I’ve owned and used almost every one of the Samsung Galaxy Note phablets, with the exception of the Note 4 that was released to retail last year in October. The Note 3 was picked up when I renewed my telco subscription plan in December 2013 – so when it was time to renew again 1 year 9 months i.e. this very week – it made no sense to pick up the Note 4 when the Note 5 had also just hit retail.
Interestingly, the Note 5 is less of an evolutionary step from Note 4 than between the latter and Note 3. Gone are the removable batteries and the microSD expansion slot, and what’s taken its place is premium build, though not without its issues. I was frankly – loathe – to trade-in the Note 3, so asked Ling if she’d like to inherit the Note 3. The Xperia Z2 I bought her in March this year is a nifty premium-built phone that we got at a decent bargain, but the additional screen space offered by the Note series is just that useful, not to mention the Super Amoled screen. So, it was goodbye to the Xperia Z2.
And so – my first notes on the Note 5 after several days of use, and especially in comparison against the Note 3.
Stunningly exquisite build. The earlier generations of Notes had been criticized for build qualities and material use that weren’t commensurate with their routinely high asking prices. There were improvements in the Note 3 onwards – aesthetically anyway if not the materials itself – especially in the faux leather shell, but the Note 5 is the first phone in the Note series to feature the new Samsung design language: glass, metal, and density. This is one phone where the photos don’t do it enough justice. Picking up and holding the phone will make you feel as though this is a phone that’s worth its asking price.
Fingerprint unlock. The scanner in the note 5 in my opinion works just as well as the iPad Air 2’s. I noticed that the scanner takes a lot of prints in the initial setup – at least a dozen – and even encourages you to register your fingerprint in different ways.
Near bezel-less display, making the phone very slightly smaller than the Note 3.
Jotting with the stylus is quicker, especially since the phone doesn’t need to be unlocked.
On the other hand:
The thing feels like a bar of soap! A case is a definite must for this, unless you don’t mind risking the Note 5 slipping out of your hand and hitting a possibly concrete floor. The Note 3 had no such issues, since the faux leather shell provided a good tactile grip against the phone slipping out of your hand.
The glass back, stunning as it looks, is a terrible fingerprint magnet. So, unless you don’t mind frequently fishing out a hankie to wipe those printers off, or wiping it against your pants/skirt/shirt, the glass back is likely gonna be covered by a case – which basically defeats the purpose of having that stunning glass back to begin with.
Slightly curved glass screen edges, making it hard to find tempered glass screen protectors that will fit the screen exactly without bubbles inadvertently seeping onto the edges at some point.
Near bezel-less display takes some getting use to, especially when palm rejection isn’t matching it. In the first day of use and while holding the phone, my palm kept accidentally triggering icons placed on the left side of the screen.
Retrieving the stylus is a slower two-step process now, since you need to first eject the stylus off its spring-loaded mechanism, then use your fingernail to pry it out.
No microSD card slot and non-removable battery. The loss of the microSD card doesn’t bother me since I don’t use phones as media consumption devices nor mobile gaming machines. But the non-removable battery has a real impact, and it came out of a design decision I assume was necessary to get the sleek glass/metal body on the new Note. I was able to buy a new Note 3 battery since the old battery had experienced some visible wear and tear (the battery has slightly bloated from thermal expansion I think), and the phone longevity is now as it was 2 years ago. No such possibility with the Note 5 when it goes through the same usage demands in the years to come.