I’ve been using the Samsung Galaxy Note as my primary device for 2 weeks now. It was clear that Samsung didn’t quite know how to market this device or even who their demographic was, we can see this by their confused ads.
I now feel like I’ve spent enough time with the Note to say that although it is a very large device it is definitely comfortable enough to be a phone and is too small to really take the title of a tablet.
As for the demographic, this phone is all about consumption, whether it is Internet content, books, music, movies or comics. The phone is all geared towards being able to have a deep and rich multimedia experience through its amazing 5.3 inch HD Super AMOLED display with bold and vibrant colours.
The thing that makes the Samsung Galaxy Note such a unique phone isn’t just that it’s big, but because it can take notes using a stylus which can be found at the rear base of the phone. The problem with capacitive screens is that they only work with fingers or material that can carry an electrical charge, this is why stylus’ won’t work on most touchscreen Android or Apple phones. Samsung have overcome this hurdle by incorporating a digitizer from the well known digital pen manufacturer Wacom.
The pen is light and small enough to fit inside the chassis of the phone without adding any bulk to it. The stylus also has a button on it that can be used to trigger special pen functions in Touchwiz. The pen itself is very responsive and very accurate, I was able to replicate my signature on the screen to probably about 95% accuracy as if I drew it on a piece of paper. The pen can be used to navigate through the OS as though it was your finger, however when the pen is in use it deactivates the capacitive layer on the screen which means that you can’t use the pen and your fingers at the same time.
Samsung have done their best to build in features to make sure the stylus is relevant and can be used as a primary input method for navigating through the phone. The real selling features of the Note is its ability to take…. um… well, notes. The Memo app that can be found in any Touchwiz device is now call S Memo, we can only assume that the S is for stylus. When you open S Memo it will give you a yellow pad to start scribbling on, you can write quick notes in here and then go into the menu and get it to convert your handwriting to text, which it does fairly well. You can then attach a saved memo into the S Planner which is just a richer version of the standard Android calendar. The stock Samsung keyboard has also been modified to support handwriting input while typing.
The Galaxy Note keeps in line with Samsung’s design standards for the Galaxy series of devices. It has a very similar design to its smaller brother the Samsung Galaxy SII, with a fairly squarish look and rounded corners, it has the single hardware home button that sits in between 2 soft keys (menu & back). The volume rocker sits to the left of the phone with the bower button to the right. The camera sensor unlike the the SGSII sits flush with the case and makes it look somewhat unremarkable. Because of the heft to this device Samsung didn’t need to hide its components in a bump at the bottom, which means that the back of the phone is completely flat & level.
So now let’s talk about the size of this thing.
We know it’s big, but is it too big?
The Note is 147mm tall, which is 15% taller than the Galaxy SII. It is 83mm wide when compared with the 66mm of the SGSII (20% difference) and 9.7mm thick which is 1.2mm (13%) thicker than it’s smaller counterpart. So you average out those percentages and you get a device that is ~16% bigger than the SGSII, which I know some people thought was pretty big already.
This being said however, Samsung did a great job making the device feel manageable with one-handed operation. I was able to comfortably browse my twitter feed, read news articles and check my emails all while holding a hand rail on the train to work in the morning. Trying to do more complicated tasks on the phone such as typing an email proved to be problematic and if pushed to do it one handed significantly raised the odds of the device slipping and making friends with the ground below.
With the phone only weighing 178g, there are no problems with holding the phone for extended periods of time, which is great for enjoying videos on the amazing screen.
I found the device very comfortable to use, but it might be too big for people with smaller hands. I also haven’t found a pocket I couldn’t fit it in.
For the review I was using a Telstra NextG prepaid sim-card and got incredible downloads speeds when Telstra’s network wasn’t too congested. The best I got was 1353kB/s (pay attention to the capital B) or 10.82Mbps, but the upload speeds weren’t too good at only 37.6kB/s, which isn’t too much of a drama.
Making calls on the phone was a little awkward at first with the size and it was weird feeling glass right across one side of your face, but it didn’t take long before I adjusted to it. Holding the phone in that position wasn’t difficult thanks to the shape and light-weight nature of the Note.
Overall, the audio quality was good in calls and I didn’t have any people complaining about not hearing me on the other end. I did find that if I was somewhere private, I preferred to put the phone on a table and use the loud speaker instead.
This is the first phone I have ever had with a greater than 720p display resolution and I gotta say, it blew me away at how great this screen is.
The display is a 5.3 inche HD Super AMOLED screen and has an resolution of 800 by 1280 which is a pixel density of ~285 and the aspect ratio of 16:10, which is more in line with PC display resolutions.
So what does all that mumbo jumbo mean?
