Samsung Galaxy Note 5.3in Smartphone

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Product: Samsung Galaxy Note 5.3" Smartphone
Provided By: Samsung
Price: Find Lowest Price Online


Introduction:

In North America, Smartphone owners make up over 70% of the general user-base and today we've got Samsung's largest monster on our bench, in our hands and in our pockets (barely).  The Galaxy Note from Samsung is designed merge the two mobile platforms into one usable device that has it all.  They are trying to converge the Smartphone with a 3.5" - 4" screen with a 8" or larger tablet into one device.  The Galaxy Note is a 5.3" device that packs a resolution of 1280x800 on a Super AMOLED screen that looks amazing. 

The Galaxy Note currently runs Android 2.3.6 (Gingerbread) and while Samsung certainly has plans to bring Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) to the Note in Q2, for now it runs the older OS - both for stability and for compatibility purposes.  As we look at this phone, please keep in mind that we aren't a "gadget blog" and will be looking at this device from more of a general consumer / computer enthusiast perspective.  Either way, we'll get to the bottom of things and find out what is awesome and what sucks on this handset - and everything in between.

Galaxy Note

First Impressions:

There are a lot of tablet users out there that swear by their tablets as a must-have device.  Let's take a close look at this scenario for most consumers however.  Many consumers have a smartphone that they can receive email, sms and check the web on already.  A tablet that is 3G/4G enabled makes this experience a little better as it has a larger screen, but really is a duplicate device for most part.  Many of these consumers with Smartphone and Tablets also have at least one computer - PC or laptop that will likely either be running Windows or OSX.  A tablet can't replace either the phone or the laptop/desktop for every situation, so you end up with three devices.  The Galaxy Note is aimed squarely at this market and when we talked to Samsung, they were supremely confident that they could take a bite out of tablet sales with the Galaxy Note.

We received out Note after a meeting with Samsung in Calgary and didn't receive any retail packaging.  They simply gave us the phone, a USB cable and a wall adapter so we could charge it.  We didn't receive any accessories, so this review is of the device alone - not the bundle that ships in the retail package.

Nexus S vs Galaxy Note
Nexus S vs Galaxy Note
Phone Comparison
iPhone 4S vs Note vs Nexus S

 

The Galaxy Note is a monster when compared to an iPhone or even the Samsung Nexus S.  It wasn't that long ago that I thought the Nexus S was a large device with it's "massive" 4in display.  That pales in comparison to the 5.3" screen that is shown off on the Note.

It's quite a site to behold when you first lay your eyes and hands on the Galaxy Note.  It dwarfs any other smartphone on the market and even when Samsung held it up to the Galaxy Nexus with it's 4.65" screen, the Note looked much larger.  Even with the larger size, it can easily be held and used (for the most part) with one hand when you're surfing, making calls, and playing around on this multipurpose device.

Device Comparison
Device Comparison
Note vs Kindle
Note vs Kindle

 

As you can see above, the Note is a fair bit smaller than the Kindle 3, but the actual screen size is not that much different.  Keep this thought in mind: the Kindle has a 6" e-Ink display and the Galaxy Note has a 5.3" Super AMOLED screen.  As we'll see as we continue, the amount of text you can pack into this display and easily read is astounding.  It's large, yet it fits in a pocket.

On the next page we'll take a close look at some features and specifications before we dive any deeper into this review.


 

Galaxy Note Features:

The following information has been pulled from the Samsung Galaxy Note product page and posted here for your convenience.  For all the features and specifications and up to date information, please check the Samsung product page for all the details.

Full-touch & pen input
The GALAXY Note lets you freely capture and create ideas anywhere anytime with both full-touch and pen input. Fast responsive full-touch input lets you touch, press and drag what you’re looking for effortlessly. Or use the innovative S Pen to write notes and emails in freeform handwriting or sketch drawings easily and accurately on the go.

Largest screen available
The GALAXY Note features the world’s first 5.3" HD Super AMOLED display, the largest screen size with smartphone portability. The large display lets you see more in one glance with minimal scrolling and screen transitions. The exclusive Super AMOLED HD (TruColor™) screen also lets you enjoy an immersive movie theatre-like viewing experience with deep rich colour and clarity.

