Note 5 review – arguably the best smartphone of 2015

The Note 5 is arguably the best smartphone of 2015. To be frank, I was quite concerned prior to the Note 5 being released because of the dreadful battery life I experienced from the Galaxy S6. Not too mention the more than occasional laggy performance. Fortunately, the Note 5 redeemed the Galaxy S6. It’s as though the Note 5 and the S6 Edge+ is what the GS6/S6 Edge’s experience should have been like. Don’t get me wrong, the S6 has some awesome pros, but the cons were so bad that I could not wait to get rid of it and move on to the next phone. The LG G4 happened to be the next phone and it too was not a great experience either, which is another reason I was worried about the Note 5.

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I have owned the Note series since the Note 3. Each time I end up loving the phone and pretty much claimed the best phone of the year award (at least in my book). The Note seems to be the phone that I want to go back to after using another phone. At the time of this post I am in yet another transition period to where I am using the Moto X Pure Edition, but will be switching to the Nexus 6P. So I am wondering if the Note 5 will be like the rest of the Notes making me want to go back to it after using another type of phone. Something tells me it will.

The Note 5 went under a major makeover from last year’s model totally ditching plastic materials and now rocks a metal frame with glass back and front. Pretty much the same style as the Galaxy S6, but obviously larger and with a S-Pen. Other major changes include non-removable battery and no external memory storage. More phone manufactures are adopting such styles and it’s about time for those who like to have removable batteries and storage to suck it up and face the facts that choices will be limited if want those features. You’ve got to decide what is truly a deal-breaker. In the past I was rather stubborn about believing a device should have a removable battery and storage. These days I have learned how to adapt, which allows me to enjoy other features the device supports.

What I like

There is plenty to like about the Note 5 that’s for sure. It’s hard to choose where to start, so let’s start with the camera.

Camera – The camera has impressed me a lot with the Note 5! Cameras get better and better every year and Samsung in my opinion has definitely claimed the #1 camera out of the phones I have at least used. Not only does the camera perform well, it has many options to make the experience that much better. Something I appreciate about the camera app is that while it has many features to use it still is user friendly. Honestly, the auto setting is just fine to use in most circumstances.

Great Features of the Camera – 

  • By far the slo-mo and time lapse video functions are a lot of fun to use. They are super simple and you can get really creative with the shots taken.
  • Dat bokeh – The Note 5 has a nice DoF (depth of field) effect. It can take nice micro shots leaving the background in a nice blur.
  • Low light – Low light shots have been the best in clarity, color, etc. out from the Note 5 camera.
  • YouTube Live Broadcasting – This is a wonderful feature to be able to broadcast live to your YouTube channel. While this is a great feature, it still needs some improvements and I’ll touch on that further down.
  • Pro Settings – This has been the first phone that I actually considered not using a DSLR camera as much. The Note 5 camera has been pro level settings to be able to adjust apeture, etc. even apart from the Pro Settings. Again very user friendly and can make anyone look like a pro.
  • Double tap the home button – This is the fastest way to launch the camera app and it is snappy.
  • Selfie – The front facing camera is one of the best. Pics look great and you can take up to 4k resolution video.
  • Audio – The audio quality is the best yet. There were a handful of videos I used my Note 5 for YouTube videos and did not need to clean up the audio, which made the creation process that much faster.

Low Light Samples

Build Quality – This is the build quality we have been screaming for out of a Samsung device. Other companies like HTC, Motorola, and even OnePlus have given us some great finishes of build quality materials. Now I say this is a good thing from Samsung, but I don’t like the glass design and I will explain this in more depth further down. Basically I love the idea of having this higher quality material, but I don’t think it’s the best choice to go with.

The metal frame is awesome and definitely gives a solid premium feel. Between the glass and metal, I am a happy camper with the top notch design. Glass and metal feels a bit more justified spending $800 versus paying for mostly plastic.

