the Note 4, LG G4, and very likely the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S7, and the new sealed-shut glass design is slippery.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is among the best phones in the world, but it isn’t for everyone who can’t grip a two-handed phone, or its compromises in the name of style.

Release date and price

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

The Note 5 may not be for everyone simply because it’s currently only available in the US and Canada in the Western world. It launched in the US on AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular on August 21, 2015.

It hasn’t come to the UK or the rest of Europe, but new rumors suggest it’ll launch in February, with my guess being whenever Android 6.0 Marshmallow is ready for the phone. Samsung has focused on the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ in the UK. For now, anyone outside of North America who wants a new phone with a stylus is out of luck.

Its price remains competitive, even with its fancy new design. It now costs $149 through a two-year contract on Verizon and Sprint after launching at $249 in the US. AT&T Next plans start at $24.67 a month, while the full retail Note 5 price is $696 via Verizon. It’ll likely cost £600 in the UK, the same as the Note 4 price.


The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 has the same basic shape as the Note 4, but the construction of the two phones couldn’t be any more different.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Gone is the faux leather back that was made of plastic but felt more like cheap snakeskin. It’s been replaced by a glass sheet that’s infused into a metal frame, just like on the Galaxy S6.

At 153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6mm, the Note 5 dimensions are certainly bigger than Samsung’s 5.1-inch flagship, but it’s actually a hair smaller and noticeably thinner than the Note 4. It’s lighter too, at 171g, shedding 5g, even with its metal-and-glass construction.

Its back glass also curves inward on the right and left sides. This smaller footprint and curved back made it easier to hold in my palm, despite its phablet size.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Glass does make gripping this 5.7-inch phone more of a challenge, breakable and a fingerprint magnet compared to its faux leather predecessor. There’s less traction, but it’s nowhere near as slippery as a super smooth aluminum iPhone 6S with rounded corners.

Cases will help with the grip and prevent my overarching palm from interfering with the touchscreen, due to its ultra-thin bezel. This happens more often as bezels wane, phone sizes increase and my hands get fat. But I don’t suggest Samsung’s default case offering. I know from my time with the Galaxy S6 – its slick plastic makes the phone even more slippery.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

The Galaxy Note 5 colors include Sapphire Black, White Pearl and, as of November, Gold Platinum in select sizes in the US. Options for Titanium Silver are offered elsewhere. The aluminum frame is silver in all cases, with a color-matching power button on the right and volume rocker on the left. These buttons are thin, but feel strong when pressed and, importantly, are situated in the upper portion of the frame, exactly where my fingers clutch the phone.

Samsung Pay, Display and S Pen

The unchanged, oval-shaped home button is the only other physical button on the Note 5, and thankfully its fingerprint sensor technology works much better than it did on the Note 4. I no longer have to slide my finger up, then down the button in order to unlock the screen.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

It’s exactly like the iPhone’s Touch ID and Nexus 6P sensor, and now, “it just works.” It unlocked the phone in the same amount of time, it’s just as accurate as Apple’s biometric fingerprint sensor and it can be used to log into a certain sites. The only issue I had was that is saves four fingerprints instead the five that Touch ID supports.

Samsung’s enhanced fingerprint sensor is perfectly timed for the Samsung Pay, which launched on September 28 in the US. It’ll come to the UK, Spain and China thereafter, hopefully when the Samsung Galaxy S7 launches at MWC 2016. The tech behind it supports both NFC and MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission).

The MST protocol effectively mimics a card swipe at the non-NFC terminal, so that Samsung reaches 90% of retail locations, while Apple Pay and Google Pay struggle with a lower adoption rate.


The Galaxy Note 5 has already been heralded as the best smartphone display ever tested. It retains that 5.7-inch screen size and quad HD resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels. There are 518 pixels per inch behind the Gorilla Glass 4 – fewer than the 5.1-inch Galaxy S6. But don’t be fooled by these on-paper specs. The Note 5 just spreads out those same pixels on its larger screen.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Where the Super AMOLED technology differs is in color accuracy, peak brightness and contrast ratio, according to the experts at DisplayMate. I found the brightness level to be more important than Samsung’s over-the-top pixel density. Luckily, this phone has both. Being able to see what’s on the screen while outdoors is far more rewarding than seeing marginally crisper text through a microscope.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

S Pen stylus

The bright and colorful display packs some more neat tricks, thanks to the returning S Pen that really differentiates the Galaxy Note 5 from the Galaxy S6 Edge+. This plastic stylus now slides out from the bottom of the phone’s frame after clicking it in. There’s no other functionality from this clickable head, except perhaps inviting you to begin a bad OCD habit.

