Galaxy Note - Hero

It had to happen; things just got a whole lot bigger in the mobile world. Samsung have just launched their humongous 5.3” super device called the Galaxy Note. Super slim, super smart, but simply huge. I actually remember that for a short while, the mobile phone manufacturers all fought to see who could make the smallest, lightest, yet still usable phone on the market, and at that time Sony Ericsson, now just Sony, were the kings, with their 2008 Xmini at 75 grams, and smaller than a matchbox. We have most definitely moved on and 4.3 inches is now almost average with a few manufacturers stretching things up to and over 5”. Samsung now will have us believe that 5.3” is the ideal size, smaller than a tablet, bigger than a phone, yet portable enough to be a good compromise of both. Steven Ambrose slides one, with difficulty, into his pocket and lets you know.

The Screen

It’s huge; the Galaxy Note has a 5.3” WXGA, high resolution, 285ppi, that’s nearly as good as an iPhone 4, Gorilla glass coated, and a HD Super AMOLED display. Simply put an awesome screen, with deep blacks and colours that actually do pop. For my tastes, it does appear a little over etched and vivid, but no more so than other Samsung Super AMOLED screens. The benefit here is the sheer screen real estate for typing, reading and in fact everything. The screen is very sensitive and all touch actions, including typing, become very enjoyable. Coupled with the fast processor, this is the best and fastest I have been able to type on a mobile device. The screen is also very good in direct sunlight, considering its size a great result.

The Camera

The Samsung has a rear facing 8 MP camera with LED Flash and a front facing 2 MP camera. The proof is in the taking though, and the pictures from this camera are as good as the Samsung Galaxy SII, that is very good, noise was low, and the low light ability was actually very impressive, pictures were also a little over processed with a slightly etched feel as well, but overall saturation of colors was good with decent contrast and sharpness. The LED flash was a little weak but was good enough for general people taking. The Camera app has some nice touches with a useful panorama mode that enables large scale shots really easily, smile shot, and other simple modes, round out an effective package. This will not replace your high end camera, but is a good effort, and will certainly be good enough for casual photography
The Insides

Samsung have really upped the game with the tech squeezed into the slim 9.65mm thin body. Starting with the 1.4GHz Dual Core Processor coupled to 16gig of internal memory, and a multi band radio set, that will work almost everywhere there is mobile signal. The mobile radio chipset will operate to a maximum of HSPA+ at 21Mbps download speed, where available. Put this together and you get instant response, there is no perceptible lag when using the Galaxy Note, no matter how many apps are open, and even when downloading and installing apps the device is really fast. All this power comes at a cost, and that is power consumption. Samsung have included a huge 2500 mAh battery, around double any other phone out there, and it shows, I get a full days usage from the Galaxy Note despite some heavy game playing and Tweeting and whatever. Sometimes having all that size does work for you. The Galaxy note comes with a full complement of sensors from Accelerometer, to Light sensor, Digital compass, Proximity, and even a Barometer for those that want to take the Note sailing.
The Outsides

The Galaxy Note is really slim, at 9.65mm, and this does make up for its size to some extent. You can’t hide the screen real estate, but its heft is minimized by the extreme simplicity of construction and it smooth edges, coupled with the thinness of the design. I do feel that in many ways engineering won this round, the Galaxy Note does feel premium, if a little plastic, the phone does feel good in your hand, it just lacks a little flair. The design brief seems to be, we have an awesome screen now wrap a body around it. The screen dominates, and the rest is, well just there. This is a personal preference but overall the device feels a little soulless. Like the Galaxy SII, and unlike other Android devices there are three buttons on the bottom of the Note, a menu on the left, a large central home key, and back button on the right. Simple once you get used to it.
The Operating System

No surprises here its Android 2.3.5, Gingerbread, which is almost the latest, no word from Samsung when it will get the next version 4 or Ice cream Sandwich, but bank on that happening sometime toward the middle of next year. Android 2.3 is fast, fluid, and mostly polished. Samsung have overlaid the stock launcher with a launcher called TouchWiz. Shades of iPhone abound here, with similar icons and overall functionality especially when you get into the apps menu. TouchWiz is effective and fairly simple, but very derivative, and slightly old fashioned at this point. You can of course replace the launcher with many available on the Android market, should you so wish, so this is not a negative just a fact.
The other fairly useful addition is the Samsung Hubs, there is a Social Hub , which consolidates all your social networks into one feed, and a Readers hub , which keeps magazines courtesy of Zinio, books by Kobo, and newspapers by PressDisplay, all in one place. This Hub was really useful and the size of the galaxy note worked really well here, newspapers, magazines, and books were a treat to read and easy to manage via the hub. I personally preferred the individual social network apps to the Samsung Hub version, but overall it works fairly well.
What is Unique

A stylus is included with the Galaxy Note. I thought I had left that behind with Symbian and resistive touchscreens but now here is another one and a very very good one, once you get it out. This stylus is fully digital and is very sensitive. The Stylus functionality is very well integrated into the Galaxy Note and a host of applications which allow note taking sketching and drawing can be done. Endless fun and creative endeavor resulted when I showed the kids. The stylus fits very securely into the body of the Note and should be a boon for creative types or those who feel they need to actually write rather than type. The sensitivity of the screen and the accuracy of the stylus were amply demonstrated at the recent launch. The Samsung App store has a number of unique apps for use with the stylus, and some may be just up your alley if drawing on a screen is your thing. For general business applications such as mail and browsing the stylus is not very useful.

The Price

A hefty price tag is attached to this unique piece of gear. It retails for around R8500 and will be available on high end contracts from the mobile operators for little or no charge. Compared to fully fledged tablets it’s a bit steep in my opinion. You could theoretically get a 32Gig iPad or Galaxy Tab and a Galaxy S phone or equivalent, for around the same price. You give up the clever stylus, and have to carry around two devices, but there is always a tradeoff.
The Conclusion

After using the Galaxy note for a few days, I must admit I find the screen size a bit addictive, typing reading, and Web Browsing is much better on a big screen. The overall fit and finish is first class and despite the paper thin back cover, once it is in place, the Galaxy note feels really solid and well made. The slimness of the device along with its lightness makes it easier to carry around than you would expect. The glances and outright “what is that” when you plunk it down on the table at a meeting is also fun.
For me the question is, will the added functionality and benefits of a large screen and the stylus, make the difference? All I can say is that the Galaxy Note is a bit big for me. I don’t do much creative work, and whilst the screen size, which allows amazingly fast and accurate typing, is a real boon, the size will become a problem if this were my only device. It does not fit comfortably in a pants pocket, and don’t leave it in your back pocket, or else you may land up with an expensive broken semi tablet.
It all about choices, if the price and size don’t put you off, then the Samsung Galaxy Note is a technical tour de force, and without doubt one of the best mobile devices out there. If you can’t find a reason to use the stylus, and don’t wear a suit all day, with large inside pockets, then perhaps there are other phones on the market that would be a better choice.

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(Images via Samsung South Africa)

Steven Ambrose – Executive Editor and major Gadget Geek. Father of 5, and as a result scared of nothing, except being bored. Ran and wrote for since 2006, and consults on Technology and its impact on Business via Strategy Worx Consulting. Find me everywhere there is a social platform, but mainly on Facebook and Twitter @ambio