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Galaxy Note 5 review: A big phone finally grows up

JR Raphael | Aug. 28, 2015
The latest Note brings some much-needed sophistication into Samsung's plus-sized phone family -- but at what cost?

01 samsung galaxy note 5a
Credit: Samsung

A funny thing has happened over the past few years: As plus-sized smartphones have become more common, they've also started to feel less big.

It sounds almost paradoxical, I realize -- but when you stop and think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense. And sure, part of it is just that we're getting used to the idea of toting around larger devices (even if rather begrudgingly, in some cases). But even more significantly, manufacturers are simply getting better at making big phones more manageable.

That's never been more evident than when using Samsung's Galaxy Note 5. The device -- available from all major carriers for $700 to $840, either upfront or spread out over a multiyear payment plan (or for $250 to $350 as part of a traditional two-year contract) -- packs the same 5.7-in. screen as its predecessor. But thanks to Samsung's ongoing efforts to refine the form, the Note feels less like a giant and more like a regular phone than ever before.

The Note's physical evolution

As I've worked with the new Note for the past several days, the theme that kept popping up in my mind was design. For the first time this year, Samsung has moved from making powerful but utilitarian phones to making true objects of desire -- devices you'd describe with words like "elegant" and "refined" instead of just "functional."

The evolution began this spring with the Galaxy S6. After years of cheap-feeling plastics and tacky imitation textures (faux-leather, faux-metal and so on), Samsung came out with a device that was as striking as anything produced by the likes of lauded design virtuosos like Apple and HTC.

That same approach carries over into the Note 5 -- so much so, that it's hard not to think of the phone as a big Galaxy S6 with a stylus tucked inside. The new Note is almost identical to the S6 in many ways -- same basic appearance, same software, same camera -- and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Like its smaller sibling, the phone sports a gorgeous glass back (in a choice of black, white or gold) surrounded by a sturdy metal frame (real metal -- not plastic posing as metal). It looks every bit as sleek and classy as the S6, and it actually feels more comfortable to hold, thanks to the addition of a subtle curve on either side of the phone's back.

Interestingly, that curved back panel is more or less the same as the curved front panel of the Galaxy S6 Edge+ -- probably no coincidence. But its purpose here is more than mere style; the sloping edges on the back make the body meaningfully less boxy and awkward to grasp. And while the glass surface is still somewhat slippery to the touch, the curves make it easier to wrap your fingers around the phone and hang onto its metal perimeter.


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