Is it a tablet? Or is it a phone?
That’s the tagline on billboards advertising the new Samsung Galaxy Note. When the company selling a product expresses uncertainly about what exactly their product is, you know you are dealing with something different.
Indeed, the Samsung Note really is something different—a new hybrid product that’s both an oversized phone and an undersized tablet. The phonelet weighs 6.3 ounces (178 grams) and has a 5.3-inch display—more than the largest smartphone and less than the smallest tablet. The Android operating system, powered by 1.4GHz dual-core processor, is capable of doing anything Samsung Galaxy tablets are (and then some). And it makes phone calls with all the functionality of a high-end Samsung smartphone.
So does the Samsung Galaxy Note deliver the best features of a tablet and a smartphone? Or is it the worst of both worlds? Spot Cool Stuff takes a look:
Samsung Galaxy Note as a Phone
In terms of making and receiving phone calls, the Samsung Note is almost functionally identical to Samsung’s Galaxy S2 smartphones, of which Spot Cool Stuff is a fan. We’d describe the call quality over the 3G/4G quad-band GSM phone as “pretty good.” But two features stand out especially:
• The long phone battery life—you can talk over 3G on the Note for over an amazing 12 hours between charges. That compares to about 7.5 hours on the Apple iPhone 4S. Two reasons for this strong performance: 1) the Note’s large 2500mAh battery; and 2) the fact that the screen is off during phone calls. When the Note’s large, bright display is on the battery life drops considerably—you can only surf the web over 3G for around 3.5 hours on the Samsung Note compared to more than 7 hours on the Apple iPhone 4S.
The problem—and it isn’t inconsiderable—is the Samsung Note’s form factor. The Note is thin—as thin as a Galaxy S2—but the 5.3-inch screen is massive for a smartphone. It feels awkward (and looks a bit silly) holding the Samsung Note up to your ear during a phone call. The Note will fit in a medium-sized purse but not in a shirt pocket. We found that squeezing it into the front pocket of our jeans was a tight and uncomfortable fit.
In short: The Samsung Note is simply too large to be an everyday phone.
Samsung Galaxy Note as a Tablet
The various models of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab tablets are fantastic—we’ve listed them as top choices in both our review of the best tablets for travel and the best tablets for students. Happily, the Galaxy Note continues Samsung’s streak of tablet excellence. Among the highlight features of the Note:
• The display. It’s very crisp and bright. The 1280 x 800 pixel resolution screen uses the same Super AMOLED technology found in many Samsung HD televisions. That makes for vivid colors; photos and videos show up especially gorgeous. Our one gripe (and it is relatively minor) is that the screen does not include the PenTile matrix structure that’s in new Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7. As a result, the colors on the screen will turn a bit blue-green when viewed at an angle.
• The speed and memory. The internal makeup of the Note is more like a computer than an underpowered smartphone. The touchscreen is responsive and the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system feels zippy. The Note comes with either 16 or 32GB of internal storage. We love that the Note also has a microSD slot that can accommodate cards of to 32GB. The slot is handy for moving photos and videos on/off of the Note, which brings us to . . .
• The cameras. The front-facing camera is 2MP—more than sufficient for video calling. The rear-facing 8MP camera shines. It records video at 1080p and in daylight takes photos that rival those from the superlative iPhone 4S. The length and width of the Note is similar to that of an ultra-compact digital camera, which makes taking photos and videos with the Note feel natural.
The S Pen
The highlights listed above don’t even include the most outstanding features of the Note. That would be the S Pen—Samsung doesn’t want you to call it a stylus—that you can use to write and draw on the screen.
The “S” is pressure sensitive, so the pen strokes look more natural on the screen. Hand drawn art actually looks good on the Note. (At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung had professional artists sketching people’s portraits. The results were pretty impressive).
What’s cool about the S Pen is that it is more than a gimmicky thing design to appeal to artists. Use of the pen is incorporated into many of the most used functions of the Note. Use the pen to crop images or write captions on photos. Quickly jot a sketch and share it via text, email or Twitter. Especially great is the bundled-in S Memo app you can use to take notes in any combination of voice, typed text, images and handwriting.
And unlike the Palm personal organizers of days old, the Note is intended to be used as a touchscreen. So you never need to use the
stylus S Pen to use the device if you don’t want to.
The Samsung Galaxy Note is clearly a better tablet than it is a phone.
As an everyday phone, we wouldn’t recommend it—the Note is simply too large. Which makes it especially unfortunate that, at least in the United States, the Note will priced as a smartphone would: overly expensive if you buy an unlocked version but a bargain if you sign up for a two-year contract with a carrier.
If you already have a smartphone and are looking to buy one and only one tablet, we wouldn’t recommend the Samsung Note either. We’d rather have a tablet with a larger screen like a Sony S, Apple iPad or one of the Samsung Galaxy Tabs.
That said, the Samsung Galaxy Note is a high quality device. And there are people for whom this hybrid would be an excellent choice. Among them:
• Travelers who don’t want to carry for a phone and a tablet on their trips.
• Students who want a tablet for class (the S pen is ideal for note taking) and want a phone for occasional use.
• Nearly anyone in the market for a second tablet or backup phone.
If you are shopping for a tablet-phone and happen to fall into any of those groups, take Note.
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