Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

The best big Android phone with a stylus gets a makeover

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Our Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 requires two hands and a pile of cash, but it's the best Android phone with a large screen, a stylus and an accurate camera. Just don't look for it to have a microSD card, removable battery – or availability outside the US.

For

  • Slick glass-backed design
  • Record-break specs
  • Stunning camera quality
  • Handy S Pen stylus

Against

  • Expensive
  • No microSD card slot
  • No removable battery
  • Limited to a few countries

Update: New Samsung Galaxy Note 5 phones as of January 2016 fix the jammed S-Pen problems, and there are rumors about a UK launch date. This review has been revised to reflect these changes.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is a phone that's either a game changer or deal breaker for longtime fans of the Android phablet, now that it has a premium look and feel.

Its 5.7-inch display, super-fast processor, improved camera and S Pen stylus are joined by a new, glass-and-metal design that reflects the solid construction of the Samsung Galaxy S6.

That makes it a huge leap over last year's Galaxy Note 4, which backed the phone in cheap, textured plastic. Samsung's build quality is fit to compete with the aluminum iPhone 6S Plus, Huawei Mate 8 and Nexus 6P.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review
The Galaxy Note 5 S Pen returns with new Air Commands

All of this comes at a cost, however. There's no microSD card slot for expandable storage or removable battery to swap out, like on the Note 4, LG G4, and very likely the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S7, and the new sealed-shut glass design is slippery.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is among the best phones in the world, but it isn't for everyone who can't grip a two-handed phone, or its compromises in the name of style.

Release date and price

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

The Note 5 may not be for everyone simply because it's currently only available in the US and Canada in the Western world. It launched in the US on AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular on August 21, 2015.

It hasn't come to the UK or the rest of Europe, but new rumors suggest it'll launch in February, with my guess being whenever Android 6.0 Marshmallow is ready for the phone. Samsung has focused on the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ in the UK. For now, anyone outside of North America who wants a new phone with a stylus is out of luck.

Its price remains competitive, even with its fancy new design. It now costs $149 through a two-year contract on Verizon and Sprint after launching at $249 in the US. AT&T Next plans start at $24.67 a month, while the full retail Note 5 price is $696 via Verizon. It'll likely cost £600 in the UK, the same as the Note 4 price.

Design

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 has the same basic shape as the Note 4, but the construction of the two phones couldn't be any more different.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review
Galaxy Note 5 (left) is smaller and more refined than the Note 4 (right)

Gone is the faux leather back that was made of plastic but felt more like cheap snakeskin. It's been replaced by a glass sheet that's infused into a metal frame, just like on the Galaxy S6.

At 153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6mm, the Note 5 dimensions are certainly bigger than Samsung's 5.1-inch flagship, but it's actually a hair smaller and noticeably thinner than the Note 4. It's lighter too, at 171g, shedding 5g, even with its metal-and-glass construction.

Its back glass also curves inward on the right and left sides. This smaller footprint and curved back made it easier to hold in my palm, despite its phablet size.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review
There's a curved glass back that makes it easier to hold

Glass does make gripping this 5.7-inch phone more of a challenge, breakable and a fingerprint magnet compared to its faux leather predecessor. There's less traction, but it's nowhere near as slippery as a super smooth aluminum iPhone 6S with rounded corners.

Cases will help with the grip and prevent my overarching palm from interfering with the touchscreen, due to its ultra-thin bezel. This happens more often as bezels wane, phone sizes increase and my hands get fat. But I don't suggest Samsung's default case offering. I know from my time with the Galaxy S6 – its slick plastic makes the phone even more slippery.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review
Here are the Note 5 colors. You can only get two of them in the US

The Galaxy Note 5 colors include Sapphire Black, White Pearl and, as of November, Gold Platinum in select sizes in the US. Options for Titanium Silver are offered elsewhere. The aluminum frame is silver in all cases, with a color-matching power button on the right and volume rocker on the left. These buttons are thin, but feel strong when pressed and, importantly, are situated in the upper portion of the frame, exactly where my fingers clutch the phone.