Editors' note: Samsung will be revealing the Galaxy Note 7 at an event in New York City on August 2. The company is skipping the Note 6 moniker in order to bring its product line in sync with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, which were released earlier in 2016. This review was updated to reflect the availability of those latter two models in March.
Samsung's Galaxy Note 5 is the smoothest, sleekest stylus-equipped jumbo-screen smartphone that the company has ever made. On the plus side: a slim, shiny, large-screened luster; strong camera; retooled stylus; and killer battery life. But these assets are subverted by two key omissions; the Note 5's battery is not swappable and there is no expandable storage slot (though there is free cloud storage).
The Note 5 is the least distinctive of the Note line. It's Samsung's only 2015 model to come equipped with a stylus -- and a good one at that -- but it otherwise looks pretty much the same as the, featuring the same dual curved-edge screen and nearly identical specs. And the Note 5 and S6 Edge+ are basically supersized versions of the and models that Samsung debuted in March 2015.
In fact, the stylus (Samsung calls it the "S Pen") is about the only thing that makes the Note 5 truly distinctive. As such, it's a bit underwhelming compared with 2014's Note 4, which leap-frogged its peer, the Galaxy S5, in the hardware department, even without its S Pen. Nevertheless, the Note 5's flaws are few and far between, and its stylus gives it a functional edge over all other large-screen devices.
With the introduction of the current generation of Galaxy phones in March 2016, Samsung fans would do well to take a close look at the new lineup. A CNET Editor's Choice, the Galaxy S7 delivers the goods in spades with a polished design, awesome camera, long battery life, microSD slot, and water resistance (though no stylus). And the supersized Galaxy S7 Edge, an Editor's Choice in its own right, comes equipped with an even bigger battery and screen, a curved screen with "edge" software navigation, and a sky high price tag (but, again, no stylus).
Editors' note: What follows is the original review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.
Premium phone, premium price
The Galaxy Note 5 is available in gold, silver, white and sapphire black (which looks blue in the light), though not every region carries every color. Prices vary by retailer and country; be sure to check current promotions before you buy.
There's no denying that the Note 5 costs a lot, though it varies depending on where you live and where you buy it. That noted, as of October 2015, the 64GB version costs roughly $800 and the 32GB model costs about $700, making the Note 5 more expensive than the $649 64GBand the $749 64GB 6S Plus. The Note 5 is cheaper than the S6 Edge+, however; you'll pay even more for that curved display.
Compared to other large-screen models, like the 5.5-inch Moto X Pure, the Note 5 is straight up pricey.or 5.7-inch
In the US, the Note 5 comes in black and white (but not gold or silver) for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon.
AT&T: Full retail: $740 (32GB) or $840 (64GB). Next 24 (30 monthly payments): $0 down plus $24.67 (32GB) or $28 (64GB). Next 18 (24 monthly payments): $0 plus $30.84 (32GB) or $35 (64GB). Next 12 (20 monthly payments): $37 (32GB) or $42 (64GB).
Sprint: Full retail: $720 (32GB) or $816 (64GB). Two-year service agreement: $250 (32GB) or $350 (64GB). Lease program (24 months): $0 down and $25 (32GB) or $30 (64GB) per month. Easy Pay (24 months): $0 down and $30 (32GB) or $34 (64GB) per month.
T-Mobile: Full retail: $700 (32GB) or $780 (64GB). 24 monthly payments: $0 down and $29.17 (32GB) or $99 down and $28.33 (64GB).
Verizon: Full retail: $696 (32GB) or $792 (64GB). 24 monthly payments: $29 (32GB) or $33 (64GB).
US Cellular: Full retail: $670 (32GB) or $770 (64GB). Two-year contract: $200 (32GB) or $300 (64GB). 20 monthly payments: $0 down and $33.45 (32GB) or $38.46 (64GB).
