Many questions come to mind with the Galaxy Note. Is it too big? Is the stylus S-Pen necessary? Is the screen real estate worth the loss of portability and more. I've been using it for about a week and have some thoughts regarding these questions. With a huge and vibrant 5.3" Super AMOLED HD display and a dual-core processor this thing should be amazing -- and it is. The biggest concern for many is probably the screen size so we'll dive into that and more with our full review below.
You could call this a big phone, or a small tablet but really this is truly a hybrid that many are calling a phoneblet. When I first put my hands on the Galaxy Nexus I was worried the screen would be too large for me, but I quickly learned to love it and use it as my daily driver today. Will the Galaxy Note have the same fate? Being 5.7" long and 3.27" wide it's more than a handful, but being extra thin really helps out.
With the Galaxy Note there are a few important aspects regarding the software and the pre-installed applications but the main point that separates this from the rest of the market is the hardware. Everyone will love and make at least some usage of the apps, but it's the hardware that makes or breaks this phone. I'll start with my hands-on and unboxing right here.
As you know, the Note features a massive 5.3" Super AMOLED HD display with a 1280 x 800 HD resolution. It is a sight to see no matter what phone you've used in the past. The Nexus and even the iPhone retina displays are nice, but this is an entirely new level. Everything is vibrant, colorful, crisp and just gorgeous. The blacks are extremely dark and the colors just pop.
Everything else regarding the actual hardware is in-line with many from the Galaxy S II that everyone should be familiar with. It comes equipped with an 8 megapixel rear camera with LED flash, 2 megapixel front for video chat. A 1.5 GHz dual-core processor (Qualcomm) and 1GB of RAM with 16GB of built-in storage. Samsung's provided a micro-SD slot under the batter door for expanded storage. The AT&T model comes with a Qualcomm 1.5 GHz dual-core instead of Samsung's own 1.4 GHz Exynos like the international Note, but in regular and average consumer usage scenarios this shouldn't matter much. More on that below but Quadrant benchmarks were almost neck and neck.
The only other difference from the international model is obviously the AT&T 4G LTE, but like you see in the image above is the four capacitive buttons instead of two and a hardware home button. Pairing the hardware next to the Galaxy Nexus you can really get an idea of the size, as the Nexus is quite large on its own. For more on the size check out the unboxing video from the link above.
With the Note we currently have Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread and expect Ice Cream Sandwich to arrive shortly. Official Android 4.0 ICS builds have recently leaked, but that update is probably another month or more away. Other than a few specific changes to the reactions of landscape mode with the Note, and custom S-Pen applications everything is as you'd expect from a Samsung device with TouchWiz UX on board. We do have tons of the usual AT&T bloatware but other than their specific apps there isn't anything worth noting.
Android 2.3 Gingerbread is stable, fast, smooth, and runs as it always has so we'll really touch back on this when 4.0 lands. Instead we wanted to focus on the S-Pen stylus included. Obviously that is the other selling point here with the Galaxy Note. While I honestly cant see myself using the S-Pen on a day to day basis and while out and about -- for those business professionals, artists, writers and more it would be extremely useful. I have noticed in the evenings on the couch the S-Pen has become my friend and I've used it everyday. It is starting to grow on me but with the ecosystem going away from buttons and going entirely touch controlled the stylus seems like a dying breed, if it wasn't already.
The S-Pen does have some awesome and impressive features not to mention the accuracy of the WACOM digitizer on board. Samsung's added a button on the side for quick controls. While it can be hard to locate and click, once you get comfortable it will make browsing the web extremely quick, easy, and effortless. The hands-on video below will give you a great idea of this phone as a whole. The awesome screen, the amazingly thin chassis, and most importantly the S-Pen additional functions.
My favorite feature has to be the extremely simple way to take screenshots of anything and everything. Like ICS the Note has it built-in. You can hold power+home and release to take screenshots on the Note, but with the stylus you just hold the button and long press the display. From there you'll enter edit mode where you can crop, edit, and do as you'd like and then share or email it to any of the various apps installed. Being able to screenshot and edit a website, or circle a payment on a billing statement and easily email the crop is extremely useful. I did draw some funny faces on friends pictures just to be rude, we need to have fun here too guys.
Samsung isn't the first to offer a fully digital stylus with Android. The HTC Flyer had a similar implementation that worked great too but the Samsung Galaxy Note has it mastered. The Flyer only certain aspects of the OS could use the stylus, here you can use the S-Pen in any area you'd like, or switch to hand operation. If a stylus is something you're considering the Note will be perfect for you.
