Samsung Galaxy Note

With its huge screen and throwback stylus, the Samsung Galaxy Note is a polarising smartphone that winks at tablet territory. The S Pen adds some artistic potential, but, for some, the phone will just simply be too big.


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If you ask us, Samsung began marketing its Samsung Galaxy Note on the wrong foot. It was a smart move anticipating reactions to its oversized 5.3-inch screen when it first launched in Europe, but the problem with claiming that the Galaxy Note is a phone/tablet hybrid (a "phablet", if you will) is setting the expectation that it will be able to reduce your tablet dependence, or obviate the need for one in the first place. While that might be the case for casual tablet users, or for the tablet-curious, the Galaxy Note is firmly and unquestionably a Galaxy smartphone first. In the meantime, "phablet" has become a (fun, if meaningless) catchphrase for a product for which the manufacturers can't seem to decide what spin will net the most sales.

And where does that kooky-cool throwback S Pen stylus come in? The Galaxy Note's wand can take screenshots, jot your notes and respond to pen pressure — all good stuff. Yet, if you never release the S Pen from its snug plastic tunnel, you won't miss out on the Note's essential smartphone features.

So forget worrying about the Galaxy Note as a tablet, and think of it as the phone that it is. A good phone, too. If you like the idea of an oversized Galaxy S II device with a high-quality 8-megapixel camera and a huge honking screen for watching movies, reading ebooks and doing other things that you might do on a smartphone or a tablet, then this is a great device. If you enjoy the artistic promise of digital sketching, you might likewise keep it in the running. However, if 5.3 inches seems too ungainly for your hands, then leave this one be, and seek out its smaller cousins, the still large Samsung Galaxy S II, for example.

Design

Which Samsung engineer accidentally spilled Miracle-Gro on a Galaxy S I? That's what the Galaxy Note looks like, in the nicest possible way. At 147mm tall by 83mm wide by only 9.7mm thick, it resembles a shingle with rounded edges.

The 5.3-inch HD screen on the Samsung Galaxy Note is a real whopper. That extra-large pen accessory is much more comfortable than the original stylus, but it costs an extra $50.
(Credit: CNET)

Let's kick things off by addressing the elephant in the room: the Galaxy Note's size. The footprint is big, no doubt about it, and it's a bit of an awkward strain to hold in smaller-sized hands. There's no way this baby is slipping into our jeans pockets, but it's fine for a purse.

Although it's a big phone, it's pretty easy on the eyes, and the slim build keeps it looking light and lean. As with the rest of the Galaxy series, the Note's body is made from plastic materials. This doesn't make for the particularly premium experience that we would expect at this price, but we can't complain about the general aesthetics.

While plastic may not seem upscale, it does offer its own brand of durability over glass parts that can shatter, or paint that can chip off metal fixtures. It weighs a chunky 178g, but that heft also lends it a greater sense of structural strength.

The Galaxy Note's crowning glory is its 5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED screen, with its 1280x800-pixel resolution (that's WXGA, by the way). Samsung's family of AMOLED screen technology always looks bright, vivid and saturated in colour. The Note's behemoth is pretty similar, although pixel density appeared a little lower, and the image was noticeably softer and less bright than on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which also has an HD Super AMOLED display. Photos looked crisp and alive, videos played back smoothly on the large, high-def screen and ebooks were easier to read than on smaller smartphone displays.

The Samsung Galaxy Note's HD screen (left) isn't quite as sharp or as vibrant as that of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
(Credit: CNET)

The rest of the phone looks a lot like others in the Galaxy S II family. You'll find a 2-megapixel front-facing camera above the screen; below it, there are the four customary touch-sensitive navigation buttons for Menu, Home, Back and Search. The volume rocker is on the left spine, and the power button is on the right. On the bottom are the the Micro-USB charging port and the hollowed-out slot for the Note's S Pen stylus. You can plug your headphones in to the 3.5mm jack up the top. If you're worried about losing it, the S Pen clicks firmly into place and stays there.

Interface and slap-happy tricks

For navigation, you've got the most recent version of TouchWiz, Samsung's custom interface that rides over Android; in this case, Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Samsung is fully expected to update the Note to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, although there's no public timeline yet.

