Samsung has been seriously into the smartphone business lately, and has decided to keep things going with the name “Galaxy“, after the series hit of the Galaxy S and Galaxy S II, and now they have come up with something that could justify the users with itself being something in the lines of both the smartphone and tablet device together. Sans the uneasiness in holding the phone beside the ear, everything in the Galaxy Note is worth being called “Great” – The Display, The Camera, The Dedicated features, The S-Pen, S-Memo and what not! In fact, the appreciation should be higher if you have not had the Galaxy S2 in your hands earlier, and as I had the S2 with me for quite some time, I don’t have so much excitement while I use it and review all the various aspects of the Galaxy Note. The Note is incredibly large to be called a smartphone, and minimally sized to be called a tablet device. And if you are geeky enough to have a bluetooth earpiece for making calls, nothing in the Note would look weird for you, and you would be owning one of the best latest devices in the Android range.
Lets review the various aspects of the Galaxy Note!
Design, Form Factor and the Display
“Not my Fault” is what Samsung would say, if you are a gadget lover, a tech savvy but still wear those pants which cannot hold phones more than 5-inches in length. But as I review this, the Galaxy Note fits pretty well in the pocket of my jeans, and this is what makes itself apart from the tablet devices, which get their place either in the hands or the bags. The Galaxy Note has the screen size of 5.3-inch measured diagonally, and the entire device still larger. Imagine holding it in a single hand and trying to do most of the things in it with the finger of same hand. It’s not impossible but is hard and a little weird. You could cover that up, thanks to the S-pen which could hold some reason for people to use the 2nd hand in using the Note. The front side of the Galaxy Note is similar to the Galaxy devices, as there is a single home button in the center bottom area, either side of which are two touch sensitive keys – Menu and Back. On the top front side, there is the ear piece just above the Samsung Logo and beside it on the right, lies the 2-megapixel camera for the video calling. The two touch sensitive keys light up for a couple seconds only when the phone is being used.
The sides too are pretty simple, and I am very unsatisfied with the absence of the dedicated camera shutter key, which is not included in the Galaxy devices too, and most of the time was a part of the complains. With such a large device, the camera key would have been very helpful, and capturing pics wouldn’t have been like a hard task keeping your hands still, and a finger to click on the capture button on the screen. The right side has the power/unlock button, and the left side has the volume jack keys. The Galaxy Note has the Mic on both top and bottom side, which could assist more while you are using the video calling feature. The top pane has the 3.5mm headset jack, and the bottom section has the Micro-USB slot, along with the “S-Pen”, something new that everyone would love to play around with. It comes in a way the typical styluses come in the sockets of smartphones that are in the market since years.. for the resistive touchscreens. This one isn’t a resistive touchscreen in the Galaxy Note, but the capacitive touchscreen has got the technology to receive the gestures from the tip of the S-Pen, which has a button to enhance the functions rather than just clicking or typing.
The Galaxy Note followed the trend, thanks to Samsung, for being one of the light-weighed products just like the Galaxy S and S II. Given the size, the Galaxy Note should have been heavy, but the light weight of its at 178gms does give a pleasant feeling while being held in one hand. Being thin is one of the other good things of the Note, and although the S-Pen and a large battery are packed in, the Note managed to stay at a thickness of 9.65mm, being a little lesser than the Galaxy S, which we already call one of the sleek and thin smartphones from Samsung.
The back part of the Galaxy Note has the matte finish plastic case, with the black color and on the top of it, there is the 8-Megapixel camera with the LED flash. The bottom left side has the speaker, larger in size than that you see in the Galaxy mobiles. What we wanted to see was the camera to be embedded or recessed a little deep, than being at the normal level, because it is more vulnerable to scratches with the current level. Understandable that a shutter cover cannot be placed with this thickness of the Note, but being at a little depth would have kept the camera life longer.
The display of the Galaxy Note is the Super AMOLED one, a little different from the Super-AMOLED-Plus display of the Galaxy S2, but using the same wallpaper at same brightness level couldn’t show much difference to me, thanks to the 1280 x 800 pixels of screen resolution. Having such high resolutions was a thing seen in the larger tablet devices and the 13-inch laptops, but the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note shows an excellent quality of graphics and content, both live or static, and even the HD videos are played perfectly. If it was a lesser resolution screen, like the 800 x 480 pixels what we see in the Galaxy S II, things would have been different and I could have compared the display quality well with the Dell Streak 5-inch tablet.
