Feb 02

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 AT&T Smartphone Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 5

Smartphones and wearables are seemingly everywhere. When it comes time to choose the right premium pair, it’s sensible to research how well they work in everyday situations. Samsung’s 5th generation phablet Note and the slightly older Gear S were my choices for testing during several grueling events and a busy travel schedule. Both the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Gear S devices are enabled with cellular technology from AT&T.

Samsung Gear S Connected Smart Wearable
Samsung Gear S Connected Smart Wearable

Disclaimer: I was sent a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 with AT&T service at no cost for review. The Gear S was sent to test without service on a short loan. I have not been compensated for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Some photos are courtesy of their respective brands.


The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Gear S wearable are two of the most popular devices from the South Korean company. Setting up any new Android smartphone is straightforward and includes a step-by-step setup wizard. It first asks the language of choice, WiFi password, Google account creation or sign-in, Samsung account creation or sign-in, AT&T account creation or sign-in and finally your name.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Smart Switch
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Smart Switch

Samsung’s Gear S wearable requires a control app to be installed on the Note 5 or compatible Android smartphone. The Galaxy Note 5 downloaded the Samsung Gear app through the app store. Together with Bluetooth enabled on both devices, they securely paired and began the step-by-step upgrade process.

Samsung Gear S Tizen Apps
Samsung Gear S Tizen Apps

My Gear S had been in a box for a while. Fortunately, the Samsung Gear app knew which version of the Tizen OS, custom made by Samsung, the Gear S had installed. To give me the best experience possible, the Gear app immediately began downloading the first system update.

Because the Note 5 had WiFi enabled, the first Tizen OS upgrade took only a few minutes to download and beam via Bluetooth to the Gear S. It completed the download and reset itself. After restarting, the smartphone found one more software update.

All of the update reboots of the smartwatch only required a few taps for approval. It was a much easier process than I initially thought it would be because the wearable was running the Tizen system. I am happy the updates went smoothly.

The Galaxy Note 5 box contains:
• Galaxy Note 5 Smartphone
• Stylus
• Wired Headphones
• Power Adapter (100-240v)
• Setup Guide
• SIM Card

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Smartphone Unboxing

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Stats:
• 5.7” 2560 x 1440 Quad HD Super AMOLED Display
• GPS, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, ANT+
• Samsung Pay
• WiFi 2.4GHz & 5GHz a/b/g/n/ac VHT80 MIMO
• USB 2.0
• 3,000 mAh Sealed Battery with Qi Fast Wireless Charging
• 16MP Back Camera With UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) OIS, Fast Motion & Slow Motion
• 5MP Front Camera
• 2.1GHz, 1.5GHz Octa-Core 64-bit Samsung Exynos 7420
• 4GB Ram
• 64GB ROM
• Android 5.1.1

The Gear S box contains:
• Gear S Smartwatch
• Curved Charging Adapter
• Power Adapter (100-240v)
• SIM Card
• Health & Safety Guide

Samsung Gear S Smart Wearable Unboxing

Samsung Gear S Smart Wearable Stats:
• Tizen OS
• 300 mAh
• Bluetooth 4.1 Profiles A2DP, AVRCP, HFP & HSP
• WiFi 2.4GHz b/g/n
• 2G GSM: GSM850 PCS1900 3G UMTS (WCDMA) B2(1900) B5(850)
• USB 2.0
• 2.0” Curved Super AMOLED Display
• Nano-SIM
• Accelerometer, Barometer, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, HR Sensor, Light Sensor

As you see in the unboxing video above, the Gear S offers a cool curved Super AMOLED screen. This is the first wearable device that I did not immediately worry about having a screen protector applied. Around the edge of the screen is a shiny chrome strip that gives it an elegant look.

Samsung Gear S Enhanced Notifications
Samsung Gear S Sensors & Notifications

It has one small physical button with sensors on each side, one is an ambient light sensor and on the other is a UV sensor. The small speaker is on the top left of the case and the microphone is on the bottom right.

Samsung Gear S Smart Wearable Back

The biggest advantage of the Gear S over the Gear S2, which is the newer wearable from Samsung, is that this version is a fully self-contained mobile device with a SIM card slot. When disconnected from a smartphone for 60 seconds, it enables its internal cellular modem. This is when things get interesting.

Samsung Gear S Texting Phone Call
Samsung Gear S Texting & Phone Calls

While the Gear S is connected via Bluetooth, it keeps its modem off saving precious battery life. Once disconnected, it enables a cellular modem and starts acting as a phone with its own number. This device will need to be activated on your AT&T account as a separate number.

Samsung Gear S Curved Screen
Samsung Gear S Curved Screen

I thought going into the wirelessly paired smartwatch and smartphone experiment would be like having a connected Android Wear device. The Tizen Gear S experience over the last few weeks has been a pleasure. Yes, the Tizen system is still gaining steam with developers for apps, but the major functions of what it needs to do, does very well.

Samsung Gear S Workout Ready
Samsung Gear S Workout Ready

I have yet to see the smartwatch crash, an app crash or stall when swiping through screens or waking it up to display the time. My Android Wear smartwatch would continually offend by stalling, crashing and sometimes forget to switch from Bluetooth to WiFi mode even after many firmware upgrades.