The new functionality comes when you enable “Screen off memo” in settings. This allows you to write on the display while it’s in its “off,” or at least in a nearly black state. This is really handy for jotting down everything from quick thoughts, to last-second grocery lists. It’s all saved in Samsung’s S Notes app, which returns with white or yellow legal pad backgrounds.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

S Pen Air Commands pop up as soon as the pen is ejected from its internal holster, or when the stylus’ tiny side button is clicked while hovering over the display. These commands act as a shortcut to the Memos app as well as screen-cropping Smart Select and full screenshot Screen Write. There’s a special option in Screen Write that lets you capture an entire page, so piecing together multiple screenshots for web pages or text conversations is a thing of the past.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Writing on any of these with a variety of calligraphy and color options is fun and engaging, but the .PNG files can’t be sent via text message. I transferred three images to Dropbox, converted them to .JPG on my computer and sent them back to the phone to transmit to someone via SMS. The result? They couldn’t read my handwriting. It’s fun to use the S Pen, but not always as rewarding as it should be with extra steps like this.

I was able to understand my own stylus scribbling after jotting down notes while listening to a speaker at a conference, all without ever having to carry around a notebook. But this sort of S Pen functionality is going to be useful to a minority amount of phone owners out there and never as good as the real thing – either a computer or notebook in hand.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

There’s also the hassle of re-inserting the S-Pen the right way, and the risk that it would break your pen and phone if you you did it the wrong way. At first Samsung came out with a simple warning and now it has fixed the issue on newer Samsung Galaxy Note 5 phones as of January 2016.

Most Galaxy Note 5 owners will seldom get use out of the otherwise gimmicky S Pen after the novelty wears thin in the first week. Tricks like Air View aren’t all that compelling. By hovering over the screen with the S Pen, it lets you scrub through the video player timeline, enlarge a gallery thumbnail photo, or preview an email. All of this seems less productive than the S Pen’s intended usage.

There is a extension pack that Samsung didn’t install by default, and it’s much more compelling than the Air View functionality. It enables handwriting transformation, sketch recordings and importing of notes from Google Drive. Luckily, it’s free through the Galaxy Apps Store.

Specs and performance

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is a beast of a phone in size and performance, since it inherits the chart-topping Galaxy S6 internal specs, then tweaks them a bit for even better results.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

The company is really giving Qualcomm a run for its fleeting money, because its Exynos 7420 octa-core chip continues to outpace every other System on a Chip in multicore processing. And it does it while not getting hot or bogged down, like the troubled Snapdragon 810.

The Note 5’s octa-core chip is the same, with a combination of a 2.1GHz quad-core chip and a 1.5GHz quad-core chip and a Mali-T760 MP8 GPU. What’s different here is that Samsung added to the memory, with 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, instead of the 3GB found in S6 And S6 Edge.


Samsung fitting an extra 1GB of RAM in this phone – meaning it can handle more tasks at once – really shows through our best GeekBench 3 scores to date. While the Samsung Galaxy S6 topped the charts at an average score of 4,849, our three most recent Note 5 benchmarks averaged 4,975. One of the tests even surpassed the 5,000 mark.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

That is a decisive blow to other phablets out there, too. The 6-inch Google Nexus 6 managed to score 3,294 in the same benchmarking test, while the iPhone 6 Plus took a snooze at 2,911. That may be plenty fast enough for even iOS 9, but this Android phone is able to handle way more at once.

Samsung’s Exynos 7420 processor, combined with 4GB, seems like an unstoppable force, and is a specs trend that should continue with MWC 2016 launch of the Samsung Galaxy S7. By then, Qualcomm will have launched its Snapdragon 820 processor. But for right now, Samsung is setting and then beating its own benchmarks.

The only reason you may see slowdown from the Note 5 is if Samsung’s improved, but still imperfect, TouchWiz interface takes a few extra seconds to jam in another menu animation.

