May 6 2012
Samsung has found great success over the past year with it’s Galaxy range of phones, their high end specs and reasonable price point have found a substantial market share and fan base. In this review I’m looking at the Samsung Galaxy Note from Three; the largest and most unusual member of the Galaxy family with some unique features.
The Look and Feel of the Phone
The first thing which strikes you about Samsung Galaxy Note is it’s size, it’s massive 5.29″ screen means that the Phone has a huge footprint, certainly much too big for most people to use in a single handed manner, but unlike the smaller LG Optimus 3D the phone feels incredibly light and well balanced. In fact, despite its size, the Galaxy Note feels comfortable in the hand.
The screen on the Note runs at a resolution of 800 by 1280 with a pixel density of 285 pixels per inch, whilst the pixel density is less than that found on the Apple iPhone 4s, It would be unreasonable to expect a screen this size to have a retina level of density and still remain affordable, and it’s fair to say that the screen looks great. Photographs look very crisp on the Galaxy Note although most Android Apps aren’t designed for a screen of this size and streaming video often looks pixelated.
Text is very readable on screen and web pages look gorgeous and are rendered to make the best use of the large screen, in fact beyond a tradition tablet form factor this is the best way to surf the web on a mobile device.
The size of the device opens up a number of possibilities for reading materials that wouldn’t normally be accessible through a mobile phone.
The dual core 1.4 Ghz processor keeps Android moving well, and in general use it’s very rare to notice any slow down, text scrolls around the screen very quickly.
On Screen Reading
The strength of the Galaxy Note and main selling point is its screen, and those who consume a lot of information will
appreciate the ease in which text can be read from the device, wether it’s on web pages, emails or Social Media this is the device for those who enjoy reading.
The Amazon Kindle Software is freely available from the Google Play Store and allows you to access your Kindle library from your Galaxy Note and when held side by side next to an Amazon Kindle dedicated E-Book Reader the devices do give similar results, although the back lit screen on the Note can cause eye strain if used for significant lengths of prolonged reading. The Note is ideal for reading your Kindle books on short journeys.
Google have recently launched Google Currents which can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. Google Currents provides you with a selected of customisable on-screen magazine style sites, you can choose favourite sources from a wide selection of well known sites and Currents does the rest. It works in a similar way to Flipboard on iOS, and although is missing the ability to access your social media feeds, it presents information effectively, means that your favourite news is always on hand and you will never need to buy a magazine again.
Whilst these features aren’t unique to the Galaxy Note, the large screen provide a natural home.
The S Pen Stylus
It doesn’t seem long ago since every PDA device came with and was dependant on a stylus, and as technology advanced the dependence on the plastic pen decreased and they all but disappeared from the market. This was generally seen as a good thing as the user experience based on the old style stylus wasn’t a great one.
So it might be seen as a gamble then that to help distinguish the Galaxy Note from the smart phone market Samsung have included stylus functionality through the inclusion of the S Pen.
Sitting securely in its internal holder in the bottom of the Note, the S Pen is certainly a massive step forward over the traditional stylus. The S Pen looks and feels like a normal ink pen, writing and drawing with it is smooth, and thanks to the Wacom digitiser that is built into the Note, it’s pressure sensitive, so the harder you press the darker the lines, just like using a pencil. This means that accurate artistic sketching is possible, perhaps for the first time, on a consumer mobile device.
A number of dedicated S Pen apps are included on the Galaxy Note and the devices text input interface allows handwritten input, which although works remarkably well is slower then typing on a virtual keyboard.
If you are a heavy note taker or like the personalisation that handwritten notes provide then the S Pen might be a big selling point for you.
Mobile Data Functionality
The Samsung Galaxy Note supports 802.11b/g/n wifi networks, and switchover between mobile data networks (eg 3G) and known WiFi networks is automated, transparent and seamless. Some Android phones don’t handle this switch very well, but so far I’ve found the Galaxy Note to cope very well with the switch over
On Three’s One Plan Internet usage is unlimited, and this is when Smart Phones come into their own. If you find yourself away from your home Wifi network you can send pictures, large emails, and upload videos quickly and without having to worry about extra data costs or data caps. In our recent test The Three Data Network has been significantly out performing the Orange Data Network.
The Samsung Galaxy Note is compatible with Three’s HSPA+ network which can produce download speeds of up to 21Mbps, however in practice during our testing we noticed that when using Mobile Data the Galaxy Note consistently under performed.
The following table shows a comparison of network speeds (shown in kbps) from a sample of tests on the Samsung Galaxy Note and the iPhone 4s.
In our on-going speeds tests, when we included all test results the Samsung Galaxy Note has an average down load speed of 2265 kbps compared to the Average download speed of 2433 kbps on the iPhone
While its fair to say that because of its size the Samsung Galaxy Note isn’t the natural choice for mobile photographers there is a natural assumption that most phone devices have a decent camera but how does the Note compare to other devices?
The Samsung Galaxy Note comes with two cameras, a rear facing Camera for video conferencing and an 8 Mega pixel front facing camera for photographs, and the results aren’t bad. I’m a big fan of the camera on the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy Note produces different looking photos, but not bad ones. The range of colours appears to be magnified and although this makes good looking images they don’t necessarily reflect the real scene.
The enhanced colour in the Galaxy Note’s photos can have significant advantage especially in scenes with already vivid colours, as shown in the next image rich colours look absolutely gorgeous, although as you may notice this appears to be at the expense of fine detail when zoomed in.
A number of photo capture modes are included on the Galaxy Note, of which the most interesting the the panoramic capture mode, unlike on the HTC Sensation XL where you were limited to three consecutive shots to form the scene on the Galaxy Note you can continue to capture images to form the panoramic photo, the results produce spectacularly wide images, although you need to remember that the wider the shot the more curved straight lines will appear. The inclusion of Panoramic picture modes are a fantastic inclusion on modern day camera phones, as these traditionally difficult photos are now easy to produce.
The Samsung Galaxy Note is capable of recording High Definition Video and it does it very well. As shown in the video below Scenes are bright and colourful and thanks to the dual core processor motion remains fluid, some fine detail is missing from the video which means that the quality doesn’t match that of the iPhone but it does look good, certainly good enough for you to use as a permanent video device.
This has been a tricky review to write because it’s difficult to apply a label to the Galaxy Note, is it a large phone, or a small tablet device, or both?
On a personal note I have struggled to get along with the Note mainly because of it’s size, so before writing this review I showed it to a number of potential users to gain a wider opinion and the feedback was certainly split.
Generally the men I showed the device to agreed that the Galaxy Note is to large to be used practically as a phone, this included a GP who I assumed would appreciate the handwritten facilities. Whereas the women I showed it to really liked it, and commented that as they normally carry a bag with them the size isn’t a problem and the large screen and stylus brought benefits. Most of the ladies I spoke carry and use a diary or notepad with them anyway, so the Samsung Galaxy Note could replace and improve upon an existing paper solution.
A couple of the people I spoke to commented that if Samsung added a few buttons then the Galaxy Note would become the perfect size for a handheld gaming device.
The Samsung Galaxy Note isn’t for everyone, some won’t like the size, some will love the size and inclusion of the S Pen. The Galaxy Note is being priced at the same level as a high end mobile phone, which given the hardware is impressive, it may also be an ideal second device for some of you.
The Note divided opinion to such an extent that if you get chance to try the Galaxy Note then take it, it’s a little different but you may love it.