Wearables are only as good as the host device and while that is true most of the time, the Gear S has proven to work well all on its own. However, there are a few important functions of the wearable that only work with a paired smartphone, like the Galaxy Note 5.

The Gear S can navigate you via HERE Maps but only with the companion app on the smartphone. Want to read more about a news story from the wearable? Tap once on the “read more” button to see the full version on the smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 S Pen
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 S Pen

Business and stylus users, which Samsung calls the S Pen on the Note 5, will enjoy this phablet experience and is now one of the best yet. Sure, there are a few up and coming manufacturers, but Samsung commands the most Android users worldwide.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Multitasking
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Multitasking

Their ability to combine top end hardware with an ever improving Android skin makes it is easy to see why I and millions of others continue to upgrade to new Samsung phones. I have used and tested the Note 2, Note 3 and now the Note 5.

Last minute coding before app presentations during the 2016 AT&T Developer Summit Hackathon. ????

A photo posted by 24kMedia (@24kmedia) on

Both of the devices came at the perfect time. Right before multiple conventions, events and trips around the country. One of the first conventions I was able to use the duo of devices at was during the AT&T Developer Summit in Las Vegas. The Developer Summit also hosts the annual Hackathon in Las Vegas as well.

Following that convention, I went on a private jet trip with Gogo over Chicago to test their new in-flight satellite WiFi speeds, the LA Auto Show with the Ford Motor Company, to Dearborn to visit Ford’s World Headquarters, New Year celebrations at Disneyland in Anaheim, the AT&T Developers Summit and Hackathon, CES in Las Vegas and most recently, the North American International Auto Show 2016 in Detroit.

SEMA was a good test of the business and note taking functionality of the Note 5, but the real test of its wireless capabilities came while on the trip to see Gogo in Chicago. Taking a self-guided tour of the sights via Uber proved somewhat difficult for the drivers, as their TomTom GPS units were not showing correct navigation info.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 with Samsung Pay
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 with Samsung Pay

Fortunately, my Galaxy Note 5 was able to navigate me from my hotel, to Millennium Park, Cloud Gate (The Bean), Gogo’s office, the John Hancock Center tower and Willis Tower (Sears Tower).

Gogo had an after event nearly twenty blocks away from my hotel and Uber happened to be charging a surge fee when I left. So I utilized the Google Maps walking directions to see the city at night, take a few photos of the Chicago River and then I made my way back to the hotel.

I was wearing a different device on my wrist during my Chicago trip and it prompted me to turn left or right via pop up notices. My Gear S showed up during the AT&T Developer Summit.

The Note 5’s 16-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization worked extremely well in still photo mode and video mode. During my multitude of events last year, I collected over 100 business cards, which I scanned in via the camera and took thousands of photos.

Backing up photos and videos from the Note 5 is important, as it does not have a removable memory card. Samsung decided for this model and others that were released last year, batteries would be sealed and memory card slots would be removed.

This puts a damper on taking hours of videos and then saving them to a spacious memory card. Cloud backup services provided by Flickr, Microsoft and Google for photos work well but can eat up a limited data plan quickly.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Qi Fast Wireless Charging
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Qi Fast Wireless Charging

Adding glass to the front and back are nice to look at on the Note 5, though it can be a problem for when the device gets dropped. I would like a metal back or a rubberized material like the Droid Turbo has. So be sure to get a sturdy case and a glass screen protector. UAG makes a blue magma case for the Note 5 and Patchworks, also a South Korean company, makes a glass screen protector. I have found glass protectors to keep the best touch sensitivity.

Samsung has released the second generation Gear S2 wearable, however that version does not have the option to run as a wrist mounted speakerphone sans a connected smartphone. The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Gear S smart wearable certainly mobilized my world and could easily do the same for you.

Horseshoe Bend Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Gear S
Horseshoe Bend Arizona with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 & Gear S

Final Thoughts

Samsung’s phablet sized smartphones and wearables continue to impress with the right mix of Android and Tizen systems. Apps for the latter will continue to roll out as more people switch from Android Wear.

The Note 5 is just the right form factor with a flat screen and curved back glass, essentially the S6 Edge+ but in reverse. Which makes sense, as the S Pen stylus works best on a flat screen. It made taking notes at events and conventions super easy without having to separately turn on the screen.

Samsung’s Tizen has a few years of development so far and works surprisingly well with the standard Android system. I am looking forward to future smartphones from Samsung possibly use it as their main OS. Competition in the Android space from the world’s largest maker of phones will surely be good for everyone looking for an alternative from iOS too.

Rating: 4.5/5 For both devices. There is some room for improvement but not much.

Price: $28.00 per month on AT&T Next – For the Samsung Galaxy Note 5
Price: $199 (service extra) – For the Samsung Gear S


  • Fast, easy setup
  • Usable GPS in cities with tall buildings
  • Great 4G LTE AT&T Service and Speed
  • Connected Gear S wearable can make and take calls sans smartphone

  • The Gear S2 should have been upgraded to a newer version with cellular capabilities
  • No removable battery
  • No micro SD memory card slot

2 Responses to “Samsung's Galaxy Note 5 & Gear S Smart Wearable Mobilized My World”

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