Internal storage

Local storage, the other type of memory, is more of an issue for power users, with 32GB and 64GB configurations. You won’t find a 128GB Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

That’s problematic for three reasons. First, there’s no microSD card slot, something that a vocal portion of Note fans have flipped out over. (Just look at the comments on our launch coverage.) Second, new RAW photo options and returning 4K video capture settings can eat up space. A 32GB drive isn’t what it used to be, with 30MB uncompressed photos and 2160p video files. Third, actual user-accessible storage is 24.85GB on my 32GB Galaxy Note 5 review unit. The system memory takes up 7.15GB on its own.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

What’s shocking is that the SIM card tray finally switched from a micro SIM in the back cover on the Note 4 to a smaller nano SIM in the frame of the Note 5. Yet Samsung kept this ejectable tray fairly big – what looks to be the same size as micro SIM tray with huge borders.

I get why the battery is sealed with this airtight design, and I get why the Galaxy Note 5 isn’t waterproof, like last year’s Galaxy S5 and this year’s Galaxy S6 Active. But Samsung could have easily added a microSD card slot here, instead of a larger-than-necessary SIM tray.

Call quality, reception and boot times

Phones are sometimes used to make phone calls, believe it or not, so we still evaluate that, too. The Note 5, does just fine with both call quality and reception.

Testing out the Samsung phone through the T-Mobile network in an area with good coverage, I was able to hear the caller loud and clear. It gets even louder when pressing the on-screen extra volume button, just in case your caller is a low talker and every word is important. The speaker phone accomplishes the same, even if the speaker shouts out the wrong direction, from the bottom of the phone’s frame.

Boot times on this phone are always acceptable, taking 28 seconds to startup on average. The even bigger Google Nexus 6 still requires an excruciating minute and a half when first pressing the power button. Samsung packs more into the Galaxy Note 5 and takes a third of the time.

Android 5.1.1 and apps

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 comes pre-loaded with Android 5.1.1, meaning it doesn’t have the latest Google operating system update, Android 6.0 Marshmallow. At least, not yet. Here’s what it does have.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 reviewLockscreen notifications are here from the get-go (they eventually arrived on the Note 4 via a software update), and Samsung has its own, less intricate version of Do Not Disturb. It’s more of a system-wide virtual silencer, without the app-by-app level of detail we’ve seen in pure Android devices.

Samsung has refined its TouchWiz software overlay to a point where it’s actually good, even if it includes a number of apps you’ll never use. The spacious 5.7-inch display fits five apps across, instead of the normal four, and the quick settings swipe-from-the-top menu is still customizable. Google’s pure software doesn’t give Nexus 6 owners this quick setting re-sorting option.

New to all 2016 Samsung phones is a settings menu laid out on one page, with the most important functions at the top in larger icons. It’s all-around much easier to get to where you want. What’s more, the TouchWiz interface finally rids the Note series of that “water droplet” lockscreen and its *bleeping* bleep-and-bloop sound effects. While these grating tones are still present in the Galaxy S6 Active, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge escaped these awful sound effects.


It’s now easier to load and offload files to a PC, Mac or tablet, thanks to the new SideSync. This app replaces the poor user interface of Samsung Kies and actually works, unlike the error-prone Android File Transfer app. Without a microSD card on the Note 5, this is more vital than ever.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Less important are Samsung’s pre-installed apps like Internet, Email, S Planner and S Voice. There’s no reason to ever use them when Google does a much better job with Chrome, Gmail, Calendar and Google Now. Neither company has a good health app. The generic Music, Video and Gallery do a good job of loading up multimedia files faster than the heavier-weight Google Music and Google Photos, so those are keepers at least.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Sneakily, the Note 5 includes normal-looking Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp apps, but these are really homescreen shortcuts to “Galaxy Apps,” Samsung’s Google Play Store alternative. The South Korean electronics giant is slowly trying to rope you into its account and ecosystem.

While S Voice takes a backseat, Samsung’s cleaned-up camera app is front-row-center. Double clicking the home button now leads to the camera app instead of S Voice, while holding it down acts as a Google Now shortcut. These are apps people actually use, so it’s a great move by Samsung. Leave such complex, data-driven software to the software experts with all of our data, please.

Movies and Music

There are two main movie apps pre-installed and two more for music, and all of them prove that the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is more of a visual titan. Its audio prowess leaves room for improvement.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

The comic book characters of X-Men really popped on this best-in-class display as soon as I loaded up the 2000 film through Google Play Movies & TV. Playing back video I recorded via the default movies app revealed a basic media player with useless Air View gestures thrown in. Both apps ace the look.