Operating System, Interface and Apps
The Samsung Galaxy Note welcomes you with the fully loaded home screen, after the quick boot up showing the Samsung graphics during the startup, but where is the “X-Factor” Sammy? What I’m seeing in all the Samsung Galaxy devices is almost the same. The same home screen with the weather, clock, Google search widgets and a few shortcut icons, all laid above the default bottom icons, which are 5 in number due to the addition of S-Memo icon. There are 7 home screens, most of which have some stuff already filled up but Samsung has left the customization part to you, so you could light things up with the Live wallpapers, or an entire different launcher which could utilize the 1280 x 800 pixel resolution. The home screens can have the S-Memo as one of the parts, and the memo could be of a size of the regular app icon, or could take up the size of the entire homescreen, and is adjustible by the long press followed by the dragging of the corner. The multiple home screens could be scrolled by hitting on the left or right of the numbers, or else dragging the finger on those numbers would bring up a carousel appearance of the home screens for an easier navigation. There is a huge number of widgets available for usage, and these would keep increasing with the number of new applications downloaded and installed in the device.
The touch response is excellent, you don’t know when you actually gave the thinnest gesture and still the Note responds to that. I’ll be talking about the S-Pen later on, but the way the Note has been responsive to the touch of the finger, one won’t always want to use the S-Pen or what people would call the stylus. The Note is powered by the Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread operating system, and this is the latest version right now. Samsung has to learn to change the interface at least a little, so that many who upgrade from the previous versions of Galaxy, would see something new and exciting, rather than the same home screens and the app pages. I won’t be seeing this screen for long, and the changes would reflect once the custom ROMs come out. The Lock screen shows quite a lot of information, including the number of unread messages, missed calls, battery percentage while being charged and when the battery is low, the notification asking you to connect the Note to the charger.
The Notification panel that falls down with the drag from the top, comes with the 5 options that are used very often – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Silent/General Mode and Auto rotation settings. The applications that come by default in the Note, are good enough for people to play around the device with, and do most of the stuff. Networking, Keeping up with the updates, Scheduling, Entertainment and Capturing the best pictures can all happen with the given apps. S-Planner, S-Memo, Social Hub, Readers Hub, Polaris Office and Mini Diary are the ones I took full use of.
An advanced calendar with many syncing options, time options and the view from the normal Android calendar is changed. You get to see a right panel which organizes the calendar to make you view it in one of the ways – Year, Month, Week, 3 Days, Day, Agenda and Task. i.e. you can view the calendar even in the way you have the tasks arranged for the present and future time. Things appear in hourly mode, and everything is perfectly accessible with no much hassle to waste time searching for dates or particular events. Searching through the Agenda and Tasks is a lot easier with the side panel.
The S-Planner syncs with your Google Calendar account, and the settings even lets you set the notifications and alerts. There are gestures that would help you sweep through the pages and open/close the right panel. The two-finger swype gesture is one of them, and the Calendar sync option would want your wish to keep the calendar auto-synced always, or only when you want to sync it. I would keep the auto-sync off to save the battery, but the same auto-sync and background data option works for all the other apps too – like Gmail, Google talk etc. So, that actually is an advantage because the planner would be automatically syncing and the events that you add to your Google calendar would add to the S-Planner in timely manner. From the entire calendar history and archive, you can search for any particular date to check for the events and entries in the planner.
The S Pen
The S Pen is an excellent addition to the Galaxy Note, with the perfect gesture controls but the pen with my Note once came out from the socket in 2 pieces, an absolute shocker as I thought it was a single piece from the top to bottom but there is some mechanism that I could understand when I was trying to join the main body of the pen with the end part. You shouldn’t try to open the open, as what happened with mine was an unexpected thing. The S Pen has a few functions, like helping in navigation through everything, and the extra button provided in the pen could help in capturing the screenshots of the particular screen and then the Pen can cut through the picture and do a lot of magic, making the Note “not just a tablet/phone device”, but more than that.
And with the screen being incredibly large, there are both advantages and disadvantages of using the S Pen – The advantage being the more space to play around, and the high screen resolution making the things look neat, but on the same time, the disadvantage being the large size of the screen + the thin dimensions of the S Pen, which makes the hand fall more over the screen and sometimes the touch of the base of the palm would make the Pen touch unresponsive. Try working on the left top corner with the Pen, and your hand would be trying to rest on the right bottom side. That won’t be a case for everyone but for someone with a little bigger hand, would easily find this a problem. I wish Samsung had given an extra pen-like device in the pack, wherein the S Pen could be attached when someone wanted to use it for some long time purpose like editing pictures (Something like the Bamboo Pen would have been great). We would be coming up with a few videos and updates soon with the S Pen in action.
