Samsung Galaxy Note review
Samsung recently released the Samsung Galaxy S II which is arguably the best Android smartphone out at the moment (even possibly the best phone in any OS category) but they felt that having this title wasn't enough, they wanted to own the title of biggest Android Smartphone in the world too. Introducing the Samsung Galaxy Note's 5.3" monster of a screen. The screen is a SuperAMOLED HD screen with 1280x800 pixels producing a PPI of 285 which is quite stunning considering the screen's size. Behind the hood are an 8mp camera, a 1.4 Ghz Dual Core processor, the ability to record in 1080p and 1GB RAM, so this is definitely one of the leading phones in the market specifications-wise.
However, the big question is: with the 5.3" screen giving the phone the dimensions of 146.9 x 83mm, is the Samsung Galaxy Note too big to use for daily use, is it too big to be considered a proper phone or should it be considered a tablet with an in-built phone? Well read on to find out my opinion on this quite marvellous handset.
The 10 Second review:
- Device: Samsung Galaxy Note
- Price: £594.00 including VAT for 16GB version
- Summary: An enormous phone with a simply beautiful display that cannot be rivalled by any phone today and a camera to rival any on the market also.
- Best of: Screen, battery, camera, thinness, TouchWiz UI, browser
- Worst of: lags a bit, capacitive menu buttons often too easy to accidentally hit and maybe too big for some people
- Buy it now from Clove Technology
What's in the box?
- Samsung Galaxy Note
- Stereo Headset
- 1 x Stylus
- AC Adapter
- USB Synch/Charge Cable
- Battery 2500 mAh
- User Documentation
Samsung Galaxy Note specification:
- 2G Network: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
- 3G Network: HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100
- Dimensions: 146.9 x 83 x 9.7 mm
- Weight: 178 g
- Display: Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors 800 x 1280 pixels, 5.3 inches (285 ppi pixel density) - Gorilla Glass display
- Multi-touch input method
- Accelerometer sensor for UI auto-rotate
- Touch-sensitive controls
- Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
- Gyroscope sensor
- 3.5mm jack
- Internal Memory: 16GB/32GB storage
- RAM: 1GB
- microSD, up to 32GB
- WLAN: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi hotspot
- Bluetooth v3.0+HS
- USB v2.0 microUSB (MHL), USB On-the-go
- Camera: 8 MP, 3264x2448 pixels, autofocus, LED flash
- Video Recording: 1080p@30fps
- Secondary Camera: 2 MP
- OS: Android OS, v2.3 (Gingerbread)
- CPU: Dual-core 1.4GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor, Mali-400MP GPU, Exynos chipset
- S Pen stylus
- NFC support (optional)
- Stereo FM radio with RDS
- GPS with A-GPS support
- Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
- TV-out (via MHL A/V link)
- Digital compass
- Adobe Flash 10.1 support
- Battery: Standard battery, Li-Ion 2500 mAh
The top of the Galaxy Note is simply home to the 3.5mm headphone socket and small secondary microphone.
On the bottom of the handset, you'll find the microUSB slot and the magnet S-pen which slides out
The left hand side of the phone is where the volume rocker is placed
The power button is located on the right of the handset
On the back of the handset is the 8 MP camera, LED Flash and the speak girl located to the bottom left of the handset
The front is dominated by the 5.3" Super AMOLED HD screen, the front-facing camera in the top right, the earpiece, sensors, and the 3 required buttons for Android: Menu, Home and Back at the bottom
Samsung Galaxy Note is simple one of the greatest phones I've ever had the privilege to use hardware-wise. The build-quality of the device, in general, feels really nice when held in the hand, the chrome accent around the edges (which i found similar to the old iPod touch series) felt really sturdy when operating the phone. The back cover is where I was a little let down, even though when on the back of the device feels fairly sturdy, when taken off, it is clear to see that the plastic used for the back of the device is rather cheap and bendy.
The part of the hardware that you will mostly spend your time with is the display and so that is where we will start. Last year, Samsung brought out the Samsung Galaxy S which blew away any other screen with it's brilliant Super Amoled screen that showed off vibrant colours like never seen on a mobile handset before. Then Samsung went one better and introduced the Samsung Galaxy S 2 with the Super Amoled Plus display that once again showed new boundaries with vibrant colours and battery-saving technology. However, Samsung's determination to produce the best possible screens has once again forced them to create what is possibly the most beautiful screen possible on a handset in the current age, the Super Amoled HD screen. This screen brags the colour vibrancy of the Super Amoled display with the pixel dimensions of 1280x720, yes that is an HD screen on a mobile phone, simply unbelievable. However, with the Note having such an enormous screen, Samsung decided to add an extra 80 pixels in width and make it a 1280x800 display with the pixels per inch of 285. Now, in my opinion, I have never seen a screen quite so beautiful in my life (and I've seen the latest 3D 1080p Amoled Samsung Televisions.) It is a screen that will probably not be beaten for a good 2/3 years (until they discover how to put 1920x1080p resolution into a screen) and if you get the time to pop in to a phone store and just play with the handset, I highly recommend you doing so.
