The Good The 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a brilliant high-resolution screen and takes excellent outdoor shots on its 16-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization. Using the stylus is more convenient, and the battery charges very quickly.
The Bad Low light and indoor shots aren't as good as they should be. The Note 4 costs significantly more than some other phablets, like the LG G3. The Bottom Line The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 will thrill anyone who loves a fast phone with a large screen, but it's best for compulsive scribblers willing to pay a lot for its winning stylus.
To stylus or not to stylus, that is the question.
The Note 4's specs also earn outstanding marks across the board, including its eye-poppingly vibrant display and a mostly-excellent 16-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization. Rapid LTE data speeds and a robust processor join a host of other specs and features that easily make the metal-rimmed, Android-powered Note 4 easily equal to other top-rated handsets -- and often better. The phone's drawbacks, though present, are minor and few.
As someone who enjoys the physical act of writing, I love the Note 4's stylus skills. However, if the act of putting digital pen to paper baffles you, skip this handset in favor of other big-screen phones that potentially cost less and perform core tasks just as well. This year's Galaxy Note makes only incremental improvements over last year's runaway Note 3, and if you don't use the S-Pen heavily, the Note "phablet" costs too much compared to competing large-screen phones like the LG G3.
Design and build: Metal over plastic
Achieving the zenith of premium design has long eluded Samsung, whose polycarbonate handsets are usually attractive if not drool-worthy. Earlier this year, Samsung broke the all-plastic mold with its metal-rimmed Galaxy Alpha, a move repeated on the Note 4. Silver accents around the rim and buttons look sharp on both the white and black versions we saw; they should class up the gold and pink tones as well.
So how does it all look? Very good, and a lot better than pretty much every other Samsung phone you can buy, except perhaps for the Alpha. The backing is slightly more textured (and thankfully free of last year's cheesy, chintzy faux stitching). The straight sides are comfortable to grasp and easy to hold onto. You can easily find physical buttons with your fingertips.
Despite the improvements, though, the Note 4 still falls short of the LG G3 and HTC One M8's luxe metal contouring and finishes, and the Sony Xperia Z3's modern edges. Metal also structures the iPhone 6 Plus, which maintains a more seamless build quality than the Note 4 (although you can't remove the iPhone's backplate.)
After spending several months using the phone, I found that it holds up well to daily wear and tear.
Size and portability
There's big and then there's big, and the definition seems to swell by the day. You'll find the Note 4's exact dimensions and weight in the chart below, but what I think you really want to know is what it's like to hold and carry around, especially compared to other supersize phones.
Size-wise, it's a hair taller and thicker than the Note 3 and almost identical to the iPhone 6 Plus. The LG G3 feels much more compact by comparison, even though its screen size is just 0.2-inch smaller.
As a relatively short person with smaller hands, the Note 4 technically squeezes into my back pocket, though it looks comical sticking out of it. The same scenario goes for its palm-stretching effects: I find one-handed use pretty much pointless and almost impossible, even with Samsung's software modes turned on. However, several CNET editors with larger mitts and pockets didn't have much trouble with the Note 4's size, commenting on how nice it feels to grip.