|Review: Samsung Galaxy Note|
Monday, 28 November 2011 11:30
The Samsung Galaxy Note is a neat little, I mean medium-sized device that's a little bit smartphone, a little bit tablet and a lot of fun. Its awkward size, however, makes it so darn impractical.
Annoyingly so, in fact, because within the concept lies enormous potential.
When the Note first landed in my lap, I was giddy with excitement. I'd never played with a tablet before and was, understandably, amazed by all it could do. After hours of mesmerising use, and to the detriment of my real-world life, I soon forgot about the size and was sucked into the virtual world that is Samsung.
Look and feel
There's no denying that the Note is beautiful. It's thin and sleek, but too wide to operate with one hand. Thin is not necessarily a good thing, however, when it becomes tricky to even operate with two hands because you end up accidentally pushing buttons on-screen and on the side of the phone that you don't mean to. It's something you get used to, but my first impression was that, despite its good looks, the Note is awkward to handle.
This was the major (and probably only) downside to the gadget. The Note is too big to fit into a pocket, but too small to warrant (men) carrying a bag around. It was the first comment most people made when I handed them the Note to play with, with many describing its size as “weird”.
The screen is an awkward 5.3 inches and has an HD super Amoled display with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels. It measures 82.95 x 146.85mm and is just 9.65mm thick. It weighs in at 178g.
Usability and performance
The Galaxy Note runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and is powered by a 1.4GHz dual-core processor. It's fast and can multitask like nobody's business.
It is extremely user-friendly, with an interface that is scarily similar to the iPhone's. The home-screen is customisable and comes ready-loaded with a weather app, providing details for your current location via GPS, and Google Search. Users can choose to have the applications they use most often accessible from the home-screen and can add widgets to the idle screen.
The Note is full touch-screen and comes with a Smart Pen (S Pen) for drawing, cropping images and inputting text via handwriting. This pen is the epitome of dynamite in a small package, the things one can do with it are surprising, to say the least.
An upside to the unusual size of the Note is that the keypads, both for messaging and for the calculator, are quite large, so typing is easy and accurate. The touch-screen itself is super sensitive, responding to the lightest of taps. I'm sure it even responded when I just hovered the S Pen over a key, although this happened occasionally, and seemingly by chance, as I couldn't get it to do it again.
The Note is also motion-activated. By shaking it, it searches for Bluetooth devices; tapping and tilting activates zoom; a palm sweep performs a screen shot; covering the screen with a palm mutes the device; and turning it face-down silences ringtones.
I cannot find one fault with the Note's display. Not one.
The graphics are amazingly clear and sharp, from the general interface, to the stunning experience when playing games or watching videos. Another upside to the weird-sized screen is that it's perfect for doing these activities, as well as for surfing the Web and reading e-books.
The sound quality is also spot-on, providing an overall pleasant multimedia experience.
Connectivity and storage
Connection comes in the form of WiFi, Bluetooth as well as microUSB, GPRS, 3G and Edge.
The screen size makes Web browsing an absolute pleasure and users can toggle as many Web pages as they want simultaneously.
The Note has 16GB internal memory and supports microSD cards up to 32GB.
Apps and features
The Note has an 8MP rear-facing camera with LED flash that produces some of the best images I've seen from a phone camera. This is also not your regular point-and-shoot phone camera. One would probably need a photography qualification to make sense of some of the settings, which, among other options, lets users adjust exposure value, resolution, white balance and ISO. What's more, it comes with blink detection, anti-shake, auto contrast, outdoor visibility, timer and effects settings. One can change the shooting mode between normal, action, cartoon (I loved this), beauty and panorama, and can choose between scenes including portrait, landscape, night, sports, sunset, text, fireworks – I'll stop there. The Note should have been marketed as a smartphone/tablet/digital camera.
Photos can also be personalised using the S Pen. Users can annotate pictures or draw stupid moustaches and horns on photos of their exes.
With a swipe of a finger, it's easy to switch between the camera and the video camera, which provides 1080p full HD video recording and playback.
Being a smartlet (see what I did there? Smart(phone) and (tab)let), the Note is loaded with apps and features. These include the usual suspects – Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, Google Search, Google Maps – as well as some I'd probably never use, like the Voice Recorder, which doesn't produce the greatest quality, and Voice Talk, which is a handy concept (think hands-free), but which is also painfully slow to register what's been said.
