The Samsung Galaxy Note is a hybrid smartphone/tablet that has a 5.3-inch Super AMOLED display, Google's Android OS, dual cameras with LED flash and auto-focus, and 4G LTE wireless networking. It also comes with a pressure sensitive S Pen that promises to transform the way you interact with (and enter text into) your smartphone. Whether it fulfills that promise is another question.
At the time of this review, it is available from AT&T for $300 with a new two-year contract and a minimum $20 a month data plan.
The Galaxy Note ote is probably the largest phone you've ever seen. It measures 5.75-inches long, 3.25-inches wide, and just under half an inch thick. It's relatively thin and light, but it's so wide that it's a little hard for me to grip in one hand. It's right at the upper edge of comfort, and while it just barely fits in my pocket, it's so big that I have to take it out before I sit down or it sticks out so far as to be uncomfortable.
Even though it's very large, it isn't too heavy, weighing in at 6.45 ounces. By comparison the latest iPhone weighs in at just under five ounces, so the Galaxy Note isn't that much heavier. Since I like my devices to feel substantial that's not a problem for me; the size is a bigger (so-to-speak) issue.
The back of the phone is slightly textured for improved grip, with a very subtle pattern. It's not really visible unless you're looking for it, and the edges on the pattern are soft enough that they don't bite into your skin (as has been an issue on some of the other phones I've reviewed recently).
Design-wise, it looks fairly similar to many recent Android phones. It's basically black, with a silver bezel and silver accents around the camera lens on the back. Carbon Blue and Ceramic White versions are also available from AT&T if you'd like a little more color in your life.
The Galaxy Note has the largest display I've ever seen on a smartphone, 5.3-inches, with a 1280 x 800 (WXVGA) Super AMOLED screen. As you might expect, photos and video look absolutely spectacular -- this would be a great phone for media buffs who like a larger screen. Text is sharp and clear too, whether you're talking about printed text or handwritten memos.
The screen is capable of eye-blinding brightness if you like, but I found that the automatic brightness setting generally worked the best for me, indoors or out. I did turn up the brightness a bit when I tested the phone in direct sunlight, but the Note was still usable even without that extra step.
The Note doesn't have a physical keyboard, so you'll be tapping on the virtual on-screen keyboard on the touchscreen display. Thanks to the super-size screen, the virtual keyboard is also extra large and very easy to use, with big keys and lots of space between them. I was able to type very quickly indeed with my thumbs, and didn't have any trouble at all. I was able to type fast enough that I found it simpler to just tap out what I wanted as opposed to using the built-in word completion feature, which isn't usually the case.
Of course this device is called the "Galaxy Note", so you also have the option to enter text with a stylus instead of typing with your fingers. Just tap the small icon between the period and the return key on the bottom right corner of the on-screen keyboard, then use the included S Pen to enter your text. It works well, though it isn't as fast as typing, at least for me. I had to fuss with picking the right words using the word completion utility, with capitalization, etc. And while I will never be accused of having good handwriting, I do generally print clearly and large enough that I've never had any complaints -- perhaps that goes back to my Palm OS Graffiti days.
Other Buttons & Controls
There aren't a lot of buttons on the Galaxy Note, which makes sense. Why bother when you've got a huge screen and a stylus? The power button is near the top of the right edge, and the volume controls are close to the top on the left edge. The headphone jack is on the top, not my preferred placement, but understandable considering that the S Pen is housed on the bottom edge of the Galaxy Note, next to the charge/sync port. That's it, aside from the four standard touch buttons underneath the display.
The S Pen itself deserves more attention. It's very light, made of plastic, with a translucent white top and a single gray button about a quarter of the way up from the tip. It's fairly comfortable to hold, being a little thicker and a little longer than the Palm OS and Nintendo DS styli I've used in the past, but much thinner than the mini capacitive stylus I sometimes use with my iPad. It fits very securely in the silo, so as long as you fully insert it into the phone each time you are unlikely to lose it.
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