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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?

And you know what? It's a move that I'd say pays off, broadly speaking. No single phone is ever going to make everyone happy, but letting go of those limited-appeal elements has allowed Samsung to introduce a level of elegance the Note line desperately needed. While that may isolate a small (though extremely vocal) group of the phone's former cheerleaders, it makes the Note feel more sophisticated and mature -- and that could help it appeal to a much larger and more mainstream group of smartphone shoppers.

Bottom line

As I mused in a blog earlier this week, it really feels like the Note 5 is the true Samsung flagship of the year -- not just a bigger model of the Galaxy S6, but a more refined and complete version of the phone.

It has all of the same high points as its smaller sibling -- the striking design and build quality, the awesome screen, the exceptional camera -- and it also introduces a more ergonomic curved-back design and a major improvement to battery life. And we can't forget about the stylus, which could range from being a massive positive to being an interesting little bonus, depending on your perspective.

As long as you're okay with its size, the Note 5 is without a doubt the top choice within the Samsung smartphone universe right now. The bigger question is whether a Samsung device is necessarily right for you. With Motorola's 2015 Moto X stepping into the plus-sized phone camp in a few weeks -- and, at a starting price of $400 unlocked, costing a lot less than the Note -- it's hard not to wonder whether the Note will be worth the hefty premium. The pricing model for top-tier smartphones is rapidly evolving, and Samsung's rates now seem sky-high compared to the competition.

If you don't mind the cost, though, the Galaxy Note 5 is a standout smartphone you're sure to enjoy. It's Samsung's best effort to date and a device that's not quite like anything else out there.

At a Glance

Galaxy Note 5

Samsung

Price: $250 (32GB) or $350 (64GB) as part of a two-year contract from Sprint or AT&T; otherwise, available from all major carriers for $700 to $840, either upfront or via a multiyear payment plan

Pros: Sleek and attractive design; premium materials; curved back creates better ergonomics than regular Galaxy S6; excellent and spacious display; exceptional camera; easy-to-use fingerprint sensor; good stamina; supports Fast Charging, wireless charging and new fast-wireless charging; useful software features like ability to view multiple apps on-screen simultaneously; superb stylus

Cons: Large form can be awkward to use and uncomfortable to carry; user interface less polished and attractive than Google's core Android OS; apps and Web pages frequently refresh after brief periods of inactivity; lacks removable battery and SD card slot present on previous models; awkward hybrid button configuration; expensive compared to other similar devices.

 

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