Design and build
- 5.7-inch display; 2,560x1,440 pixels (518 pixels per inch)
- Metal and glass construction
- 6 by 3 by 0.3 inches (153 by 76 by 7.6mm)
- 6 ounces (171 grams)
Like the Galaxy S6, the Note 5 has straight sides and a flat face but also the Edge+'s frontal curves along the back. From what I can tell holding them side-by-side, the curves are the same. Checking out its profile, these comfortable rear arcs cause the Note 5's top and bottom edges to flare out thicker than its middle. It'll still fill your hand -- this is a large device -- but the overall sensation is still of slimness, especially compared to the relatively bulky Note 4.
Although that AMOLED display still measures 5.7 inches, Samsung has shaved down the Note 5's dimensions, making the handset feel overall sleeker and slimmer than last year's Note 4. That's good news for one-handed phone jockeys, who get the same screen real estate in a more streamlined package. The 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution (515 pixels per inch) holds steady from last year, lending a lot of crisp detail to the screen, possibly even more than we strictly need.
Below the display, the usual two soft keys (recent apps and back) sandwich the physical home button, which also serves as the phone's fingerprint reader and Google Now call-up (press and hold for Google Now, the search giant's voice-command answer to Apple's Siri). You'll find the power/lock button on the right and volume rocker on the left. Along the bottom are the standard micro-USB charger (alas,), headset jacks and S Pen holster, with the SIM card tray up top.
On the flipside, you'll see the 16-megapixel camera lens, flash and heart-rate reader. A unibody device, there's no removable backplate or battery and you won't find an expandable storage slot anywhere. Prepare for your smudgy fingerprints to bloom all over that mirrored surface, and keep a micro-fiber cloth nearby.
One last, infuriating thing I've noticed in all these years of testing: that power/lock button on the right likes to turn itself on in my purse's interior phone pocket, leaking battery willy-nilly. I keep hoping Samsung will work this out, but so far no dice.
All-new S Pen stylus
- Click-in holster
- Slightly recessed button
- Way smoother S Note app (with auto-save!)
- Dimensions: 4.4 by 0.2 by 0.1 inches (111 by 5.3 by 3.6mm)
The Note S Pen stylus, which is made of polycarbonate plastic, changes a little bit every year. This time around, the stylus audibly clicks into place inside the Note 5's chute like the crown of a retractable pen. It's kind of fun, but the fit is so snug, you have to really tease it out. The plastic pen has long, flat planes to keep it from rolling away on a tabletop. Its single button slightly recesses from the surface to tone down the mispresses, which I've found common in previous S Pen designs.
Important tip: That S Pen can only be inserted in the holder pointy end first. It is not meant to holster on the non-business end. If you try it,, as some users report when their S Pens got stuck with the square end wedged, possibly irretrievably, deep inside the phone.
The S Pen continues to act as a writing implement, pointer and navigational accomplice. You can use it to pull up a menu dialog box, or photo or video preview when you hover over it with the pen. It also works with those touch-sensitive menu buttons and the physical home button. Dragging and dropping text, and capturing the screen are two other tricks.
Samsung claims that its pen writes a lot better this time around, more fluidly, and with decreased latency times. I didn't notice that, even writing with the same pen and ink "weight" on the Note 5 and Note 4 side by side. I did notice that the 5's S Pen feels a touch lighter, which made for slightly cleaner, easier writing, compared to the Note 4's slightly heavier pen. My handwriting is still barely legible on both.
The S Note app itself is greatly simplified, with extra features tucked into the More menu. You can also download a ton more tools, like a chart helper and an extension pack that includes advanced tricks like a heartier toolbar and shape recognition, handwriting "transformation" and the ability to record sketches.
In the app itself, you can customize everything from the way you select color to the way you save favorite combinations of pen tips and ink thickness. As with previous versions, the pen stays sensitive along the corners of the page, and on-screen controls will momentarily disappear so you can continue to write and draw "below" them.
Compared to 2014's Galaxy Note 4, the new Note 5 has some additional tricks up its sleeve:
Redesigned shortcuts wheel: Called Air Command, this floating icon hangs out on any screen and opens up to reveal a circular menu of most frequently used apps -- say, the S Note app, the browser or your photo gallery. It's always on by default, but you can turn that off in Settings. You can also customize this by adding up to three apps of your choice.
