Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
When I first heard about the Samsung Galaxy Note, I found the idea intriguing. Here was a jumbo-sized smartphone with all the benefits of dual-core processors, an eight-megapixel camera capable of 1080p HD video recording with the added convenience of a large, vivid screen.
The Galaxy Note also works on the latest LTE (Long Term Evolution) for data and is coming to Canada on February 14 through Rogers, Bell and TELUS. The problem we see with being a device that's lodged between the portability of a smartphone and the screen size and functionality of a tablet, is that it can't be expected to be better than those two devices at anything.
So, the Samsung Galaxy Note has had to invent its own areas of expertise and hope that some consumers would see it and say to themselves, "hey, that's just what I need."
It features a precise S-Pen stylus which, while currently limited to a smattering of apps from Samsung, is being idealized as an artist’s and note-takers tool, a virtual notepad....that costs $700.
I was quite impressed with my initial hands on of the Galaxy Note at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show although Samsung kept on about the stylus and its accuracy and capabilities, I soon realized there was far more to this thing than a digital pen.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a tablet with a stylus. This idea goes way back to the TabletPCs, the PDA’s, UMPCs and more recently products like the HTC Flyer with its overpriced $85 stylus.
The ultra-large screen Android smartphone has also been done before, by Dell with the 5-inch Streak, a product that wasn’t very well received, which prompted Dell to pull it and the 7-inch variant out of the market.
So, what makes the Galaxy Note any better?
It is powerful, for one thing. A dual-core 1.5 GHz processor coupled with a generous 1GB or RAM zips things along better than many of last year’s tablets including the top shelf 10.1 models that we have tried. The Samsung Galaxy Note actually has a faster processor and more RAM than the iPad 2. Too bad it is mired by software that can't take full advantge of all that power, yet.
Here’s the best part, once ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ is made available for the Galaxy Note, which Samsung reps have confirmed it will be sometime soon, the newer OS will be able to take full advantage of the dual-core processor to speed things along even more.
The Galaxy Note is big but it can’t be called fat or heavy. It is 9.65mm thin and weighs 178 grams which makes it easier to carry than a tablet. It may not fit comfortably in a shirt pocket or even in your jeans but it should fit nicely in a jacket pocket.
It is around as thick as an iPhone 4, which is remarkable considering that it has a rather large removable battery
The point of this product is not to debate whether it is a phone or a tablet, really. It is to understand where it can best be used and by whom.
During my first week with the device, I used it primarily for email, to surf the web, manage Twitter, some Facebook and to watch videos and it did all these things very well.
The HD super AMOLED display is similar to the one in the Google Nexus S but has a 1280 x 800 resolution and is visually stunning. I remember a time when 1280 x 800 was the resolution one would get on a notebook. Even with the brightness turned down at the absolute lowest it is still bright and clear.
YouTube videos, movies and games are simply stunning to behold on this screen and it is big enough that you can pick up details that are lost on smaller screens. Again, I had the brightness at the lowest setting and still enjoyed watching videos on the Galaxy Note.
Playing games like Angry Birds Seasons and the visually striking Riptide GP was a pleasure and felt right on this device. Riptide GP was particularly impressive as the object of the game is to race a jet-ski through obstacles using the built-in accelerometer and the game is responsive and the graphics looked like they were at a console-level.
Video below was taken on the Samsung Galaxy Note with the default 720p HD video settings out of the box.
I also see a great gaming potential for the Galaxy Note and think it is a more compelling gaming device than many of the standalone handheld gaming gadgets out there today; the screen size just works better. The motion control aspect works well for a device of this size and you can't beat the screen size as well as the multi-touch aspect.
Samsung is releasing a number of accessories for the Galaxy Note, including various cases, docks and a car dock which would make this a decent GPS device as well using Google Maps with turn-by-turn directions.
Another revelation was using the Galaxy Note as a reading device. Sure, it is backlit and not as ideal as E-Ink readers but this is a device that is big enough to fit a good amount of text on a page, use on one hand for extended periods of time and it has access to all the major eReader apps from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google and others.
I enjoyed reading eBooks like Adam Lashinky’s Inside Apple, George R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings and various film scripts in PDF format.
Checking out websites was similarly pleasurable as the browser is quick and responsive to multi-touch navigation and renders pages accurately.
I did use the S-Pen stylus but found it to be flimsy in construction. Maybe my review unit was a dud but the two parts kept separating and it would fail to work intermittently. It also had a tendency to get stuck in the receptacle with just the tip coming off leaving the rest of the stylus inside the body.
I appreciated the ability to take screenshots with the stylus as well as add quick notes to photos and other documents.
Right now the S-Pen is a ‘nice to have’ addition but it is hardly revolutionary unless you make your living by sketching, that might change once third party apps and games support the device. But I honestly don't think too many developers will be thrilled at having to rejig their apps for yet another screen size and a digital pen.
The Voice Recording app included in the Galaxy Note works well. It came in handy during a phone interview and thanks to the dual microphone set-up I was able to get a clear voice recording in a format that I could e-mail or store online.
Audio is loud enough and you can play back music as well as use the device's handsfree mode for taking calls.
The 8 megapixel camera is quite good for snapshots although shooting good video on this will require two large hands to hold it steady. Again, these are nice to have features; the Galaxy Note would still be an impressive device without them. It does do a decent job of shooting 720p HD video as shown below.
The Samsung Galaxy Note also features an NFC (Near Field Communication) chip that will enable swipe-to-connect frictionless transactions and will be ideal for mobile payments, e-ticketing and even access control functions down the line.
There is definitely a place in the gadget world for the Samsung Galaxy Note, especially for the type of user who doesn’t make too many calls (or at least uses a hands free option), like to play games, watch video, read eBooks and manage social media and email in a device that’s bigger but easier on the eyes.
The stylus may attract some users but we think the thin size and stunning screen of the Galaxy Note are its most compelling features followed by the LTE connectivity and the promise that it should run Ice Cream Sandwich like a dream given its superior specs.
We achieved LTE download speeds of 25Mbps and upload speeds of 13Mbps which was consistent with out other LTE tests on Rogers.
Battery life is great for an Android device and one can get through a day of heavy Internet use and five to six three minute phone calls.
The Samsung Galaxy Note and similar products like LG's me-too 5-inch Optimus Vu are niche products that may gain traction with a small number of users possibly in business use cases where the stylus is useful.
The $730 no contract price, however, is unreasonably high for what it is, something that's a too big to be a smartphone, but as per the software, isn't even a tablet.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5