The Samsung Galaxy Note represents all that's terrible and all that's exciting about the modern era of smartphones. On one hand, it's a device that fits no clear niche, it's too large to be an ultra-mobile smartphone but it also doesn't offer the 7-inch and 10-inch screen of a tablet.
It also makes the specs and numbers all important, so much so that they make it easy to ignore other aspects of a phone that should matter very much. But even all of my cribbing can't deny the fact that the Note is a powerhouse, a Dohvakin (a 'Dragonborn' for those of you yet to fall in love with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim) amidst regular, common phones.
It's a great representation of how far ahead technology has reached to be able put so much power and potential in the palm of your hand.
Is it a perfect device? No, but you can't blame it for not aspiring to be one.
The Samsung Galaxy Note is all about its 5.3-in display and while that's a massive size that offers so much, it's also the biggest roadblock in whether it will be acceptable as a phone.
The screen has a resolution of 1280x800 pixels (which puts it in the same corner as Android tablets such as the Motorola Xoom, the Acer Iconia Tab and the Lenovo Ideapad K1) and boasts of Pentile Super AMOLED technology (that trades overall quality for more power efficiency and pixel density).
The Note has 16GB of internal storage and supports up to 32GB of microSD storage although it doesn't come with a card in the bundle. The Galaxy Note is powered by a dual-core 1.4GHz Cortex A9 processor and a Mali-400MP GPU and has 1GB RAM. The Note supports Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G (HSDPA 21Mbps, HSUPA 5.76Mbps- we got a top speed of 14.4Mbps on Vodafone's 3G network in Bangalore) and uses a microUSB port to connect to the PC. Other connectivity options include DLNA support, Wi-Fi Direct (that allows you to transfer files over Wi-Fi to a compatible device), Bluetooth 3.0 and USB On-the-go.
Unfortunately, the Note doesn't come with the requisite connectors such a USB On-to-go connector or an HDMI adapter (even though it can output to HDMI). For a phone that costs this much, the connectors should have been a mandatory addition.The Galaxy Note sports the same camera as the Galaxy S II- an 8MP autofocus shooter with an LED flash that's capable of shooting 1080p videos.
It also has a secondary front-facing 2MP camera for video chats.The Galaxy Note runs on Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread) and utilizes Samsung's own TouchWiz UI 4.0. It has access to the Android Market and also Samsung's App Store.
The Note's resolution and specs mean that you can make full use of HD apps but you will come across some apps that won't look as good as they are meant for smaller displays and lower resolution.
The Galaxy Note comes with a stylus, named the "S-Pen", which works with a couple of pre-installed apps and is similar to what we saw on the HTC Flyer. The first of these is S-Memo, an app that lets you draw and write notes.
You can bring up the app at anytime by holding down the button on the stylus and double-tapping the screen. You can use the stylus similarly to navigate the UI as well and also take screenshots and then make notes or draw over the captured image.
The stylus is also integrated with the S-Planner app so that you can add a hand-written memo to any date along with a task or an event.You can also download apps (16 at last count) from the Samsung App store that work with the S-Pen.
The S-Pen itself is light and works well even when outside the memo app (for instance when using it to navigate the UI). Writing with it is also neat since it translated my handwriting quite well and didn't make it look like chicken scrawl. However, it is a bit laggy.
While the S-Pen feature is a nice addition, at the present moment, it doesn't really add that much to make it a must-have feature.
Design & Usability
The Samsung Galaxy Note is a huge device and as a result, whether you would want to buy it really depends on whether you are able to look beyond its size and bulk (although at about 180g, it's not really very heavy).
While the size may have its advantages such as more screen real estate, its biggest drawback is that it makes single-handed operation very difficult. For e.g. unless you have massive hands, your thumb will not reach the other end of the screen making it difficult to use the "a" and "q" keys ("p", "l" and "backspace" for left-handed users).
Even when not using the keyboard, it feels risky to use the phone in one hand as it poses a greater risk of slipping and falling from your grip. And of course, you also run the risk of looking silly with such a huge device plastered to the side of your head (the same risk posed by the Dell Streak).
Apart from its size, the Galaxy Note is a good-looking device since it wisely devotes much of its body to its beautiful screen. The screen is rich (at the risk of looking overly saturated at times) and has good sunlight legibility. Again for inexplicable reasons, as we saw on the Galaxy S II, Samsung has decided to give the Note a flimsy plastic cover which doesn't feel right on a high-end device.
I would suggest using the flip cover which is available for free with the phone, at least for a while.
Unlike a bunch of people out there, I actually like the TouchWiz UI. Yes, it looks a little too much like the iOS UI but it's usable and doesn't do too much to mess around with the way the default Android UI works. It's a good looking UI and is an absolute pleasure to use. The Galaxy Note's powerful innards mean that the UI works superbly and the touch response and accuracy is also excellent.
We ran a couple of synthetic benchmarks (Quadrant Standard, Antutu and GLBench) on the Galaxy Note and to say that it blew all devices out of the water would be an understatement (and an overly used cliché from the reviewers' handbook of clichés). It gave more than double the scores of what the Xoom, Iconia Tab and Ideapad K1 were able to churn out.
The Galaxy Note also has one of the most powerful batteries I have seen on a phone.
It's rated at 2500mAh but that number would mean nothing if it didn't result in real world performance. Fortunately, in the Note, it does.
The Galaxy Note's battery easily lasted two days of regular usage with 3G on (about 1 hour of calls a day, about half-an-hour of Wi-Fi browsing a day) and lasted over a day of heavy usage (that included over five hours of calls, plenty of app installs and uninstalls and about an hour of video and audio playback), again with 3G on.The Note also offers very good call quality with great loudness and clarity.
The one issue that I noticed was that voices sounded a bit metallic. You can also turn on/off noise cancellation during calls.
Browsing & Multimedia
I'm quite used to seeing an excellent browsing experience from high-end Android devices and the Galaxy Note didn't disappoint me.
The default browser offers a full-fledged browsing experience and even with two flash videos playing concurrently on a web page, the browser worked fine.
The Galaxy Note also has a very good camera that stands right there as one of the best on a smartphone. It captures great looking outdoor and indoor photos (although I did notice a slight color bleed when shooting a subject against a white background).
The Note also takes great looking 1080p videos that play without any frame-rate issues but, in contrast to its super-rich screen, look de-saturated. Also, the Galaxy Note's flash is surprisingly weak.
The Galaxy Note played every one of our test videos that was thrown at it including 1080p DivX videos, 720p MKV videos and 720p WMV videos right out of the box.
Playback was also very good although some videos did look over-saturated. Audio playback was also excellent (if a bit treble-friendly) and the Note offers a plethora of EQ options including a custom EQ. The Note's external speaker, though, is disappointingly weak.
The decision to buy or not to buy the Samsung Galaxy Note is an easy one.
If you have a problem with its huge size (and it is huge) and all the drawbacks that come with it (which I've mentioned in my review), the Galaxy S II is a better buy. Also, if the larger display and the 10-15% performance boost do not seem worth the Rs. 5,000 hike in the price-tag, then the Galaxy S II should be your pick.
However, if the size and price are not deal-breakers for you, then I can whole-heartedly recommend the Galaxy Note for its best in class performance and treasure trove of features.The Samsung Galaxy Note is currently available in India for Rs. 32,000.