Samsung's latest Galaxy Note is the best smartphone I've ever used

Samsung galaxy note 5 with stylusAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech InsiderThe Galaxy Note 5 comes with a stylus.

The Galaxy Note 5 is one of Samsung’s best smartphones ever.

The new glass back and aluminium borders exude a premium look and feel, which is a far cry from the plastic back with fake leather textures that early Note phones had.

And the pearly dark blue model I tested shines a lighter shade of pearly blue under direct light. It’s stunning.

It’s not just about the design, either. Samsung improved every aspect of the phone from the screen to the fingerprint sensor to the stylus, making the Note 5 an overall incredible device.

The Note 5 goes on sale August 21. It starts at $US740 for the 32GB model, and all the major wireless carriers offer various payment plans or other deals.

Pretty and powerful

While the Note 5 sports a large, incredibly sharp 5.7-inch screen, the phone itself doesn’t feel as large as its predecessors, and it even has a smaller footprint than the iPhone 6 Plus, which has a smaller 5.5-inch screen. Although such a sharp screen is pretty taxing on the battery, it still lasted me all day.

The bezels on either side of the screen are one of the narrowest I’ve seen on a smartphone, and those above and below the screen are pretty slim, too.

Samsung galaxy note 5 backAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech InsiderThe phone has a beautiful design.

The new curved back adds a surprising amount of comfort while holding the Note 5, and they let me reach around the larger-than-average screen with my thumbs more easily, too. It also gave me more grip than an angled edge normally would, which meant I could handle it with more confidence that I wouldn’t drop it.

When it comes to performance, the Note 5 effortlessly glided through my paces, handling everything I threw at it like a champ. Samsung started using its own brand of processors in the Galaxy S6, which resulted in some questionable performance at times. But Samsung seems to have perfected them for the Note 5.

It also helps that the Note 5 carries 4 GB of RAM, which is the short term memory that lets it store apps in its proverbial front-pocket for quicker and easier access. Not many phones can boast that much RAM.

The 16-megapixel camera takes pictures with slightly over-vibrant colours, but images are extremely sharp and detailed. It’s one of the best smartphone cameras available. The fingerprint scanner is also quicker and more accurate than the iPhone 6 Plus.

Samsung galaxy note 5 pictureAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech InsiderThis photo was taken with the Galaxy Note 5.

A few tradeoffs

But with beauty and power come a few compromises.

One of the advantages of plastic backs is that they’re easily removable, which lets die-hard Galaxy Note fans exchange their phone’s battery when it dies or add extra storage with a microSD card. If you’re part of that club, you’ll just have to charge your Note 5 whenever you can like everyone else. And if you have a lot stuff like music and pictures, you can store it through an online service or opt for the pricier 64GB model, which costs $US840.

And then there’s the glass. Unfortunately, the Note 5 is an absolute fingerprint magnet and it will quickly look blotchy and dirty after just a few minutes of handling, so you’ll need to wipe it often during the day to keep its glorious sheen. But if that’s too much to ask, the white model won’t show fingerprints nearly as much.

Samsung’s layer of software that runs over Android, called TouchWiz, is as minimal as it’s ever been, which is a good thing. But Samsung confusingly insists on doing things like renaming the calendar app to something like “S Planner.” It’s a bizarre choice, especially since the phone already comes loaded with great standard apps from Google.

I haven’t had the express need to use the Note 5’s stylus and its accompanying features, like Action Memo, Smart Select, Screen Write, and S Note, but Galaxy Note fans will be happy that they’re there. The stylus is more accurate and easier to use.

Samsung galaxy note 5Antonio Villas-Boas/Tech InsiderThe Note 5’s Air Command menu, which you activate by pressing the button on the stylus.

However, Samsung has included some new stylus-based features that could make a stylus-user out of me. You can now remove the stylus and jot down notes without unlocking the phone, which is incredibly handy for quick note-taking. There’s also a PDF signing feature that lets you easily sign a PDF with the stylus without having to do anything but open the file on your phone.

Samsung galaxy note 5Antonio Villas-Boas/Tech InsiderI wrote this note without unlocking the phone.

The price problem

Your excitement about the Note 5 could come to a screeching halt when you discover its price tag. At $US740 for the 32GB model, it might seem like a better deal than the $US749 16GB iPhone 6 Plus.

However, when it comes to Android phones, the Galaxy Note 5 is going to be a tough sell now that a couple other flagship Android phones are selling for half as much. For example, Chinese startup OnePlus just came out with the OnePlus 2, which you can buy for under $US400 for the 64 GB model, and it has a similar screen size and excellent specs. And Motorola recently announced the Moto X Style, which has the same screen size as the Note 5 and also comes with premium specs and design for $US400.

Samsung galaxy note 5 vs iphone 6 plusAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech InsiderDespite having a larger screen, the Note 5 is a little smaller than the iPhone 6 Plus.

It could be tough for customers to stomach the Note 5’s price now that carriers are beginning to ditch contracts and therefore subsidized pricing for phones. But you were always paying the full amount of your phones, even when you bought a “subsidized phone.”

But you’re getting a lot of phone for a price tag that’s not too far off from the usual $US650 price tag of premium flagship devices. And if you want the best of the best, it might be worth spending the extra cash. The Galaxy Note 5 is the best smartphone I’ve used, and you won’t feel like your money has gone to waste.

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