Today, Samsung is announcing the next generation of their Galaxy-brand phablets, the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 edge+. Samsung’s phablets have been one of their greatest smartphone success stories, finding traction in a market when many thought there wouldn’t be a place for such a large phone. And while you will never see some competitors directly admit to it, products like the Note series have legitimized the phablet form factor and required that the competition catch up as well, making the phablet form factor as much of a home court for Samsung as there can be.

Starting with their 2014 models, Samsung introduced two different phablets, the Galaxy Note 4 and the simply titled Galaxy Note Edge. This year Samsung is retaining the dual phablet approach, however in the case of the Edge product Samsung has shifted gears on what they want to do. For 2015 Samsung seems to be going after a new audience in the form of the Galaxy S6 edge+, which is a more distinct derivative of the Note 5 platform with some greater feature changes than just a curved screen. To try and explain what I mean, I’ve included the specs below.

 

Galaxy S6 edge+

Galaxy Note 5

SoC Samsung LSI Exynos 7420
4xA57 @ 2.1GHz
4xA53 @ 1.5GHz
Samsung LSI Exynos 7420
4xA57 @ 2.1GHz
4xA53 @ 1.5GHz
GPU Mali T760MP8 @ 772MHz Mali T760MP8 @ 772MHz
RAM 4GB LPDDR4 4GB LPDDR4
NAND 32/64GB UFS 2.0 32/64/128GB UFS 2.0
Display 5.7-inch 2560x1440 SAMOLED
Dual edge display
5.7-inch 2560x1440 SAMOLED
Network 2G / 3G / 4G
UE Category 6/9 LTE
2G / 3G / 4G
UE Category 6/9 LTE
Dimensions 154.4 x 75.8 x 6.9 mm
153 grams
153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6 mm
171 grams
Camera 16MP rear camera,
1.12 µm pixels, 1/2.6" CMOS size,
F/1.9. OIS

5MP F/1.9 FFC
16MP rear camera,
1.12µm pixels, 1/2.6" CMOS size
F/1.9, OIS

5MP F/1.9 FFC
Battery 3000 mAh (11.55 Wh)
non-removable
3000 mAh (11.55 Wh)
non-removable
OS Android 5.1 with TouchWiz (At launch) Android 5.1 with TouchWiz (At launch)
Connectivity 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.2, USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, NFC 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.2, USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, NFC
SIM Size NanoSIM NanoSIM

As one can see, the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 edge+ share a lot in common. They have the same SoC, same amount of DRAM, almost identical displays, the same cameras, fingerprint scanners, and the same battery. Ultimately what differs between the two devices is not the underlying hardware, but the functionality and form factor of the devices.

There are really two important differences between the two, namely the removal of the S-Pen and addition of the curved display to the Galaxy S6 edge+. The result is that while the Galaxy Note 5 is a traditional Note phablet, the Galaxy S6 edge+ is closer to a very large Galaxy S6 edge, and this is why these two closely related devices are placed in very different product lines. In some ways, I suspect that this will be a litmus test for the S-Pen functionality in general, as sales may prove Note functionality has a relatively small effect on the desirability of a phablet.


Galaxy Note 5


Galaxy S6 edge+

Design

Moving past the distinction between the two models, the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 edge+ share very similar industrial and material design. The bezel surrounding the display and the back cover both continue to use the highly reflective patterning that we first saw with the Galaxy S6, and in the case of the Galaxy Note 5 the bezel surrounding the display has become even thinner than before. Like the Galaxy S6 edge, the plus variant has bezels that are effectively equivalent to the Galaxy Note 5 as the angle reduces the effective size of the technically larger bezel.

With the Galaxy S6, there was a noticeable distinction between the normal version and the edge variant when it came to in-hand feel as the standard version was significantly thicker on the left and right sides of the phone. With the Galaxy Note 5, this difference is lessened, but the difference in in-hand comfort definitely remains. The big driver for this is the use of 3D glass on the back cover of the Galaxy Note 5, which allows for a more ergonomic design in the hand. I can’t help but compare this to the first phablet that I’ve seen with a 3D glass back cover, namely the Xiaomi Mi Note line, which feels remarkably similar. At any rate, the Note 5 seems to remain more ergonomic than the edge variant, which has a flat back but a curved display.

S-Pen

One of the major updates changes to the Galaxy Note 5 is improvements on the S-Pen, which has a number of new changes to the design and software functionality. On the hardware side, the pen itself now has a changed mechanism that has a push button top that allows the pen to be completely flush inside the phone when not in use, but easily ejected by pushing on the top of the pen to make it protrude. The digitizer also has dramatically reduced latency. In my experience, this helps a lot with making writing more natural on the Note 5 as I don’t hesitate as much while waiting for the input to catch up.

On the software side, Samsung has added a host of notable additions to extend the functionality of the S-Pen, namely PDF annotation, an Air command floating button, customizable shortcuts, and scroll capture. PDF annotation sounds exactly like what you might expect, which is the ability to write directly on a PDF and save the results. This has obvious utility in cases like signing documents, as the user experience involved in digitally signing a document is horrific and usually goes something like printing out a PDF, signing the PDF, and scanning the signed document. In the case of the Note 5, signing a document is pretty much as easy as opening the PDF with the right application, writing a signature with the S-Pen, and saving the changes.

