Samsung Galaxy Note – Detailed review

Wednesday 30th, November 2011 / 14:18 Written by
Samsung Galaxy Note – Detailed review

The Galaxy Note is the latest offering from Samsung’s stable. Everyone is quite excited about this device as it’s the first time a device with a screen size of 5-7” has come out with such high end specifications. I was also curious about the reception this device would get. Samsung is essentially trying to create an entirely new market and in my opinion, they have not succeeded.

Design and build quality

The Note is big if you consider it to be a phone and small if you consider it to be a tablet. It is midway and tries to take the good attributes of both types of devices. I say ‘tries’ because it is up to you to decide if it succeeds. As said previously in the un-boxing the size will catch you by surprise. Even if you have seen tons of photographs with the note next to other phones or tablets, the first reaction when you actually see it will have an exclamation mark at the end.

The screen and back button position on the Note is very S2. The Note is better looking in my opinion because it has absolutely no glossy part on the back side and the entire back is covered in a textured finish. It has the usual screen, touch sensitive buttons for ‘menu’ and ‘back’ under the screen with the home button at the center. The Note also feels better built and more solid than the S2. It has the usual volume and lock buttons on either sides of the screen and a 3.5mm headphone jack up top. I also like the fact that it is slightly thicker than the S2. The Note has a micro sd card slot although it is not hot-swappable. The main addition to the Note is the S-Pen which is a digitizer which has a button on the side. The S-Pen slots into the phone in the bottom.

Interface

The Note runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI v4.0 and all the apps I tried out of the gazillion apps in the android market work very well on it. This has always been a good combo. Like any android phone, it’s very simple to setup. I got my mail, apps and contacts pushed to the phone as I put in my Gmail id. If you don’t have a Gmail id (which is almost implausible nowadays), then you can create one as you turn it on for the first time. You can also setup emails through Microsoft Exchange, hotmail or yahoo mail. Contacts can be also be synced through outlook express through the Samsung Keis software that is bundled with the phone. The Note has SNS integration like most Samsung android phones and you can sync your facebook and twitter contacts to your phone. The homescreens can now easily hold 5 icons in 1 row.

It’s quite useless for me to go on about Android 2.3 and touchwiz because most of you would already be familiar with it. So, I’ll elaborate on the stuff that makes this phone different from any other Samsung android phone.

The Screen

The Note has a 5.3” capacitive Super AMOLED HD pentile matrix type touchscreen with a 1280 x 800 resolution. The screen is just beautiful. It has good brightness, sunlight visibility, viewing angles and an reasonably high 285 pixels per inch. The pixels are not visible at a normal viewing distance.

Somehow, I found the whites slightly whiter on the Note than on the Galaxy S2. The S2 seemed to have a slightly yellowish tinge. Super AMOLED screens are loved or hated due to their high saturation levels. I really like them because they make average images look good and good images look great. The contrast ratio is theoretically infinite and in the real world, feel extremely high.

Comparing to the S2, the response during basic actions like unlocking the screen and typing on the on screen keyboard on the Note is slightly slower.

All apps look brilliant on the screen. Apps that really shined due to the bigger screen were Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, word, powerpoint and excel documents, the browser, pulse and other news readers, messaging and the video player

The S-Pen

The S-Pen is the feature that Samsung is making the most noise about. As I said earlier, its a digitizer that slots into the bottom of the phone. Its similar to the device professionals use to draw on tablets (a Wacom Digitizer). Samsung has tweaked the UI so that the stylus can be used seamlessly with the android os. The response of the stylus is very impressive and the apps react to change in pressure. For example, the harder you press the pen, the darker the lines become.

The pen also has a button on the side to effect change in response. When you long press the pen down with the button held, it takes a screenshot. This screenshot can be immediately drawn/written on with the pen and shared through email, whatsapp, facebook, twitter, Flickr and a million more networks. A left swipe with the button held acts a back command and an up swipe brings up the menu. A double tap with the button held opens up the memo app. This can be done with any app running in the background, even during a call. It was quite useful for writing down stuff during a call.

Samsung has added some apps to complement the S-Pen on the note. S-Memo is a memo application which works quite well. As you finish writing or drawing on one page, you can add pages to the same memo which is quite nice. S-Planner is a calendar app that works well with the stylus. The pen can also be used as a replacement for the on screen keyboard which is in my opinion, a waste of time. It’s ok the first time but when the novelty wears off, you will find yourself typing way faster on the on screen keyboard.

Precision editing can also be done on the note with the S-Pen. Cutting and pasting on and from images can be done nicely without any errors.

Telephony

There have been some complaints on forums regarding the call quality on this phone. I had absolutely no problems. The call clarity was crystal clear and it had very good signal reception. It is a bit weird to hold the phone during a call because of its size. More than once, I was holding it too high so I could not hear anything. I didn’t get any complaints from people on the other side even though I tested it in an environment with very high ambient noise. This is not a problem once you get used to it. The phone book is usual android stuff so I’m not going to elaborate on that. Certain changes have been made on the Note that might be overlooked. For example, due to the width of the screen, it might be difficult to use the on screen slider to answer a call. What Samsung have done is they have changed the slider to a circle that appears on the left side. All you need to do is slide your finger from that circle to a bigger diameter concentric circle that appears as you touch the screen. Unlocking the phone also requires the same action.