Themes – TouchWiz has been toned down a bit and the icon theme has gotten better. However, it’s still not the look I like as far as the UI goes. I always install Nova Launcher to change the icons, but the menus, navigations, and more cannot be changed from a launcher. Samsung introduced a theme store that allows you to change the entire look of the UI. Personally I like Material and stock Android theming. Because of the theme store I am allowed to download Material Theme and make my Note 5 look pretty much exactly how I want it to look throughout the entire UI.

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Battery Life – Thankfully the battery life is nothing like the Galaxy S6. While I still want more battery life out of the Note 5, it still gets me through the day even with moderate to heavy use. For some background info on how I use a phone I hardly use WiFi, location is normally set to high accuracy, brightness normally 100%, I am using it for social media management, and tons of other functions. I know many care about screen on time and such, but for me I do not consider myself a normal user. I am a heavy power user. Screenshots of my stats prove nothing because there are too many variables involved to live by those battery stats. Just know I am able to use the phone a lot throughout the day and still have life when I get home from work. If I need some more juice quick charging saves the day.

Tip: Get a battery case just in case you need some juice without being tethered, click here.

Quick Charging – I absolutely love quick charging! At this point in the game any flagship phone needs to have some sort of quick charing. The ability to charge up a phone from about almost empty to full in only 1hr to 1.5hrs of being connected is awesome! Quick charing is the Galaxy S6’s saving grace. So with the Note 5 it’s an added bonus for sure.

Not only does the Note 5 support quick charging, it also pioneers fast wireless charging. Wireless charging is not a deal breaker for me, but it is nice to have. Until now wireless charging was rather slow and I would prefer to just connect to a wall charger and get juiced up quickly. Wireless charging was good for resting at night because I was not worried about how slow the charge happened when I was not going to need the phone anytime soon. But now with the Note 5 fast wireless charging is here and it’s a sweet feature to have.

Screen – Two things I like about the Note 5 screen is the size and the clarity. The Note series has been rocking the 5.7″ size for a few generations now and I am completely happy with it not getting smaller or larger. For me the 5.7″ size is my preferred size. 5.5″ is my minimum and anything bigger than 5.7″ can get cumbersome. For reference the Nexus 6 was just too big at times and when using the Galaxy S6 I wanted a bigger screen most of the time while using it.

The bigger screen size is great, but what makes it even greater is the clarity. The screen simply looks fantastic! It’s one of the best screens I’ve used and makes watching videos so nice. The top clarity feature of the screen is the brightness boost in sunlight. By far the best screen to see while outside in full sunlight.

Screen Write – This is one of the most used S-Pen features. Especially with the new feature of being able to write on the screen when the screen is off. If you need to take a quick note you don’t have to turn the screen on, release the S-Pen, open an app, then start writing. Now all you have to do is take out the S-Pen and start writing on the screen. Probably one of the most practical features of the Note 5.

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Fingerprint Sensor – The fingerprint sensor is totally redeemed after the poor attempt from the Note 4 swipe action fingerprint sensor. The Note 4’s fingerprint sensor was a joke and only worked about 50% of the time. The Note 5’s fingerprint sensor works I’d say about 98% of the time. There are not many times when the fingerprint sensor does not work. It’s as simple as just pressing the home button. It’s the fastest way to unlock your screen. The only thing I would like more from this is to be able to more than 4 fingerprints. For example, I like to have both my index fingers and thumbs registered, but I would like to have my wife’s fingerprints loaded as well. If you can do the math, I have to choose to only use two fingerprints or not have my wife’s fingerprints loaded.


What I don’t like

The Note 5 is arguably the best smartphone of 2015 and has a lot going for it, but it’s not the perfect device by any means. What’s odd about many of the Note 5 features is that the good ones also have a bad side as well. Let me explain.

Build Quality – While the glass and metal materials are premium it leaves me concerned about drops. Being all glass I am overly conscience about being careful not to drop the phone. I’ve always got a case and tempered glass screen protector installed, but I am still worried about it cracking if dropped.