There are a few extra goodies in addition to the TouchWiz and Android 2.3 Gingerbread mainstays.
(Credit: CNET)

As a reminder, here are some things that you can do with TouchWiz: pull down the notifications menu to access system settings; pinch the screen to see an overview of your seven customisable home screens; and cycle through them crazily fast by holding down and swiping along the row of dots. On the Note, you can also take a screenshot by swiping the edge of your hand left and right across the screen. The latter didn't always work seamlessly, and may take a little getting used to. It felt a little unnatural to us, and we can't see ourselves using that method, but having an extra way to perform a task never hurts. (You can also capture a screenshot by pressing the Power and Home buttons, or by using the S Pen.)

Screenshot swiping isn't the only gesture that Samsung has added. Rotate your finger over a gallery photo, and the image will rotate, too. Shake the device to trigger a search for Bluetooth devices. Then there's my favourite: flip the phone over or press your hand over its face to pause a song or video, or to mute an incoming call. These are all fun, clever ways to interact with the device in addition to the usual finger-tap settings.

S Pen stylus and memo apps

Let's move on to the phone's most controversially thrilling facet: the stylus. Physically, it's a wisp of a thing, just a couple of inches tall, with a button on the side that serves as a shortcut to perform a handful of tasks. The S Pen is reasonably comfortable in the hand, but it's so slim and light that holding it sometimes feels like grasping at air. There's also the distinct possibility that once it's unsheathed, it'd be easy to drop or misplace.

We won't lie. Writing with the S Pen, as the stylus is known, takes some getting used to, but it also adds some neat tricks.
(Credit: CNET)

You can buy an S Pen accessory called the S Pen Holder Kit that will look just like a larger, thicker ballpoint pen. It costs US$59.99, and comes with an additional S Pen. We've read that as an acknowledgement that the S Pen could feel more natural in the hand.

The memo apps are where most of the creative action happens. Tap twice on the screen while holding down the S Pen button to pull up Quick Memo, a fast way to start jotting a note. You can later retrieve the memo from the more sophisticated S Memo app. Both let you draw, handwrite notes and annotate websites; S Memo also supports voice recordings and typed text, for instance, but it won't launch from the pen. Apps optimised for the S Pen cleverly respond to 128 different levels of pressure. Harder strokes leave thicker lines, and you can press lighter for shading. Just take care where you put your hands; the wrong placement could create unwanted pen lines.

The handwriting-to-text tool works some of the time, but it helps if you don't scrawl.
(Credit: CNET)

The apps offer a great alternative to the rigidity of typing, and system integration is reasonably good. For example, you can add a handwritten Quick Memo note to a calendar event. You can write with the S Pen in almost all text fields; you turn that on when you tap the pen icon on the Samsung keyboard. Writing is a little strange at first, since there's some lag in seeing your strokes appear on the screen. While we hardly have the world's most elegant handwriting, the S Pen made it look even more scrawled. It takes a little time to pick up certain navigation shortcuts and work your way through the various apps; we found ourselves becoming frustrated at the beginning, but you'll probably adapt as you grow more used to the environment.

We do like the tool for converting handwriting into text. It works better the more neatly you write, and it won't work perfectly every time. We also appreciate the undo and eraser tools in the memo apps, as well as the setting for lefties.

Although we've said that the S Pen isn't necessary for using the Galaxy Note (unlike those styluses of yore), there are some advantages beyond keeping your greasy, grimy digits off that huge smudge magnet of a screen. Samsung has programmed a pair of memo apps to work with the S Pen, and is encouraging other developers to create their own compatible apps, as well. There will be about 20 of these apps at launch.

The S Pen isn't for everyone. First, there's the learning curve of creating legible notes. We also have yet to see if it can fit our particular work flow after the novelty wears off. We can, however, see how artists and people with more free-flowing thought processes might appreciate the flexibility with which they can express their ideas. We especially see the benefit of quickly and easily creating and sharing digital sketches on the fly, like these caricatures that Samsung used at CES to publicise the Note.

Other features

One of the Galaxy Note's most important smartphone features is its 4G LTE radios, which make it one of US network AT&T's faster phones for uploading and downloading data (though there's no word yet whether the Note will be compatible with Telstra's 4G network). It's also got Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS; text and multimedia messaging; and Android's penchant for integrating social networks into your virtually limitless address book. You'll find all of Google's usual apps and services, like Google Maps with turn-by-turn voice directions, Gmail, Search, Google Music and YouTube.

