Samsung Galaxy Note Review

So I got a great break in my professional career and that is getting my hands on the Samsung Galaxy Note before it hits the market. Usually I have to get devices afterwards but not this time. What can I say about this device that you won’t already read? I am not sure. When people ask me my favorite smartphone I always point them to the Samsung Galaxy S II or another phone that I am doing a write-up on later, but now I can point them to a new device.

First let’s give you a little background. This device is not your ordinary smartphone, it isn’t your ordinary tablet. It is a super hybrid of the two. At 5.3-inch “Tabphone” packs the usage of a Tablet with the style of a phone. You would think that the mixing of the two would be problematic right? You are very mistaken. This phone is a powerhouse of awesomeness. From the moment I have touched it I have yet to put it down. Now enough of me gushing let’s find out if this Tabphone is right for you.   Check out the video review below as well.

First Impressions and Hardware

Well let’s get this right out there no need to hide it, as it will come up a lot: the Galaxy Note is a big damn phone. While one of my complaints about the Motorola Droid RAZR was it’s size in the hand for some reason it didn’t seem to bother me as much with this Tabphone. Maybe because subconsciously my brain is thinking it’s more of a tablet less of a phone. However it is a solid mix of the two.

With a 5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED screen on the front, giving you a 1280 x 800 pixel count, you won’t have the use for squinting anymore. That is one of the many things I hear first about this phone, is just how easy it is to see text on this screen. It truly is one of the best displays I have ever seen on any device. Let’s talk about some of the inside components of the Note. 1.5 Dual-core Snapdragon processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage and a microSD slot as well for that extra storage. Bluetooth 3.0 to help connect with hands free devices along with the 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi connectivity. As far as radio bands you got GSM/GPRS/EDGE and of course LTE bands.

You have an 8-megapixel camera in the back teamed up with an LED flash, capable of capturing 1080p/30 fps footage, while a 2-megapixel front facing camera. You get the capacitive touch buttons on the bottom representing the Home, Menu, Back and Search functions. Around the device you have your 3.5mm headphone jack, the power/lock button and the volume rocker, the microUSB jack and what is that?…oh right the S Pen.

S Pen

What looks like a stylus, acts like a stylus but isn’t a stylus? It is the S Pen. What is an S Pen? Good question, it is a battery-free capacitive AND pressure-sensitive plastic pointing stick that was built upon Wacom technology. So what does that mean to you? It’s a stylus! Now on the S Pen is a gray button, that is almost impossible to detect with feel, that when pressed and held for a few second you can capture a screenshot, do a double-tap and it brings up the S Memo application so you can scribble a note.

You can also use it to perform gestures to simulate Android buttons – hold and swipe you get Menu, down for Home and left for Back. Learn this because the stylus can’t be used on the capacitive buttons on the bottom of the display. Go ahead and try it all you want it won’t work.

The S Pen works with just about everything else. Mimic your finger taps on the screen with greater precision, which can in handy for gaming. Fruit Ninja becomes more sadistic when you feel you are actually wielding a real weapon, instead of swiping your finger back and forth like a maniac. You can just imagine the possibilities.

With all the good things comes some bad things. Writing, it’s main purpose, seems a bit of a chore. You have to write a little larger than you normally would to make it more legibly. What would take a few lines on actual paper may take a few pages on the Galaxy Note. Thankfully with plenty of internal storage you can have that luxury of large notes. However bringing them all together later on will be a bit tricky.

Also while messaging you can opt to use the S Pen and write your message and for me that was really hit or miss.  More miss than hit and I am sure with some time and dedication you can make this actually work for you but the keyboard is actually very responsive in this aspect so either way inputting a message is not a chore.

Display

Now for all the talk of how big the phone is, it comes at the hands of the beautiful display. The HD Super AMOLED panel measuring 5.3 inches diagonally and rocking a 1280 x 800 resolution. Now while this phone is non-Plus display type you won’t find much to lose sleep over. The display on the Galaxy Note is simply beautiful and stunning. While most would prefer a Plus display I won’t be crying over it anytime soon.

With the Super AMOLED display the contrast is amazing, blacks are true and whites pop off the screen. The viewing angles are really good. Reading text is very easy with the default setting as is everything to look at on this device. Like I said that is the big compliment everyone had was just how amazingly easy it was to see everything on this device.

Call quality and speakerphone

So you get over holding the phone in your hand to view and surf and play but now it comes time to make a phone call. This is where it gets a little awkward, holding a 5.3-inch Note up to your head will seem weird unless you have an abnormally large head. However when you do make phone calls the Note is more than ready to handle your calls. Quality is clear and everyone came in loud and clear and the speakerphone quality is solid with no distortion.

