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Samsung Galaxy Note Review – once you supersize can you go back…?*

The Samsung Galaxy Note is one of those products that’s easy to dismiss as an outlier. A massive 5.3 inch screen on a smartphone is ridiculous, you’ll say to yourself as you flick through the specs, and well yes, you’re right. Except you’re wrong. You’re wrong because this is a product of the Samsung design team, a bunch of people who are clearly on top of their game at the moment, and to be brutally honest, a team who are showing the world how it’s done in terms of smartphone marketing and delivery.

The Note, as we’ll call it, is a preposterous smartphone that works, and works well, in spite of a set of features that should consign it to the waste-bin of gadget history. Read on to find out why.



First Impressions
The first thing you have to understand is the fact that this phone is big, but it’s anything but ungainly. Samsung has managed to build a part-tablet product which is still extremely pocket friendly, mostly because once again, just as with the Samsung Galaxy S2 handset, it’s incredibly thin and lightweight for its size.

It’s kind of like the Lady Gaga of handsets, slim and alluring but without all the crazy hats. With a weight of just 178g and a thickness of 9.65mm, it’s only a fraction thicker and a piffling 66g heavier than the S2. The result is a phone which slides into a side or inside pocket with super silky ease, no rubbing or chafing at all. Which is crucial. Keep it out of your jeans back pocket though, if you get the drift.

The second important thing about the phone is the fact that it matches (and in cases exceeds) the specs of the S2, in terms of performance, storage and functionality. So you get a stonking 1.4GHz dual core processor, ultra high speed 4G LTE support where available, 16GB of internal storage (plus a microSD slot), an 8 megapixel rear camera and 2MP front, 1GB of RAM and all the trimmings of the S2 thrown in for good measure.

In Use
But what about that screen, I hear you ask? Surely it’s too darn big for a phone, don’t you look stupid making a call, isn’t it too big for the hand? OK, so let’s clear this up once and for all. If you have dainty hands, this is probably not the phone for you, because it does need ‘handling’ if you know what I mean. You need to grasp it firmly with your fingers and it’s definitely not a one handed fast texting machine…at all. In order to get the best out of the thing, you’ll need both hands, but that’s where the negatives stop.

The fact is this is a tablet computer masquerading as a phone, and the screen is the perfect compromise size to get work done, and also not make you look like a fool while calling home on a bus. What I rapidly found after just a few days of living with the device is you actually start to want to use it for all sorts of things, because it’s so easy to do. The power of the processor, along with the gorgeous 5.3 inch Super AMOLED screen – which is oh so responsive, despite the super tough Gorilla Glass – means you can read text heavy web pages with ease, browse your maps effortlessly and run apps at a size which makes squinting a thing of the past.

Once you’ve tried this size of screen in your hand, you’ll find it hard to return to the standard 4 inch format without a grimace!

The big surprise to me however is how valuable the stupid stylus (or S Pen as they call it) is. You know, that dumb bit of plastic which went out of favour with old PDAs back in the 90s? Well not any more. The stylus combined with the large screen and included S Memo app, is a huge win. I found myself using it for all sorts of notes, random scribblings and important memory jogging stuff, and I’ve not even got started on the functionality properly.

You get the choice of either keyboard input or stylus handwriting, and both work brilliantly to grab notes on the go. One very cute feature is the button on the stylus which lets you capture screen grabs (just hold the button down while resting the stylus on the screen for a couple of seconds). This brings up an great crop, save and share app which is perfect for embedding content into the S Memo app or texting or emailing it to a friend. Awesome touch.

Apparently there’s a lot more you can do with the stylus and S Memo app, as the video above shows, but as I’m the world’s worst artist I won’t comment on the phone’s ability in this department. This artistic work below doesn’t look too bad though, to my untrained eye.

Performance and Battery Life
So at this point the more astute among you will be thinking about battery life and performance with a 5.3 inch screen size. Because there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch right? Well again yes. And no. The good news is the fact that the Note comes with a very respectable 2500mAh battery, which is a good 35% bigger than a conventional smartphone battery. This means that if you use the Note as a standard smartphone you will almost certainly get a good day’s worth of use out of it, if not more. In fact if you switch on the twin power saving modes you’ll stretch that out even further.

The problem is, if you’re like me, you’ll be seduced by the utility of the device to such an extent that you’ll start using it for much more that you would usually. Note taking, more maps, more apps, more games, more everything. Which usually means you’ll need to be careful towards the end of the day if you haven’t done a top up charge somewhere along the line. I manage to regularly eke out a day’s worth of texting, calling, a little GPS maps, gaming, browsing and note taking, but it’s a close run thing most days. The big battery hog, as ever, seems to be WiFi, but that’s a smartphone fixture by now really, isn’t it?

In terms of performance, anyone who’s used a Galaxy S2 will feel right at home. The processor literally gobbles up app tasks and multi-tasking, there’s no lag, the screen flows like butter and the whole thing is a pleasure to use. The only real complaints I had were the naff default Android calculator (how hard is it to make a calculator that works, folks?) and the fact that the WiFi connections could be a bit temperamental at times, meaning you had to reboot to connect with older routers. But a huge plus is the fact that Skype supports video calls on the Note, using the front camera. YAY! At last.

Conclusion
So is this the phone for you? Well as I said before, if you have dainty hands, or think a standard smartphone is too clunky, then you’ll probably not be too enthusiastic about adding this to your portfolio. However if you’re an app and game junkie, love the idea of having a digital notebook and super web browser in your pocket, then this is definitely a phone you need to look at seriously.

The gorgeous screen resolution, the fact that it does NOT look weird making a phone call (you can hardly tell it’s a larger handset), the great movie and game experience, solid battery life and processing power make this a formidable smartphone indeed, to rank up there among the best. I wouldn’t like to carry around anything larger though, I think five inches is about the limit for hands and pockets alike, but that said, this is a wonderful all round tool, which deserves to garner some serious accolades from tablet and phone lovers alike. I can’t wait to test it out with the new Android ICS operating system upgrade which is scheduled for the new year.

Oh and one last thing. You’ll get a lot, and I mean a LOT of comments from people when you start using this puppy. The first reaction is a typical ‘wow that’s HUGE’, followed by a shy request to have a play. A few seconds into the hands-on is enough to convince most people that it’s a serious tool. iPhone users usually just go quiet when I demo the handwritten note taking.

Specifications & Applications

GSMArena

Some neat applications

(*…answer, probably not!)

Nigel is the managing editor of the Red Ferret, as well as a freelance columnist for the Sunday Times newspaper in London. Loves tech and fancies himself as a bit of a futurist, but then don’t we all?

Nigel – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.


3 Comments

  • I've had one a little over a week. FANTASTIC screen, great response, already had 2 updates which took what little lag out. Coming from a Dell Streak, I didn't have to get use to a 5" screen. I use blue tooth all the time, so holding it to my ear isn't an issue.
    Great device, shame the USA is always the last to get something that isn't Apple related.
    I bought mine from Amazon, via Germany.

    • Nice feedback, thanks. :) I wondered what DELL Streak users might think of it.

  • Thank you for your thoughts on this phone. It's coming to AT&T soon and it should coincide with my upgrade. I was hoping to find a well-written review like this.

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