All in all, Samsung has given an excellent addictive accessory to play around with. This is something that can make taking screenshots, opening the notepad and editing images and adding text to it easier. And the place of having S-Pen is appropriate, on the back bottom side where it is not easily visible, and thus not distorting the look of the Note from the front view.
The S Memo
With the S Pen given as an accessory that could provide multiple benefits, the note has the S Memo app, which is a perfect tool for editing pictures, writing with your own handwriting, adding static text to pictures, adding images to a memo and a lot more stuff. Used the app for a couple hours, and found that the stuff that you can do with the S Memo is entirely different and advanced than what the Memo app in the Android phones basically provide. Opening the app would open the list of memos created, beautifully organized by default in the grid view, where the average sized previews of each memo is shown, and Samsung sends you a few memos already created, to show how creative people can go with the S Memo and the S Pen. The S Memo can be viewed in one of the 2 ways – Grid View, List View. The list view shows all the info about the memo, including the title, time of editing and any tags if you used to making the searching of it easier.
The background can be changed, and one could select from the 8 backgrounds in which there are the plain ones, boxes, line wise, yellow plain sheet and the music sheet backgrounds on which one could enjoy playing around using the S Pen. The Pens are with various colors, formats like a pen, pencil, brush or thick scrub and there are various colors one can choose from, and the thickness of the pen can be adjusted too. I loved the pencil with a medium thickness of the tip, giving a great look to the text or stuff that you have written on it. Voice can be added by recording it from within the S Memo, and pictures can be dragged in, either through the Gallery, or any clip art, or a part of the Google Maps can be placed in the memo, taking the S Memo to a place which can bring the possibility of joining Gallery, Voice recorder and the Memo all together at one place.
Apart from what the S Memo provides, there is a huge number of settings one can play around with, and make the S Memo more user-friendly or helpful, a few of which include the Exporting to gallery, creating the folders, syncing the memos with the accounts, locking any memos from making any further changes by other users, printing of the memo etc. The memos could even be saved into various folders and be kept more organized. Write down the words using the S Pen, and hit the Menu key to get the option of “Handwriting to Text” and selecting that would just make those words into the simple text, and with the characters in the words separated from each other, the recognition was perfect.
The 8-Megapixel camera with flash can capture some beautiful quality images, and the videos too. But there are a few problems one would face, which I’ll explain later on. The image quality is perfect, and the 5.3-inch screen with the 1280×800 pixel resolution actuallys shows directly what you are going to see in the large laptop screen in the end. The manual and auto focus options work pretty well and the image is pretty neat in the light background, though a dual flash would have worked better in the night conditions. The image resolution of the captured image is 3264 x 2448 pixels, and when compressed to make it suitable for the laptop screens, or as a background for the smartphones, the picture looks crystal clear. The camera comes with various options of capturing images, in different effects and modes.
The camera has the options of setting the shooting mode – Single shot, smile shot, beauty, Panorama, share shot, action shot and cartoon. The cartoon shooting is awesome. It doesn’t convert a picture into cartoon later on, but while you are trying to capture a picture, the cartoon version of it appears there directly so that you can see what you are going to capture. The various scene modes one can set are portrait, landscape, night, sports, party, beach, sunset, dawn, fall colour, firework, text, candlelight and backlight. The focus mode can be set as Auto Focus, Macto and Face Detection mode. I tried capturing a picture in the Macro mode with an insect as the subject, turned out to be great with perfect details of what a typical 8-megapixel digital camera would provide. The pictures captured would be tagged with the location using the GPS, if at all you enable the option. Picture capturing is perfect, no downsides, but while trying to capture videos there were glitches.
We captured a few pictures without much of the changes of the settings, to test the way a default camera works. Here are a few pictures (click to enlarge):
The video recording is great in producing the 1080p recording quality, but after the available memory went to half the original memory in the phone, the video recording that was available was just 7MB memory. I didn’t find a way to use the available 7GB space for the video recording. So you would need an extra MicroSD card for the storage of the videos. The video recording has various resolution options like 1920×1080, 1280×720, 720×480, 640×480, 320×240 and 176×144. The recording can be set to be in normal mode for unlimited capture, or limited for the size of being sent in an MMS, or the self record mode to activate the front camera for video recording. The flash being pretty bright, it helps a lot in capturing pretty good videos in the dark conditions.
The Samsung Galaxy Note has a 2500 mAh battery and looking at what the Note provides with the features, the battery would seem to be less in strength but it actually provides a pretty good life with good hours of continuous usage, having the internet connection on, and music etc. being played in the background. The charging through USB is slower than expected, and quite slower than the charging of other Galaxy devices like the Galaxy S and S II. Hours of music playback took just quarter of the battery, and the drain was at its maximum when the HD videos were on the play. The battery percentage is shown while being charged, when the lockscreen is on so you don’t need to unlock the screen and check the battery percentage.