My other concern about the glass is it getting scratched. Even with case on there is a possibility of dirt or something getting stuck and end up rubbing against the case and the phone resulting in a scratch. All this is more or less a concern at this point because I have not encountered any scratched even after 3 months of use.

Here’s why I am so concerned about this. I buy and sell phones to be able to pay/offset the cost of buying for the next phone coming out. Normally I don’t keep a device for a long time and in order to get the most out of selling the phone, the better the condition the higher I can sell the phone for.

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Screen – The screen is rounded off on the edges. This is not a concern at all for those who don’t use screen protection. But if you do like to use a screen protector it poses a challenge for screen protectors installations. Many users have complained about ghosting. Due to ghosting possibilities companies have to cut the screen protectors short, which at times can make a weird effect on the edge of a tempered glass screen protector with the light bleeding through. It also can take away being able to touch the edges properly.

YouTube Live – While I love having this feature it needs to be a downloadable app in the Google Play Store and not exclusive to a device. There needs to be a better way to view comments as they come in. Perhaps how Periscope lets the broadcaster see comments as they come in. Granted if you have an extra device next to you, you can view the comments on the secondary device.

No Removable Battery – The Note series has been known to have a reputation of having good battery life, but for those like me there are times where it would have been nice to simply swap out with a battery that is already charged. Now the best ways to make sure you get the charge you need is to be tethered to some sort of charger or a battery case. This is where quick charging is a saving grace. A battery case is last resort to me because you have to take a case off if you have one installed, it adds a lot of bulk, and drop protection is not the best.

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The non-removable battery isn’t a deal breaker, but it is still something I don’t like. What I would really like to see from companies who decide to go the non-removable battery way is to make bigger batteries. I would rather have a slightly thicker phone and have more juice than to have a thin device with smaller mAh.

Picture perfect we would see a phone like Agent Simmons that has a battery that lasts for DAYS!




No Removable Storage – At least Samsung starts the tiers at 32gb. I can’t imagine having a phone with just 16gb and no option to add storage. Personally I like having around at least 64gb of storage. For the most part I have had a device with 32gb of on board and a 32gb micro sd card. The Note 5 you only get the choice of 32gb or 64gb of internal storage. If you store a lot content on a device, you will want to invest in a 64gb model. I have learned to adjust how I manage my content, but it’s not as easy as having an external storage option. Thankfully there are some OTG options out there and free Google Photos unlimited storage.

Button Placement – This is by no means a deal-breaker, but I would rather the power and volume buttons be on the same side similar to how the Moto X Pure Edition. With a bigger device it seems a little easier to apply the buttons when on one side versus maneuvering around to get to the other side.

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Other notable notes about the Note 5

There are many elements about the Note 5 that are worth mentioning such as the overall user experience, call quality, and speakers.

My overall experience with the Note 5 has been enjoyable. It’s been my favorite phone to use this year and has become my standard of what I compare other phones too. I can safely say when comparing phones to it, “is this phone as good as the Note 5?” There is hardly any lag, it’s snappy, and doesn’t cause any frustrations.

Samsung phones have had the best call quality out of most if not all phones I have used. Each call is clear on both ends and it’s nice to have the volume boost just in case you’re in a loud environment. The volume boost is something I would like to see in every phone. The HD calling is really nice too.

Although the speakers are not front facing, they are in a better place than on the back like we have seen on previous generations. The speakers are loud and sound good. I would love to see front facing speakers on the next Note.

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Final thoughts

The Note 5 is a great phone! The only thing holding me back from labeling this the best phone of 2015 is the Nexus 6P. At the time of this post my Nexus 6P is arriving this week. It is the only phone that could give the Note 5 a run for it’s money. The Nexus 6P poses for a huge opportunity to take the crown for being the best phone of 2015, but it’s going to be a close call compared to the Note 5. Although there are some things I don’t like about the Note 5 hardly any of those problems are deal breakers.

If you are in the market for a new smartphone you can’t go wrong with the Note 5. It’s a great phone!

Purchase the Note 5 and save by clicking here.

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