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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?

As for the size, make no mistake about it: This is still a big phone -- 6 x 3 x 0.3 in., to be precise. But it's actually about a tenth of an inch narrower than last year's Galaxy Note 4, which itself was a smidge slenderer than the previous year's Note 3. For perspective, this latest Note is a full quarter-inch narrower than the first-gen Galaxy Note phone -- which, despite its larger width, had a comparatively puny 5.3-in. display.

(More perspective: The Note 5 is both narrower and shorter than the iPhone 6 Plus -- by 0.06 in. and 0.22 in., respectively -- despite the fact that its screen is diagonally larger by 0.2 in.)

That ever-decreasing waistline makes a world of difference in what the device is like to use. More than anything, it's the width that makes most plus-sized phones hard to hold -- and at this point, the Note isn't that much wider than a typical standard-sized smartphone.

The main area where I continue to struggle with the larger size, personally, is in the phone's length. The Note 4 is more than a half-inch longer than the 2014 Moto X I carry as my own personal device. That not only makes it trickier for me to use in many scenarios -- like with one-handed tasks -- but also makes the phone more awkward to lug around, as it's always just slightly too tall to fit comfortably in a pocket. I'm often worried it's going to fall out -- for example, when I'm getting into my car or lying back on a bench at the gym.

But you win some, you lose some -- and with the Note's size-based usability issues come some pretty compelling perks.

That display -- and the stylus

Most notably (see what I did there?), the Galaxy Note 5's Quad HD screen is pleasingly spacious and positively stunning. Display quality doesn't get much better than this, and the ample 5.7-in. size makes using the phone feel like using a small tablet -- with plenty of room for videos, Web pages or any other kind of content.

And while previous Note devices have just made everything on the screen bigger -- thus showing you the same amount of content you'd see on a smaller smartphone -- the Note 5 keeps all of the on-screen elements the same size as they'd appear on a phone like the Galaxy S6. As a result, you end up seeing significantly more lines in a document and more areas of a Web page without having to scroll. It actually puts the extra screen space to use, which is nice.

 

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