If you don't mind the premium price, the Galaxy Note 5 is the best work phone there is. With a roomy 5.7-inch display, long battery life, blazing-fast multitasking and Samsung's trademark S Pen stylus, the Note 5 is a smartphone that really can make you more productive. So is there any reason for workers to consider a different phablet?
The Note 5 is a stunning smartphone, but it's worth noting that Samsung had to remove some of the functionality of last year's model to make this model so sleek. While earlier iterations let you remove the back and swap out the battery, the new Note 5 has a sealed back. Most users won't miss the phone's removable battery, though, considering that it already offers excellent battery life.
And while good looks won't necessarily help workers do their job, they should still appreciate the Note 5's striking design. The phone's metal frame makes it very sturdy, and although the new glass back looks fragile, Samsung says it's made from tough, scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. Still, some accident-prone workers might want to check out a more durable model, like the Galaxy S6 Active.
The Note 5 has a noticeably smaller footprint compared to the Note 4, thanks to a thinner bezel around the display. And at 6 ounces, it's also lighter than its 6.2-ounce predecessor. It still feels pretty hefty compared to smaller smartphones, though; the 5.1-inch Galaxy S6, for instance, weighs 4.9 ounces.
The Note 5 comes in three colors: sapphire black, white and gold. The black model actually has a dark-bluish tint when it catches the light, while the gold model has a more subdued color than what you get with the gold iPhone 6s Plus.
If I have one major complaint about the Note 5's design, it's the placement of the speaker on the phone's bottom edge. That's right where I tend to wrest my pinky finger while I'm cradling the device, making it easy to accidentally block the speaker. That can be pretty annoying if you want to carry your device around while talking on speakerphone, or simply listening to audio.
Smartphone screens do get a little bit bigger than this, but not much. The Galaxy Note 5 sports a huge 5.7-inch display that gives you tons of room to work. Everyday work tasks, like managing your email inbox, are more comfortable on such a big display, and screen-intensive tasks, like viewing large documents and spreadsheets, feel even better.
The trade-off, of course, is that the 5.7-inch display can feel a bit unwieldy. When I cradled the Note 5 in one hand, it was a real stretch to try to reach the top of the display with my thumb. That could be a problem for users with small hands, but the utility of the big screen outweighs those relatively small usability concerns.
In comparison, the iPhone 6s Plus has a smaller 5.5-inch display, but it also has a larger bezel around the screen, making one-handed use similarly difficult. Likewise, the Google Nexus 6Pis larger than the Note 5, and it has a 5.7-inch display.
Samsung did include a handy feature that makes one-handed navigation on the Note 5 easier. Triple-pressing the home button causes the active portion of the display to shrink down, letting you easily reach the top of the screen with your thumb. From there, you can easily revert the screen to its normal dimensions with one tap.
Size aside, the Note 5's screen is absolutely gorgeous. The super-high-res panel has a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels, so text looks extremely crisp. You also get richer, more vibrant colors than you'll find on competing phones.
The Note 5's signature feature is the S Pen stylus, which turns your phone into a digital notepad. Though it's possible to buy a simple capacitive stylus that will work with any smartphone, the Note line is still the only one that includes a digitizer stylus with pressure sensitivity. Phones like the iPhone 6s Plus and the Google Nexus 6P lack active-stylus support altogether.
Pressure sensitivity is extremely important for making writing on a digital screen feel natural, letting you vary the weight of your line and feather your strokes, just as you would with a normal pen. Samsung says the latest iteration of the S Pen can detect about twice as many levels of pressure, and I believe it; jotting down notes on the Note 5's display felt buttery smooth.
The stylus is now spring-loaded inside its slot on the phone's bottom edge, so it pops out easily after you press on it. As usual, pulling out the stylus launches the Air Command menu, which provides handy shortcuts to a variety of useful note-taking apps. You can also summon the Air Command options by pressing the button on the side of the pen.
You don't even have to power your Note 5's screen on to start writing; you can jot down a quick note on your phone's blank, black screen (the text shows up in white) and then seamlessly send it to your notes app with one tap.
The stylus can come in handy even if you're not interested in writing out anything by hand. For example, I liked using it during light document editing, since it gave me more precision for selecting text than I would have had with my finger.