The draining of the battery while using the GPS + 3G, or Tethering using the Note as a WiFi hotspot, keeeping the background data on is faster than the normal usage, and that’s where we find a drawback of the Note. These huge tablet-like devices are to be used typically to be connected to the web and receive continuous updates and get going all the time on the social networks. But when the battery is draining fast with the background apps and data usage, there is no point using these devices and getting them charged every few hours. And the charging too, needs to be done through the AC plug charger and not the USB one, as both have a lot of difference in the rate at which they charge the Note.
When the device is on USB charging and you have any downloads on, using the data connection of the network, you would notice that the battery still gets drained and there is no increase in the charge percentage. The same case was in control when the direct power charger was connected, and the charge was slow but still happening quite well although there was continuous data connection running. So that would be better if you do not plug the device for charging when you have the data connection running continuously.
Video and HD Performance
The best part about the Galaxy Note is the Video rendering. Excellent one, thanks to the good processor and the big screen resolution. Mesmerizing, addictive.. we kept checking many videos on it, of different formats and resolutions, just to get a feel of how well the Note renders the videos. Each of it was displayed at its best. In fact, Samsung included a sample video which you would find in the gallery, and the details of each object, every pixel has the best clarity. I would keep the Note for at least the purpose of entertainment, video capturing and playing, if not anything else. Youtube app works perfectly and the videos played on high speed internet, with the HD quality would show no lag in performance.
A few other noticeable things
- Swype works great, with both the finger and the S Pen, and the swype tips is an added advantage for those who take it up as their default way of typing text in the Note. The tips keep appearing when you are doing an action that could be done in an easier way. One of them being the automatic addition of the space between words, so you don’t need to hit the space bar once you finished swyping a word and are about to swype the next one.
- Music player seems a lot more advanced, with the currently played song in the bottom, and the progress bar appears in the area of the currently played song while you are scrolling through the list. The music player lock screen widget now comes in the bottom as a thin line of the song information, which needs to be dragged upwards to open the options like Play/Pause, Next, Previous etc. There is no touch option of controlling the volume on the lock screen, as it can be adjusted using the Volume Jack keys in the side panel.
- While playing the Music using the headphones, when I took the volume to level 13, a tiny popup appeared on the screen, warning me that listening to music on a high volume for long time could change my hearing ability. Nothing really useful if you ask me, but still I liked it as Samsung tried to make things interesting and people would keep exploring more and more pop-up messages and warnings, and this would keep them checking out for more.
- This is a review device that we got, so am not sure about what else comes in the new pack, but if Samsung isn’t including a nice external case for the Galaxy Note, they would be receiving many complaints about the smoothness and slipping of the device. At least if they had sold some specially designed case like the Apple iPad sleeve, people won’t hesitate to buy it when they are shelling out more than INR 30k for the device itself.
- Not all the Gaming apps are working perfectly. The reason behind that is not the processor or the display or Gameloft. It is the absence of Chainfire3D, the NVIDIA plugin that is required on any device for the gaming and high graphic content loading. Gameloft has given the answer for that, and they say the games would be working perfectly very soon, but till then there are many other HD games which one can play without noticing any serious lag or glitch.
- The Motion sensors and gestures work perfectly, and you can take an advantage of the same through the settings where the 2-finger gestures with the directional movement of them could do various functions.
Overall review & Final words
The Note is an excellent piece of entertainment, networking and lot more. A little weird for making calls, but the best for having all other stuff packed into one 5.3-inch beast, that could take down every same sized device in the challenge. Given the few drawbacks which I described above in the review, the Note is a perfect device for many functions, and it could be a long-time killer for the larger tablet devices, providing the same, and in fact, a little better functionality than those tablets. 5-inch Dell Streak is nothing in front of the Note, and the 7-inch Galaxy Tab now has to stand at the bay. Samsung should work on something that could give the S Pen a better name and function (the larger sized pen accessory is a must), but the video performance is neat.
Summing up all the aspects of the device review, I would give it a perfect 4/5. Many who claim that the Note cannot be used like a phone due to its size, a earphone or a bluetooth device along with it is an option, and would you ask the same doubt when you are actually buying a 7-inch Tab? It too has the functionality of the phone, but imagine a 7-inch device beside your ear, compared to the 5.3-inch one.
We would soon be posting a few videos showing the performance of the Note with the videos and the various HD games. We tried them already, and it works perfect, but the videos to prove it would be uploaded pretty soon.