Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review

Note 5 puts the phab in phablet with a stylus and stylish 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: Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is nearly a year old, and its replacement is said to be Samsung Galaxy Note 7, not a Galaxy Note 6. It'll almost certainly launch on August 2, 2016. Before that happens, here's what we think of the current-gen S-Pen-equipped Android phone.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is a large 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 last year's Samsung Galaxy S6 and the newer Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge.

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 finally 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 the Samsung Galaxy S7, and the new sealed-shut glass design is slippery.

The microSD card slot feature is expected inside the Galaxy Note 7, however. You may want to wait for the new version, which is expected to be announced on August 2. Just don't expect it to support adoptable storage (to offload apps on the microSD card) without diving deep into the developer settings and tinkering around.

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 isn't 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 never came to the UK nor the rest of Europe. Samsung instead focused on the 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 until the Note 7 launch.

Its price remains competitive, even with its fancy new design, thanks to a price drop from a high of $249 on two-year contract in the US. It now costs $49 on contract via Verizon and Sprint. AT&T Next plans start at $24.67 a month for a 30-month duration, while the full retail Note 5 price is $696 at Verizon. It'd likely have cost £600 in the UK if it launched, 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 get three of the four 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. The Silver Titanium option is offered outside of North America. Interestingly, it's one of three new colors for the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, as is Black Onyx and Blue Coral. Better late than never.

The Galaxy Note 5 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.