Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review: Best phablet even better after drastic changes

The new Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is a class above its predecessor the Note 4 with a beefed up camera, one of the best smartphone displays and an improved S Pen.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 was launched in the UAE at Raffles Hotel, Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 was one of our favourite gadgets of last year, offering the best Android phablet experience on the market by far.

The Note 5, launched in the UAE a month ago, takes the best and makes it even better, with improved specifications and a beautiful new exterior.

Unlike the minor cosmetic updates sported by the Note 4 last year, the Note 5’s design has been drastically reworked in line with the rest of the Galaxy range, prompted by the design excellence of the Apple’s iPhone 6.

The Note 4's cheap plastic backing has been replaced with a curved metal and glass finish (available in White Pearl, Black Sapphire, Gold Platinum and Silver Titanium), making the Note 5 one of the most attractive premium phones on the market.

One drawback, however, is that unlike its predecessor’s plastic body, the Note 5’s metal and glass casing is a real fingerprint magnet, meaning its sleek finish quickly becomes smudged.

Secondly, the seamless sealed design means there’s no room for a Micro SD slot or removable battery. A deal breaker for some perhaps, but not for many.

Beyond such quibbles the Note 5 is hard to fault, with a beefed up camera, one of the world’s best smartphone displays and an improved S Pen experience.

Samsung is keen to play up the strength of its cameras in comparison with Apple’s, and the Note 5 doesn’t disappoint. Its 16MP front-facing camera shoots images with amazing detail and deep colours; its night-time performance, meanwhile, trounces that of the iPhone 6, turning out crisp images even in very low light conditions.

The Note 5 retains the best in its class 5.7-inch Super Amoled display of its predecessor. Some may prefer the naturalistic palettes of the LG G4 or the iPhone 6, but the Note 5's bright, vivid colours and crisp rendering are simply breathtaking to behold.

The Note 5 is a premium device and is priced accordingly, starting at Dh2,799 for a 32GB model, rising to Dh3,099 for the 64GB version.

If money’s no object, there’s simply no better Android phablet on the market today.

q&a pen has made its mark

John Everington expands on what the new Samsung Galaxy Note 5 has to offer:

So what about the S Pen? What’s changed?

After the game-changing performance upgrade of last year, the changes this time are a bit more minor, with the pen now slotting into the bottom right of the display. The most notable new feature is the “screen off memo” setting, which lets you whip out the pen and write a memo on the screen without having to unlock it first, much like a pocket notebook, the resulting memo being automatically saved in the S Notes app.

Sounds interesting. So are people actually going to start using the pen functionality then?

While the S Pen user experience gets better every year, it's hard to see it as anything more than a nice add-on rather than an essential feature. There are a few nice drawing apps and quirky games, but I doubt most users will use the pen after a couple of weeks. But it's noteworthy that Apple this month ditched its long-held antipathy to styluses, with the launch of the Apple Pencil.

Given that it’s such a compelling device, the Note 5 will conquer the entire world, right?

Actually, no, as Samsung took the rather unusual step of only launching it in North America, Asia and selected other markets (including the UAE). Customers in Europe, meanwhile, have to make do with the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus instead.

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