Where movies and music let me down on this device was in the speaker department. Just like the speakerphone call quality, the audio here shoots out of Galaxy Note 5’s side frame. It’s very noticeable that it points in the wrong direction when trying to enjoy a movie or song through the built-in speakers.

This is something that the HTC One M9, Sony Xperia Z3 Compact and even the Moto G 2015 get right with front-facing speakers. With a large, cinema-friendly display, Samsung nearly has a multimedia juggernaut.


Without the hint of slowdown in benchmarking tests, I didn’t find any performance issues when playing games. Everything from the simple Jetpack Joyride to the more advanced Asphalt 8: Airborne was efficiently handled by the Mali-T760 MP8 GPU.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Battery life took a hit when running through these game apps, as expected, but I surprisingly didn’t run into any problems with the lack of bezel, like I did when typing messages. This is because almost all of today’s games are played in landscape mode, and there’s a bit more to hold onto in that orientation.

Samsung’s 5.7-inch display is nearly a tablet gaming experience at this point, and with many of the best Android game available for free, this “work” device easily doubles as your new Game Boy.


Megapixels don’t always mean everything when it comes to the best camera phones, so some 13MP, 16MP, 20MP snappers can’t compare to the 8MP iPhone 6 Plus or 12MP iPhone 6S Plus camera.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

That’s not the case with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 camera, because it’s 16MP and actually lives up to that last-gen Apple-doubling number. With the same Sony Exmor RS IMX240 sensor that’s in the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ and S6 Active, it gives shooters a wide f/1.9 aperture.

All of that translates into the Note 5 camera snapping brighter photos with more on-point color accuracy compared to last year’s Galaxy Note 4. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a photo come out the first time you hit the virtual shutter button.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

The iPhone 6 camera can't keep up. More comparisons on the next two pages

Even though I saw roughly the same amount of fine detail between the two Notes, I found that the iPhone 6 and 6S Plus cameras to literally pale in comparison. The differences between Samsung’s 5,312 x 2,988 photos and Apple’s 3,264 x 2,448 and newer 3,024 x 4,032 pictures are more apparent than ever. The Note 5 provided punchier colors, without becoming oversaturated – something Samsung has been known for in years past. It also handled low-light better than the iPhone. Apple’s really didn’t step up with the iPhone 6S.

Capturing that fleeting Kodak moment on the Note 5 is also aided by the fact that I only needed to double tap the home button to open the camera app. It takes 0.7 seconds with this method, a worthy replacement of the S-Voice shortcut that no one ever used.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

The front-facing 5MP camera is a different story. It provides those same wider selfie photos with a f/1.9 aperture and more vibrant colors, but doesn’t do nearly as well in low-light conditions. The iPhone produces more realistic skin tones, while Samsung applies a “beauty mode” slider that makes people look waxy. It can be turned off, but the results aren’t much better.

The Note 5’s rear camera shoots 4K video at 30 frames per second and 1080p video at 60 frames per second, though the limited storage space is a key concern if you’re capturing 2160p video files. The good news is that footage in either resolution looks great. I only had a problem with the abrupt jerking of the camera lens when zooming in and out.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

The Galaxy Note 5 inherits the S6 camera with a few new additions. This gives us a cleaner, easier-to-use interface with modes of Auto, Pro (manual), Selective Focus, Panorama, Video Collage, Slow Motion, Fast Motion and Virtual Shot returning to the rear camera. It’s all about making selfies easier with the front camera, with modes of Selfie, Wide Selfie and Interval Shot. Video Collage and Virtual Shot also work with this 5MP camera.

The newest mode to Samsung’s camera is Live Broadcast. It streams video, captured from the front or rear camera, to YouTube in an invite-only or public environment, your choice. Although the similar YouTube Live app is starting to make its way to more devices, having it integrated right into the default camera app does make it easy to sign in and start recording.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Buried in the Note 5 camera settings menu is an option to save RAW files when in Pro mode. This gives camera enthusiasts a chance to capture uncompressed photos and tinker with finer editing details in post. Right now, both Live broadcast and RAW files are exclusive to the Note 5, even though there’s no reason I can see that Samsung’s other top camera phones can’t handle them.

Camera samples

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

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Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Camera comparison samples

Samsung Galaxy Note 5

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Battery life

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 battery life was controversial, even before the phone was officially announced. Rumors that it had no removable battery turned out to be true.

