Samsung Galaxy Note, An Oversized Phone And An Undersized Tablet

With a 5.3” screen the Samsung Galaxy Note is a very large cellphone. A decade ago it would look ridiculous held up against your head, but with the exquisite thinness and butterfly lightness of today’s devices your hand hides most of it and so it’s not as bad as it could be. By pushing what’s comfortable with a larger screen Samsung says they’ve tapped into the functionality of a tablet. They feel that they’ve created a hybrid device that is part smartphone, part tablet, allowing you to walk through life with just one device instead of two. Well-made and imbued with a gorgeous Super AMOLED display, the idea is alluring.

But that’s not the reality. I’ve carried the Note around for a week and physically it’s similar in size to a PlayStation Portable or a Nintendo DS, too big to be carried around at all times on your person and so you have to tuck it away into a bag, only to go digging for it when it rings. There are some people who do this with their normal-sized phones, using Bluetooth headsets to access them, but that’s not everyone. It certainly isn’t me. I like to pull out my phone while waiting in line or rushing through the street for a quick glance.

As you’d expect the bigger screen makes it easier to view websites and read text, but it’s not the immersive experience that I associate with true tablets, it’s not large enough to enjoy the panoramas or art book experiences that the best apps have to offer.

What we have here is just the largest cellphone on the market and the smallest tablet and I’m not sure how useful either are as a concept.

Battery life on the Note is an issue. I have had to charge it twice every day. I get a lot of feedback from viewers and am aware that a number of you refuse to get a smartphone until they can last longer than a day without charging. I can only imagine what your reaction will be here.

The Galaxy Note comes with a stylus, a feature that, like its larger size, seems to counter our sense of progress, but Samsung sells it by making it a special “S Pen” that manages to pull out a greater degree of accuracy and pressure sensitivity from the touchscreen. For drawing it’s a dramatic difference from the Galaxy Tab, you really get the flow and motion of a pen or a brush, and it picks up the personality of your penmanship. With a matching S Memo app you can easily combine handwriting with maps or images in notes to share with colleagues.

The stylus also triggers a much-needed screenshot utility which can snap a copy of anything on your screen from any app running. This and the greater accuracy are functions that only come from Samsung’s custom stylus. Lose it and another company’s stylus won’t do the trick.

Caricature of Kris made by a Samsung-hired artist using the S Pen

The Galaxy Note runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) which is neither the latest version of Google’s smartphone software (Ice Cream Sandwich) nor their tablet software (Honeycomb). The only real disadvantage here is that new apps tend to be made for the latest Android software, and issue if your work, like mine, if focused on using apps.

My prediction with the Smasung Galaxy Note is that some business users will find it useful and some tech fans will become enamored with it because of its novelty. When time has passed and the blush has left the bloom, I expect those users will go back to a smaller smartphone again as their next purchase. My colleagues at CTV like to ask me with each review if I personally will make this my new phone and the answer here is a simple no.

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