The Samsung Galaxy Note is powered by a dual core 1.5 GHz processor that's definitely up to the task; I didn't experience any annoying slowdowns, crashes, or other problems. It got a score of 1956 on the Quadrant benchmark test which is lower than I expected, especially considering how pleased I am with the Galaxy Note's performance.
This smartphone debuted running Android OS 2.3 (Gingerbread), which is not the newest version of Google's operating system. Still, Samsung has promised to offer an upgrade to the latest version, OS 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich).
The feature that separates this from tablets is that the Galaxy Note can make phone calls. In testing with AT&T's network, call quality is excellent, one of the best I've reviewed recently. There weren't any background noise issues and each caller sounded right, not flat, sick, or otherwise washed out. I could hear and be heard clearly, to the extent that one of my callers wouldn't have believed that I was using a cell phone if they didn't have the caller ID to prove it.
The large screen is also a bonus here, because it was very easy to dial my contacts manually without mistakenly hitting the wrong number. And if you're a world traveler you'll be glad to know that the Galaxy Note is a quad-band world phone, so it will probably work no matter where you find yourself each week.
This device can connect to AT&T's 4G LTE network, and speed tests showed that it takes full advantage of it. According to the Speed Test app, the Galaxy Note had download speeds between 11.6 and 13.8 Mbps, upload speeds of 12.0 to 13.7 Mbps, and 51 to 65 ping. I found AT&Ts 4G LTE network to be consistently good in my area, even around my office (which is typically a dead zone). WiFi and Bluetooth work just fine, too.
Facebook is pre-installed on the smartphone and works just as expected; there's also the optional Social Hub app which does a good job of consolidating all of your online social activity in one app. It works with Microsoft Exchange email accounts, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The email and web experiences are Android-standard, though again the large screen is nice because it minimizes scrolling and allows you to see more in one place. Web pages are a little easier to navigate, and the same is true of email, since you can see more of your inbox at once. Web pages also load very fast, thanks to the 4G LTE network. The overall experience was pleasant and one you might actually seek out, whether than viewing your smartphone as a last resort for obtaining important information on the go.
You'll find all of the standard PIM apps such as Calendar, Contacts, Calculator, and Clock, plus the Mini Diary (a personal journal) and a voice recorder.
The S Memo lite app is also included, which is designed specifically for use with the included S Pen stylus. It offers a choice of four different pen types, a variety of line thicknesses, and seemingly infinite color choices for use as your personal memo pad, note pad, shopping list, and art/drawing/sketching app as well. It works just fine, though the average person won't be able to create any stunning pieces of art. You can share your drawings on Facebook if you like, or email them to yourself or to your friends and family as well.
Polaris Office is included for all of your Microsoft Office-compatible file viewing needs, and it works exactly as expected. It's integrated with the Box.net online file storage service, or you can view email attachments or files that are already located on a memory card.
Navigational duties are handled by Google Maps as well as by AT&T Navigator, though the latter requires either a $2.99 day pass or a $9.99 monthly subscription fee that is added to you phone bill. Whichever service you choose, location results are generally fast and accurate, with plenty of POI information that will direct you to the nearest Starbucks, gas station, bank, or whatever else you might be looking for.
Both the standard Android music player and the Google Music app are preloaded on the Galaxy Note, and they work fine. I was slightly disappointed with the external speaker, however -- at low volume music sounds rather flat and tinny, while at higher volumes there is a lot of distortion. Sound is better with headphones, but of course it's nice to have both options.
If you're a reader, you'll be glad to know that both the Amazon Kindle app and the Google Books app are preloaded. You'll also find a copy of Crayon Physics, which is a stylus-based game that is actually pretty fun, and easier to play with the stylus than with your finger, since you have to draw an escape route through each level.
The Galaxy Note is equipped with two cameras, a 2 MP one on the front for videoconferencing and an 8 megapixel on the back with auto-focus and LED flash. The camera is capable, taking very nice shots under a variety of conditions, but it is rather slow to focus so you stand a good chance of missing the moment if you're trying to capture fast action shots.
The Galaxy Note is equipped with a 2,500 mAh battery that is up to the task of keeping me connected and entertained throughout the day. Even though 4G phones tend to drain very quickly, the handset got me through the entire day and into the evening every day. It had to be charged every night, but unless you're an extreme power user, you shouldn't have any trouble at all.
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