Review: The Samsung Galaxy Note

Here it is folks.

The Big Daddy.

The “Phablet”.

Quite possibly the most audacious mobile device produced in years, with a host of tricks–old and new.

It’s a power user device. So let’s use it.

It’s not too big.

Anyone who would say so is wrong. Flat out, objectively, incontrovertibly incorrect. The only correct statement that could be made is: this thing is too big for some. Here’s the deal: we’re talking power users. If you don’t have a need for the real estate, then this probably wont be for you. Even then, it usually only takes me firing up a movie on this screen to change a few minds…

The hardware is a laundry list of cutting edge. The 5.3” 1280×800 SAMOLED HD display is paired with a 1.5Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual core processor. 1GB of RAM is on board, and you’ll have 16GB of storage to play with (upgradeable via MicoSDHC). 2MP front facing camera, and 8MP with 1080p video on the rear. AT&T is all in with this device, showing off its LTE data connectivity. Lastly, the tech behind the name, The Note features an inductive stylus, here called an S-Pen.

Screen first.

720p is the way to go. My mind was made up with the Galaxy Nexus, and this just reinforces it. qHD or the iPhone’s 4x HVGA screen just wont cut it for power devices anymore. The pure blacks of SAMOLED plus tablet-like resolution makes everything look better. Video, photos, everything.

Size also makes text entry easier. The Note’s keyboard in portrait is larger than most other phone’s keyboards in landscape. It even takes a clear shot at phone’s with hardware keyboards. I’ll always take more space. I like to stretch out.

The cameras are Galaxy S II fare. Not a lot new to report here. Similar output. Speed isn’t anywhere near the responsiveness of the Nexus, and video is pretty much the same as we’ve seen before.

The S-Pen is a new beast however. Fine point control over your device courtesy of Wacom. It’s pretty great. More than just another capacitive stick, the inductive stylus features some handy tricks. When in use, S-Pen disables the touch screen, allowing you to rest your palm on the screen while taking notes. A button on the side of the Pen also allows for alternate functions. Hitting the button while long pressing the screen takes a screenshot, and automatically opens the screenshot to take notes ON the image.

You wont use S-Pen all the time; for general purpose selection, your finger is just faster–but I was surprised by how often I WAS using it. It’s not a fair fight playing Draw Something with people who own lesser devices…

In keeping with “Power User” device status, Note also supports HDMI output through the USB port, and USB host is on board to connect the Note to external storage, keyboards, and cameras.

The 2500mAh battery does a respectable job of keeping this monster running. LTE and screen size will crush your battery pretty quick. If you can work wifi into your day at all, the situation gets MUCH more manageable, and with just a little additional management I was able to get the Note to last past dinner time. If you’re a heavy user, you’ll be looking at mobile chargers or backup batteries. The price we pay for audacious hardware.

That said, though it is a battery killer, LTE takes our devices to a whole new level. AT&T has a very modest rollout of LTE in LA, but where you can find it, it’s fast. I was getting pretty solid 20Mbps downloads in Hollywood. Not quite Verizon fast, but handily beating WiMAX in the same areas.

It’s not all roses however.
This is a data-first device. It makes for a somewhat cumbersome phone. If you talk on the phone a lot, I guarantee you will spend one day with this device before you start looking for a headset. The size feels a little funny next to your face, but I was bothered more by the heat this device generated. Large screen, powerful processor, huge battery–this thing gets uncomfortably warm when pressed up against skin.

The ear piece is decent enough, and a secondary mic is on board for noise reduction; but I spent almost all of my time with this sucker on bluetooth. The speakerphone is mediocre. Better than the speaker on the Galaxy Nexus, but shamed by the speaker on even a lowly Nokia Lumia 710, of all phones. Disappointing, as the last LARGE Samsung I played with, the Galaxy Player 5”, had pretty incredible stereo speakers.

The size does come with some ergonomic concerns. This is not a one handed device. Holding it in my right hand, my thumb will not reach the home button. Trying to go one handed resulted in me dropping this beast… Twice…

Lastly, the software is holding this device back. After playing with Ice Cream Sandwich, and a long term review of Windows Phone, going back to Gingerbread is painful. Performance is choppy. There’s a stutter on sliding homescreens. This could be from GB or it could be from Touchwiz, but it’s distracting regardless.

No matter what customizations Samsung provides, I still can’t get over Gingerbread, especially the giant step backwards one has to take with the browser. This was genuinely one of the most welcomed improvements of ICS, which we wont get on The Note until Sammy delivers on an update.

An update has been announced, so we’re just playing the waiting game now. When it does arrive, we could be in for a welcome surprise. It would appear that Sammy has included an NFC radio in the Note which is currently disabled. The antenna appears to be built into the back plate of the phone.

Speaking of the backplate, you may have noticed that for this entire review, the Note is in a Flip case. Most device reviews, I will use the phone naked. The Note was just WAY too much screen for me to comfortably work into my day. Since it’s a two-handed device, the official flip case was a great way to protect all that glass. For a mini-review within this review, it’s an ingenious design, replacing the backplate of the phone to prevent adding a ton of bulk to the device. See the two contacts next to the MicroSDHC card slot? I can’t say for certain, but those look like NFC contacts to me…

This is it.

In it’s current state, it’s a REALLY BIG Galaxy S II, which is decent enough for most, but it’s shaping up to be even better upon the delivery of ICS.

AT&T is betting big on LTE, and showing it off with some big phones. The Galaxy Note wont be for everyone, but seeing as how Sammy has already shipped 5 million of these buggers, it would seem a lot of people out there are looking to take their mobile game to another level.

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