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Samsung Galaxy Note Review

The Galaxy Note isn’t short on power. It’s also not short, well, in general. With the device featuring a 5.3″ HD Super AMOLED 1280×800 display, that puts it a step higher than the Galaxy Nexus. But with all the hype from Samsung and their avid fans, does it live up to expectations? For this review I’m using the European variant, which has a different button arrangement on the bottom of the device.

Hardware

When I first held the Note, it reminded me of the Galaxy S II. The design is almost exactly the same. It doesn’t surprise me Samsung would use it as inspiration, it’s a popular device. The Note measures 146.85 x 82.95 x 9.65mm. When you compare that to the Galaxy S II, measuring 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.49mm, that’s a big difference. In most situations it feels too big, especially while taking photos. The camera is impressive on paper, packing 1080p 30fps video, 8 megapixel on the back, and 2 megapixel on the front. It also has support for a 32Gb MicroSD card, and I have no doubt modifications will allow it to support up to 64Gb.

HSPA+ is also supported, boasting speeds of up to 21Mb/s (I’ve never achieved more than 5Mb/s, even in Central London,) along with LTE, EDGE and GPRS.

The 1.4GHz dual-core Exynos processor felt a little sluggish at times, like when trying to unlock the device with its unusual unlock function, requiring you to press anywhere on the screen and drag out until the outer-circle is “full”. If you don’t drag enough, the unlock fails and you have to try again. With all the usual bells and whistles, like Bluetooth, GPRS, and WiFi, it’s no stranger to us, or love… whatever. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have NFC, nor does the AT&T version. But at least that has the hardware, it just doesn’t seem to make use of it.

Camera

Taking photos with the Note isn’t an easy job. If you want to use the device in portrait, you can’t zoom with the volume rocker because it’s so far away, and because it’s such a large phone, it’s not comfortable in general. I found myself almost dropping it on several occasions. The photos themselves look okay, but are nothing special in comparison to those from older phones. They’re grainy and difficult to keep steady, unless you always use the flash.

With flash                                                          Without flash

With flash                                                          Without flash

With flash                                                          Without flash

 

 

Macro                                                              Infinite focus

(Click for larger images)

The video capabilities are stunning. Not from 1080p, but 720p. When using the 1080p feature, the camera zoomed so much I couldn’t fit anything in, and refused to zoom out, stating “Zooming is not supported when recording Full HD video.” When switching to 720p, the quality looks clearer, less grainy, and you can fit a lot more in the frame. I’m yet to work out why it does this.

S Pen and Software

HTC calls it a Pen, Samsung calls it an S Pen, and I call it a stylus. Using the same technology Wacom use with their zero-point pens, whatever you refer to it as, it’s different to most. With some cool software in place to make its functionality unique, Samsung has hit the nail on the head allowing users to take notes quickly and easily. On the side of the S Pen is a button, if you press it and double tap the screen, S Memo Lite pops up, allowing you to take a quick note and send it anywhere. If you press the button and hold the pen to the screen for 2 seconds, a screen-grab is taken, on which you can also draw and make notes. The area to write in S Memo Lite is too small for lots of writing, but for jotting down information quickly, it’s perfect.

When I tried to write a sentence with the S Pen, I failed. It’s almost impossible to write naturally without the software capitalising in the wrong place, or placing words that don’t make sense. It takes longer to try and write than it does to type, which is true in most cases, but it’s especially true in this one.

Battery

The battery on the Note is a massive improvement over others. With the usual size being 1500mAh, the Note slaughters the competition with a huge 2500mAh, falling slightly short of the Motorola RAZR MAXX and its 3300mAh. I spent a day in London travelling to many different locations for almost 10 hours. With everything on, including GPS, mobile data, music, videos, and much more, I found it hard to murder the battery beyond 15% at the end of the day. Considering I carry a MyCharge battery pack and PowerBag, there was no way I’d find myself with a dead battery. Even if you don’t carry emergency charging units, I purposely ripped through battery, and failed to kill it.

Size Comparison and Opinion

For this I’ve sat the device next to the Samsung Nexus S, and the HTC Flyer. The Nexus S with a 4 inch display, and the Flyer with a 7 inch display both sit at two ends of the scale in comparison to the Note. The Flyer isn’t very comfortable when you try and hold it like a phone. The Nexus S is very comfortable. The Note is a middle ground that’s very difficult to decide on. In 90% of situations, I love it. But in the other 10%, I’ve dropped it several times due to wiggling and shifting it around in my hand so I can actually use it. “Bigger is better,” and they’re right, but where does it end?

Development Potential

Being so similar to the Galaxy S II, a hugely popular device with consumers and developers, there isn’t a shortage of development for the Note, with ICS ROM’s, S Pen applications, and guides. If you’re looking for anything specific, or interested in browsing, you can find some fantastic gems.

The S Pen has an SDK to support it, which may be useful to many on the forums who wish to expand its functionality. Similar to HTC with their Pen SDK and API, Samsung at least has a device appropriate to use it on, instead of the 10.1 inch HTC Jetstream, and 7 inch Flyer, which are impractical at best.

Forum member dr.ketan posted an extremely informative thread on how to root, unroot, and flash ClockworkMod Recovery. This method works on both locked and unlocked bootloaders, making it the most flexible option.

For users of the AT&T variant, the device has been rooted before official release by forum member Da_G.

CyanogenMod 9 has been peaking in the media as of late, and an experimental build for the Note has surfaced. In Alpha stage, don’t expect to use it as a daily-driver, but it’s interesting to see how stock ICS could look, instead of TouchWiz.

To view more work by the community, head over to the Galaxy Note forums.

Conclusion

The Galaxy Note is a great phone, but the size may be off-putting for many. It’s like Marmite. I love it, but all my friends think it stinks like dead horse. For such a high-resolution screen and writing experience to be built into a 5.3 inch device, I’m finding it hard to not recommend it. It’s built very well, runs fast considering the processor and RAM specifications (But may run better on Ice Cream Sandwich,) has a great screen for viewing your favourite TV shows and movies on the go, and has a battery that allows you to do so with ease.

Reaching almost £500 in the UK, and $700 in the US for a SIM free device, this may only be obtainable when committing to a two year contract, which you might get sick of after a month or two, desperate to go back to a phone you haven’t smashed on the ground because you can’t hold it properly.

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