Meanwhile the Air command floating button and customizable shortcuts are somewhat more mundane. The floating button just allows for one-tap access to what was previously hidden behind the button press of the pen, and customizable shortcuts in the Air command menu is useful but not exactly life-changing.

Scroll capture is also arguably a “minor” feature, but I would argue that its value is significant when it comes to improving the user experience of the phone. In short, this screenshot mode makes it possible to screenshot a long list in an entire screenshot, so something like Google Maps directions can be taken as a single scrollable screenshot rather than 2-20 screenshots that might have overlapping information and potentially missing information from the ListView. However, as far as I can tell this capture mode is strangely hidden behind S-Pen functionality when it really should be integrated into the existing screenshot capture gestures that programmatically determines whether to present this scroll capture mode.

Camera

Although the camera configuration is unchanged from the Galaxy S6 with an IMX240 or S5K2P2 camera sensor, f/1.9 optics and a 5MP FFC, there are some new and interesting features present in the camera application. One notable additional is improved pro mode, with extended ISO range down to 50 ISO and the addition of a shutter speed toggle for long exposures. However, manual white balance remains unchanged as far as I can tell with only a few presets rather than fine-grained color temperature adjustments. I was unable to get a RAW sample from the device, but it will be interesting to see if Samsung has properly implemented sensor and lens corrections into the RAW files.

Software, Samsung Pay, and Accessories
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  • halcyon - Friday, August 14, 2015 - link

    The market has NOT validated iPhone design. iPhone is only ruling in the USA. In the rest of the world others rule. Also, iPhone is still losing market share. Most of the world is teetering on the edge or recession, china is crashing (on three fronts) and the cheap Chinese 'quality' makers are expanding rapidly. That's the new frontier and they have designs for almost everybody, incl. those who want memory card slots and swappable batteries.

    The high end luxury goods? They were never meant for power users.

    The future power user phones will come from China, while Samsung, Apple, LG & Sony will be fighting over the diminishing luxury high end category and barely breaking even on their mid-end portfolio, that will get crushed by Chinese makers.

    The fact that Samsung destroyed their only blue ocean strategy phone (they had NO competition in the Note space, how stupid it is to start competing against yourself there?), just shows how internally conflicted the company is. Design by a comittee and a bunch of bill-of-material excel bean-counters. The exact same thing that became the downfall of Nokia, btw.
    Reply
  • Medtxa - Thursday, August 20, 2015 - link

    At the price its only make sense if you also expect premium design. Know to pick the balance betwen function and aesthetic otherwise they just that of dull person. Reply
  • melgross - Friday, August 14, 2015 - link

    Do t be an ass. Complaints about how fragile Samsung's phone are have been around for years. Go to Android Nation to read the tests they do every year. But this seems to be looking for a drop anyway, with all that glass. Apple found that the 4 series had broken glass about at a 30% higher rate than the 3 series, and the 5 series has had little of that problem, the same as the new 6 series.

    So why Samsung would go to glass on the back, knowing that, is beyond me. The phones look and feel much better though.
    Reply
  • id4andrei - Friday, August 14, 2015 - link

    No, no, you're being deliberately wrong with the bending issue. And I know that you, as an AI mod, are certainly familiar with the critical nuance you omit(on purpose). It's not the middle bending pressure. That is what blindsided Apple in the first place. It's the bending in the upper 1/3 portion of the device, where the buttons are. It's an unexpected 2nd point of failing that is unique to the iphone in CR's test. Reply
  • TrojMacReady - Monday, August 17, 2015 - link

    Pretty durable.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpsyGweP5so
    Reply
  • beggerking@yahoo.com - Monday, August 17, 2015 - link

    i've never seen a samsung phone break, ever! and 70% of people around me uses a Samsung. the other 25% use other androids..

    the 5% who use icrap all had their icrap6+ replaced at least due to bending issue. before they had icrap5, and at least 3 occasions they had to replace their broken lcds.
    Reply
  • hughlle - Saturday, August 15, 2015 - link

    You essentially invalidate anything you say as a result of this "crapple" drivel.

    I can't stand apple, I very much like android, and I very much dislike that cheap and chintzy faux leather. It was pretty pathetic. It wasn't just apple fans who thought it a load of rubbish, many people did.

    and personally I prefere the genuine article. As most non-hippy vegans do :p hence why people happily pay more for a genuine leather watch strap or belt than something synthetic.
    Reply
  • ddriver - Saturday, August 15, 2015 - link

    I am not a vegan, I eat a lot of meat and also slaughter the animals I eat. I am just not one of those idiots who see leather as premium. It is primitive and barbaric, leather was a viable solution back in the days when people have not invented fabrics, and were reduced to hunting animals, skinning them to wear their hides for protection from the elements. Leather is just an inferior material, based on its properties. And there is too much cruelty in its commercial production, and I don't mean the slaughtering of animals, but the kind of "life" they go through before that. For me having leather products is like wearing clothes someone died in. Reply
  • xerandin - Monday, August 17, 2015 - link

    I thought I was alone. Good to see that there are people of good sense. I'll take premium metals and/or fabrics over animal hides any day. Reply
  • michael2k - Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - link

    By "everyone" I think he means the tens of millions of people who didn't buy the Note, forcing Samsung to change design language to ape the super successful iPhone 6+. There are estimates that Apple sold 16m 6+ on launch with another 16m the next two quarters. I mean, yeah, Samsung sold 11m or so Notes a year, but Samsung can't survive on that (see their recent profit plunge). Reply

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