Are you old enough to remember the days when the first mobile phones were so big they required you to carry a backpack or shoulder bag to hold the entire package? Indeed, those were the days when owning a mobile phone was extremely inconvenient unless you absolutely had to have it. Mobile phone manufacturers knew they had to make their units much smaller and more portable if they were ever going to create a market for them. So why, some 30 years later, are mobile phones getting bigger and bulkier?
A case in point is the new Samsung Galaxy Note. The Note was released in Europe and India last October, finally making it to North America earlier this year. Some view it as an over sized phone with tablet functionality; others look at it as a shrunken down tablet that can make and receive phone calls. My question is, “what’s the point?”
Perhaps I’m bit of a mobile phone snob but I’m not comfortable with a phone that is too large to be carried in my pocket. It’s not a phone. In fact, it’s no different than when we used to carry around bulky PDAs that required a stylus to use properly. And that’s exactly what the Galaxy Note is; an upgraded PDA with a prettier screen and some added functionality. For me personally, it’s not worth the $299 price tag plus the cost of the plan.
Under the Hood
My own personal bias aside, let’s talk about the specs and functionality of this device. In terms of hardware there are some differences between the international and North American versions. Here’s what you get:
- CPU – 1.4 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 / 1.5 GHz single-core Qualcomm Scorpion
- GPU – ARM Mali-400 MP / Qualcomm Adreno 205
- SoC – Samsung Exynos 4210 / Qualcomm Snapdragon 8255T
- Memory – 1 GB RAM
- Storage – 16/32 GB flash; up to 32/64 GB microSD
- Battery – 2500 mAh Li-ion
- Connectivity – 802.11a/b/g/n wi-fi, Bluetooth 3.0, NFC, TRRS
Though the hardware is slightly different between the two versions there really is no functional difference noticeable enough to matter to most people. I think the 1GB of RAM combined with the processor speed is just enough to do this device justice. Samsung probably could have doubled the RAM just to make sure there were no speed breakdowns; we assume they didn’t do so because it would have added to the cost.
In terms of the performance, the Note seems to do well as a mobile phone as long as you have proper coverage. Yet when the signal starts becoming week it’s easy to drop calls or lose your Internet connection. This isn’t unusual for smartphones; our only point in bringing up is to say that despite all the hype from Samsung, the Note has not overcome one of the mobile phone’s most fundamental problems.
The Note sports a 2MP front camera suitable for VGA video, still photos, and video chatting. On the rear is the 8 MP workforce designed for most of your still photography and your 1080p full HD video. The rear camera features auto focus and a resolution of 3264×2448. If you’re familiar with the picture quality of the Galaxy S3 that gives you an idea of what you get with that Note. The quality is outstanding in good lighting conditions and adequate in other cases. Combined with a good piece of editing software you can get surprisingly good results with the Note.
Samsung Galaxy Note Sample Photos
Samsung Galaxy Note Sample Video
One of the things sorely lacking in the smart phone category is a high-resolution display that wows users every time they turn the device on. Samsung nailed the high-res principle perfectly with the Note. They decided on a 5.3 inch Super AMOLED PenTile display with 1280×800 resolution and 285ppi pixel density. It gives excellent colors, great blacks and grays, and does very well even in bright lighting.
Furthermore, the Gorilla Glass cover and the near-perfect touch sensitivity of the capacitive screen are almost flawless. If the Note doesn’t compete with the iPhone in any other way, it beats the heck out of Apple with its display alone.
OS and Software
The first versions of the Note came with Android 2.3.6 and Samsung’s TouchWiz UI 4.0. Beginning in May of this year the OS was upgraded to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Reviewers have been saying this latest version of Android is their best product yet, and with good reason.
Samsung does a nice job with their UI, but there are still plenty of us who wish Android phone makers would just leave it alone. There really is no reason to add your own skin to what’s already a very good product.
In terms of apps there are plenty of useful ones that come default and, of course, hundreds of thousands more in the Google Play Store. They can be accessed through the Android Market or directly from the Play Store website.
Look and Feel
Despite all of the good things about the Note’s hardware and software, the one thing most frustrating about the device is its size. No matter how you cut it you’re not likely to be able to use this device with a single hand unless you’re an unusually large person. Furthermore, the fact that Samsung includes a stylus is a bit disconcerting.
How many of us use our smaller smartphones with just a finger; tablet users have the same advantage. By including a stylus Samsung is almost being manipulative in getting us to return to a way of doing things already determined to be inefficient. The stylus brings with it the responsibility of making sure it doesn’t get lost and the need to use two hands.
In terms of its looks, the Note really just resembles an over sized Galaxy S3. Perhaps that was the point, but it’s still not very impressive. It seems as though the idea of making a device half-way between a smart phone and a tablet left Samsung wondering what it should look like. And the fact remains that it simply looks like a phone that’s too big to carry in your pocket.
As of the end of May Samsung claims more than 7 million Notes have been shipped around the world. That means people are obviously buying these devices for one reason or another. If you’re interested in a hybrid device the Note is your only choice right now. If you’re inclined to keep your phone and tablet separate, like me, don’t waste your hard-earned money on this one.
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