Design and Build Quality

One of the biggest complaints about the Samsung Galaxy line of phones over the years has been that they are built with plastic, and this can give the devices a low-end feel. There are plenty of users that prefer the characteristics of plastic, however; the ability to bounce without dents has often been cited since the announcements of Samsung’s move to metal/glass on the Galaxy S6. Users of the Note 4 still have to be concerned with damage to a 5.7-in screen of course, but in my experience with the S4 and S5 the body does hold up to the rigors of children and clumsiness slightly better. The back of the Note 4 is actually a faux-leather fabric that adds a bit of class (if you like that sort of thing) while also giving you something to grip on to, reducing the slippery-ness associated with the iPhone 6.

With that in mind, the Note 4 feels like a high quality device in my hand, though obviously the size is going to be the first concern for any buyer not coming from a previous Galaxy Note device. While it seems unwieldy at first, given just a few short days the benefits of the larger screen real estate started to outweigh any pocket-ability concerns. For its size it seems surprisingly light in the hand but also feels strong – it doesn’t easily flex when trying to twist or bend it.

Using the Note 4 with a single hand will immediately feel limiting to you if you are coming from a smaller device. Most normal adult sized hands will likely be able to reach only to the very center of the screen when resting with the device corner in the center of the palm of your hand. Samsung does have a feature you can enable in the settings to allow you to shrink the display into a smaller window, either on the left or right side, should you want to use the phone in a one handed configuration. The gesture is simple and works well.

The dedicated buttons for volume control on the left, home at the bottom and screen wake on the right, are very click with an audible sound to them. The tactile feeling of the buttons makes it obvious that you are hitting something and should expect feedback. Unlike the sometimes squishy feeling of volume rockers, where you aren’t sure if you are hitting the button or not (as I get with my Droid Turbo), the Galaxy Note 4 keys are definitely “clicky”. Because they require a reasonable amount of force to depress though you can be assured that accidental contact are less likely to result in volume changes or screen sleeping.

Samsung chose to integrate a physical home button and dedicated locations for the “back” and “menu” keys, though they are capacitive. This creates a symmetric design on the face of the Note 4 with equal bezel at the top and bottom of the screen, much like the iPhone series has consistently done.

Despite the large size of the screen and device, the Note 4 is surprisingly thin. Measuring 8.5mm thin, Samsung’s flagship is more than a full millimeter thicker than the iPhone 6 Plus. The Note’s beveled edges make it feel skinnier than that and also add another style accent. There are some bulges around the bands on the side of the phone at both the headphone jack and USB connection though they don’t extend past the overall thickness of the phone’s back plate.

From the Note’s namesake, the S Pen stylus is housed in the bottom right hand corner of the phone and you will need to user a fingernail to remove it. Obviously you (and Samsung) don’t want to worry about losing the pen so the need to put some pressure in the process seems reasonable. When you remove or install the pen you get a satisfying haptic response on the phone itself to let you know the action is complete. The OS also automatically pops up a wheel of functions including memos, screen clips and notes when the pen is removed.

Flipping the phone over we find the primary camera lens as well as the flash and autofocus lights. The extension of the lens housing means that it will make contact with the surface you place it on (your desk, a dinner table) if you aren’t using a case with the phone, and thus the risk of scratching the glass is present. Though obviously some care is needed to prevent that, the iPhone has a similar concern though Apple helps that by using sapphire material. Samsung claims it is using a “tempered and scratch resistant” glass on the lens but you should still be on the lookout.

With a removable back, the Galaxy Note 4 has the advantage of a swappable battery, something Samsung has moved away from with the newly announced Galaxy S6. The back panel is a very thin sheet of plastic and I could see this being broken after many removal and installation cycles but I think the clips on the sides would be the first to go. Inside the device you’ll find the 3220 mAh (12.4 Whr) battery and replacements are available on for $38 (including charging base). Batteries by themselves sell for just $15 giving users of the Note 4 the capability to extend their use time away from a wall outlet very substantially. Still, the percentage of consumers that are willing to carry around extra batteries is likely pretty small compared to the total user base.

Both the MicroSD slot and the SIM card slot are also accessible under the back plate though the SIM card has to have the battery remove or install it. A minor annoyance really.

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