This is a deal breaker for power users who routinely swap out their battery at will, and carry around a spare. After all, the Note series has always appealed to enterprise clients.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Everyone else shouldn’t have a problem, though. Yes, the battery capacity is pared down, from 3,220mAh in the Note 4 to 3,020mAh in the Note 5, but Samsung’s hardware and software optimizations more than make up for that.

I was able to eke out more than a full day of battery with heavy use in real-world tests, and our lab tests proved that the Note 5 drained 14% when running our looped 90-minute HD video. The Galaxy S6, with its smaller 2,550mAh battery but also smaller display, dropped 16% in the same amount of time.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

These aren’t on the level of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active, which boasts a 3,500mAh battery and drained only 7% running the same 90-minute video. That’s the one you want to go with if you really want an ever-lasting battery. However, everyone’s concerns for the Note 5 battery are a little overblown.

Battery recharging is even less of an issue, because the Galaxy Note 5 charges faster than previous Samsung phones. The company’s Fast Charging standard can fully replenish dead the battery in 1 hour and 20 minutes. Plug the same Note 5 in a normal USB charger and it takes 4 hours and 20 minutes.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

That’s a huge advantage to carrying around Samsung’s slightly bulkier charger. Through tests, I found that Qualcomm-backed QuickCharge 2.0 chargers from Motorola, LG and Google Nexus phones also do the trick.

The Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+ also support “fast” wireless charging in addition to the slower wireless charging standard. Samsung says this new method takes just 120 minutes to fully charge the new phones, but requires its awkwardly named “Fast Charge Wireless Charging Pad.” What’s more inconvenient than saying that name? Paying its $70 (likely £70) asking price.


The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is the only mainstream smartphone with a built-in stylus, but if you don’t really need the S Pen, there are plenty of other comparable phablets.


Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

The LG G4 is your best alternative to the Note 5 if you’re honestly missing the microSD card slot and removable battery. Samsung left them out of its device, so LG is capitalizing.

This Android phone’s display measures 5.5 inches, instead of 5.7 inches, but has a slight curve to the frame that gives it a bit of flexibility. If you drop your phone, it must not break as easily, and that really contrasts with the Note 5 since it’s wrapped in glass.

The LG G4’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor isn’t as fast as Samsung’s chip, and the battery life isn’t as good, despite the perk of being swappable, but it’s cheaper than the Note 5. Of course, the LG G5 is around the corner, so be aware of that.

iPhone 6S Plus

iPhone 6S Plus

Apple’s first big phone was great, but the iPhone 6S Plus makes the phablet even better. It’s the closest rival to Samsung’s phablet and true to Apple’s nature it’s more expensive, both on-contract and off-contract.

As the largest iPhone, it has a lot of good things going for it. A polished build quality, a bright display, Touch ID fingerprint sensor and a new improved camera. Plus it comes running the latest iOS 9 software that gives you the latest Apple functionality. iOS 9.3, now in beta, actually has useful new mid-cycle features too.

There’s also the new 3D Touch screen technology that gives you different functionality depending on how hard you press down on the display. Apple has improved a lot on the iPhone 6S Plus and now it’s difficult to decide between the 6S Plus and the Galaxy Note 5.

Samsung Galaxy S6

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

This is where it all started – well, restarted. Samsung’s move from the Galaxy S5 to the Galaxy S6 finally ditched all of the plastic in favor of a premium design. It was a spectacular move.

Much of what we reviewed in the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 appears in the smaller S6. It just sports a 5.1-inch display, 3GB of RAM instead of 4GB and no S Pen.

It too doesn’t have a microSD card slot, removable battery and, unlike the S5, isn’t waterproof. But if you’re looking for the power and design of the Note 5 is a smaller form factor, get the Galaxy S6.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Samsung merged the design of the S6 Edge and the Note 5 to form the Galaxy S6 Edge+, a new phablet with a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display and curved design.

It has the same internal specs and camera as the Note 5, and features new shortcuts tossed in. People Edge and an Apps Edge, for example, are tucked away in the phone’s tapered sides. Neither are game changers.

It’s missing the S Pen stylus that comes with the Note series and it’s more expensive, but it does look a lot cooler than the strictly rectangular phones everyone else carries around.

OnePlus 2

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

OnePlus 2 is the more powerful sequel to the affordable surprise hit, OnePlus One. It harnesses the power of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor and up to 4GB of RAM, depending on the variant.

Yes, it has the same 5.5-inch display at 1080p as last year’s OnePlus, but the screen is now brighter and the 13MP camera is better, albeit slow to shoot.