But then there are some pretty awesome apps, of which I had a number of favourites. The Music Hub app is essentially a complete MP3 player. It allows users to store their music by album and artist, and also lets them create playlists and folders, with easy access to the most played, recently played and recently added songs. It comes with a 3.5mm ear jack, and the sound quality is excellent.
The Readers Hub is another great feature. An intuitive set-up lets one browse thousands of books, magazines and newspapers, which download super quickly onto the device, and stored them in a cute bookshelf layout. Users can read as many books as they want at the same time, and the reader will keep a bookmark of where they left off each time.
Another favourite of mine is the mini diary. Here, one can create daily journal posts and add pictures, too. It would be a great travel companion that one could use to record everything they see and do. Paired with the Note's camera quality, a user could have one awesome travel journal.
Users could waste many hours playing with the Photo Editor and Video Maker apps. With Photo Editor, they can do all sorts of crazy things to their photos, from special effects like warping and blurring, to adding frames, adjusting the contrast, brightness and saturation of images, and even cutting a piece out of one photo and pasting it onto another – I put my brother's head on my dog's body – good fun!
With Video Maker, users can set the scene of their project to home video, party, travel, conference, movie or stage. Here, users can make a film using videos they'd already recorded, or they can add music to a slide show of photographs. Here's an idea, film yourself singing into a hairbrush, attach to the stage theme in Video Maker, add some background music, save and voila! Instant rockstar – the app will automatically place you on a stage, swamped by adoring fans.
And then there's the Memo application. The death knell of the Post-It has been rung. Memos are no longer yellow blocks with a few key words. The Note has turned that, er, note-keeping, model on its head (and kicked it a few times). Now it is possible to add pictures, voice or video recordings, colour drawings, digital text and written text. You can crop sections of your photographs, add them to a note, add some text and tunes and send it to a contact. Any screen, including Web pages, can be captured, annotated and shared, taking scrapbooking to the digital extreme. I can't help but wonder if this was the inspiration for the device's name.
Other features include an FM radio, digital compass, document editor, Samsung ChatON and optional near-field communications support.
Lean, mean business machine
The Galaxy Note has a host of features that would be attractive to the business user. Aside from its fast performance and multi-tasking abilities, it comes with Samsung Security solutions that protect data and e-mails. It is ready to serve the mobile worker efficiently with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, which “allows for real-time communication with employee phones to remotely configure settings, monitor compliance with policies, guarantee synchronised data safety and [is] wipe or lock managed”.
It supports Web conferencing and allows users to view shared desktops, applications and documents.
The Note's sophisticated organiser synchs with e-mail schedules, and ensures business users have all their calendar information instantly accessible.
The Note's battery life was neither impressive nor terrible. It charges pretty quickly and lasts for just under two days with constant use. One can at least take comfort in the fact that it's not likely to die during the day on a full charge.
Samsung claims stand-by time of up to 960 hours and up to 26 hours talk time.
As the battery starts to near the end of its life cycle, the device disables certain functions, like the camera flash, WiFi and synching, to save power. Users can also customise these settings.
I don't want to love the Note, but I do. It's the mullet of smartphones – business in the front, party in the back. It has everything a businessperson, a creative or an extreme socialite would need in one package. If you're the type that never leaves home without your smartphone and tablet, and are constantly juggling the two, then the Note is for you – it's the best of both worlds.
I'm sure I only scratched the surface of what's possible with the Note, but I got a good idea.
Sure, it's pricey, but considering the separate cost of smartphones and tablets, and the host of features this device packs, it's actually quite reasonable.
That being said, I probably wouldn't buy it myself, but ask me again in a few years as mobile technology continues to take over the world.
Pros: Plenty of features, excellent camera, video and sound quality, wired for social, business and creativity
Cons: Expensive, awkward size
Price: R8 499 to R8 999
Processor: 1.4GHz dual-core
Display: 5.3-inch, 1280 x 800 pixel HD Amoled screen
Dimensions: 146.85 x 82.95 x 9.65mm
OS: Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
Camera: Rear-facing 8MP with LED flash; front-facing 2MP
Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB 2.0, WiFi 802.11, WiFi Direct
Memory: 16GB internal memory + microSD
Battery: Standard battery, Li-on 2.500mAh
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