Review: Samsung Galaxy Note
Is it a smartphone? Is it a tablet? Does anyone really care as long as it works? We review Vodafone's upcoming in-between device, the Samsung Galaxy Note.
Siobhan Keogh | Monday, March 05 2012 | 2 Comments
Product type: Smartphone
RRP incl GST: $1,199
- Massive 5.3-inch screen
- High-end hardware
- Comes with a stylus for drawing
- Camera has flaws
A speedy phone with a beautiful display, but how big is too big?
The Samsung Galaxy Note is a unique beast, as it has a massive, 5.3-inch screen built into a flat, lightweight body. A friend, on seeing the Note, was reminded of an old brick phone that had been flattened by a steamroller. This screen is just one of many of the device’s features, but it’s by far the biggest selling point – and also its biggest problem. For most, the Note will be too big for a phone, but too small for a tablet. Rather, it’s an awkward in-between device, and will only appeal to a niche consumer base.
Despite the screen being much bigger, the build of the Galaxy Note is very similar to that of the Galaxy S II. It has a glass front with a tactile home button in the bottom centre and two touch buttons on either side that are only visible when the device is unlocked. The back panel is made of flexible plastic that seems flimsy out of the box, but once it’s snapped into place feels sturdy. Despite the long, thin form, the build of the device as a whole seems solid enough that if you kept it in your pocket, it wouldn’t flex. We didn’t try putting it in a back pocket and sitting on it to see if it snapped, however.
Let’s face it - you’re going to have difficulty putting it in your pocket, anyway. It may fit if you’re a 6’4" man with a palm like a plate, but the top stuck about an inch out of the pockets of women’s jeans. But the big screen, while a hinderance, is beautiful to behold. It’s high-resolution, at 800 x 1280 pixels, and on Samsung’s ‘Super AMOLED’ display the colours appear bright and bold. The size of the device does allow for some extra little UI changes that are really nice – for example, the number pad is on the same screen as the QWERTY keyboard, so you don’t have to switch between them every time you type a password with numbers in it. It may seem like a minor thing, but if you’re security-conscious enough to have super-secure passwords, it’s a big help.
The big screen also brings some new features that you’d expect from a tablet rather than a phone – like a host of drawing apps. The screen is still too small for you to draw accurately with your finger, so Samsung has instead included a stylus that tucks into the bottom of the device, called the ‘S Pen’. The S Pen may seem like a regular stylus, but using it is quite intuitive – to open the primary drawing app, S Memo, you can hold down a button on the pen and tap the screen twice. Then once you’re in the app, pressing down lightly on the screen with your stylus will produce light, thin lines, whereas pressing down hard will create thicker, darker lines.
The flexibility of the S Pen might make you think that the Galaxy Note could be a good choice for artists or designers. However, while the pen is kind of nifty, it’s not actually very accurate. The markings on-screen always seemed to appear slightly above where we’d put the pen, and the drawings lagged behind our hand’s movement. It would be possible to get used to those issues, but it’s harder to get used to the fact that it’s difficult to gauge how hard to press down to get the desired line. Press too lightly and nothing will show up at all, but press much harder and you’ve accidentally created an abstract masterpiece.
With all of that said, anything your Android phone can do, the Galaxy Note can do better. It’s running Android 2.3 – the latest version available on any new phone in NZ – and has a dual-core, 1.4GHz processor. It’s also packing a Mali-400 MP GPU, the same as Samsung’s Galaxy S II, and 1GB of RAM. When we benchmarked the phone, it blazed on past every Droid we’ve ever tested, including the Galaxy S II, and then kept on going. On top of that, it has a decent 16GB of on-board storage and can take an extra 32GB of microSD storage. Spec-wise, there’s no better phone on the market in New Zealand, and you’d have a hard time finding one elsewhere.
Given the power of the rest of the hardware, the Galaxy Note’s camera is rather unimpressive. The rear-facing lens is 8MP, but the auto-focus just doesn’t work very well, so photos were often blurred even when holding the device as still as is possible, given that it’s handheld. There’s also a significant lag between pressing the shutter and the photo actually being taken.
The camera did perform better than average in low light, however, as it didn’t produce much of the ugly grain that many phone cameras are famous for. It also had extremely good colour accuracy in natural, incandescent and low light. Vibrant colours were still vibrant when recorded on screen. If anything, the camera actually ‘corrects’ colours so they look better on-screen by oversaturation. Reds especially appear much more saturated in pictures and video than they do in real life.
When on a phone call, the call quality on the Galaxy Note is great (keep in mind that we were using a 2degrees SIM, but the phone retails through Vodafone). However, the phone is just so darn big that it becomes difficult to hold the speaker to your ear in the exact right spot to hear properly. We constantly had to adjust the phone’s position while on a call, because moving slightly would throw off the sound.
The battery life of the Note is exceptional for a phone. Its bigger size leaves more room for its enormous (for a phone, anyway) 2,500mAh battery. The battery does take a long time to charge, however.
If you’re purchasing on pure specifications, the Galaxy Note is a great smartphone-slash-tablet, but we hope you like being stared at. On the bus, in the supermarket – wherever you go, people will stare at you like you’re crazy for talking on a phone the size of your face. We also hope you don’t mind having your hand stretched to its limit – particularly if you’re not gargantuan. If you’ve got small hands, you’re guaranteed to get a cramp after talking on the phone for half an hour or so.
The Samsung Galaxy Note is not a bad product, by any means. It’s solidly constructed, feature-packed and lightning-fast. But it’s not going to be a good fit for the majority of people. It’s a niche product for those who really want or need the extra half-inch of screen real estate, but we wouldn’t recommend it to the average consumer.
Having owned this ph since Nov 2011 I have to agree with GNLover. This is by far the best ph I have ever used. My laptop and tablet now sit in the corner gathering dust until required for cpu intensive task's like video editing.
Posted by PhUser at 13:38:15 on April 13, 2012
Sure it was huge for me at the first sight, but no more after a week. The bigger size is acctualy an huge advantage which allows many aspects 3.5 inchs could not. This phone has top specs in every angle. It works perfectly as Samsung advertises. A bit of lagging, but ICS will comming soon, hopfuly this month.
This Galaxy Note has got so much potential. In Youtube, someone has it with Window 8 which runs all MS applications like Words and Excel.
I really hope Samsung would keep this overal size and make it bezel free increasing screen size. Bigger screen size is always better, if it is portable.
Posted by GNlover at 12:14:49 on March 5, 2012
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