What good is a big display if you don't have the tools to really take advantage of it? The Note 5 comes with multiwindow support, so you can view two apps at once in a split-screen view — a feature that's glaringly absent from many other phablets.
Launching side-by-side apps is easy; just tap and hold the multitasking button (located to the left of the home button); then select two apps from the menu. From there, you can resize the apps and turn your phone to view them stacked in portrait mode, or side-by-side in landscape mode. Split-screen multitasking isn't as useful on a smartphone as it would be on a large tablet, but I still think it's really useful for specific tasks, like referencing a Web page or using the calculator while drafting an email.
By contrast, the Nexus 6P and iPhone 6s Plus do not have multiwindow support.
The Note 5 also lets you multitask on your desktop computer while keeping up with alerts and messages on your phone, by installing Samsung's SideSync app on both devices. The app pulls phone calls, alerts and messages from your phone, and lets you take them right on your desktop. It works very well when both devices are connected to the same network, or linked via USB, and it's available for both PCs and Mac computers.
The Note 5 is blazing fast, outperforming just about all challengers. Apps open and close in the blink of an eye, and multitasking felt really snappy as I flipped between my Web browser, spreadsheet editor and various social media apps. The device gets its speed from Samsung's octa-core Exynos processor and 4GB of RAM.
That hardware helped the Note 5 crank out a killer score of 5,053 on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. That beats the iPhone 6s Plus (4,385), the Nexus 6P (4,289) and the LG G4 (3,493).
With battery life this long, who needs a replaceable battery? The Note 5 ran for 9 hours and 35 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's nearly an hour longer than the Note 4 (8:42). The iPhone 6s Plus ran even longer, though, enduring for nearly 10 hours. Still, workers can rest assured that the Note 5 will easily last through the end of the workday.
And if you do need to recharge your battery before leaving the office, the Note 5's fast charging capabilities will come in handy. The phone can get up to 30 percent extra juice in just 15 minutes, which is nice if you need to top it off during a short layover at the airport.
The Note 5 runs on TouchWiz, a tweaked version of the Android operating system developed by Samsung. While TouchWiz used to be bloated and packed with useless extras, Samsung has streamlined the software to make it more user-friendly while retaining its best features. For example, I really like the customizable quick-settings menu that sits at the top of the notifications drawer, as well as the S Finder utility that lets you search through your phone's setting using keywords. Other standout features, like multiwindow multitasking and stylus integration, have already been touched on in this review.
Samsung had a light touch when selecting preloaded productivity apps for the Note 5. You get a handful of note-taking applications, and both Google Drive and OneDrive to keep your files and documents backed up to the cloud, but not much else.
The Note 5 is one of the most secure smartphones on the market. The device comes with a fingerprint scanner embedded in the home button, which is quite reliable but not perfect; the sensor often failed to register my thumbprint on the first attempt, though that was usually due to the way I was holding my thumb. After re-registering my print, I saw some improvement. You can register up to four fingers in the Note 5's Options menu.
The other big security feature comes in the form of Samsung's My Knox software, which can be activated when you set up your Note 5 the first time. The Knox suite is more often implemented in an enterprise environment, but individual workers can use My Knox to keep their work files and data securely separated from their personal apps.
Samsung sells the Note 5 in a couple of different configurations, depending on how much internal storage you want. The baseline model comes with 32GB of storage for $696, while the pricier 64GB model starts at $792. Of course, most major carriers will also let you pay off the phone in monthly installments, or will sell it to you at a lower, subsidized price, with a more expensive monthly data plan attached.
You'll want to choose your model carefully, as the Note 5 lacks an SD card slot. In other words, the storage space you start out with is all you're going to get.
Business phones don't really get much better than this. The Note 5 has it all, including zippy multitasking, long battery life and a huge display that gives you tons of room to work. And the stylus implementation is top-notch, making it easier than ever to jot down a few quick notes and then get back to work.
That's not to say there aren't some other excellent options for workers who want a big-screen smartphone. Apple's iPhone 6s Plus is a great phablet with fast performance and even longer battery life than the Note 5, and Google's Nexus 6P is better if you want to be sure you always have the latest updates to the Android operating system. But workers who want the best overall business companion on the market should opt for the Note 5.