Uniquely Samsung: Two new Galaxy phablets avoid many of the company’s past pitfalls. Photo: SamsungSamsung’s latest high-end smartphones, the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+, are two sides of the same coin. On paper, their specs look identical, but each phone provides a very different experience.
The Note 5 continues the tradition of the Note line-up: a smartphone large enough and powerful enough to replace a phone, tablet or even a computer. The S6 Edge+ pushes the “edge” branding into the luxury phone market.
Internally, the Note 5 and Edge+ share the same powerful processors and an abundance of RAM. Externally, they have the same 5.7-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display.
Both have a curved body: the Note 5 curves around the back for better grip while the Edge+ curves on the front to dazzle.
If the Note 5 is the workhorse, the Edge+ is the show pony.
These massive phones come with massive batteries, easily making it through a full day of high use with power to spare. The Edge+ and Note 5 support fast charging, too, topping up a dead battery in 90 minutes. Combined, these features should alleviate battery anxiety for even the most power-hungry users.
The Note 5’s signature feature is the S Pen, a fine-point stylus that allows for digital note taking. It’s a seamless experience, with the note-taking app launching as soon as you remove the S Pen from the inbuilt holder.
The S Pen works even when the screen is locked, allowing for quick notes on the go or for less intrusive note taking: for example, in a lecture theatre or jotting down some thoughts while your partner sleeps beside you.
It works well, but I quickly realised after years of using keyboards and touchscreens that my handwriting has become unintelligible. And it turns out I’m a lot faster with a predictive text keyboard, so the Note 5 is probably not for me.
Still, I understand the appeal. Taking notes on a smartphone with a standard on-screen keyboard is still seen by many as distracting, and doing so in a meeting can give the impression you’re not paying attention. After all, no one knows if you’re taking notes or just browsing Facebook. However, when you take out a stylus, everyone assumes you’re taking notes. A pen, even when digital, lends some credibility.
The S Pen doesn’t just work with the built-in notes app either. It can be used to mark up documents, draw on photos and sign PDFs. The Note 5 comes preloaded with Acrobat and Microsoft’s Office suite, so most users will feel familiar with the apps on offer.
Powering these apps are an octa core 64-bit processor and 4GB of RAM. It’s overkill, but it makes for phones that fly through mobile tasks. Both phones support the latest 4G “Cat 9” technology, promising mobile internet of up to 450mbps; that’s probably 20 times faster than a home ADSL connection.
The thumbprint reader in the Samsung line-up is as good as those in iPhones and it’s a shame flagship phones from LG, Motorola and Sony don’t feature a similar reader. Combined with a password manager like LastPass, a thumbprint reader is a killer security feature.
The Galaxy S6 Edge+ is simply a bigger S6 Edge. The curved-screen Edge is still the most beautiful piece of mobile technology I’ve seen this year.
The Note 5 and S6 Edge+ have the same fantastic camera we found in the Samsung S6 this year. The camera features a fast f1.9 aperture lens, optical image stabilisation and an impressive HDR. That adds up to a camera that produces fantastic results with little effort.
It’s great to see Android phones taking on the iPhone for camera supremacy and the curved-screen Edge shows off your snaps better than anything else.
Interface design used to be Samsung’s Achilles heel, but to the company’s credit, it’s toned down much of the excess of TouchWiz. TouchWiz for Android Lollipop is a clean, light experience, made cleaner still by the use of a “stock Lollipop theme” available through the Galaxy Theme Store.
I used to spend the first few minutes with any Samsung phone replacing the default apps, launcher and keyboard; trying to hide TouchWiz as much as possible. This is no longer necessary. The built-in apps, notifications and settings are tastefully designed, but being an Android phone, you’re more than welcome to swap these things out.
For a company so often dismissed for borrowing the ideas of others, the Note 5 and S6 Edge+ are uniquely Samsung. If taking notes with a stylus is your thing, no other handset will serve you as well as the Note 5, and there is no other handset quite as gorgeous as the curved screen S6 Edge and S6 Edge+.
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (32GB) – $1099
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ (32GB) – $1199
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ (64GB) – $1299
Peter Wells is a technology commentator who works in IT at UNSW Australia.
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