Its benchmark scores can’t compete with the Galaxy Note 5, but Samsung doesn’t come close to the starting price of $329 (£239) for 16GB and 3GB RAM, or $389 (£289) for 64GB and 4GB of RAM.

Moto X Style

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

An honorable mention goes to the Moto X Style. This is Motorola’s new flagship phone that really acts as the Moto X 2015 in everything buts its official name.

It’s a direct competitor to the Note 5 with a large, 5.7-inch display, and while it uses LCD, not Samsung’s Super AMOLED tech, it’s now quad HD. It looks better than last year’s 1080p Moto X 2014.

What’s more, at $399 (£359) unlocked, it’s much cheaper than the Samsung’s phablets, and almost as powerful. Its fully capable Snapdragon 808 hexa-core chip is speedy enough if you don’t need the absolute fastest phone available.


Everyone who wanted the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 to be a “more premium” device that leaves behind its plastic origins finally has the device they’ve been asking for. But, it does leave behind some Note series staples.

The sacrifices Samsung felt it needed to make to get to that premium Note 5 design have turned off some longtime users. Thankfully, there’s a lot more to like about this phone upgrade than dislike.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

We liked

The Galaxy Note 5 combines productivity and polish for the first time for anyone who wants to wield and S Pen and a giant, glass-backed smartphone simultaneously. It has a large 5.7-inch display, yet feels less slippery than the iPhone 6S Plus. This phablet also outpaces Apple with a record-breaking processor and 4GB of RAM, which make it the fastest phone in our tests.

Speaking of performance, the camera produced similar results in side-by-side photo comparisons. It’s the best phone with an S Pen and, frankly, one of the best without it, too.

We disliked

You’re going to pay top dollar for this category-leading phablet. And yet, at no price will you be able to simply pop in a microSD card for extra storage or pony up for the 128GB version. There is none. The same goes for changing out the battery, like you could with the Note 4. To some users, this is going to be a major downgrade, with the better alternative being the LG G4.

Yes, the Note 5 has an S Pen in a world where phones that comes with a stylus are rare, but a majority of consumers will love its features for a week, and then tire of its novelty. I’m also still wary about Samsung thinning out the left and right bezel so much that my hands begin to mistype words on the otherwise excellent display.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Final verdict

The Galaxy Note series has never been inexpensive. And now its aesthetics match the price, thanks to a glass back that feels excellent in two hands. Be careful of what you wish for, though. There’s no microSD card slot or removable battery anymore. Power users can blame everyone who complained about the company’s plastic-clad phones.

As long as you can live without those two features, the Note 5 is still worth your upgrade. It has top-of-the-line specs that set new records, a 5.7-inch display that’s rightfully considered the best – even outdoors – and a camera takes the best photos compared to other phones I’ve tested. This S Pen-compatible phablet is mightier than the newer Google Nexus 6P and iPhone 6S Plus in too many ways to overlook.

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  1. Reply Florence Jerde January 31, 2016 at 7:16 am

    I am a big NOTE fan and i would have definitely got the Note 5 IF Samsung had stuck to their original concept. But i DO NOT want an iphone clone so will not be getting the 5. Come on Samsung this is a pathetic attempt to copy iphone.

  2. Reply Bethany Morar January 31, 2016 at 7:31 am

    I dunno, I love this phone. I use the Cloud for a lot of things and since Google Photos has unlimited storage….I'm just not sure why everyone is fussing. This phone outlasts my Nexus 6 by about 3 hours. I still turn on my N6 here and there and love my new 6P. I got this to get a $250 dollar gift card from BestBuy for Black Friday because I had the upgrade. Gotta be honest….I'm liking it more than my Nexus 6. (Not my 6P tho). I have 32 gigs on board….why do you need more when you have Cloud Storage everywhere?? meh.

  3. Reply Stanford Pfeffer January 31, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Sounds like Samsung got the memo. The head of the mobile unit was "reassigned" and they just announced that the upcoming Galaxy S7 will have a microSD slot. I suspect the Note 6 will have one too.

