Samsung Galaxy Note 4, Edge and Gear S: First Impressions

Yesterday, Samsung Singapore treated us to an exclusive media preview of their new products, the Note 4, Note 4 Edge and Galaxy Gear S. Read on to find out what we thought about them.

Specifications

Galaxy Note 4 Galaxy Note Edge
Display 5.7”, 1440p (2K) Super AMOLED 5.6”, 1440p (2K) + 2560 x 160 (edge) Super AMOLED
Camera 16 MP, 1/2.6 inch sensor 16 MP, 1/2.6 inch sensor
Video Recording 2160p/4K 2160p/4K
Processor 2.7 GHz Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 2.7 GHz Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805
GPU Adreno 420 Adreno 420
RAM 3 GB 3 GB
Storage 32 GB, micro-SD expandable 32 GB, micro-SD expandable
Battery 3220 mAh, removable battery 3000 mAh, removable battery
Other Aluminium chassis, S-Pen Aluminium chassis, S-Pen, Curved Edge

Both devices have nearly identical specs, with the key differences being the curved edge of the Note Edge and a tiny bit smaller battery.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Design and Build

The Note Edge (left) and Note 4 (right)
The Note Edge (left) and Note 4 (right)

The fourth iteration of the Note series launched way back in September 2011, it brings a host of upgrades to the Note 3, but not much in the design department. At first glance from the front, you’d be hard-pressed to find differences between it and the Note 3.

The main change is actually in the build of the Note 3, with Samsung finally opting for a metal chassis. Now, instead of feeling cheap, you actually get the feeling of a premium device when holding it in your hand. And that’s something Samsung has had for the first time in their high-end products (the Galaxy Alpha did debut with the metal body, but was decidedly mid-range).

At the bottom of the device you have the task switcher on the left, the physical home button in the centre and the back button on the right. The S-Pen slots in at the bottom right.

Display

The Note 4 has a much brighter and vivid display than the LG G3 (bottom)
The Note 4 has a much brighter and vivid display than the LG G3 (bottom)

In our Droid Pack 2014 shootout, we gave the title of the best display to the Samsung Galaxy S5 with its 1080p Super AMOLED panel, simply because its colour reproduction and contrast was better. It even beat the LG G3‘s 1440p IPS panel which suffered from very low luminance, and horrendous software over-sharpening.

Now, the Note 4 features a 1440p Super AMOLED panel with all of the strengths from the S5’s display, with greatly minimized over-saturation. It smashes the current crop of displays out there, save maybe for the 1080p IPS panel seen in the Xperia Z3, although a side-by-side comparison will be needed to be an accurate judge of that.

Camera

The OIS has been upgraded
The OIS has been upgraded

The Note 4 has a nearly identical camera module compared to the Galaxy S5, with the same 16 MP, 1/2.6″ sensor but it comes with Smart OIS, which is apparently an upgrade over the standard OIS we see in other devices. We see the same in the Note Edge. Nothing new here.

Performance

The Note 4 and Edge pack the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 805, clocked at 2.7 GHz paired with the Adreno 420 GPU. However, the upgrade in performance is honestly miniscule over the Snapdragon 801. What is important is the increased power saving measures introduced with the S805.

In terms of usage, though, the Note 4 and Edge still feel sluggish compared to the Xperia Z3, but they are running pre-production firmware.

Storage

The Note 4 and Edge both have 32 GB of internal storage, together with a micro-SD card slot supporting cards up to 128 GB, so you could theoretically have 160 GB of combined storage.

As usual with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI, it takes up 8 GB of storage, so you’re only left with 24 GB, but that is still enough for usage – and double of what the Xperia Z3 has.

Battery

The Galaxy Note 4 has a 3220 mAh battery, a tiny 20 mAh bump over the Note 3. While battery life of the Note 4 may be of concern regarding the jump from 1080p to 2K resolution, the concurrent increase in power saving features of the Note 4’s Snapdragon 805 SoC should be able to outweigh the increased power draw.