Lightning-fast 4G LTE speed
With the 4G LTE network, the GALAXY Note gives you lightning-fast web access and download speeds.



Balance work & life with S-Planner
Manage complicated schedules easier than ever before! The GALAXY Note’s S Planner gives you a smart and intuitive way to view, schedule and arrange all your business meetings and personal activities. You can even add appointments to your calendar simply by jotting them on the screen with your S Pen.

Long-lasting 2500 mAh battery
Whether you’re using your GALAXY Note on the go, at home or at work, the strong detachable 2500 mAh battery prolongs your GALAXY Note experience and ensures you’re up and running wherever you are.

Tablet power—1.5 GHZ dual core processor
Real-time video streaming, premium mobile gaming, no delays—you’ll think you’re enjoying your favorite entertainment on a tablet. The GALAXY Note’s powerful 1.5 GHz Dual Core Processor gives you unrivaled access and speed to let you enjoy movies, games, browsing, apps and more as soon as you want them.

Business documents on the go
The GALAXY note gives professionals the ability to create, review, edit and share business documents no matter where they are. Edit a report, make notes or even draw a diagram on the go. The S Pen functions are deeply integrated into the GALAXY Note’s basic applications to give you a richer business experience.

Advanced 8 MP camera & photo/video editing
The GALAXY Note’s powerful 8 MP camera lets you capture life’s every moment in deep crisp detail and then share great photos with friends on the large display. Revolutionary photo/video editing tools give you the freedom to accurately edit videos and easily personalize photos with precise pen input and cool templates.

Convenient single-handed portability
Its slim body (9.65 mm) and super light design (178 g) makes it easy and convenient to do and see more on the go. Enjoy comfortable single-handed portability and operation wherever you go.

Stay Connected
Business users can stay connected for important meetings on the go while social butterflies can make plans wherever they are. Choose to stay in touch with colleagues and friends via SM, email and text.

 

Processor 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon
Display 5.3" super AMOLED with 1280x800 resolution
Software Android 2.3 with Samsung TouchWiz interface
Storage 16GB integrated
Ports 1 Micro USB 2.0
1 analog audio headphone port
Expansion slots 1 microSD slot (up to 32GB)
Wireless
4G LTE
HSPA+ 850/900/1900/2100 (up to 21 Mbps)
EDGE/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900
802.11n Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 3.0 + HS
Camera 8-megapixel rear with LED flash
(supports 1080p video recording)
2-megapixel front
Input devices Capacitive multi-touch screen
Advanced S-Pen
Dimensions 146.9 x 83 x 9.7 mm
Weight 178 g
Battery 9.25Wh (2500 mAh) lithium-ion

 

As you can see in the specs above, the Galaxy Note is pretty loaded.  It comes with a dual-core CPU that has higher performance than the ARM Cortex-A8 or even Cortex-A9 designs.  This Qualcomm Snapdragon chip also integrates a speedy Adreno 220 graphics chip that supports hardware Flash decoding as well as the WebGL standard.

 

After glancing at the features and specs above, you may notice that this Android 2.3 device actually packs in a better camera than the Galaxy Nexus device.  The Note comes with a great 8MP camera that has some pretty impressive features and image quality as we'll find out as we continue through this review.

I was surprised that this device only comes with 16GB of storage, but unlike the Galaxy Nexus - it is expandable by a MicroSD card slot and can support cards up to 32GB - give you a decent 48GB of storage on your device.  

While the physical size of the Note may set some users off right away, it's amazing that the device itself weighs in at a mere 178g.  It is still pretty heavy for a phone as the iPhone weighs in at 139g, but for that extra 39g, you get a lot more screen, a faster processor, a stylus and a large battery.

 

Tour Around the Phone:

We've talked about the phone, bragged about the large screen, so now let's take a virtual tour around the phone.  The front of the version sold here in Canada has no buttons at all.  I've noticed that some European versions have a button on the bottom middle on the front, but all our our buttons on this device are touch buttons located just below the screen.  In typical Samsung fashion they are (from left to right) menu, home, back and search.  The screen is protected and covered by Corning Gorilla Glass - making it just as durable and scratch resistant as the screen on an iPhone.