Camera

The camera on this device is the same 8-megapixel that can be found on the Samsung Galaxy S II phones like the Epic 4G Touch from Sprint. The camera quickly adjusts for color and brightness and in most situations you will find this camera more than capable of handling your camera duties.

Now before I have talked about taking a photo with a tablet being quite awkward but with the Galaxy Note it isn’t awkward at all in fact it is actually fantastic. I have said my peace on holding up a tablet to snap a picture you get a large viewfinder and that is helpful but the fact that it is so big and so cumbersome. That is not the case here, taking photos with the Note is small enough to be manageable.

Software

The Galaxy Note is running Android Gingerbread 2.3.6 and Samsung’s TouchWiz isn’t very intrusive at all. Infact I didn’t really find myself actually minding it at all. Some of the apps and custom widgets actually make the phone nice to use and add a new dimension to customization.

With all that extra resolution and dimension on the device sometimes certain things don’t play nicely. When the device is good it is really good. Tons of icons on the screen, mobile surfing, gaming all great. Once you get used to seeing the display on this device running the net you might not look at your sad phone the same way again.

Sadly though there are some apps that don’t handle all the extra room nicely. Much like other reviewers when you log into Netflix you are met with a giant red screen and these two mini login boxes. Other apps buttons are smaller on this device then on typical displays and will take some time getting used to. I am not sure what the problem is, possibly developers not adjusting to the new dimensions, but the combination of large and small graphical elements may take its toll. Gingerbread doesn’t seem like it belongs here on this device and it will be better served when Ice Cream Sandwich comes along, as that is more of a hybrid type of build between Tablet and Phone.

There is another fun preloaded app on the Galaxy Note and that is the Crayola Physics Deliuxe.  A 2D drawing puzzle game.  You have a ball that you must navigate towards the star using the S Pen and your drawing skills to help get the ball to the star.  It is fun and difficult at the same time.  Give it a try and see how far you can go.

S Memo

Here is the biggest piece of custom software. Hold the S Pen button and double-tap anywhere and up comes S Memo. Do a long single tap and capture a screenshot that you can doodle to your hearts content. This will come in handy for professionals in taking a photo jotting down a quick note then sending it to a co-worker. I can see Contractors using this a lot to take a quick shot of a job, jot down some notes and by the time he gets back to the office he can have a few ideas on how to go about the job. Only downside is that writing with the S Pen can be tricky so best to keep it a quick note.  I talked about a similar function on the Galaxy Tab 7.0 and how I thought it was a neat little function.

You can also create picture collages as you are able to insert and resize photos onto a new S Memo page. Once you save the S Memo notes you can’t resize the photos. Which can be annoying if you have someone who says they can’t see the image clearly and you have to redo it again but at least they are shared as flat image files.

My one complaint comes to the stylus button. It should be able to do more than what it does. Possibly allowing you to tap the button and switch from pen to eraser to keep you more productive. If there was a way for that to happen then the S Memo can be even more useful.

Performance and battery Life

While the phone is shipped with the 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor it still has moments where it will lag or stutter in performance. Apps will load quickly sure and the device is very responsive but those little hiccups are disappointing. With that being said the battery life on this device, even with it shipping with a 2,500mAh battery, still fell about average on longevity. I would get around 8 hours of battery life on normal usage and of course the more you use the quicker the battery will drain.

Roaming around on the phone on the network even though I don’t live in a 4G area I didn’t see the network dropping out of apps that utilize the network like SiriusXM or Tunein Radio. Rarely if ever had a drop out on the network. The Note was always able to maintain a strong signal.

Wrap-up

Yes the Note is big but not TOO big. If you have small hands you will find it a bit cumbersome at times, but you shouldn’t write it off completely. You will get used to the size after a few hours of handling this device. Plus the downside is once you get used to it, you won’t want to go back. It is very easy to say this about the Galaxy Note this device is the new standard of which all other smartphones should strive to be. Everything about this phone is simply spectacular. 

The price point on this device is $300 on a new two-year AT&T contract and that isn’t such a hard hit to take when you see people dropping that much on an iPhone. I will say this I have T-Mobile and with this device I seriously consider jumping over to AT&T to snatch up this phone.

With that it is time (not sure we really have to on this one but tradition dictates) that we go to the Kyle Scientific Scale-o-Rama and give this a rating of Skip It, Flip It or Buy It. After much debating and nashing of teeth we will give this Samsung Galaxy Note a very solid and whole hearted BUY IT. In the scope of giant phones like the Droid RAZR or any phone for that matter this Samsung Galaxy Note (Tabphone) is the standard bearer for all phones in any market.

Article first published as Samsung Galaxy Note Review on Technorati.
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