Coming to grips with the Note 4

BitDepth#969 originally published on December 30

Welcome new features on Samsung’s Note 4 put the choice of built-in and featured apps back in the hands of users.
Welcome new features on Samsung’s Note 4 put the choice of built-in and featured apps back in the hands of users.

It’s a question I get asked often. The Samsung S5 or the Note 4?

The answer has tended to be based on a cursory fondling of the market defining Note 4, rather derisively described as a phablet after its introduction in 2011.

The term was inspired by the size of the device, which is either a really big phone or a very small tablet, depending on your perspective.

It wasn’t the biggest phone that Samsung offered then or since, but it was one that hit a sweet spot, just big enough for folks who use their mobile devices as very portable computers and just small enough to fit into the places normally reserved for a phone.

It was a prescient move by Samsung, introducing a device that decisively leveraged an early acceptance of phone sized computing devices as real world replacements for a laptop or tablet and it’s one that’s been followed by every major player in the smartphone market since.

On startup, the Note 4 device I was using on a testing loaner from the company immediately began updating itself, and on signing into my Google account, proceeded to replicate the software setup I’d crafted for my S4.

It’s not a perfect process, but it’s a significant improvement on adding software one app at a time though the final assignation of icons remains something for the individual user to design.

The Note 4 is light on pre-installed apps, a blessing, since these usually can’t be removed, but it does offer some interesting additions to the startup interface, including a helpful widget for users unfamiliar with the use of a stylus on a mobile phone.

In lieu of a host of pre-installed apps, two widgets, Galaxy Gifts and Galaxy Essentials point to useful benefits and optional software that users can choose to install.

I have no words for how wonderful a move this is. Offering choice to consumers even in situations that are well-intentioned is always a good plan.

On specifications, the Note 4 is basically the same device as the S5, which was an evolution of minor features on the S4, but in my normal cycle of use, I found that the huge battery, a gum shaped slap of robust rechargeableness (3200mah), handily doubles my normal expectations in daily use as well as standby times.

The really big difference between the S5 and the Note is in the size of the device, and that cuts right to what you use a mobile phone for.

It would be churlish, not to mention somewhat luddite, to suggest that in 2014, the primary use for a phone should be making calls.

That’s rather like arguing that cars are for transport, so any Model-T variant will do.

Today’s mobile phones, even so-called “feature phones,” the technology ghetto of the modern software driven smartphone market, are all expected to do more than place and receive calls and local carriers have seen the market value in allowing even cheap mobile phones to connect to basic social media services.

The Note 4 lives right out at the edge of what most folks would consider to be a comfortable size for a phone that you carry around all day. It’s no surprise that the device seems popular with women, who often put it in an attractive case and stash it in a handbag.

If you aren’t so equipped, you’ll have to consider whether the user comfort of using the large, crisp screen can live with the potential discomfort of accommodating a device that measures six by three inches in size in your pocket.

I’m a large person, and Note 4 sits comfortably in my hand, but I was yet to fully adjust to the presence of the device in my pocket after a week of use, and that was before wrapping it in a protective case, highly recommended for the sleek slab of tech.

In day to day use, the larger screen is addictive. Samsung has added useful touches to the standard interface which make good use of the increased screen real estate.

Buttons offer much larger targets, more information about calls shows up when you dial and everything feels much roomier, like moving from a standard room in a hotel into a penthouse suite.

And yes, if you use a smartphone aggressively as a computing device, once you’re in, you’ll never want to go back.

When I returned to my S4, everything seemed tiny and compressed, as if I was looking at my work through the wrong end of a telescope.

So, to finally answer the question. Should you get yourself a Note 4?

If you use a mobile phone extensively as a computing device and can comfortably carry a device that’s a critical 15 per cent larger than the standard sized S5, then go for it, you won’t regret it.

Key specifications

2.7 GHZ Quadcore Krait 450 processor

32GB Internal memory, Micro SD slot for cards up to 64GB

Android 4.4.4 (upgradeable to 5.0)

2560 x 1440 pixel resolution at 518 ppi

16 megapixel front facing camera, f1.9 lens

SPen supports 2048 pressure points

New fast charging mode

6.04 x 3.09 inches, 6.2 oz