Video playback looks great on the huge screen.
(Credit: CNET)

Apps are a huge part of the Note's experience, especially those created for the S Pen. In addition to the aforementioned memo notes is a game called Crayon Physics.

Samsung adds its own app package to the Galaxy Note, including its typical Kies Air and AllShare apps for sharing multimedia (like your photos, videos and doodles) with your desktop and DLNA-compatible devices, respectively. There are also the Social Hub and Music Hub for organising tools around Facebook and Twitter social networking, and listening to podcasts and tunes.

Amazon Kindle for ebooks, Qik Lite for video chats, Polaris Office, Pulse, Mini Diary and Yellow Pages Mobile are other apps that have been preloaded onto the Note. The European version of the Note is home to S Planner and S Choice, which are two other S Pen apps.

Cameras

One of the best features of most phones in the Samsung Galaxy S II line is the 8-megapixel camera. Not all cameras of this calibre can pass muster, but image quality on the Galaxy Note is admirable, and full-size photos look good off-screen, as well as on the HD display.

The 8-megapixel camera and 2-megapixel front-facing camera stand up to Samsung's usual quality for the Galaxy S II family of phones.
(Credit: CNET)

The camera contains all of the usual shooting and white-balance presets to take action shots and panoramas, and detect smiles in a variety of lighting scenarios. It also has anti-shake, blink detection, autofocus and a timer.

Front-facing cameras are great for video chats and the odd self-portrait, but you'll get your best-quality shots from the rear camera. Still, Samsung generally does a nice job with the 2-megapixel shooter, and the same is true for this one. Test photos taken indoors with a good amount of natural light looked good, even when blown to full size on the computer screen. The camera naturally didn't capture extreme detail, and we could detect some digital noise when we peered closely, but colours displayed smoothly and were true to life.

Colours looked true in this excellent outdoor landscape shot.
(Credit: CNET)

Video capture and playback are also a big deal on the Galaxy Note; the HD screen can do both in 1080p. The high-definition videos look fantastic when played back on the 5.3-inch screen, although we would love to see some HD-optimised apps on here like the ones on Verizon's LG Spectrum, which has a Netflix HD app that sources HD videos by default, when they exist.

These toys, photographed inside away from natural light and under harsh artificial bulbs, were fairly in focus and richly coloured.
(Credit: CNET)

Recording video is straightforward. As is typical, the app keeps many of the camera settings, but also includes a shorter, lower-quality setting for taking videos specifically for MMS. The Galaxy Note has 16GB of internal memory for your application and multimedia storage, and allows for up to 32GB more through a microSD card.

Performance

We tested the Samsung Galaxy Note (GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz; 2100MHz LTE) in San Francisco using AT&T's service. Call quality was pretty good in our tests so far. At full tilt, volume is a little low, but we had no trouble hearing in a quiet setting. Call clarity was admirable, with no discernible background noise throughout a 20-minute test call. There was something just a little off in how voices sounded. It was hard to identify properly, but they just weren't quite as rich or as clear as we've heard on other phones.

According to our test caller, our voices didn't sound fully natural, or like us. Instead, he said we sounded a bit hollow and echoed, as if we were speaking from within a can or underground. He also thought that we sounded a bit muted at the higher frequencies, although volume was no problem, and the line sounded very clear.

We tested the speakerphone by holding the phone at waist level. Volume was very loud, but we'd rather turn it down than not be able to turn it up. Our caller's voice sounded buzzy and hollow, and he reported the customary speakerphone echo and flattened voice quality, but had few other real complaints. On the whole, the speakerphone was very effective — we understood every word during a long conversation in a relatively quiet environment.

Battery life is a big question mark on a handset with such a power-hungry display, and it's to Samsung's credit that the Galaxy Note has an extra-large 2500mAh battery to complement its extra-large screen. We'll be performing our own drain tests, but, as an indicator, the Note has a rated battery life of 26 hours of talk time and a rated standby life of 40 days. However, take these numbers with the heaping qualification that you're unlikely to see such longevity if you're using the device for multimedia streaming.

Conclusion

There are two main questions at hand: is the Samsung Galaxy Note a phone worth buying, and, if so, can it satisfy the need for a tablet?

