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Galaxy Note 5 review: Continuing Samsung's reign as the King of Phablets

Florence Ion | Aug. 25, 2015
Seriously, we didn't think that the Note series could get any better, but it did. This phone-tablet puts even the smaller Galaxy S6 to shame.

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The new S Pen feels more like a real pen.  Credit: Florence Ion

I’ve always believed that it’s the included stylus that makes the Note series worthwhile. Samsung updated the S Pen with a clicky top and a nib that looks more like a ballpoint pen. It’s also a bit more dense, so it feels balanced when you hold it. I kept accidentally putting the S Pen away in my pencil pouch, thinking it was an actual pen.

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Air Command now takes up the entire screen.  Credit: Florence Ion

Of course, the real benefit of the S Pen is its accompanying software. Samsung overhauled the Air Command screen so that it’s an entire page of icons, rather then just a pop-up overlay like on the Note 3 and Note 4. The usual suspects are still there: Action memo, Smart select, Screen write, and S note. You can also add two of your own shortcuts for any third-party apps that take advantage of the S Pen. 

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I’ll be honest: I mostly used the S Pen to collage makeup and clothing I want to buy. Whatever!

The S Pen-specific apps have been polished up a bit, too. Now when you write on screen, you’ll hear a cute swishy sound that’s supposed to mimic the sound of a pen on paper. There’s also the ability to pop out the pen and start writing on the Lock screen, or you can capture a entire webpage in any browser app with Scroll capture. I went more in-depth with these features here. Samsung also bundled in the ability to do PDF annotations on the fly, which are way easier to do with the S Pen than with just your finger. I edited a letter for my Mom recently and didn’t immediately feel the need to run to my computer to take care of edits.

Audio tricks that aren’t gimmicky

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Samsung got a little “jealous” of its competitors’ audio-enhancing capabilities, so it made its own.  Credit: Florence Ion

Samsung’s been pretty consistent about delivering powerful phones with fantastic displays, but you could accuse it of leaving sound quality behind. It changed its tune this year—pun intended—by introducing a suite of sound quality enhancement features to the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, including Adapt Sound, which calibrates your headphones, and SoundAlive+, which helps recreate the effect of surround sound even when it’s not present. These features work pretty well, though they’re not as significant sounding as what HTC offers with BoomSound, for instance.


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