When it came to phones for 2011, the two hottest phones in terms of buzz had to be the Galaxy Nexus and the Galaxy Note. Interestingly enough, both phones are made by Samsung. The buzz for the Galaxy Nexus was surrounded around Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich whereas the Galaxy Note was all about its mammoth 5.3-inch display and stylus, dubbed the S Pen. The Galaxy Note was already available internationally for several months before finally landing in the U.S. with AT&T a week ago, priced at $299.99. The U.S. version brings LTE and a Qualcomm processor, but has the overall same look and feel. It’s available in both carbon blue and ceramic white.
The Galaxy Note might be a niche market for now, but is it starting a new re-birth in productivity devices? This is my full review, but you can also check out my initial hands on and my quick look at some S Pen optimized apps.
The Galaxy Note looks a lot like a larger version of the Galaxy S II. The only major difference is the holder for the S Pen which fits perfectly in the device. In fact when it’s in the device, you wouldn’t even know it’s there. Where other devices like the HTC Flyer made the stylus an option and nowhere to put it, you have to give kudos to Samsung for designing the Note this way. Although it’s big in size, it’s not too thick. It comes in a 9.65mm, but it’s a little heavy at 183 grams.
It’s all about size when it comes to the Note and there’s no question that it’s a little awkward at first. For those that like to use their phone with one hand, you can forget it unless your hands are mammoth size. It’s so big that it makes the Galaxy Nexus look like a BlackBerry. Until you get used to it, expect to feel a little funny in public with this thing. One person actually thought it was a Kindle Fire. The size of the Note might not be for everyone, but the real question is how we see it one year from now. I remember when people thought 4.3-inches was too big for a phone and now it’s a standard. Only time will tell, but it’s growing on me.
The S Pen is a really nice design. This isn’t a straight stylus as it includes a small button on the side that you utilize when doing certain shortcuts like a screenshot or opening the menu. With accessories such as these, one might expect cheapness, but Samsung didn’t go that route. It feels good and looks good.
The AT&T version features a 5.3-inch (1280 x 800) Super AMOLED display, 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM8660 processor, 1GB of RAM, 8MP rear camera, 2MP front camera, 16GB internal memory, microSD for up to an additional 32GB, HDMI through MHL/USB 2.0 port, NFC, 4G LTE, HSPA+ at 21.1 Mbps, and a 2500mAh battery.
Since it’s a large phone, Samsung was able to pack a decent sized battery. They put in a 2500mAh, which is much bigger than just about every phone, except for the incredible DROID RAZR MAXX, which has a 3300mAh battery. I don’t live in an AT&T LTE area so I couldn’t test how it performed under those conditions. Under normal HSPA+ 4G conditions, the battery performed very well as one might expect. You won’t have a problem getting through the entire day from wake-up to bedtime with moderate to heavy use. I did run a straight video test where I played video continuously, and it lasted 6 hours. This was while connected to HSPA+ (not LTE) and the screen brightness was turned up to about 2/3’s.
There are many people out there that swear by the Exynos processors that are in most Samsung devices, but unfortunately because of LTE compatibility, Samsung went with the Qualcomm MSM8660. I’m a firm believer that the average person can’t tell the difference between processors, but I will say that I noticed some lag at times with the Note. Was it so awful that I wouldn’t recommend it? Absolutely not, but it’s worth noting (no pun intended). I did run the AnTuTu Benchmark which came in at 6381, which puts it just above the Galaxy S II and just below the Galaxy Nexus. The bottom line is this phone is pretty quick the majority of the time.
It’s a tradition for Samsung devices to have a nice display, and the Galaxy Note is no exception. The Super AMOLED display is gorgeous to look at. With 5.3-inches of space it’s amazing how much can fit on the screen. The biggest difference is you get 5 icons across and web pages are much more pleasing to look at since you get more coverage.
I would say the biggest negative for the Galaxy Note is that it has Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread. With the SDK for Android 4.0 being out for over 4 months, it’s a disappointment that this and many other phones are launching without it. The Note isn’t a new device since it has been available overseas for several months, but still, it’s a letdown. For now, the plan is for ICS to land on the the Note between March and May of this year. If that translates to this variant, only time will tell.
As far as software goes, it’s a traditional TouchWiz phone with all the same UI enhancements in the Galaxy S II variants. Of course there is one major addition, and that’s support for the S Pen. They have included S Memo for taking quick notes. It actually goes beyond that because there are so many options available as in the type of pen or marker to adding in photos and other images. I show all of this in my unboxing video. There are also several apps available in the Android Market that are S Pen optimized. You can find them through Samsung Apps or by searching for “Galaxy Note” in the Android Market. Some of the ones I tried were Soonr Scribble, Hello Color Pencil, Hello Crayon, Hello Chalk, Comic Book, OmniSketch, and FreeNote. I did a quick hands on video of all of these that you can checkout here.
As far as bloatware, you will get AllShare, Amazon Kindle, AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Ready2Go, Crayon Physics (which is a game utilizing the S Pen), Kies air, Live TV, Samsung Media Hub, AT&T Messages, Mini Diary (personal diary utilizing the S Pen), Movies, MyAT&T, Polaris Office, Qik Lite, Samsung Apps, and Samsung Social Hub.
Samsung was nice enough to send me a couple of accessories to try out. First up was the S Pen Holder Kit (pictured below), which retails for about $45.00. Even in the Palm Pilot days, I never carried around an additional stylus as I was always fine with just whipping out the built-in stylus. I’ve found that I continue to feel the same way 10-years later. I have no issues pulling out the S Pen from the Note itself, but I will say that the S Pen holder is very comfortable to write with. If you don’t mind carrying the extra baggage than definitely buy one.
I also tried the Flip Cover (pictured below). This one actually replaces your battery cover so it becomes “permanently” attached to the Note. It’s not actually permanent, but you won’t want to remove your phone from it on a regular basis unless you want to carry your original battery cover with you. So if you want to hold the note up to your ear for phone calls, it would be quite awkward with the flip cover. Of course a lot of people have a problem holding a 5.3-inch phone up to their ear anyway so this cover makes a lot of sense especially if you always use Bluetooth. It retails for about $25.00.
Samsung cameras are one of the best. I think the Note takes great pictures, but don’t expect it to have zero shutter lag like the Galaxy Nexus. The camera itself is better so I’m willing to take the delay for better quality. It’s a pleasure having a phone in which whenever you take a picture, it comes out right every time. Here’s some example photos, with the last one dimly lit and requiring flash.
The Galaxy Note isn’t for everyone, but one has to wonder if Samsung is ahead of its time. On one hand it seems like the S Pen is so 90’s, but at the same time, it seems like it could be the future. I’ve already written about how I think tablets are a waste of money so I think the Galaxy Note is a happy medium. It’s big, but small enough to be mobile and you can be as productive as ever on it. The problem with tablets is they generally don’t have a data connection. Yes, some models do, but who wants to pay for an extra data plan? The Galaxy Note gives you a data connection full time and yes, it does fit in your pocket. For people who want to be productive on the road, the Galaxy Note makes perfect sense to me, but if you don’t agree, I suspect that you will in about a year from now. For those of you that already agree with me, go ahead and buy it now and don’t look back.