Blazing LTE download speeds; Stylus integrated into design; Beautiful 720p display; Crisp 8MP camera
Awkward to hold; Handwriting recognition inaccurate; Palm rejection issues; Slow camera
The Samsung Galaxy Note offers robust pen capabilities and fast 4G LTE speeds, but this phone-tablet combo's sheer size limits its appeal.
Is it a phone, or a tablet? Samsung says the Galaxy Note is a phone first, but it's really a little bit of both. This mammoth 5.3-inch Android device straddles the two fastest-growing segments in consumer electronics, and as such, is designed to appeal to those who don't want to carry both a handset and slate. With a built-in stylus, 720p display and 4G LTE speeds, the Note certainly has a lot of compelling features, but is it worth the $299 for this two-in-one device?
How big is too big for a phone? WDell Streak, and we're asking it again with the Samsung Galaxy Note. Measuring 5.78 x 3.27 x 0.38 inches and weighing 6.5 ounces, this device is certainly lighter than the 7.8-ounce Streak, but practically the same size. There's no way you won't notice it in your pocket. The Galaxy Note manages to make the Galaxy Nexus seem small by comparison. Still, it's a bit thinner than the Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0 (5.6 x 3.1 x 0.5 inches), which sports a slightly smaller 5-inch display, and weighs 6.4 ounces.
The Galaxy Note is so wide that it almost becomes uncomfortable holding it for long periods of time in one hand. Unlike most phones, where you can hold and navigate the phone using one hand, you'll want to use both hands with the Galaxy Note.
Taking a page from the iPad's playbook, Samsung sells an optional flip cover (in Navy or Brown, $29.99), which replaces the phone's rear cover, but incorporates a leather flap to protect the screen.
The S Memo app lets you jot notes using the stylus, and can, in theory, convert your handwriting into text. The app itself is fairly plain--a yellow page with a gray grid (which can be changed) takes up the majority of the screen, and icons for a new note, keyboard, stylus and Erase are at the top. We also liked S Memo Lite, a companion app that will appear if you hold the button on the S Pen and tap the screen twice.
For one, the S Memo's handwriting recognition is lacking. We had to be very deliberate when writing to ensure any kind of success. Even the manner in which you use handwriting-to-text is a little balky; In order to activate this feature, you must press the Menu button at the bottom of the Galaxy Note's bezel. However, these buttons don't recognize the stylus, so you have to switch back to your finger, which is less than intuitive.
The capacitive buttons don't offer palm rejection, either. Occasionally when writing, our hand would brush up against one of the Android buttons at the bottom of the screen, which would bring up the Voice Search menu, interrupting our typing.
For those who find the stylus a bit too thin--it could fit inside a soda straw--Samsung sells an S Pen Holder, which is the thickness of a regular pen. Open the holder up, and insert the S Pen, much as the same way you'd put an ink cartridge in a regular ink pen. We found the latter much more comfortable. A replacement S Pen and Holder kit will run you $59.99.
Display and AudioGalaxy S II Skyrocket (441 lux).
But it's HUGE. We could easily read text on desktop versions of websites, even zoomed all the way out. High-def trailers streamed from YouTube also looked pretty good, but didn't seem as crisp as on the Galaxy Nexus. We noticed some pixelation in an F-18 streaking across the screen during the "Battleship" trailer. However, a preview of "Cowboys and Aliens" downloaded from the Movies app was sharp and detailed, and we saw no pixelation, even in darker scenes.
Samsung offers three input methods: The standard Android keyboard, a Samsung keyboard and Swype, which lets you draw lines between letters to create words.
If you like Swype, make sure you use the built-in stylus. We found that the pen sped up text entry.
You can also have a pen-input field pop up whenever a text box is on screen, but we found that this only works if you've selected the Samsung keyboard as the input option.
Software and Interface
There's a few neat hidden tricks; by holding and dragging your finger along the top of the home screen, you can adjust the Galaxy Note's brightness. By swiping our palm across the display--or by holding the button on the S Pen and touching the display--we were easily able to take screenshots, annotate and crop them using the pen, then share them via email or to Facebook, Picasa or through AllShare. We can see this being a useful feature if you want to, say, send a map with directions to a friend.
Samsung also includes some motion controls, which need to be activated in Settings. "Turn over" silences the phone when it's placed facedown; Tilt lets you enlarge or shrink photos or Web pages by placing two fingers on the screen and tilting the device. Double Tap lets you tap the Galaxy Note twice to enter listening mode in the Voice Talk app, which is helpful when using the phone while driving.
