Samsung's Galaxy Note is being touted as the wonder-gadget to make previous, disappointing attempts at smartphone/tablet hybrids a dim and distant memory. uSwitch's Ernest Doku put it through its paces to see if the phablet is an idea whose time has finally come.
Whether you love or hate the Samsung’s ‘bombard consumers with gadgets and see what sticks’ mentality, they have indeed come out with more hits than misses over the last 12 months, with the Galaxy SII proving itself to be the spokesphone for Google’s Android platform.
With this in mind, the Samsung Galaxy Note seems to be one of the more cavalier efforts from the Korean manufacturer.
Dubbed a ‘phablet’ – a combination of phone and tablet – a term coined by fans of portmanteaus like ‘Brangelina,’ the Galaxy Note attempts to cover all bases by providing an enormous 5.3-inch touchscreen display to bear on an expanded mobile phone chassis, creating a novel hybrid. Perhaps phablet is a fairly apt description after all…
Despite a daunting first impression, the Galaxy Note’s ambitious attempt at simultaneously supersizing the mobile experience and shrinking the tablet cannot help but be an appealing one upon closer inspection.
This is one department that surprises little, with the Note slotting itself into the now-burgeoning ranks of Samsung’s Galaxy family with ease. Aesthetic beats from other Galaxy devices abound, with the result that the Note manages to feel like an Android smartphone writ large, with a similarly slender frame, metallic accents and sole ‘home’ button on the face.
However, the nylon rear and the workmanlike plastic build are downsides that are equally carried over wholesale from its smartphone brethren. The 5.3-inch Super AMOLED screen can't help but dominate the feel and look of this device, and all else is admittedly in service to it.
The 9.7mm thickness does keep the Note barely on the right side of pocketable, no mean feat for a device measuring a whopping 146.9mm by 83mm by height and width. The plastic body conversely becomes a plus point as the Note weighs in at 178g, less than 40g over an iPhone 4S.
The true surprise is that Samsung could manage to deliver something offering the perks of a tablet’s display real estate and healthy battery life into something this small - relatively speaking, anyway.
In all honesty, touchscreen phone fans might have it tough performing swift one-handed tasks on a phone screen that proves just to be a tad too big for prodding and swiping, requiring both hands at most times.
It also attracts good and bad attention in equal measure when attempting to use it as a traditional mobile phone. Holding a slab of high-end hardware to your face is a little embarrassing when it’s Galaxy Note-sized…
The TouchWiz UI and multiple home screens are all immediately familiar to Samsung phone fans and Android users alike, with everything from the widgets to the notifications and menus all present and correct.
Honed over multiple iterations, the Galaxy Note inherits all of the trappings that current generation Android Gingerbread delivers, all with a dusting of Samsung customisation throughout.
Some areas have scaled up better than others to make the leap to the 5.3-inch display, but the Note definitely shares DNA with the S II rather than the Galaxy Tab in terms of software, making it a big phone over a small tablet.
It’s impossible to avoid the immense Super AMOLED display, a brilliant plus point for this device and a great argument for the Galaxy Note’s existence. Bright, vivid, and ably powered by a dual-core 1.4Ghz processor, the screen certainly does the UI justice, as well as legitimising the Note as a media powerhouse.
Another headline feature is the resurrection of the trusty stylus. Once the mainstay of PDAs and notepads, the capacitive screen initially saw them fall out of vogue, but the Galaxy Note brings them back into vogue with the S Pen.
Hidden away in the bottom right corner of the Note’s frame, the S Pen breathes a new lease of life into traditional Android navigation, a single button on the stylus enables it to start scribbling at any point.
A single press on the screen enables annotation on a screenshot, whilst a double tap alongside holding down the S Pen’s button brings up a virtual notepad, wherever you might be in the Note’s menus.
Whilst it has been a while since we’ve used a stylus in earnest on anything other than Nintendo’s 3DS, a few moments with the Note’s S Pen does remind us of the extra precision, accuracy and natural feel of using one on a touchscreen display.
Quick memos with a dedicated app, handling organiser duties, and even full-Flash browsing navigation begins to become second nature as the S Pen handles things with minimal lag and robust functionality, making the Note ready for the boardroom as a versatile productivity tool.
An 8-megapixel lens makes the Galaxy Note above average in the snapping stakes, but the unfortunate absence of a camera key had us taking photos and recording video (albeit in crisp 1080p) with the virtual button that popped up on-screen.
Android obviously means access to thousands of great apps, whilst the addition of ‘hubs’ offering software, books and music shows Samsung’s continued efforts to forge an ecosystem specifically to cater for their smartphone owners.
Whether consumers actually opt for this service over the established ports of call like Amazon and Android Market remains to be seen, but the provision of a download service out of the box is a welcome step towards humanising Android for the uninitiated.
Connectivity duties are ably handled by HSPA+, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0, whilst microSD card support enables the Note to be beefed up far more than the stock 16 or 32GB of memory provided.
Ease of Use
The ease of interacting via the S Pen, familiar Android user interface and wealth of onboard services certainly serve to make the Galaxy Note less daunting to the first-timer, and the size of the screen makes proceedings far more fiddly than most.
The opposite is the case when it actually comes to the slightly unwieldy size of the device, sitting in a bit of a gadget no-mans land between the smartphone and the tablet.
The Samsung Galaxy Note tries incredibly hard to succeed on a number of fronts, and performs admirably in many of them. Making a valiant effort at placing itself between smartphone and tablet, it ultimately falls just short of fulfilling the qualities of both.
Despite heavy smartphone leanings, the Galaxy Note is just slightly too large to act as an everyday mobile, but that 5.3-inch Super AMOLED display helps it nail quite a few of the features that consumers look for from a tablet.
The larger screen makes web browsing and viewing media a joy, and the S Pen lends a novel user experience to the device, making the Galaxy Note something all of its own.
Certainly more hit than miss, the Samsung Galaxy Note is another bold device from the Korean phone maker that succeeds as a proof of concept, despite not quite satisfying the needs of either the smartphone or tablet camps.
In summation, the Samsung Galaxy Note does indeed feel like the gadget equivalent of Brangelina – great to look at, incredibly talented and versatile...but perhaps a little less than the sum of its phablet parts.
- 5.3-inch Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen (800 x 1280 pixels)
- Android Gingerbread
- 1.4 GHz dual-core processor
- S Pen active stylus
- 8 MP autofocus camera with LED flash
- 2MP front facing camera
- 802.11 b, g and n wireless support
- 16 or 32GB of internal storage, support for microSD up to 32GB
- Height: 146.9mm, Width: 83mm, Depth: 9.7mm
Find out more about the Samsung Galaxy Note here: Samsung Galaxy Note