  4. Reply Mr. Cortez Powlowski MD January 31, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Wow, Samsung couldn't have done more to lose customers, imo. People who don't get iphones seek alternatives for a reason. One of the main reasons is increased versatility (including removable battery and SD card options). Take that away and you're no different from Apple: I might as well get an iphone 6 and benefit from it's reliability, Siri, etc..Samsung did NOT do this for the benefit of consumers. SD card storage costs, what, $20 bucks or a bit more? But an upgrade to the 64 gig model phone is $100, and you still don't have the ability to switch things in and out. I feel so betrayed. I've been due for an upgrade for a while, but I'll just stick with my Note 3. I can't see upgrading anytime soon. :(

  5. Reply Marcelle Kris January 31, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    "The day of the super mega drive phone i think is over the clouds are in and and they're not going anywhere !!"

    If you're willing to pay my data plan and can ensure a fast enough connection to stream those HD movies that I would have otherwise had on a 128gb sd card, then yeah, I'm game for what you're saying. The simple fact of the matter is that the cloud is still, for different reasons, not as practical as many would like to think. In the meantime a locally installed sd card will always beat the cloud when you need large files and need them fast.

  6. Reply Lauren Ledner January 31, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    Something that absolutely annoys the hell out of me is when a review is done well but missing important info to users such as myself. If your like me uou use your camera alot…alot. When reviewing the battery how does it do when you take multiple pics? Some it barely effects & others it drains 25% after 8-10 pics no joke. It is very important for the phone with the best camera. Most Samsung phones have this very flaw. Please in future reviews take 30min. keep camera app open and start taking pictures…that is the test. Please? Love Tech Radar you tube channel thanks!

  7. Reply Paolo Welch January 31, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    does anyone know how to stop the Note 5 making random calls on its own?

  8. Reply Pedro Tromp III January 31, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    I own a fast charge Qi external battery pack, which charges my Note 5 20% to 100% in around 40 minutes maybe less, I can charge it 3 times to full before recharging the battery pack again.

    I have a wireless ssd and an otg microSD reader they weigh combined less than a pound and are super tiny it's like someone complaining about carrying around a USB flash drive.

  9. Reply Prof. William Witting January 31, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    You can have a removable back or a nice stylish glass back. Also there are samsung phones, new ones. That have removable batteries and sd card slots. To be honest if they could of put a little sd card slot on the aluminum boarder of the phone that would of been nice. But no deal breaker for me. Awesome phone and far better than anything out there currently android, ios or windows.

  10. Reply Marilyne Sipes January 31, 2016 at 10:14 pm

    I've been looking for an upgrade phone for my Galaxy Note 2 for a year now. The Note 5 is a complete disaster. NO F'n SD card slot of any kind? The reason I got and carry around the Note 2 is that it is big enough for my tired eyes to read and so that I have a quick digital point and shoot for photos and video. I post them on You Tube and my blog. So now I need a 4K option in a cool phone I can see (and therefore use as a gizmo to make my life easier), where I can simply swap-out the microSD Card and import/edit/upload photos and video.

    Holy crap, I just looked at the comments and I see no one gets it. If you do high-res anything a high capacity microSDcard slot is manditory and a huge oversight for anyone that actually uses these high res gizmos.

    Also, Android does not support 2TB+ hard drives even if you think that is an excuse for carrying them and a battery pack around. Will an android even power an external drive via USB? It still doesn't matter. The next argument will be to carry around a DSLR. But that's the point, when I don't have a camera I need something nearly as good ALL the time.

  11. Reply Mrs. Fannie Schowalter February 1, 2016 at 12:10 am

    Can anybody tel me if the galaxy note 5 be used in uk terry

  12. Reply Grant Schaefer February 1, 2016 at 1:16 am

    @rumournaire nope. Still have my Note 3 and it holds a charge perfectly. it's used daily by my son.

  13. Reply Lyla Konopelski February 1, 2016 at 1:33 am

    I had the note 3 and now the note 5. If you believe this you are an idiot or you haven't used the note 5.

  14. Reply Mr. Owen Crona February 1, 2016 at 2:00 am

    All what they want by removing the SD card slot, is people to buy storage space on the cloud. Sumsung, please stop copiying Apple, get your self a business strategy.

  15. Reply Gayle Marvin Jr. February 1, 2016 at 2:06 am

    It's funny how many people mention that the Note 5 doesn't have a removable battery or micro card slot. Who cares? In the cloud age, you don't need a 2TB card. And normal users won't need a bigger battery — this one is plenty. To not get a phone because of these two "problems" is crazy. Rate it on how it actually works and what it offers, like a great camera, etc. I have a two-year-old-plus LG phone and the battery lasts all day. This one will, too …

  16. Reply Braden Swift February 1, 2016 at 4:07 am

    OK Samy, totally failure, I think you 've got it. It's time to reveal the note 5 with microsd slot and removable battery

  17. Reply Mr. Santiago Hilll PhD February 1, 2016 at 5:25 am

    That's right. No one in any other country is spied on. Thanks for clarifying.