Camera

The camera is the same 8MP autofocus piece with flash as the S2 which is not a bad thing. The S2 has a very good camera and so does the note. The note has the edge because of the bigger screen and higher no of pixels as I seemed to have a better idea of what I was shooting and whether it was properly focussed or not. Somehow, the photos came out better. The camera has all the basic functions like smile shots, face detection, spot metering, ISO change ability, GPS tagging and so on. The Note can also shoot videos at [email protected] The videos came out very vivid and true. There is also a front facing camera for video calls and self portraits.

 On Screen Keyboard

The on screen keyboard is what most people will be using so here’s how that works. I do not use the stock on screen keyboard on my S2 as I don’t think it works well. If you prefer to use Swype, that’s available too. I use Swiftkey, so i tried to install it on the Note and it said I need to install the tablet version of swiftkey. So I did and it was very slow, the response was quite bad. I did find a good replacement in the Go keyboard with the tablet plugin. With the GO keyboard, typing emails were a breeze. I have to mention here that I still preferred the S2 with regard to the on screen keybaord because the response is slightly faster for rapid double handed typing. It could be that I was too used to the S2. Single handed typing on the Note for me was a big No. It was impossible because of the massive width of the device. If you predominantly type using just one thumb, then you will most likely find this phone very ungainly.

Browser

The browser is the most awesome part of the device. The portion of a web page that can be viewed is great because of its screen size. It has been modified to make better use of the bigger screen. It supports multiple tabs and renders web pages very quickly. None of that checkerboard stuff here. You will mostly be limited only by your network. The browser also has full flash support. You could buy this phone for the browser and still be happy with your purchase.

Voice Command

The Voice command app powered by Vlingo which is also in the S2 is slightly modified for this device. It has a few more functions and you don’t have to say “Hi Galaxy”. It can be configured to start responding to any command. In my opinion, voice command is always a waste of time. All of us try hopelessly to change our accent and the way we say things to make it work to no avail. It is still a pointless exercise.

Music, video player and others

The Music player is almost unchanged compared to the S2. The Note has the same Yamaha audio chip as the S2 which was/is a step down compared to original Samsung Galaxy S. If you are an audio nut, you will not be that happy. The music quality is only ordinary with headphones. I used my own headphones and cannot comment on the stock ones because I didn’t use them. The speakers are also not that loud. The video player is also slightly changed to take advantage of the bigger screen. Big thumbnails of the videos make it a very pleasant experience. Unlike previous phones, one can also play music or videos stored in particular folders.

The GPS on this phone is awesome. The Note has a barometer to calculate altitudes in order to get a faster GPS lock. From what I could understand, gingerbread does not have the necessary API’s to get this to work. But for whatever reason, the Note gets GPS lock extremely fast. I got a lock under 10 seconds inside a building. It has the usual google maps. Bear in mind, voice navigation is not available through google in India, yet.

The messaging app on this phone gets an ipad like view in landscape mode. A preview of the message is displayed on the left and the full message is displayed on the right side of the screen. Other than this function, the messaging app is like any other android Samsung phone.

The Note also has the new Gtalk app with video chat support and it works brilliantly due to the massive screen.

Battery Life

Android phones (and now iPhones) have always had and continue to have bad battery life. Well, this is 1 phone that has a much better battery life than what most of us have come to expect from android phones. I was pleasantly surprised. Never has an android phone lasted me through one full day with 3G ON the whole time. I go through 2 full charges on my S2 sometimes in 1 day usually turning it on around 7AM to around 1AM the next day. This is the only phone I did not have to charge during the day. This is due to a massive 2500mAh battery. Even though it has to power a massive screen, I got more than 4hrs of display time and was able to use it through the whole day with 3G ON the entire time. My usual usage consists of calls, emails, whatsapp, videos, facebook, twitter, news readers, messaging, Gtalk, light camera use and maps

For people who like numbers

Conclusion

This device will have extreme reactions. You will either love it or hate it. In my opinion, this is more a tablet that can make calls than a phone with a tablet like screen. I like the S-Pen but in a day of normal use, I used it for 2 minutes. Samsung has tried to market it such that it does not eat into the S2’s market. I don’t think this is working. Most people are comparing the S2 to the Note and picking one, which now seems to be the Note.

If you are contemplating buying the Note, try and use it for at least 10 minutes before parting with your hard earned money. I do not think it makes a good phone but it makes an awesome pocketable tablet. In my opinion, the note would suit people who don’t make or receive that many calls and their device is used more for media consumption (reading, watching videos, etc). It would also be a good choice for people on the lookout for a second phone and use another phone for calls.

To sum it up

Positives

  • Value for money
  • Huge Screen
  • Definitely Pocketable
  • S pen
  • Browser
  • GPS performance
  • Battery life
  • Camera performance
  • Build quality
  • Super fast processor

Negatives

  • Massive
  • Awkward to hold during phone calls
  • Screen response – I felt that the on screen keyboard and screen response was slightly slower than the Galaxy S2
  • Average audio performance (both loudspeaker and headphones)
  • One handed usage almost impossible

For more information about the Galaxy Note, check out Samsung’s microsite.

About the author

Motorcycle racer, tech addict. @vikingix

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