Note Buttons
Galaxy Note Buttons

The left side of the phone hold a long button that is actually a rocker switch for volume up and down.  Also this works as a zoom function in some camera applications.  The right side holds the controversial power on/off button that Samsung has chosen to put on the side instead of the top.  It is located in the same spot on my Samsung Nexus S and it took me a while to get used to this location - as opposed to the more popular top location on many other phones.


Power Button
Power Button
Volume Rocker
Volume Rocker

 

The top of the phone houses the headphone jack, a microphone and very little else.  The bottom of the phone contains the microUSB port, as well as another microphone, and of course the S Pen (stylus).

Note Bottom
Note Bottom
Note Top
Note Top

 

The back of the phone is quite attractive for a phone and the finish is done in a pretty slick finish that gives it some grip and won't fall out of your hand as easily as a slick plastic finish.  On the back we've got the rather large area dedicated to the 8MP camera - including a LED flash.  At the bottom of this back is a speaker that has pretty decent volume for sharing your media.

Note Back
Note Back

Once you pull the back cover off the phone, you get a bit of a glimpse inside and see how big this battery is.  Samsung has opted to put in a 2500mAh battery that will provide you with all-day usage on this large screen and in my experience it give a lot longer battery life than my Nexus S.  Also under the hood is the standard SIM slot as well as the MicroSD card slot that we've populated with a 16GB card - bringing our device storage up to 32GB.

You may also notice the NFC array located on the cover and the pins that connect it to the phone when all closed up.

Back Off
Back Off

On the next page we'll take a look at using the Note as we continue.

 

Using the Note:

If you're an Android user, the layout and feel of the Galaxy Note will be pretty familiar to you.  If you use the Samsung Galaxy S II, the TouchWiz UI is pretty much exactly the same and you'll be very familiar with the device when you first pick it up.  That is not always a bad thing as it doesn't have much of a learning curve, but a part of me wanted something new, different and exciting with this device.  That's not to say, there aren't differences.  There are a whole suite of applications designed specifically for the S Pen and are part of Samsungs Apps.  There are a bunch of features and enhancements for the S Pen and the S Planner, S Memo and more that are really handy.

S Memo
S Memo
Making Notes
Making Notes

When we were briefed on the Galaxy Note, I honestly thought I'd never use the S Pen more than once or twice but after moving to the Note as my main device for a few weeks, I found that the S Pen is pretty handy for sure.  After a couple of days, and a couple of App Pick of the Week posts where I was able to easily grab screenshots, I fell in love with the S Pen and the features and functions of the S Memo program.

You can quickly and easily annotate images, documents and more and then email them as images, PDFs and even make changes to PowerPoint, Excel and more without messing up the original document.  This is a great feature and proves that the Galaxy Note is designed for those with business in mind.

 

The S Pen is not merely a stylus; it's a pressure-sensitive input device that is similar in function to a Waccom stylus in some respects.  It doesn't have the same range of pressure sensitivity, but it is pressure sensitive and it does have a button that can be used to launch apps and for control in apps.  In fact, you can open up the S Memo application by pushing the pen button double tapping on the screen anywhere.  Other functions of the S Pen include opening the menu when you press the pen button and swipe upwards on the screen.  If you want to cancel a function, press the pen button and then swipe across the screen from right to left.  Best of all, if you want to take a screenshot, press the pen button and then press on the screen with the pen for about a second and it will take a screenshot and allow you to review and save.

S Pen

With all of the features and additional functionality of the S Pen, I was a bit disappointed that the Galaxy Note didn't ship with Ice Cream Sandwich as the Operating System of choice.  Still, I do understand why Samsung opted to stick with Gingerbread a little longer as there are still a bunch of Apps that haven't been written for Android 4.0 and they want great compatibility and a solid platform as this is designed for business and power users in mind.  

Even with a dual-core 1.5GHz processor in this phone, the UI feels a bit slow at times.  This is not an issue with the Galaxy Note specifically, it is typical of Android 2.3.x.  I'm hoping that when ICS comes to this device is fixes some UI lag and we get a much more fluid experience out of the Note.  Still, it's not all bad as Android certainly has a host of things in its resume that iOS can't do.

Web Browser
Web Browser
Full Res
Font & Screen

 

With a screen resolution of 1280x800 (or 800x1280 when viewing in portrait), the web experience is very good on this phone.  Many website load and look great with the standard, non-mobile versions.  If you rotate the phone to landscape, you have more resolution on this device than with many netbooks and a lot of first and second generation tablets.  This makes viewing content - whether web, multimedia or images very good.