Two things truly amazed me about the screen: it's visibility in sunlight and watching HD videos on it. Now, when using this phone outside on a bright summers day, do not worry about not being able to see it. It is honestly like having a sticker stuck to the screen of your phone, that is how vibrant it is. Then my other point is watching HD videos on this screen was truly an experience to behold; I often am on YouTube watching phone reviews and comedy sketches and watching these phone reviews on this small screen was a brilliant experience, I could see every detail from the text on the screen on the phone in the review, so the tiny volume rockers poking out the side of the phone. There aren't quite words that describe this screen, you truly have to experience it yourself.
Enough about the Super Amoled HD screen for now, let's have a look at the rest of the phone. The front of the phone also contains the home screen which is a physically button and the two capacitive buttons. The main home button was absolutely fine to use and worked every time that I clicked on it. However, as with other capacitive buttons on phones, I had trouble using these. My problems were that I often found myself accidentally hitting them with recording a Vlog or often watching a video, this was due to the fact that their backlight would turn off as I was watching the film; in addition, I found myself sometimes missing the buttons as I never know exactly where the boundary of the button is. One last thing is that I have a HTC Desire and so I am used to having a search button to use when it second and third-party applications, however with all Samsung devices, no such button was to be found which I found rather annoying when in certain apps where the search button would have enabled me to find a certain contact quicker.
Also located on the front of the screen is the earpiece for listening to phone calls. I only experienced one call during my time with this phone (due to being too scared to place the monster up against my face) and it performed with brilliant results. I could hear what the other person was saying on the other end even though I have three friends all chatting to each other around me
The back of the device is rocking quite an excellent 8mp camera that takes pictures that were quite outstanding to look at on the beautiful display. The LED light does a fairly good job of lighting up a room for taking that light out picture. In fact, one night I experienced a power cut and as a result found myself using the phone's LED to light my way through the house and it was far brighter than any measly torch that my parents could find. Also located on the back of the device is the speaker grill which i found an absolute pleasure to use. I have a Blackberry PlayBook that I often use to play external music (when I can't be bothered to turn my computer on) and that plays brilliant music with a little bit of bass; in addition, I have a friend with an iPhone 4 which is known for having a fair amount of bass and decent speakers and we couldn't compare the two as they were just too similar. I didn't find that it went tinny when turning up the volume too loud either, which was brilliant.
One thing I wanted to mention was the 1.4Ghz Dual-Core processor and how it seemed to really under perform for me. This may have been due to the huge display that it was trying to run, but you'd think if they were going to produce a phone with such a wopping screen, they'd put in a wopping big processor to run it all too. However, I found that the phone often lagged behind my touch of an application and not once was there an occasion where I would hit the application and it would open up instantly. Also, getting back to the home screen from the menu was a chore as well, instead of it being instant, it would take it's time to register the action, then would also take it's time to load the apps and widgets onto the screen which I often found an annoyance when I quickly wanted to go from one application to another in quick succession. Now yes you may argue that it's because of the huge screen and all that, but as I said before, in this current age we expect our phones to be able to do anything almost instantly, and when you have a Samsung phone come out about a similar time to the iPhone 4S (which does seem to open everything instantly) you'd expect it to be able to keep up with it.
Screen: Pros & Cons:
Now, seeing as the screen is probably going to be the deciding point for most people when buying this handset, whether it is perfect for their needs or is too big for what they want to do with it. This is obviously my opinion as a teenager who goes to college and a result I'm texting most of the day and making a couple of calls a day. I'll talk about the pros and cons of the screen. A pro of the screen is that images and all things aesthetic on the screen look absolutely beautiful. Flipping through photos, flipping through menus, absolutely everything looks gorgeous on this screen. Watching HD videos on the Samsung Note's HD screen is absolutely exquisite too; I watch many YouTube videos and used this phone to do this and it was a pleasure to see these videos on this enormous display in true HD resolution. Another bonus to this phone's screen is when reading text on the screen, whether it's on the browser or in a messaging application, text looks so crisp on this device it's unreal. Leading on from the browser theme, viewing actual websites is a joy too, as you have the full screen and as a result you can often scroll down the page without having to zoom in to see certain parts of the page. And the final thing that impressed me about the display was the fact that because it is so big, (when turned into landscape) some apps allow a multi-pane view which is a feature only previously seen on tablets.
