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Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 with the Exynos 5433 processor

A Korean import gives us a look at ARM's latest tech

After our look at the iPhone 6 Plus, the next logical step was to spend some time with its toughest competitor, Samsung's Galaxy Note 4. Happily, we've managed to do so—but that's not the whole story. The version of the Note 4 that we've been poking at in Damage Labs is something special.

Most of the world gets a variant of the Note 4 based on the familiar Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 system-on-a-chip (SoC), a fine chip that's getting a little long in the tooth. In Samsung's home country of Korea, though, the firm ships a different variant of the Note 4 based on Exynos 5433 SoC from Samsung's System LSI. This brand-spanking-new SoC is manufactured using the latest 20-nm HKMG fabrication process from Samsung's chip-making operation, and it's a showcase for the newest CPU and graphics technology from ARM. With eight 64-bit CPU cores and a 64-bit Mali-T760 GPU, the Exynos 5433 could make this version the fastest and most capable Note 4—and it gives us some quality time with the Cortex-A53 and A57 CPU cores that will likely dominate the Android market in 2015.

Wrapped around this intriguing SoC is an astounding, premium phone-tablet hybrid that goes toe to toe with the iPhone 6 Plus. It includes one of the best displays we've ever seen—anywhere. Naturally, we've spent some time looking at most aspects of the Note 4.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Model SM-N910K
SoC Samsung Exynos 5433
Display size & resolution 5.7" 2560x1440
Flash storage capacity 32GB
Primary camera resolution 16 megapixels (5312x2988)
Cellular 2G GSM, 3G UMTS, 4G LTE
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2.4GHz + 5GHz
Other connectivity Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, MHL, ANT+
Battery 3220 mAh replaceable
Operating system Android 4.4.4 with TouchWiz UI

That said, you can't buy this model of the Note 4 on these shores, so I won't claim this is a complete product review. For instance, I couldn't muddle through the menus for all of the features, some of which seem to rely on software supplied by Korean carrier Olleh. They don't switch to English text when the rest of the phone does. All indications are that this version of the Note 4 is essentially the same hardware as the Qualcomm-based version wrapped around a different motherboard. Still, some features won't carry over. For example, I don't believe this version of the phone supports quick-charge battery tech, which is a Qualcomm exclusive.

We'll look at this version of Note 4 closely, but keep in mind that you may not get the same experience out of the variant of the Note 4 sold in North America.

Design and build quality
Samsung has built the Note 4 with premium everything, from the Corning Gorilla Glass on the device's front to the metal chassis and high-grade textured plastic on its back. The in-hand feel is excellent, and all of the buttons are well-placed, with solid, clicky feedback when pressed.

Yeah, I need lotion

Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Height x Width x Depth 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5 mm
Weight 6.21 oz/176 g
I/O ports microUSB connector, 3.5mm headphone
Expansion microSD slot, battery bay, Micro-SIM slot
Other Fingerprint sensor, stylus
Available colors Charcoal black, frost white,
bronze gold, blossom pink

This is, of course, a Really Large Phone. Heck, it's four grams heavier and a couple of millimeters thicker than the ridiculously large iPhone 6 Plus, with a slightly larger 5.7" display. The one dimension in which the Note 4 is smaller is important: vertically, where the 6 Plus is a handful of millimeters taller. Neither phone is gonna fit easily into every front pocket, though.

The Note 4 knows one trick that will confound the competition. Slide a fingernail into a small slit on the device's back cover, run it around the perimeter of the device, and the entire plastic back of the phone pops off with relative ease. Doing so reveals a swappable battery, the Note 4's Micro-SIM slot, and a microSD slot that can host up to 128GB of additional flash storage. This sort of flexibility is appealing, but I'd rather not have to pull off the back to swap batteries on a daily basis. The process is a little too tedious, and the plastic rear panel feels a little too fragile for everyday access.

The Note 4's home button houses a fingerprint reader for biometric user authentication. Unlike Apple's Touch ID sensor, though, this one requires a swipe of your digit across the surface of the button. I set it up with my thumbprint and found out that I'm evidently a clumsy swiper. I'd usually have to swipe several times in order to login successfully. I can't imagine using the fingerprint reader in place of a numeric PIN or Android's trace-a-pattern unlock mechanism in everyday use. Those other methods just seem quicker.

Combined with the Note 4's NFC capability, the fingerprint reader should be capable of supporting payment systems like Google Wallet. I think you'd want to practice your swipe technique before uncorking a payment attempt in line at Target, though.

Notice the stylus peeking out of its cradle there, as well. Pen-based input has always been one of the Note 4's calling cards. I'll admit I didn't spend much time with pen input on this version of the Note, in part because I couldn't read some of the Korean-language software prompts. I'm intrigued by pen input, though, and wish I had something similar to use for taking notes at trade shows.