This is hands down the best display I have ever seen on a mobile device. The colours on this thing are incredibly deep, stunningly bright and immaculately crisp. There has been a lot of trolling on the interwebs about this utilising a pentile matrix for the display and how it would ruin the picture quality.
Right now I’d like to put this nonsense to bed for the skeptics out there and say… stop being so ignorant.
If you can find a display on an Android device better than the HD Super AMOLED screens that are already out, please let me know, otherwise wait until you actually see how beautiful this screen is before you pass judgement.
The size and quality of this screen make it perfect for reading eBooks now that we have the new Google eBook Store in Australia. I also tried the Marvel Comics app and was absolutely impressed with how great the comics looked.
But the thing that really tests the quality of this screen is watching movies.
Thanks to Samsung loading it up with plenty of video codecs, there is very little this phone can’t play. I was able to play this 1080p video file on the phone and was absolutely blown away at how spectacularly crisp and smooth the video was.
It’s running the Dual-core 1.4GHz Exynos processor which has the more than capable Mali-400MP GPU on board. The 1.4GHz CPU is the same one that is found in the Samsung Galaxy SII, but it’s clocked a little bit higher.
The phone feels incredibly fast and snappy and can handle just about any app that you throw at it. It scored one of the best Quadrant scores I have seen of a stock device, but synthetic benchmarks aren’t the be-all-end-all of performance test.
I noticed that after extended periods of time in an app, the phone would sometimes hang when returning to the home screen. This wasn’t too noticeable in day-to-day use and I was putting the phone through its paces, so I was still delighted at how responsive it was. I also suspect the momentary lag could be more on the software side rather than the hardware.
|Neocore (Frames/sec)||Quadrant (Higher = better)|
|Samsung Galaxy Note||51.3||4509|
|Galaxy S II||59.8||3428|
|Xperia Arc S||58.9||1628|
With an 8 megapixel camera, the Galaxy Note is quite capable of taking great photo’s in most conditions. The camera is at its best during bright and sunny days, but it is not so great at taking low-light shots or night shots that need the camera’s LED light.
Samsung put a lot of effort into the camera app to give you the granular control you need to make every photo the best it can be. You can take panorama shots, adjust white balance, exposure value, the macro quality is great, it includes anti-shake, face detection, some colour effects and for the self obsessed individuals there’s even a self-portrait mode that uses the front facing camera to help you get the perfect duck face.
As I mentioned in the cons list, I am not a big fan of TouchWiz or many manufacturer skins on top of Android, but for the purposes of this review, I stuck to a complete stock Samsung experience.
The Note is running TouchWiz 4 over the top of Android 2.3.5 which means that it’s as up-to-date as possible when released days after the Android 4.0 announcement. TouchWiz does have a nifty set of features that help give this phone a more unique feeling. It utilises a gyroscope to aid in zooming in and out of the browser and gallery apps just by placing two fingers on the screen and raising or lowering the device. The User Interface is somewhat clunky when compared to the unmodified Android experience and those moments of lag felt more like they were due to less than perfect software optimisation. Even though I’m not a big fan of the skins manufacturers put on Android devices, I can at least say that TouchWiz has really come a long way since the original Samsung Galaxy S and for the time I used the phone I felt it complimented the features of the phone rather than hindered them.
The biggest issues with smartphones is that they only seem to last a single day off a full charge, that’s why when the battery that was included with the Note was a 2500 mAh battery, this was only a good thing. Unfortunately it doesn’t break any records for longevity when it comes to surviving a full day of use. From my experiences I was able to get a good 15 – 17 hours of moderate use on the phone. Getting it to render a full 3D game or play a 720p video drained the device fast and would usually result in me needing to bump charge it while at work.
I could see that the battery would last a while if you only do a bit of web browsing and maybe facebook, but if that was the sort of user you are, then this phone way too highly spec’d for what you need it for. I would rate the battery life as being what you would typically expect of an Android handset.
In my eyes the Samsung Galaxy Note is more phone than Tablet. It is a big phone, but the shape and design make it easy to hold and manage. If you’re like me and spend more time using you phone as a portable PC than a phone, this is the perfect device.
The Note is a very well put together phone, Samsung took the time to consider how they could make such a unique device practical and it shows. It is definitely not for the average user, but if you like the tactile sensation of writing with a pen or love to watch movies or TV shows on the go, then I highly recommend the Note for you.
As I said on last weeks podcast, if it wasn’t for me waiting for my Galaxy Nexus to arrive, this would definitely be the phone I’d buy.
Right now there is no confirmation on which Australian carriers will stock the Note. We know that Samsung is working to get it onto the market early 2012, but if you absolutely must have it now or want to surprise someone with it for Christmas, definitely head over to MobiCity and get yourself a deal.