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Galaxy Note 5: A totally subjective road-warrior test

Jon Gold | Sept. 15, 2015
To the hard-working journalist, there’s something seductive in the promise of devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, just as there has been since the Apple Newton – a notebook that isn’t a notebook, one that can do other things and unite the free people of Middle-Earth, and so on.

Beyond my experience with the stylus, the Note 5 was an excellent performer – my usual phone workload when I’m traveling to trade shows consists of a lot of photography, audio recordings and social media activity, and the device handled all of this without slowing down or running out of juice. (By the evening of a relatively heavy day of use, it would only be down to about 30%.) The Note 5 did once freeze when I tried to get it to start recording audio via the Splend Apps voice recorder, requiring me to use a backup device, but that was the only actual error I encountered.

The fingerprint recognition system works well but imperfectly, roughly on a par with Apple’s TouchID – generally, it unlocks on the first or second try, but it occasionally gets stubborn and refuses to recognize your thumbprint at all, requiring me to try and remember what the heck I used as the backup password.

The camera caused me a few moments of confusion, as the “capture picture” option inside social media apps didn’t work very well – to wit, the camera app would appear as requested, but then refuse to actually take a picture when the button was pressed. Simply using the camera app and sharing from there worked just fine, however.

The Galaxy Note 5 even worked passably well as a one-hander – at least, not much worse than the rest of the 5-inches-and-up fleet of present-day flagships – thanks to Samsung’s acknowledgement of the device’s somewhat ludicrous size. A particularly handy feature lets you set a certain number of home-button presses to signify “one-handed mode,” which shrinks everything on the screen down a bit and collapses it toward the bottom corner. The thing is still massive and unwieldy – and it still takes a mighty thumb to reach the back button while using it one-handed – but it’s not nearly as annoying as I’d anticipated.

The upshot

The Galaxy Note 5 is a great device – it’s powerful, prettily constructed, and performs almost as well as advertised. The stylus is genuinely impressive. The screen is freaking brilliant. If you wanted to, I’m sure you could root it and customize it and make it even better.

But is it, at long last, the all-in-one journalism tool that blends the notebook and the recorder (and Evernote and email and so on) into one seamless piece? Sadly, no – S Pen is fantastic, but it’s just not quite ready for serious professional use. I still needed analog paper and pen to get my job done.


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