Software and Performance
Samsung hasn’t markedly changed its TouchWiz interface on the Note 5 when compared to the latest update on the Note 4, and the differences are even more subtle compared to the Galaxy S6. Outside of very small changes to the launcher, the only notable interface design movement is new iconography, where all of the stock icons are now rounded-off squares with more colorful and flat looks. That also comes into play with app folders, which are the same size and shape as the new app icons.
This is still TouchWiz, but it’s quick, smooth and clean.
Samsung did a good job trimming back unnecessary features and cruft from its interface starting with the Galaxy S6, and I’m glad that’s generally still the case here as well. I’d still like to see even more movement toward putting most (if not all) of Samsung’s apps into the Play Store — heck, or even the Galaxy Apps store — for later downloading rather than baking them into the system, but what we have now is miles ahead of what we saw back in the KitKat days from Samsung.
As for “bloatware” beyond Samsung’s apps, that’ll depend on your carrier — our unlocked model had Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Microsoft’s OneDrive pre-installed, which I’m not a big fan of. At least you can disable these apps and not use them if you wish, and they aren’t taking up too much space. . More interesting, though, is that we’ve found that a number of the Google apps we’re used to seeing preloaded on every Android smartphone have been relegated to the Google Play Store as optional downloads. (Most notably, Google+.) That’s a good thing for users, actually. The Galaxy Note series has always been about doing more with the big screen, but Samsung hasn’t ever really made use of the extra real estate. Things were just bigger. In a rather big change for the line, the Note 5 has a higher display density (as in you’re getting more virtual dots on the screen) than the Note 4, actually matching the density of the Galaxy S6, but on this larger display. It’s not the easiest thing to explain, but it translates to items on the screen being physically the same size as the Galaxy S6, meaning you can fit more of everything on the screen. The Gmail inbox list shows a couple more messages, Google Maps shows less interface and more map, and the browser shows more content and less navigation chrome. Higher density simply gets more on the screen, and that’s a good thing. The higher density will take some getting used to if you’ve used a Note 3 or 4, but in the end it’s a far better use of the big screen than just making everything bigger. Aside from a couple quirks with apps that just aren’t expecting that much density on a 5.7-inch screen, I adjusted to it quickly — and now if I pick up a Note 4 everything looks huge to my eyes. Unfortunately if you’re looking for a larger-screened phone to make it easier to see with bad eyesight, this isn’t the one for you — you can increase the font size in the settings, but that’s about it. You may want to consider a different large-screened phone with a lower density. Of course making the larger screen work for you is one part of the equation — the other is shaping the software so it can work even when you’re using the phone in one hand. Samsung has two different one-handed modes baked into the software, one of which shrinks the screen down to about half size (scaled properly) with three quick presses of the home button. The other permanently slides the keyboard, dial pad and a few other input elements to the left or right side of the screen. Both are partially useful, I suppose, but ended up causing more confusion than anything. For as silly as “reachability” on iOS looks, I find that system more useful than what Samsung has here.