Galaxy Note 4 is one of the best smartphones in 2014. There are still no no real rivals for the unique and promising S Pen (stylus) in the smartphone market. iPhone 6 Plus can only compete in size and bulkiness.
However, after using Galaxy Note 4 a few days, I realized several obvious Galaxy Note 4 defects. Most of them actually should have not been presented in such a successful product of its 4th generation.
These defects reflect the confusion and lack of confidence in the positioning of Galaxy Note devices.
Galaxy Note 4 Defect #1: downgrading the support from USB 3.0 to USB 2.0
Samsung showed its leading position in Android market by introducing USB 3.o support in Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy S5.
USB 3.0 is not a new technology. You can find the blue USB ports in most PC and laptops today. Most of external drives are also using USB 3.0.
USB 3.0 provides not only faster file transfer speed (theoretically 5 Gbit/s compared to 480Mbit/s for USB 2.0), but also the stability. Although most devices cannot reach the theoretical transfer rate, the file transfer is always faster with USB 3.0 than that with USB 2.0.
Another issue many smartphone users may experience is the “not responding” message when you try to transfer a large quantity of photos from your phone to the PC through a USB cable. With USB 3.0, this should seldom happen.
Galaxy Note 3 probably is the first Android phone with USB 3.0 support. File transfer with PC is really fast if you choose USB 3.0 option.
Galaxy S5 also supports USB 3.0. But interestingly, in the package, Samsung gives a USB 2.0 cable. As USB 3.0 is backward compatible with USB 2.0, you can use the USB 2.0 cable (utilizing the larger half of the USB 3.0 port) on Galaxy S5 to enjoy USB 2.0. Of course, if you want to get the benefits of USB 3.o, you have to get a USB 3.0 cable.
This puzzled a lot of people. However, the reason is very simple: to save cost. USB 3.0 cable probably will cost Samsung $0.25-$0.6 more. 100 million Galaxy S5 means about 25-60 million dollars more profit.
In Galaxy Note 4, USB 3.0 support is totally removed. Return back to USB 2.0. This probably saves Samsung a few dollars each device (cable, connector, chips and other materials).
Business is about making profit. But if Samsung tries to save cost with such older (still usable) technology, it seems Samsung has a wrong positioning of Galaxy Note devices.
Galaxy Note device is not just a bigger Galaxy S device with a tail. It should reflect Samsung’s ambition of making the best smartphones with cutting-edge technologies.
Although some may argue USB 2.0 is still universal and the cable can be easily found, USB 3.0 is backward compatible with USB 2.0. The USB 2.0 cable can always be used when you cannot find an USB 3.0 cable.
Galaxy Note 4 Defect #2: faux leather and metal frame, no customization options
Samsung understands the importance of the exterior (who don’t?). Galaxy Note 4 uses metal frame and faux leather (just another name of plastic).
Does metal frame make Galaxy Note 4 premium? Probably, yes for some people.
Does faux leather make Galaxy Note 4 premium? Probably, no for most owners. If premium is the objective, why not genuine leather as in Moto X?
However, the soft touch faux leather does provide better grasp than metal or the dimpled plastic.
So, Samsung is trying to make Galaxy Note 4 premium. But they want to cut corners, instead of making it really premium.
At least Motorola successfully makes genuine leather for Moto X 2nd generation. There should be no technical problems for Samsung (with own big manufacturing operations) to offer genuine leather for Galaxy Note 4, instead of the “Faux leather”.
Saving cost probably is one major concern.
Another deeper problem is that today’s smartphone users are not just looking for “premium”. Some are looking for customization.
What Samsung offers for Galaxy Note 4 is black or white colors. Surely, a few other colors including gold will come soon when the initial sales momentum diffuses away.
Samsung tries hard to maintain the leading position by offering conventional stuffs, instead of creating a new market.
Among all Android vendors, Samsung is in the best position of experimenting innovative stuffs to strengthen their leading role: Galaxy S series for the mass market; Galaxy Note series for tech enthusiasts and niche market.
But the unexpected success of Galaxy Note series apparently makes Samsung confused on the positioning of Galaxy Note phones. It becomes an intermediate products between two generations of Galaxy S.
Bigger screen and the tail (S Pen) become the only differentiators.
Galaxy Note 4 Defect #3: no water resistance
I am not talking about the Gapgate, which is inherent of the design. Samsung is probably correct: it is not a manufacturing defect.
But it is a design defect.
The bigger issue for the design of Galaxy Note 4 is the lack of water resistance.
Although there are some complaints on water resistance in Galaxy S5, it will gradually become an expected feature for high-end smartphones.
One acceptable excuse is the presence of S Pen. But, I don’t think there are no feasible solutions. The S Pen itself can be designed to seal the S Pen holder.
Galaxy Note 4 Defect #4: rear-facing speaker
Rear -facing speaker is still very common in smartphones.
But it is the comprise of the old designs. It is probably the worst design when sound quality (not loudness) is concerned.
Galaxy Note 3 moved the speaker to the bottom. At least it is a better location than in the back.
Now in Galaxy Note 4, the design went back to the stone age: the similar location as that of its grand-grandfather-Galaxy Note 1. The quality of the the speaker is apparently not so good either.
An acceptable excuse is space limitation. But the real problem is design.
Galaxy Note 4 Defect #5: TouchWiz is still bloated
One of the advantages of Android is that all vendors can customize it. Gradually, however, this becomes the disadvantage: inconsistent user experience, resource hogging and slow update.
In Galaxy Note 4, the Samsung TouchWiz looks still unwieldy. Some cosmetic makeover and latest hardware does alleviated this issue to certain extent.
Apparently, a deep optimization is desperately needed for TouchWiz. Relying on top-notch hardware, instead of optimizing and polishing the code, is not the correct approach for an industry leader.
If you check the storage, you will find the Galaxy Note 4 requires 7.3-7.6GB for the system (without carriers’s bloatware) . This is higher than almost all other Android phones. S Pen feature may require additional space, but it should not need that much. The reinvented wheels should be removed.
Galaxy Note 4 is a great smartphone. But Samsung is apparently losing momentum of embracing cutting edge technologies in Galaxy Note phones. This will send Galaxy Note series into a vicious cycle: cutting corners -> less competitive -> cutting corners further, if Samsung fails to re-position Galaxy Note phones and to differentiate Galaxy S and Galaxy Note devices.