So long as you're all for supersizing, we can emphatically answer "yes" to the former. It has all the high-flying specs that we loved in the original Galaxy S II, but an even larger, HD Super AMOLED screen. While its size could make carrying the phone awkward, the screen real estate is ideal for interacting with HD games and multimedia, and for reading websites and ebooks.

When you add in the S Pen, there's so much more potential for creative drawings and games. Whether it's little more than a party trick or whether you'll use it on a regular basis depends on you. We think the screen size, rather than the stylus, will make it or break it for most buyers, but we do worry about the long-term comfort and security of the skinny pen if you don't feel like dishing out for a US$50 pen-holder accessory — a price we feel is a lot to ask.

Given the 5.3-inch screen, some people could indeed find the Note to be a workable smartphone/tablet hybrid device, or at least those who have casually considered buying a more budget tablet. Depending on the tablet size you'd be eyeing, a 5.3-inch screen is a far cry from a 10.1-inch display. There's really no comparison on that level, but there is an argument for people considering a 7-inch tablet. Still, with so many options already available, we can't help but think that the Galaxy Note will remain niche.

Via CNET



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bestestimes Facebook
8
Rating
 

"Great Camera, fun"

bestestimes posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Camera (Full HD Video and 8MP Stills) , S Pen, Screen

The Bad:some errors, but i think that's an android thing

Great Camera for FULL HD and Still Shots, nice bright HD screen, easy to customize. I've had it for just over 1year. the only full on bugs i have found are that the messaging app part of it for sms crashes. (Forced Closure) . The S Pen is cool and easy to use. The Text (handwriting) to text is cool. bit big to hold up to ear, but with headset is cool and good sound quality. Love the Samsung S Note app.

 

bestestimes posted a reply   
Australia

i must add that mine is the Australian Unlocked Version. 16gb

AaronD1 Facebook
9
Rating
 

"I'm in love with this phone!"

AaronD1 posted a review   
Australia

The Good:It's FUN! But it also uses its creativity for practical purposes, too.

The Bad:I would personally have put the pen holder in the top, it's a bit awkward down the bottom, but that's the only thing I can fault.

Got this phone last week, and as a commercial creative, I'm having a blast with it! I know Apple has always seen itself as the brand for creatives, but we like more than just beautiful things! And this phone provides that. I also don't want a tablet and now don't have to worry about getting one. This phone deserves more recognition and people's time. It's not for everyone, but there's a market out there for this phone, if only they find it.

rickyl
2
Rating
 

"Huge screen, Poor OS"

rickyl posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Screen size, s pen

The Bad:android, everything else

I bought this phone to replace a HTC 7 Mozart and a windows tablet. The last 6 or so phones ive owned have all been windows mobile/ windows phone. the screen attracted me to this phone but i regret it now. android is slow, painful and never works properly. sent it back to get repaired and they sent it back saying "thats how it is"
i will NEVER own another samsung or android phone
bring on wp8!!

Dunners
10
Rating
 

"Excellent Phone if you can live with the size"

Dunners posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Screen is amazing, Battery Life is great.

The Bad:Every phone you use after the Note just seems so small.

Where to start... The phone is great, fuctional, and i never thought i'd use the S-Pen as much as i do.

It is big but that doesn't seem to bother me at all. it has quirky little shortcuts so that you can use aspects of the phone such as the dailer with only one hand. Even though alot of the reviews i had read before i purchased the Note stated that it wouldn't fit in your pocket, hand etc.. I have never found it to be a problem.

It is fast and snappy and i am so glad i did buy the Note over the GS3.

Will1505 Facebook
9
Rating
 

"Best phone i've had"

Will1505 posted a review   

The Good:Screen, battery life, swype keyboard

The Bad:LED notification light would be nice, little lag on simple things

Got this one on kogan a few weeks ago, plus a 32gb card on ebay for $38, needless to say i will never use that much.

The day i got it i loaded the ICS update into it and to be honest, from what i can tell, their isn't much extra with the S-pen functionality.

This is the first phone that i've had that doesn't have a notification light on it and i'll admit, i miss it. Also the phone lags a little on simple tasks like assessing the phone book and dialer. If your loading an app, it runs like a bullet. To me, the dialer should always be loaded and ready to go but this is a touchwiz issue. One little thing though, the phone is a bigger S2. The vibrater is the same that is in the S2, so even on its strongest setting and the phone screen facing your leg in your pocket, you can barely feel it.

