I’ve had my Samsung Galaxy Note for a little over a week now so I thought I’d give you my impressions. I was going to write about its pros and cons, but I can honestly only think of one negative aspect of this phone. No, it’s not the price, or the size – it’s the fact you can either have a silent mode OR a vibrate mode, but not both without having to go into the sound settings. My old Samsung Galaxy Apollo allowed you to turn the volume down until it went into vibrate mode, and then once more for total silence. Not so with the Note, but I suspect that may be to do with the version of Android, rather than the phone itself. That’s it, that’s my only niggle with this phone, which I absolutely love.
The first thing people always talk about with the Note is its formidable dimensions. As you can see from the pictures of me holding mine, and the one of a business card on the screen for scale, it’s quite large. If you want to feel what it’s like to hold a phone that size, get a piece of cardboard and cut it into a rectangle 8.4cm by 14.7cm; imagine it’s approximately 1cm thick, and you can judge the size for yourself. There are three down-sides to this in my opinion. First, if you wear skinny jeans, it won’t fit in your pocket. However, I wear bog-standard jeans, and it fits in the front pockets more comfortably than any other phone I’ve ever had because it’s so thin. Secondly, you look like Dom Joly (Non-Brits might have to look that up on YouTube) when you make phone calls in public. However, I rarely make phone calls in public, and I bought this phone for web, email and SMS. It’s nowhere near as big as an iPad though, so you’re not going to look like a complete idiot. Thirdly, with great power comes great responsibility (in the form of battery drain) – it’s a big screen, so if you’re on it all day at maximum brightness, you might want to carry your charger with you. Fortunately, many of the desktop docks on the market have spare battery slots so you can charge your phone and the spare at the same time. The cover is a little hard to take off, though, so you might be better off with one of those external portable chargers (solar / AAA battery). You can also buy aftermarket non-Samsung higher-capacity batteries that come with a replacement back cover (makes the phone thicker, but you have double the juice).
Depending on how you’re planning on using it, the size could be a negative. If you think it might be, get a Galaxy S II or III for a very similar phone. For the kind of uses I’m interested in, the big screen is nothing but joyfully welcome. The Super Amoled HD display is pin sharp, and easily visible in bright sunshine, and offers a resolution of 800×1280 (a slightly more square aspect ratio than most smart phones). When it’s dark, the screen can dim down automatically so you’re not blinded. Having owned an iPhone a while back, and used a 4S from time to time, I have to say that the browsing experience on this phone is so much nicer than a iPhone-sized screen. You can simply see more at once, so there’s less panning around to do. Android doesn’t have quite the same slick double-tap-to-zoom-to-an-element as Apple’s phones, but the Note’s screen size makes up for it.
The other unusual feature of the Note is the fact that it comes with a stylus. I’ve used the stylus quite a lot, but mainly I think because it’s there and I thought I should try it out. An interesting question is whether I would miss it if it weren’t there. The key thing Samsung were trying for with the Note was the ability to annotate pictures and notes by hand, and if that’s something you wanted to do, the Note is very good at it. Watch some of the promo videos to see what kind of things are possible. It comes with S Note, which is a bit like a mobile version of Microsoft’s OneNote – you can make hand-drawn notes, including handwriting, hand-drawn pictures, as well as some pre-installed clipart and you can also paste images in from the gallery. You can use the stylus just like you finger, and you can also use it with its in-built button to control some of the menu functions via swiping motions. The phone comes with a nice set of tutorial videos on board for all its features. So, the stylus is very capable, but I’m honestly not sure how much I’ll use it once the novelty has worn off. No matter though, because it sits in it’s own little missile silo-like slot and you can just ignore that it’s there. If you’re addicted to Draw Something, the Note plus stylus will have you wowing people in no time – you just can’t draw with your finger like you can with a pen tip.
Much like a lot of high-end smart phones, the Note has both front and back cameras. The main camera is 8MP with a very powerful flash, recording 3264×2448 pixels. It has various focusing features, as well as smile detection, geotagging and image stabilisation. The flash can also be used as a torch (flashlight) with a built-in widget which offers three brightness levels (Dim, Strong, and Police Searchlight) – a very handy feature which I’ve used several times already. The front camera has lower-res 2MP sensor to support video calls. The main camera is very good quality and has auto-focus. This means it takes a second to take a picture while it focuses on the subject, but the result you get it far superior to most phone cameras. You can also choose the focal point by touching the subject on the screen, like a lot of modern compact cameras. Once you’ve done that, it will take the image immediately when you press the shutter button (also on-screen). Here are a couple of pictures I’ve taken with the main camera and secondary camera for comparison (click to see full image).
The Note can also record full 1080p HD video at 24-30fps. Here’s a very quick video of samples I’ve recorded at 720p and 1080p. It’s re-encoded, but you can see the difference in quality when you watch it at 1080p.
It’s powerful. The Note next to me on my desk has the same processing power as my cheap eMachines laptop. With a dual-core 1.4GHz processor, and also a supporting GPU, the Note is exceptionally fast. There is no lag, no delay, and apps install incredibly quickly. Don’t forget with the new Google Play service (replacing the Android Market) you can install apps to your Android devices from your desktop/laptop browser without touching your Android. Click, click, and the app is there waiting for you when you pick the phone up. That’s the power of Android and Google, of course – it’s seamless in a way that no other mobile platform has yet achieved. When I picked the phone up, all I had to do was enter my google account name and password, and I had all my email, contacts, calendar entries and apps (available to download when I was ready) without having to connect to my computer at all. Add a service like Dropbox, Google Drive or SkyDrive to that, and you can sync all your files too.
The Note comes with 2GB of on-board storage, with an additional microSD slot for up to 32GB more. While I think of it, it takes a normal SIM, not a micro SIM.
One slight issue is Samsung’s lackadaisical attitude to OS updates. They are notorious for taking a long time to release Android updates for their devices, if they release any at all. The Note in Europe comes with Gingerbread v2.3.5. There is talk on the ‘net of Samsung releasing an update to Ice Cream Sandwich (Android v4) in “the first quarter of 2012”, but they seem to be running a bit late with that. The phone does offer push notification of Samsung updates, though, so when it is released, you’ll know. One way around this would be to take a brave pill and ‘root’ your phone with a generic ICS image, however make sure you read around a lot before doing it – just like IOS and jailbreaking, it’s riddled with danger. You have been warned. Gingerbread is fine, though – especially if you’ve not used Android before, you’ll love it.
Without question, for me at least, this gets a whacking 5/5 for being easily the best phone I’ve ever used.