One of the awesome features of this Samsung device is the AllShare feature.  If you have a compatible Samsung Smart TV or Blu-Ray player, you can stream content from your phone directly to your TV with a couple of simple clicks on your device.  This is a great way to share video, images and music from your portable Samsung device to the screen of your choice.  I had the opportunity to demo this at VulcLAN 2012 and it was a big hit as I could stream content to the 59" Samsung Plasma TVs in the venue from anywhere inside the 802.11n coverage.


Granted, the Galaxy Note is not a gaming platform, and it will never compete with dedicated platforms such as the Sony PS Vita, but gaming on it is still very decent.  ShadowGun runs pretty well on this device - and while it's not as fluid as NVIDIA's Tegra3 demo, it still runs pretty good.  Asphalt 6 HD runs like a dream and looks very good on the display.  There are a host of S Pen related games available in Samsung's App Market as well - but I have to say my skills at SketchIt still suck as I simply can't draw - even though it was picked as our App Pick of the Week.

Gaming Up
In Game

 

With a screen only slightly smaller than an e-Ink eBook reader, I spent some time reading books from on the Galaxy Note and with the HD Super AMOLED screen, things were very good.  Reading books on a standard LCD really sucks, but with the high contrast and black blacks on the screen, there is very little eyestrain and reading books from my Kindle library is a great experience - unless you're in direct sunlight and then you have to deal with glare.

On the next page, we'll take a quick look at the camera quality, functions and features as well as some video recording on the Note.


 

Camera Testing:

The camera on the Note is actually very good and I love the fact that you can specify so many manual controls in the camera.  I belong to a camera club and I'd rather set any camera I'm using to my preferences, so it was refreshing to see that you can adjust shooting mode, scene mode, exposure value, focus mode, white balance, ISO and metering in a cell phone camera.  Most cameras have a few of these options, but I was grateful that Samsung opted to include great controls on the Galaxy Note.

 

Camera Sample - Food
Camera Sample - Food
Camera Sample - Geometry
Camera Sample - Geometry

 

Panorama
The Galaxy Note has an intuitive built-in Panorama function.

One rather interesting thing with the Galaxy Note is the amount of photo editing and cropping that can be done in the phone.  The overall edit section allows you to make selections, add selections and even create some masks that you can apply effects to.  There are a lot of functions that many other bare-bone Android devices don't have an require the installation of specific photography apps in order to get similar functionality. 


Photo Editor
Photo Editor
Edited Food
Edited

 

As far as video adjustments go, you can choose resolutions up to 1920x1080 all the way down to 320x240.  Video settings also include White Balance, Effects, Timer, Quality and Guidelines.  This is enough to enable you to shoot some very good outdoor video and is the reason why Flip Video went out of business.

The first video is pretty easy on the eyes and stomach, but the second may not be suitable for all viewers.


1080p Test

 


My Sister - Pulling a calf - 720p

On the next page, we'll wrap up with a few downsides to the Note and post our final thoughts.


 

Battery, Calling & More:

As previously mentioned, the battery life on the Galaxy Note is surprisingly good.  It easily gets me through a day with heavy use and when I forget to use it, I get 3-4 days of standby - even in a poor coverage area.  When using this in a much better coverage area, I was able to go 5-6 days with light use on the device.  Even when powering such a large display, the 2500mAh battery has the stamina it needs to make this device useful - and not just a paperweight.

Call quality on the Galaxy Note is actually very good.  The earpiece volume is more than adequate and even at loud volume doesn't distort the callers voice.  The dual-microphones provide a great user experience and I've asked a few people about the call quality vs. the Nexus S and the winner is always the Galaxy Note.  This is something worth noting for sure and makes it a great phone - even if you won't be using it as a phone too much.


The biggest benefit and consequently, the biggest downside to the Galaxy Note is it's size.  While the screen size is a beauty for web browsing, picture taking and viewing as well as watching videos, in the end, the sheer size of the unit makes it difficult to operate with one hand.  While you can move the keyboard to the right or the left according to your preference (albeit with a software update), this phone is a bit unwieldy.

