The Samsung Galaxy Note has finally landed in the U.S. at AT&T, and this is one smartphone that has made quite the splash. Perhaps, the Galaxy Note first captured your attention during the Super Bowl with its commercial debut. And this is one smartphone that is especially difficult not to forget, because it’s downright massive – at least in display size. That is because the Samsung Galaxy Note packs in a 5.3″ display. So if you thought the Galaxy S II Skyrocket’s display was big, you ain’t seen nothing yet. But it’s not just the display on the Note that is impressive, but also the included S Pen that allows you to sketch and scribble notes on the go.
The Samsung Galaxy Note measures 5.78″ x 3.27″ x 0.38″ and weighs 6.28 ounces. Holding it up to your ear to make a phone call seems awkward at first, but thanks to the Note’s curves and thin size, it’s not all that bad. That said, we have had many funny reactions when people have seen us using it for calls, so you sure need to be a confident bloke to use this as a phone in public.
But the real question is how many of us actually use our phones to make calls anymore? Samsung understands that more and more people are using their smartphone for primarily data driven tasks, so much so that they aren’t all that concerned with how big the device is to hold up-to your face. That said, one complaint we have with the Note’s form-factor is that it also tends to pick up grease very easily, which makes it slippery when holding it up-to your face, and easy for it to slip out of your hands. Last but not least, the Samsung Galaxy note is also available in a lovely ceramic white color which we are particularly fond of.
It’s not just the sheer size of the Galaxy note’s 5.3″ display that is impressive, but it’s display technology and resolution that provide a big wow factor. The display is a Super AMOLED display which provides amazingly vivid and bright colors, and this is definitely one of the best displays you can find on a smartphone today. Furthermore, the device is sporting a 1280 x 800 resolution. That is as high a resolution as most 9″ and 10″ tablets! That is also a higher resolution than the likes of the iPad 2. That means that the Galaxy Note has all the more potential for utilizing its 5.3″ display for some serious HD content.
The S Pen
Don’t call the bundled S Pen a stylus, Samsung says – “because it’s certainly not one.” While the concept of the S Pen might remind you of PDA’s of yore, the S Pen is actually pressure sensitive, and able to work on a capacitive – versus a resistive display, which is why Samsung is making a point to distinguish the S Pen from older technologies.
So how well does the S Pen work? When it comes to drawing and sketching, the S Pen is quite capable of some serious drawing. The Note comes bundled with S Memo, a basic memo app which lets you sketch in different colors and with different types of tips – such as a pen, paintbrush, pencil, and marker. The app also lets you write notes with the S Pen which can then be converted to text. The S Pen is miles ahead of those rounded and very thick-tipped stylus’s that are available for the iPad and other tablets, especially with it’s smaller tip which allows for greater precision. That said, the S Pen does require applying a bit of pressure when drawing and writing, and we have noticed a bit of a lag when drawing with it.
The handwriting recognition on the Galaxy note works pretty well too, but still has room for plenty of improvement. We have noticed that the device does a better job of accurately converting handwriting to text when the handwriting is a neater one. So if you have a sloppy handwriting, the Note will struggle to convert your notes to text accurately. For some folks, like myself, that means making a concerted effort to write more neatly. Fortunately, the device does do a pretty a good job of converting words to text, and is accurate most of the time – as long as you write pretty neatly. However, this isn’t always a practical option when you’re in a rush to use the S Pen to respond to an email, etc.
Samsung has big plans for the S Pen, and to that effect, they have already developed 10 apps for it, and you can expect more to roll out quickly. But it’s not just for notes and sketching, the S Pen can also be a great tool for gaming. For games like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds, the S Pen can help improve accuracy and control. Samsung is sure that developers will utilize the S pen in creative ways in more and more upcoming mobile games.
The Note packs in a 1.5GHz dual-core display and general operation of the device feels very peppy. In Quadrant, the device earned a benchmark score of 2943, making it one of the fastest smartphones we have ever tested to date. The device also comes running Samsung’s TouchWiz U.I. with special widgets, and Samsung’s Social hub for enhanced social media integration with Android.
The battery life on the Samsung Galaxy Note is pretty good, especially amongst the 4G LTE devices we have recently tested. You can get about a full day of moderate use on a single charge.
Web Surfing and 4G LTE
Thanks to support for AT&T’s up and coming 4G LTE network, which recently expanded to 28 locations around the U.S., the Galaxy Note is a speed demon. Web sites and apps download like lightning and even 720 HD videos from YouTube stream down without a hitch. Check out our speed tests below for more.
The Galaxy Note packs in an 8MP rear-facing camera and a 2MP front-facing camera. As we have come to expect with the Galaxy series, the rear-facing camera on the Galaxy Note is excellent! The camera is also able to record 1080P video. Photos tend to be sharp with vibrant colors. The camera even does well indoors, and in low-lighting conditions, which is an area where most smartphone cameras under-perform. The camera app also comes with several neat effects, and the ability to adjust the exposure, which can be a much better solution than using the flash in certain scenarios. Check out the gallery below for sample photos taken with the Samsung Galaxy Note.
Out of the Gate, Samsung already has an impressive accessory line-up for the Galaxy Note and that includes many unique cases, and add-ons. For example, there is the Galaxy S Pen and Holder Kit for those who prefer a more traditional pen-like experience for their S Pen. Samsung has also come out with a very clever Flip Cover case design that not only provides protection for the front glass display, but also replaces the Note’s back battery cover, which in turn manages to keep the Galaxy Note’s profile thin.
But don’t call the Note a phablet, Samsung says it’s a smartphone. That said, it has been very interesting witnessing people’s reaction to the Galaxy Note. Many people simply can not get over the sheer size of the device and that it is a phone. Many have marveled at how neat and impressive the device’s big display is, while others wouldn’t give it a second look because the display was too big for their taste. Yet, pretty much everyone has taken to the S Pen and the device’s drawing capabilities. We even introduced it to some people in a nursing care facility and were amazed at how captivated they were with using the device to sketch and draw.
It’s because of the S Pen that really makes the Galaxy Note a potential game changer. And already in Europe, the Galaxy Note has been quite the big success, so it remains to be seen how well the note will do with an American audience. Either way, we expect to see more of the S Pen. There are even rumors of an upcoming 10″ Note tablet with S Pen support that might be announced at MWC next week. We wouldn’t be surprised if that rumor proves to be true.
At the end of the day, if you don’t want to carry around a both a tablet and a phone anymore, and / or sketching on the go is valuable to you, than the Note could make a lot of sense for you. The Samsung Galaxy Note retails for $299 with a 2 year contract on AT&T. It’s also available unlocked for $682 from Amazon.
The Good: Excellent Super AMOLED display with tablet-like resolution, 4G LTE on AT&T is blazing fast, S Pen works pretty well and has tons of potential, apps for S Pen is already growing, great accessory line-up, excellent camera
The Bad: Device looks really odd when holding it to your head, handwriting recognition doesn’t work for everyone, S Pen experience is a bit laggy, comes with Android 2.3 for now – but a 4.0 update is on its way