Handsets keep getting bigger and bigger but Samsung have pushed the boat out even further with the Galaxy Note, a device that aims to bridge the gap between a smartphone and a tablet. But is it a gap that needed bridging?
On first inspection the Note looks somewhat of an oddity. It’s big for a phone, simply due to the massive 5.3-inch touchscreen that dominates the front facia, however, its size doesn’t make it uncomfortable to hold or use either with one hand or two. Surprisingly, it doesn’t weigh in much more than the average high-end smartphone either at 178g, and at 9.7mm thick it isn’t that much bulkier than the Galaxy S2. The sheer size of the device does make it awkward to store though – it won’t fit easily into a pocket and really needs to be carried in a bag as you would a tablet.
Is the inconvenience worth it to have a screen of that size? Well, the biggest touchscreen seen on any smartphone to date does have its advantages and it certainly looks fantastic. The resolution of 1280×800 pixels makes for crystal clear images and the AMOLED technology gives the picture real depth and clarity. It’s great to look at and gives the Note a real advantage when it comes to all things visual.
It works well as a touchscreen too, being very responsive, accurate and fast without any of the frustration that is sometimes experienced when using other Android phones. We’d even go as far to say that the multi-touch support is as good as that found on the iPhone, and that’s some praise. On top of this, Samsung have included what they call the Advanced Smart Pen, a stylus that adds an extra dimension to functionality offered by the Note can do. In a similar way to many tablets, the stylus allows users to write and draw straight on to the screen to annotate webpages and the like. It isn’t as accurate as tapping the screen with your finger but Samsung deserve credit for attempting to meld features more readily associated with tablets with a functional smartphone.
Power and Operating System
The Note comes with a dual-core 1.4Ghz ARM processor under the hood and this makes everything run smoothly and really comes into its own when watching videos or during gameplay. Day to day usage is almost flawless and apps are quick to open and respond without any sluggishness at all.
Android 2.3 Gingerbread is the operating system in situ, with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface laid-over the top. Although TouchWiz is clean and responsive UI , the accusation of blandness is one that is often thrown its way, especially as rival skins such as HTC’s Sense bring so much sparkle to the user experience. This isn’t usually noticeable on other handsets, but the expansive screen of the Note quite literally magnifies its insipid nature.
That said, it’s widgets work as well as they do on other Samsung devices and when combined with the Note’s stylus and note-making capabilities makes up for the less-than-sophisticated appearance of the UI.
There are a few pre-installed Samsung which offer impressive organisational functionality – S Planner and S Memo are two very useful ones that allow you to make quick and easy diary entries and scribble notes straight onto the touchscreen using the stylus. There’s also a voice-activated function similar to the iPhone4S’s Siri, called VoiceTalk, a feature that allows you to dictate text messages, open apps and perform other functions by voice alone.
Web browsing is one of several aspects of mobile use where the Note has a real advantage over other handsets as the large screen makes websites appear almost as they would on a tablet, big and clear. It isn’t just the screen’s size that gives the phone an advantage though – the responsiveness of the Note makes it incredibly easy to select options and click links, and the pinch-to-zoom function, whilst smooth and responsive, is rarely called for. The AMOLED screen makes web-based images crystal clear and provides videos with depth and colour, but it’s when using the internet that the Note really feels more like a tablet and offers one of the best browsing experiences available on a smartphone.
There’s an 8 megapixel camera mounted on the Note which is capable for recording video at 1080p and 30fps. Again, the screen’s size and quality gives the phone an edge over others because, whether you’re taking still images or filming, the end result looks great on the display. There’s 16GB of internal storage available meaning that there’s ample space to store captured images and also a front-facing 2 megapixel camera for video-calling and indulgent self-portraits.
Other Tech Specs
- Stereo FM radio with RDS
- TV-out (via MHL A/V link)
- Document editor (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF)
- Adobe Flash 10.1 support
As much as the Note’s large screen makes for an exceptional web browsing experience and the bundled S Calendar and S Memo apps offer a lot when it comes to organising a busy schedule. However, this doesn’t make up for the fact that the Galaxy Note looks faintly ridiculous when you hold it up to your ear to make a call. That screen also uses a lot of power so the battery life isn’t especially impressive either.
The Note really is a halfway point between a tablet and a smartphone and it packs some of the most useful features of the former into an even more portable format. The huge, high-quality screen is fantastic for web browsing and watching video and exemplary multitouch support makes it incredibly easy to use. However, it is being marketed as a phone, not a tablet, in which case its size is a drawback and something that could put many off. That said, Samsung deserve a lot of credit for bringing something new to the smartphone table.