App List
App List
Kindle
Kindle
In Hand
In Hand

 

Note: This update hasn't rolled out OTA to Rogers users in Canada as of 03/26/2012

 

Final Thoughts:

At the end of the day, the Samsung Galaxy Note is a beast - and quite possibly one of the handiest devices we've looked at in years.  While it certainly isn't a full-on personal computer, it is a tablet-device that is small enough to be very suitable as a phone, yet large enough to be useful for a lot more than making calls and sending simple text messages.

Dialer The HD Super AMOLED screen is amazing.  The contrast is stellar and the auto-adjusting brightness works very well.  The AMOLED technology allows the screen to be quite viewable outside - even on bright days - unless you catch the glare from the sun off the Gorilla Glass.

I'm surprised at how durable the Note is as well.  I don't recommend dropping any Smartphone of course, but this one has taken it's fair share of bumps and has survived without any visible bruises.  The screen is nice and hard and because it is surrounded by the metal edge, it should survive pretty well.  I don't have a case for this device and it's resided in my pocket with some lose change and keys and doesn't look any the worse for wear. 

The overall volume and quality of the audio - both into the microphone and out of the earpiece and speaker are adequate.  The call quality is great, but the overall speaker audio quality isn't as great as the iPhone 4S.  With the speaker on the back of the device, the sound gets quite muffled when you lay it on your desk and attempt to stream some Netflix.

The 4G LTE version here in North America supports a ton of different frequencies so coverage should not be an issue.  As the LTE bands are pretty wide open here at the moment, download and upload speeds should be pretty incredible.  There have been recent rollouts of LTE in Canada and some of my colleagues have seen download speeds of over 50Mbps with uploads topping out just over 7Mbps.  It's fast - at least until the LTE bands get overloaded.

My complaint right away with the phone was the too-large keyboard and too-large dialer that made it very difficult to operate with one hand - and that has been fixed with a software update - but isn't available yet in my area.  I can't complain too much here about Samsung as it is likely carrier specific.  I've included a picture of Regina "Tigger" McDougall - our App girl - holding the phone and you can see that it looks like a full blown tablet in her small hands. 

Clearly, the Galaxy Note isn't for everyone, but if you're considering a tablet purchase in the near future and are also up for a new phone on your contract, take a look at the Galaxy Note as it combines most-of-the-best-of-both-worlds in a single device.  Best of all, you don't have to pay for an extra data plan for your 3G/4G equipped tablet.  Many phones are pretty intuitive and are a pretty safe bet, but with a format change like the Note brings to the table, my advice is to try before you buy.  Stop by your local wireless retailer and pick one up and play around with it before you drop your cash and sign your contract.

In Canada, you can expect to pay $199 on a 3-Year contract with this device, so make sure you will like it and have the hands it requires to manipulate this device.  If you match up, I'm sure that it will treat you right.  If nothing else, you'll get a lot of people talking and rubber-necking when you use it in a public meeting place.


Pros:

  • Large
  • Super fast LTE-capable 
  • Super AMOLED HD 1280x800 screen
  • S Pen is more than a Stylus
  • Gorilla Glass = rugged
  • Dual-Core with lots of RAM
  • MicroSD slot
  • Great battery life
  • Good camera
  • Good call quality

 

Cons:

  • Very large - too big for one-handed use for some people
  • Poor speaker location

  BCCRating

Gold

If one kid says to another "I love jello!" the response is often "Then why don't you marry it then?"  I have to admit that I love the Galaxy Note - despite a couple of issues.  Unfortunately, I can't marry it - in Canada and even if I could I probably wouldn't.  I have a feeling that the next thing from Samsung will make this look beefy and chunky.  

It is a little large, but even if Samsung kept the 5.3" screen, they could slim down the outer bezel and reduce the area at the top and bottom of the screen to make this 5.3" device feel like a 5" device.  If they could pull this off - and drop in a Tegra 3 - I'd be impressed... and probably rush out and buy two.  As it stands, I'm going to shed a few tears when I send this back, but hopefully I will be able to save my pennies and pick up one before E3.

I'd like to thank Samsung Mobile for dropping this phone off for us to take a look at and for meeting us in Calgary to show us the capabilities of this phone.  If you want to check out the caricature sketches they did during the briefing, please check out the comments section below.