Samsung Galaxy Note first impressions

After a disappointing experience with an Android tablet recently, it was timely that Samsung offered to loan me their latest Android device, the Galaxy Note. This is a bit of a strange device though…it’s a 5.3″ tablet that is also a phone…commonly referred to as a ‘phablet’.

Yay for new gadget deliveries on Friday afternoon! #phablet

I got the chance to briefly use one at SXSW earlier this year but a few minutes with a device is rarely enough to tell if it’s a winner or not (I didn’t have high hopes at the time). It seemed too big to be practical and it comes with a stylus! I thought decent touch screen technology had finally killed off the stylus…although my first true smartphone (a Treo 650 and all the Palm PDA devices I had before that) used one.

Samsung Galaxy Note

But now it’s been just over a week with the device and I have to say, I’m really surprised at how much I enjoy using it. It’s not without some issues which I’ll describe in a bit but it’s been a nice fresh take on the mobile experience.

Galaxy Note Galaxy Note Galaxy Note

It is HUGE and does look kind of ridiculous as a phone. There, I stated the obvious. But when I considered how infrequently I actually use my iPhone as a phone (by holding it up to my ear), it became less of an issue. Fact is, I don’t make/receive a lot of phone calls…and if I do, it’s usually in my car while I’m driving and I have hands-free Bluetooth built into my car’s stereo.

Samsung Galaxy Note

Things I liked:

  • huge, beautiful & vibrant Super OMOLED 5.3″ screen with a great viewing angle at 1280×800 resolution
  • speedy with a 1.5 GHz Dual Core Processor inside and crazy fast 4G LTE internet speeds (I’ve been testing on the Telus network in Canada and it’s been faster than many home internet speeds)
  • one of the better Android cameras I’ve used so far (8 megapixel with autofocus on the back) that can shoot up to 1080p HD video
  • despite the giant screen, battery life was on par with my iPhone 4S…each lasts me a day with a little juice left over
  • nice finish on the back cover…not slippery and feels solid despite the back battery cover being wafer thin
  • surprisingly great form factor for a tablet…fits nicely in your hand (slightly bigger than my Canadian Passport)
  • it comes with a stylus, but isn’t required to use the Note – artists can really use the stylus to create some great art and regular people like me can quickly scribble notes – bonus: you can easily take screenshots using the stylus by pressing & holding the button as you tap the screen

Things I didn’t like:

  • looks silly as a phone when held to your face
  • no easy way (by default) to type (two handed) on the device unless you lay it flat and/or prop it up on something – a smart/flip cover or stand would be useful (which are available separately from third parties)
  • difficult to use one handed due to size of the screen – you can’t easily navigate with 1-2 fingers/thumb like a smaller device
  • uses a normal/full size SIM card
  • still running Gingerbread 2.3.6 version of Android OS (likely due to Telus update schedule)
  • somewhat slow autofocus on the back camera and the shutter is a little laggy, the moment you hit the button, the image is captured, despite the image processing delay, you still get the shot you intended
  • the stylus centric handwriting recognition works but is a little clunky to use

The screen really is something to behold…it has a fantastic viewing angle and is the correct aspect ratio for HD movies:

Samsung Galaxy Note

The screen is also particularly good at showing photos. My previous Android phone, the Nexus S was too saturated so colors looked over done. The Note’s screen seems just right.

Samsung Galaxy Note

If you think you’re good at Draw Something with your finger, you should be amazing at it with the Note’s stylus…sadly, it hasn’t helped my artistic ability.
Samsung Galaxy Note

One of the first things I like to test on a new device is how well it runs M.A.M.E. and the Note excels at it.
MAME4All on Galaxy Note

Everything runs smoothly, and looks fantastic. You can rotate the screen and it rotates immediately, moving the onscreen controls as well. Despite it’s large screen, it’s quite comfortable to hold in landscape mode to play.

As I mentioned above, it has one of the better Android cameras I’ve used.

North Vancouver Pier

With similar 8 megapixel specs as the iPhone 4S, I was able to take some great shots on the go in many different lighting situations.

Waterfront Station

It’s definitely going to be difficult to send this back to Samsung as it’s one of the best Android experiences I’ve had…and will only get better when Android 4.0 is released for it. I was certainly a doubter at first but after using it for an extended period, I have to say I’m quite impressed with the Galaxy Note.

5 Comments

  1. VancityAllie says:

    Wow thanks for the review! It looks great. I’ve been thinking about switching phones recently and I was considering this one. The size of it doesn’t bother me as I have a purse… but picking a platform (Blackberry, Android, Apple) is always hard as you feel like you’re tethered to it for a long time :) Anyway thanks for the detailed review! Awesome!

  2. Andrew Kumar says:

    I opted for the Samsung Galaxy S2 on Rogers LTE and also noticed that tethering speeds on the network are better than my Wifi at times.

    I still don’t think image processing is on par with the iPhone – what are your thoughts on an ICS upgrade? Ever coming?

    • John says:

      Agreed…the iPhone (especially the 4S) still has better camera optics and processing.

      ICS is scheduled to come by May/June for most current devices….but as always, it’s up to the carriers to allow them, take the extra time to brand them and then deploy the update.

      You could always root it and upgrade manually to the generic ICS rom if you don’t want to wait.

  3. Dave says:

    Although it consumes battery power very quickly, this phone is amazing.
    It would be great to test it with such an upgrade as this 5400mAh
    http://www.mugen-power-batteries.com/mugen-power-5400mah-extended-battery-for-samsung-galaxy-note-e160s-t-world-korea-e160l-u-plus-korea-with-battery-cover-in-black-and-white-with-battery-door.html

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