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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?

Performance was generally smooth and speedy during my time with the Note 5, with one caveat: The system has an annoying habit of refreshing apps and Web pages when I return to them after a short period of focusing elsewhere. It's something that was common with devices running the initial Android 5.0 Lollipop release but hasn't been a widespread issue since Android 5.1 came along, so it's rather baffling that the Note has this problem now (especially considering the device has a whopping 4GB of RAM).

The Note does one-up the S6 in one key area: stamina. While the S6's battery life was a bit underwhelming, the Note 5 is more than capable of making it through a full day on a single charge. Specifics are obviously going to vary based on what you're doing and what types of connections you employ, but to give you a general idea of the phone's capabilities, I've been able to rack up as much as four hours of mixed-use screen-on time while still having around a quarter of the battery charge remaining by the time I go to bed.

The Note 5 also supports both Fast Charging and wireless charging, which makes it quick and painless to top off when needed. The phone includes a new type of fast-wireless charging technology, too -- the best of both worlds -- though you'll need a special $70 Samsung charger that isn't yet available to take advantage of that. (The phone will work with regular Qi and Powermat wireless chargers as well, but only at their normal poky speeds.)

And then there's the camera, which is the same outstanding setup seen in the Galaxy S6. There's not much I can say that I didn't already describe in my Galaxy S6 review, but in short, this camera is about as good as it gets in a smartphone. No matter the lighting, environment or type of subject, it's difficult to get an image out of this thing that doesn't look incredible. The camera app is easy to access and simple to use, too, and yet still offers a slew of advanced photography options for those who want to go beyond basic pointing and shooting.

Last but not least is the elephant in the room: storage. The Note 5 has either 32GB or 64GB of internal space, depending on which model you select -- and unlike past Note devices, there is no micro SD card slot for local storage expansion. Just like the now-absent ability to access and replace the phone's battery, this is a feature that's very much becoming a niche-level need, and ditching it was likely a carefully calculated tradeoff.


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