Touchwiz and S Pen

While the world of iOS is very structured and static thanks to the single vendor solution, Android suffers from the problem of variance. Companies like Samsung, LG and Motorola will often take the reference Android operating system experience and modify it with additional applications and capability in an attempt to differentiate from many other Android smartphones on the market. Samsung's iteration of this is called TouchWiz and has been around since the beginning days of Android, shifting and evolving as user needs have. These non-native OS modifications get a negative reputation nearly across the board, sometimes warranted and sometimes not.

For consumers that have used a Nexus device, one of the few fully native Android smartphones on the market, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 will look very different from day one. The first impression that I got come from the Motorola Droid Turbo was the feeling space between icons and widgets – really too much space. The distance between the Email and Camera icon in the screenshot below is just too large, forcing only 4 icons on each row (with only four total rows that can be modified).

Out of the box you'll also find some widgets and applications pre-installed that are likely to be used by every Galaxy Note 4 buyer. On the four front screens that you will get on the unlocked version of the Note 4, Samsung has added Flipboard, a weather app that takes up half of the home screen, Cigna powered health tracking, a link to Galaxy Essentials (apps) and Galaxy Gifts (whatever that is). You might be the rare exception that finds those types of things interesting but I'm guessing that if you are reading this here, you might not.

But there are some good things that Samsung included, such as an application "My Files" to help you juggle your applications, downloaded files and embedded images. Not often does a vendor give you access to the native structure of a smartphone. S Voice is the Samsung version of Google Now's voice control and communication with your phone. It works fairly well though again, I think most users will go for the Google-built options. If you happen to have a Samsung HDTV then you can use the Smart Remote functionality.

The most unique user experience on the Note 4 is of course the S Pen, a Wacom-based digitizer and pen input device. Sliding out from the bottom right of the unit, Samsung includes note taking, split screen computing and even digital scrapbooking programs that utilize the pen technology.

I admit that I was less than enthused about using the Note 4's S Pen but quickly found reason to take advantage of the handwriting capability. While out for work I was able to take photos of demos being run in conference rooms and then jot notes on the page to remind myself what the configuration was, anything the speaker mentioned, etc. Using Microsoft OneNote (a free program now) I was able to manage my testing notes and results when I would normally have to use something like a Surface Pro. The screen on the Note 4 isn't big enough that I would want to make it my primary work space, but adding new information when a laptop isn't handy is great.

As for the pen itself, it was responsive and accurate, performing much better than even the NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet. The SHIELD Tablet uses a passive stylus, though a better implementation of one than we have ever seen before. The Galaxy Note 4's active stylus allows the tracking to be more accurate, more precise and still offer pressure based results (thicker pen lines when you push down harder).

The character recognition of the S Pen software is good, but not great. Often times I wasn't able to convert even a written phone number into the correct collection of digits to dial out. Maybe my hand writing is just worse than most, but I just wasn't able to make the conversion of hand written text to machine text work ideally.

It's also worth noting that the 5.7-in screen is great for viewing media but suffers when it comes to writing space. It's just not a lot of real estate for drawing or writing in any typical hand writing size. Also, even the act of putting pressure on the phone while holding it in one hand, while putting pressure on it while writing with the other, is not very comfortable. You'll get the best experience bracing the phone against a desk or a leg or maybe an intern's back. Just saying.

The split screen functionality became very useful during my time with it too. Being able to read email while watching a YouTube video or referencing on of my previous reviews before sending out an SMS reply to a contact can be empowering when used on a screen this size.

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 phone is fast and responsive, both in taking pictures and navigating around the device. I realize that some are going to be turned off by the continued integration of TouchWiz, but I think that it's easy to get past and to access the positive experience the phone provides.

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