The S Pen can also be used to annotate PowerPoint documents in Polaris Office, which comes preloaded on the Galaxy Note. You can also use the pen to write Word documents, but here too, we found the handwriting-to-text to be less than accurate.
Other pen-enabled apps that you can download include Skitch, a drawing app created by Evernote, Omnisktech, ComicBook! (which lets you create comic books from photos) and Sketchbook Mobile, an advanced sketching app.
Other apps include Samsung Social Hub (which aggregates your various social-network feeds), Qik video chat, and Kies Air (which lets you transfer photos and data wirelessly from the phone to a PC). A Movies app (powered by mSpot) lets you rent or download films; "Drive" cost $4.49 for a 24-hour rental.
Preloaded AT&T apps include AT&T Navigator, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T U-verse Live TV, YPmobile, AT&T Address Book, AT&T Messages, myAT&T and AT&T Code Scanner.
Samsung suggests that games such as "Angry Birds" are enhanced by using the S Pen, but in practice, we found no difference between using the stylus or just our finger.
Packing a 1.5-GHz dual-core processor (similar to the Galaxy S II Skyrocket), the Galaxy Note didn't exactly tear it up on our tests. On the graphics-focused An3DBench, the Galaxy Note scored 7,028, which is about 100 points above the category average, but below the Skyrocket (7,428) and the LG NItro HD (7,353). On the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the Galaxy Note's score of 2,206 was about 100 points below the category average, and 800 points below the Skyrocket (3,035).
Despite these benchmark scores, we found the Galaxy Note to be quick and responsive when sliding through menus or opening apps. However, we noticed on Web pages that the Note would take a split second or so to fill in the gaps when we zoomed out; sections of the screen would show a gray and white grid.
4G LTE Speeds
In our New York office, the Galaxy Note delivered blazing download speeds averaging 35.9 Mbps, and maxing out at 48.5 Mbps; that's by far the fastest we've seen yet from a smartphone. By comparison, the Skyrocket averaged 28 Mbps down, and the Nitro HD averaged 27.3 Mbps down.
Upload speeds weren't as impressive. The Galaxy Note's average of 2.5 Mbps places it well behind the Skyrocket (9.5 Mbps), as well as the Vivid and Nitro HD, which both averaged 11.1 Mbps. In Jersey City, the Galaxy Note averaged a slower 23.5 Mbps down, but a better 5.4 Mbps up.
Web page load times were equally fast. Laptopmag.com loaded in an average of 9 seconds, and the mobile sites for The New York Times and ESPN loaded in an average of 3 and 5 seconds, respectively.
Video recorded at the Galaxy Note's max (1080p at 30 fps) was also highly detailed and smooth. When we panned up to an overcast sky, the camera did overly darken a skyscraper, but no more than we've seen on other smartphones.
The 2-MP front-facing camera wasn't as detailed, but did render our skin tones naturally. We had trouble using Google+ for a video chat. When we tried to join a hangout, even over Wi-Fi, the Galaxy Note wouldn't connect.
Although we felt more than ridiculous holding this shingle of a phone to our face, the Galaxy Note delivers excellent quality during calls. A colleague said we sounded loud and clear, and detected no change when we switched to speakerphone.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via 4G), the Galaxy Note lasted a respectable 5 hours and 46 minutes. That's on a par with the smartphone average (5:40) and the Skyrocket (5:43).
|Form Factor||Candybar Touchscreen|
|Operating System||Android 2.3|
|Networks||GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz; UMTS/HSDPA: 850/1900/2100 MHz|
|Memory Expansion Type||microSDHC|
|Display (main)||5.3 inches/ 1280x800 WXVGA HD Super AMOLED|
|Bluetooth Type||Bluetooth 3.0|
|Front Camera Resolution||2MP|
|Camera Resolution||8 MP|
|Audio formats supported||AMR|
|Audio formats supported||WMA|
|Audio formats supported||AAC|
|Audio formats supported||WAV|
|Audio formats supported||OGG|
|Audio formats supported||MP3|
|Audio formats supported||MIDI|
|Audio formats supported||AMR-NB|
|Audio formats supported||WMV|
|Talk / Standby Time||10 hours/10.4 days|
|Size||5.8 x 3.3 x 0.4 inches|
|SAR Rating (Head)|
|SAR Rating (Body)|