  18. Reply Rudolph Block February 1, 2016 at 7:13 am

    Why, oh why, do all the whiners on here insist on having EVERY photo and EVERY video on their phone ALL THE TIME? Do they spend all day looking at all their photos and videos? Here's a hint: fill up the memory and then take it to a wifi connection and upload the stuff you don't need right this instant to the cloud. It's not rocket science.

  19. Reply Annetta Effertz February 1, 2016 at 7:40 am

    You probably replace your device every 18 months or so. I have had to replace my Note 3 battery after about 18 months. I have also had to replace the supposedly sealed battery on my Note 8.0 after more than 2 years. By the way, I have a 128GB microSD in my Note 3 and it is great for storing those video clips.

  20. Reply Prof. Deonte Berge MD February 1, 2016 at 9:37 am

    A true "Note" fan would never compare a Note with any device that has no digitiser similar to the S-Pen. I am actually irritated when people compare any Galaxy Note with an LG or a Nexus, or even with the Galaxy S6+++++!

    Sadly, Samsung derailed on Note 5 as, in trying too hard to be an Apple clone, they abandoned the very features that make them stand out – a removable battery, and a microSD slot.

  21. Reply Aliza Reynolds DVM February 1, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Also one has to remember that with the cloud, Your shit is not safe from Nosy prying eyes! look at how many times the cloud has been hacked! Screw that, I will keep my files right here with me in my control not available to someone else on the internet!

  22. Reply Reilly Bernhard MD February 1, 2016 at 11:47 am

    El note 5 , con sus potentes recursos le da una equilibrada continuidad a la saga note. Su novedoso diseño me permite sentirlo en la mano con gran comodidad su borde de aluminio serie 7000 y su protección gorila glass 4 me orientan a expectativas de fuertes y elegantes diseños. El note 5 con sus 4 gb de Ram y su potente procesador me permiten desarrollar con relativa comodidad y eficiencias mis estudios y actividades profesionales. Los 64 gb de memoria los optimizo con mi ordenador y el uso de los 100 GB que agregadamente me da samsung a traves de onedrive. En otras oportunidades las micro sd de hasta 60 gb se me dañaban cuando copiaba cantidades de archivos de trabajo y videos. Creo que la eliminación del inflarrojo se compensa con la cantidad de potencia del dispisitivo. Es genial la productividad del note 5. El s pen es mas fluido, la dimension de su pantalla esta bien optimizada, las coneccion a internet son rapidas y ya no se diga la reproduccion y sonido de videos. Tengo dos meses de tenerlo y sinceramente es espectacular mi note 5, nada q invidiar de otro terminal.

  23. Reply Gabe Koelpin February 1, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Quite possible. Experiences differ.
    By the way, I read somewhere that Samsung realised that doing away with the microSD card and the removable battery in Note 5 was a big mistake, and may be launching a Note 6 with these features restored this year. I understand the sales of Note 5 have been an embarrassment to the company's expectation.

    Samsung hurts itself by trying too hard to make its high-end phones iPhone clones, instead of playing up Samsung's distinguishing features.

  24. Reply Beau Marks February 1, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    I'm debating returning my note 5 to get the 64gb but the guy at sprint was trying to tell me it's not worth it because it comes with 100gb of free external storage in a cloud but I only have 14 days to decide

  25. Reply Sammie Kunze February 1, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    I own a Note 4, with 128gb of lossless music on its microsd card. Superb music server to Chromecast Audio. With a phone costing half a grand (that's pounds sterling) I would not dream of not having a robust case (Spigen – looks lovely). In fact, I have never had an expensive phone without putting a case on it. The tech press have driven Samsung into favouring fashion over function, and now cite lack of changeable battery and lack of microsd card extension as reasons not to buy the phone they demanded Samsung should make. I remember the review of the first Note; "Who would want this stupid thing?" was the response of most of the tech press. I drooled, but waited for the Note 2. I had a Palm Pilot for ten years, and two phones with physical keyboards. Both Notes have been the best tech tools I've ever owned. Stylus and Swype – magic. I'll need to look elsewhere for my next phone.

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