Miscellaneous: S-Pen and Montblanc Accessories

_MG_9419_2

The Note 4 and Note Edge both feature the standard S-Pen we saw in the Note 3. A key upgrade has been made that allows the display to sense 2048 levels of sensitivity, double from the 1024 levels of the Note 3. This has resulted in the device being able to draw thick or thin lines depending on how hard you press the display.

From left: E-Starwalker, Pix and Meisterstück Soft Grain Cover
From left: E-Starwalker, Pix and Extreme Cover

The most interesting aspect of the S-Pen however… is not the S-Pen, but the Montblanc styluses, namely the Pix and E-Starwalker. They will cost S$460 and S$690 respectively.

The most interesting aspect about both these pens is that they are actually real Montblanc pens, and their tips can be swapped out for a rollerball or fineliner respectively. Those who own the standard rollerball or fineliner versions of the Pix and E-Starwalker thankfully don’t need to buy a whole new pen – just the “E-Refill”.

_MG_9476_2
The Meisterstück Soft Grain Cover flanked by two Extreme Covers

Montblanc has also released their Meisterstück Soft Grain and Extreme Covers for the Note 4 (Edge currently not supported), and they look and feel fantastic. Similar to their pens, they will set you back huge amounts of money – US$245 for both cases. But so help me if they don’t look stunning.

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

Design and Build

_MG_9406_2

The Note Edge has a nearly identical design to the Note 4, with the metal chassis, home buttons and volume buttons all in the same place. But look towards the right side, and the differences become obvious. The screen curves down and joins up with the rear-right edge of the back.

While it is perfectly fine to use two-handed or even one-handed in your right hand, it is absolutely impossible to use via your left-hand. You can flip the device 180 degrees, but thanks to Samsung’s stubbornness to stick with capacitive and physical navigation buttons, you can’t actually use them for they are then at the top of the phone.

Another issue is that the power button has been removed from the right side, and shifted to… the top. This couldn’t be a more foolish move from Samsung, because Apple has indirectly admitted their power button on the top will be annoying to operate – and it truly is on the Note Edge. I can’t fathom why they didn’t shift it to the left instead.

Display

_MG_9412_2

 

The Note Edge has a nearly identical display as the Note 4, except for the curved edge. It has a 2K resolution spread over 5.6″ instead, with the curved area having a 2560 x 160 pixels resolution. It looks as pin sharp as the rest of the display, but is unfortunately marred by the design which forces you to use your right hand or both only.

Battery

The Note Edge uses a smaller capacity battery at 3000 mAh, which should be ample enough – certainly more so than the LG G3, for AMOLED displays can turn off pixels for true blacks thereby saving energy. Still, it is slightly disappointing the Note Edge has a smaller battery capacity.

Using the Edge

Using the Edge feels… different. The utilisation of the curved display, though, is nothing short of brilliant – and I say this despite being a huge Samsung sceptic.

When the display is locked, the curved area can be configured to display a neat night clock, whereas while in use, it can show either the weather or the apps dock which has been at the bottom of the normal display on all Android and iOS devices until now.

If you launch the camera, the shutter and settings buttons move out of the way over to the curved side, which initially makes for awkward photography but is easy to get used to. This really frees up the viewfinder of unnecessary clutter, and fulfils the same purpose as LG’s method on the G3.

The Youm
The Youm

While the curved display is nothing new in terms of the concept – Samsung showed it off in CES 2013 as the “Youm” – its execution is more than what people were hoping for (the fact that they forgot about the Youm helped too).

All in all, its a tidy device that’s unfortunately bogged down by sluggish software and baffling design choices.

Samsung Galaxy Gear S

Design and Build

The original Gear (left) and the new Gear S
The original Gear (left) and the new Gear S

A whole new slew of smartwatches has been launched by various manufacturers, with Samsung actually being the first ones to do so all the way back in 2013 with their Gear. Although it had a nice construction of metal, it did look a little daft.