Samsung has also opened up the S-Pen API for developers to create amazing applications to make it useful. The pre-installed Samsung Apps store has multiple artist and sketch type apps available, and we can expect to see plenty more in the coming months. The limited amount of usable apps for now is a a downer, but soon we expect developers to dive into the S-Pen API's and bring some unique apps to the table so stay tuned.
Benchmarks and 4G LTE
The 1.5 GHz dual-core processor keeps things speeding right along, as does the AT&T 4G LTE. As we mentioned above the processor change here shouldn't concern most users, although the I/O scores on the Samsung Exynos and international version were quite a bit higher. Overall performance and daily usage the difference was negligible.
In Quadrant the Note scores around 3200 out of the box. Comparable or better than many other devices while still pushing all those pixels and that huge 5.3" display. 4G LTE was also equally impressive and the lowest speeds I've seen in my strong LTE market here in Las Vegas was 7-8 MB/s down and I've averaged 15+ on day to day with peaks over 22 MB/s. Upload speeds are also right around 6-8 MB/s on average. (speedtest results in gallery below) While AT&T LTE isn't as saturated as Verizon's they seem to be keeping up quite well so far.
Another strong point for Samsung as usual is the camera. The 8 megapixel lens is one of the best we've used on Android. The shutter speed was slower for me than the Galaxy S II but the overall quality and editing options were excellent. With 1080p video capture you'll never miss that perfect moment either. Here's a photo sample with more in the full gallery below. Samsung has added video and photo editing software that works great, and using the S-Pen for fine tuning is another aspect that makes the Note stand out.
Phone & Battery
Now the phone is fast, the screen is bright and the S-Pen is unique. What about the phone you are probably asking. How are phone calls and "phone" use? Odd to say the least. Tossing this huge slate up against your ear will get a few looks in public, and not like the Samsung commercial from the Super Bowl. I found myself constantly fiddling with the size, my grip, and where to place it for optimal hearing based on the earpiece location with such a long phone. Once you get that down the sound quality on in-call and speakerphone is excellent and it's one of the louder phones I've used as of late.
Battery life is another concern. We have a massive and bright screen, and 4G LTE. Two things that should kill battery. The Note has a huge 2,500 mAh battery under the hood. Once Motorola released the 3,300 mAh RAZR MAXX Samsung was probably upset. While battery life is actually extremely good on the Note you have a feeling they could have seriously made use of the extra space and crammed a 3,500 or bigger inside without adding much to the overall size. I'd be happy with the 2,500 mAh battery but the RAZR MAXX ruined that for me and increased my expectations. Pulling off the battery door (that is hard to get back on) you'll quickly see they've wasted tons of space.
With light usage I was able to get well over 2 days of battery life. Yes two days without a single charge. For heavy all day screen and data usage I managed around 13 hours before it was completely dead. Obviously this will vary by user but I think the battery increase makes it on par or better than many available today.
Bigger isn't always better, and with smartphone continuing to increase their size I'm beginning to worry. The Note will automatically be passed up for another phone by many simply because of the size, but many will also love it for the same reason. One rather odd part of the Note is the fact the screen being so large I was extremely worried about dropping it. You could very easily lose your grip (especially with one handed use) and drop the phone shattering that awesome screen. At the same time smaller phones can easily slide from your hand or grip because of their size. I almost feel the added size makes you less likely to drop it because it is so noticeable in your hands. You can't miss it.
Is this a phone for you? Sure! The added size makes it hardly portable, but the large 5.3" HD screen makes movies and pictures a joy to consume and browsing the web rocks. I could see the Note replacing my tablet but I'm still unsure as to if I'd replace my Galaxy Nexus with it. They are both awesome but at times while in public I did get a few odd looks with it up to my ear.
The Galaxy Note is big, obvious, and in your face. Nothing is discrete about it. Samsung wants to believe that everyone will use the note with two-handed operation but that simply isn't the case. Texting or writing an email while walking or with your hands full is simply impossible. Most wont have long enough thumbs to reach both sides. Requiring more attention and two free hands.
In the end is this a phone that you could use? Absolutely. Some with smaller hands might find the phone unwieldy at times, but for the most part I've managed to get over the sheer size of the phone and enjoy it for what it truly is. And that is an impressive multimedia, consumption, and creation device. At first I was thinking this was more of a Niche device but in reality I could see it becoming much more than that. Add in the huge coverage from Super Bowl and I'm sure many are extremely interested in this smartphone -- and with good reason. The Galaxy Note is extremely impressive in every aspect and once it has Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich it will be pretty hard to beat.
The Galaxy Note is obviously the biggest, and one of the best phones available on the Market and it can be yours starting tomorrow for only $299 from AT&T.