Air Command responds faster these days, which means that if you accidentally click the S Pen button, you can quickly click again to dismiss it without too much interruption. The floating icon doesn't get much in the way, because it only interacts if you tap or click with the S Pen, not your finger.
Instant memo: Called "screen off memo" in the settings, this feature lets you create an "action memo" (more like a sticky note) even when the screen is turned off. One caveat: it works only just after pulling out the S Pen, not if the pen has been out for a while. I like this feature -- it adds to the S Pen's ability to really quickly jot a note. You'll reed to dip into the settings to toggle it on.
PDF writing: Yep, you can now annotate PDFs by handwriting all over them, just as you can do with a screenshot.
Scrolling capture: Instead of taking several screenshots of a long piece of text, the Note 5 will prompt you to capture more of the whole screen. You'll be able to annotate right on the screenshot too, of course.
Android and apps
- Android 5.1 Lollipop
- Easy mode, Private mode
- Two power-saving modes
- Latest S Health app
The Galaxy Note 5 runs, bolstered by Samsung's own TouchWiz layer. That means the phone will be able to tie into Google's wide array of services, such as Google Now, turn-by-turn navigation and access to Google Drive files. But it can also tap into Samsung's own software, all of which customizes the display's look and feel -- like those quick-access toggles in the notifications shade and anything that has to do with the S Pen. Microsoft's One Drive cloud storage app is also onboard (more on this below).
Alas, whileis just around the corner, its due date to these new Samsung phones is anyone's guess. With the exception of , more substantive software updates are on a .
In addition, Samsung's apps include Note mainstays like S Note and S Health, though the company has really pulled back on its preloaded apps. You'll find a cornucopia of optional add-ons tucked away in various spots throughout the phone, like Galaxy Gifts and Galaxy Essentials.
A quick skip through the settings menu turns up a whole bushel of extra modes and options, like a simplified home screen (Easy mode) and a vault for photos and files you don't want anyone else to see (Private mode). There are also two levels of battery-saver, several gestures and themes to freshen up the look and feel. You'll even find a user manual.
Likewise, pull down the notifications shade for quick access settings, including a flashlight. You can edit to reorder these. From the home page, swipe right to reveal Flipboard, which you can use to read headline news about your pet topics.
The camera situation
- 16-megapixel camera
- 5-megapixel front-facing camera
- Up to 4K video resolution
- Double-press home button to launch
- Live YouTube streaming
If you look at the megapixel count alone, not much has changed with the Note 5's camera. Samsung has adopted a wider aperture lens (f1.9 instead of the Note 4's f2.2), the same one that's used in the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Why is this "good"? A bigger aperture lets in more light, and more light leads to better photos, specifically low-light pictures. The image processing capabilities make a huge difference too, of course, but the bottom line is that the overall photo quality should incrementally improve from the Note 4, and is on par with the S6 and S6 Edge.
What you get with the camera app
The phone also gets a few more editing and shooting modes and guides -- little things, mostly, but these are always fun to discover.
As with the Galaxy S6 and many other phones, the Note 5 here has optical image stabilization (OIS), which will help keep shaking hands from blurring shots, and an array of modes and tools. There's auto-HDR right on the screen (this helps keep photos looking true to life) and panorama and selective focus as separate modes within.
Brand new is a live broadcasting feature that lets you record to YouTube. There's intentionally a 30-second delay between when you start recording and when the footage hits YouTube. This is essentially Samsung and YouTube's take on Twitter's Periscope tool. (The live broadcast feature is appearing first on the Note 5 and S6 Edge+, and is currently exclusive to those phones -- though how long that will last is anyone's guess.)
What else is new? Tap to focus and an exposure control appears that lets you slide to brighten or darken the scene. Take a photo in Pro mode, and you'll have the option to save it as a raw file, one that the phone hasn't automatically processed, say into a JPEG format, first. This option gives photographers much more post-processing control. You can record a collage of four 6-second videos, to which you can add background music and share, share away (the file saves as a 720p MP4). If you're hungry for more modes (like the rear-cam selfie shot), it's easy to download more from the camera app.