Enter the Gear S. The best looking Gear to date, it features a curved screen that tries to follow your wrist’s curve as accurately as possible together with a platinum band around the side and actually ends up feeling quite great. Like the Gear 2, it features a physical button that carries out two too many functions – wake and sleep the device, and return to the homescreen.

It felt quite solid, though, and featured some great looking clock faces as well so you won’t feel cheap wearing this around.

Display

The various Gear S band colours
The various Gear S band colours

It features a 2″, 360 x 480 pixels Super AMOLED display, leading to stunning blacks and a fantastic sunlight legibility. Compared to the original Gear, it’s a huge step up, but in face of a lack of a proper smartwatch comparison, there’s really not much we can say.

Performance and Storage

The device is powered by a 1 GHz dual-core CPU, coupled with 512 MB of RAM. It also comes with a heart-rate monitor mounted on its rear.

To be completely honest, the device is a step down from the Gear 2. It is extremely sluggish, and using the device was nigh on impossible. Still, as said above, all the devices here were running pre-production builds, so there could well be improvements by the time it hits the market.

It also has 4 GB of flash storage.

Battery

It has a 300 mAh battery, which seems to be the usual for smartwatches for now. Samsung claims it can last for a whole day without requiring a charge, but when hearing it would be in an always-on mode, we did grow suspicious of their claims. How it will perform will have to be seen when it releases, though.

Operating System and Connectivity

_MG_9377_2

The Gear S runs on Tizen OS (not Android Wear, unfortunately) and has a full connectivity suite including quad-band 2G/3G, Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, GPS/GLONASS, and USB 2.0.

You get all notifications on the homescreen and tapping on each of them will take you to the appropriate app. Swiping left brings up the widgets, a swipe right pops up all notifications, a downwards swipe brings the shortcut area and an upwards swipe means system-wide Back.

There is a home key on the Gear S. Tap once for the homescreen, tap twice for voice control. The voice interaction is really good and it is the easiest way around for text input. By the way, the Gear S offers an on-screen QWERTY keyboard, which is as optimized as possible, but two inches are just not enough for it.

 

The smartwatch is even capable of making and receiving phone calls thanks to a nano-SIM card slot, through an optional Bluetooth neck accessory dubbed Samsung Gear Circle.

While it looks really cool with the magnets on the earbuds allowing them to stick together when not in use, the audio quality is quite mediocre and you’d be better off using a third-party Bluetooth headset, like the Sony SBH80s.

Miscellaneous

Similar the Sony Smartwatch 3, the Gear S is also IP67 certified, which a step down from the IP68 Sony wearable.

Pricing and Availability

Samsung has not yet released pricing or availability specifics, except for the fact that the Note 4 and Gear S will launch somewhere in October, with the Note Edge coming in some time later. Expect a price point of around S$1100 for the Note 4, S$300 for the Gear S and S$1300 for the Note Edge. Past experience shows it’ll probably be as expensive as our guesses, but we’d love to be proven wrong.

Conclusion

_MG_9438_2

All three devices have extremely compelling arguments for themselves – the Note 4 is still the undisputed phablet champion thanks to the S-Pen; the Note Edge is for those who want to try something new; and the Gear S is simply a smartwatch.

What do you think about these three devices? Are you going to be purchasing any of them? Leave your comments below!

Do also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for updates on these devices in the future,

5 thoughts on “Samsung Galaxy Note 4, Edge and Gear S: First Impressions

  1. No problem 🙂
    I pay special attention to Samsung Note series phones because the ability to replace the battery myself, plays a part in my decision to choose a smartphone.

    1. It is 128 GB. The official specs detail 64 GB only for some odd reason, but 128 GB cards work fine. The same happened with the Note 3 – official specs said 64 but 128 cards worked fine.

Leave a Reply