This is the first touch screen that can get me through two days without charging. Web pages will drain the battery a little faster but just using the phone as a phone for texting, emails and calling, you'll easily make it through the day.

Screen is beautiful and the phone does fit into normal jean pockets. If anything, its kinda nicer being bigger, its easier to get out of your pocket. Both cameras are great and the s-pen is a neat feature. I've found using the swype keyboard is nicer than the samsung keyboard.

In the whole, it is the best phone i've had. Its fast, its clear and its neat.

YusufI Facebook
9
Rating
 

"Bees knees"

YusufI posted a review   

The Good:Screen resolution & size. Android OS.

The Bad:Needs a notification LED, and stereo speakerphone like N95 had

Brilliant phone. Size matters! the OS is smooth and everythings runs really good. The CNET comment "and the image was noticeably softer and less bright than on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus" is a load of hog wash. The Note screen is much more brighter than the Nexus, GSMarena review confirms that. I also have a S2and the Note feels it has better build quality. Has very good sound & reception, although the speakerphone is a bit soft in volume. Can't wait for the ICS update

rogrebcoo
9
Rating
 

"Fantastic unit. No regrets"

rogrebcoo posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Size, Speed, battery

The Bad:A second Stylus is required for the office. I prefer camera with lens cover

Fantastic unit. I could never go back to a smaller phone all that pinching in and zooming out etc.
Battery is good but I question how much work you are doing to get 2 days. Recently at a conference I got almost through the day. Second day I carried a 2nd battery. No problems into the night. The second battery is still far more convenient than carrying the laptop all day and night (Not a good look to the conference drinks still carrying the laptop).

Stylus – I use a combination. When I am in the office I use a third party product that is also a pen/stylus – simply easier to use than the origin (too small)

At home I tend to use the phone more for net use than home laptop – lighter and battery life is longer.

Camera is great but I would prefer a cover on the lens.

KeithM Facebook
9
Rating
 

"Fantastic phone, somewhat usable as a tablet with the pen."

KeithM posted a review   

The Good:It's a brilliant little device that has replaced my ebook reader, the want for a tablet and even my camera on occasions.

The Bad:It's big, as the lcd density tech advances it would be nice if it were a little smaller, but not by much. It has reset once randomly in the two months I've had it.

Definitely seems unwieldy at first and it wouldn't hurt if it was .3-.5" inches smaller. Otherwise it's quick, reliable comes with a huge amount of useful apps like Kies Air, the Samsung App Store I haven't touched mind you and the screen is still the amazing super amoled type of the S2.

The size is overhyped, it's just relative to what you're used to, a small phone. It fits in any of my jeans and in board shorts with one puny pocket, it's less awkward to carry in your pocket then keys and a wallet.

Battery-wise it's still a once a day charge situation, but I find myself playing a lot of games on it and reading emails a lot on it too so it's to be expected.

gkeenor
10
Rating
 

"The ultimate all-in-one"

gkeenor posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Fantastic screen, superfast (apps and connectivity), handwritten notes, camera

The Bad:Speaker could be a bit louder, battery life!?

Without doubt the best phone I've seen (let alone owned). Was a PDA

 

Will1505 posted a comment   

Jo your killing me. I am holding off for the GS3 but review after review talk about how good this phone is. I like that it is unique, completely different. Also love that the battery is bigger.

 

eDDie posted a reply   
Australia

Then buy one? It's great. :)

 

Will1505 posted a reply   

I caved


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User Reviews / Comments  Samsung Galaxy Note

  • bestestimes

    bestestimes

    Rating8

    "Great Camera for FULL HD and Still Shots, nice bright HD screen, easy to customize. I've had it for just over 1year. the only full on bugs i have found are that the messaging app part of it for sms..."

  • AaronD1

    AaronD1

    Rating9

    "Got this phone last week, and as a commercial creative, I'm having a blast with it! I know Apple has always seen itself as the brand for creatives, but we like more than just beautiful things! And ..."

  • rickyl

    rickyl

    Rating2

    "I bought this phone to replace a HTC 7 Mozart and a windows tablet. The last 6 or so phones ive owned have all been windows mobile/ windows phone. the screen attracted me to this phone but i regret..."

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