Onto the cons to the huge display. This was a tricky one for me as I personally adored the screen, but there were some problems I found and this was that it was so big, it looked silly holding it up to your face to make a call. I suggest that if you do purchase this phone and wish to make many calls on it, I would recommend getting a Bluetooth headset. Another fault i found with the screen was that I found it hard to type on. It's impossible to type on with one hand, even with big hands, but also I found it hard to type on with both hands as both your hands are having to reach across the width of the screen at some point to hit the middle buttons. I also found it rather awkward to hold as I didn't know whether to hold it with one hand and spread my fingers, or use two hands and have my fingers cramped.
Apart from these two cons, I found the screen an absolute delight to use and after a week of use it did become easier to type on as you get used to your hand positioning. And holding it up to your ear doesn't feel so silly when people realise you're rocking one of the best phones on the market at the moment.
The Note is running Android 2.3.5 which is the latest version of Android (excluding Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0) with Samsung's TouchWiz 4.0 skin running on top of it. I really enjoyed using this new TouchWiz that was also found on the Samsung Galaxy II; I found that it made adding widgets and app shortcuts a lot smoother and looked nicer than it's other competitors (MotoBlur, HTC Sense etc.). I found that adding widgets onto the screen was smooth and very simple to do, even my friend who uses an iPhone could work it out.
To unlock the phone you hold your finger on the screen and then a little circle appears and you drag your finger out of the circle and it unlocks. I know it may be being picky, but I wasn't a fan of this lock screen as I like to be able to see that I'm actually moving something to unlock, where in this it just seemed to light up when I was in the right place.
What is different with the Samsung Galaxy series is that the main home screen is originated to the left instead of in the middle. I personally prefer Android phones that have the main home screen in the middle as this allows you have to have important pages on either side for quick access. However, admittedly with the Note it does scroll all the way round when scrolling to the left it goes to the far right panel. Also something that is unique is the fact that you can fit five applications in one row now due to the larger screen, for me this is a really good idea instead of just making the application thumbnails bigger or something.
Unlike other Android skins, the five (or however many you choose) applications along the bottom stay up when you move from the home screen into the applications tray. When in the applications menu, you scroll from side to side (like the iPhone) to get from page to page. What I also liked about this was how you could add applications into folders, however, you could not add these folders into the main app tray at the bottom.
Now, despite this phone being marketed as a media-based phone, it does luckily still have the ability to dial people on this. Now, as you'd assume, the keys are absolutely enormous and actually nearly impossible to miss, even when typing in a number at a great speed. The keyboard looks fairly similar to vanilla Android 2.3 but with a bit more colour (and size.) Also, the Note can produce a contact's name based on the numbers you've typed in which is very handy when you've forgotten a person's number and you just want to type their number into the numerical keypad.
The notification bar has been altered from the Vanilla Android 2.3 look also; now you are given some quick toggle options. These quick toggle options are: Wi-Fi on/off, Bluetooth on/off, GPS on/off, Silent Mode on/off and the ability to choose whether auto rotation is on or not. I myself didn't use this as I used the widget that was supplied, but I could easily find myself getting more used to using these easy toggle buttons. One thing that I noticed missing as a simple toggle on/off option was the option to decide whether your Data network mode was on or off. Now, I know this is accessible through holding down the power button, but I would have thought Samsung would have realised sometimes people like to turn it off for a little bit with a simple tap of a button.
Another neat little feature that Samsung's Touchwiz 4.0 has added to the Samsung Galaxy Note is the leap feature that allows you to view all of your home screens in one view. Though I found it is not as smooth and polished as Sense's version of it called 'Helicopter View'. The TouchWiz overlay in general is really nice and really impressed me; it added to the phone instead of taking away features like some other skins do with Android. it isn't the most beautiful looking skin on the market, but when you have a screen like the 5.3" Super Amoled HD (just in-case I hadn't mentioned it yet) on the Note, everything looks beautiful.
The Samsung Galaxy Note carries on the 'Galaxy' series of phones' trend of having Swype built in as one of the default type input methods. Swype, for those of you who don't know, is a new keyboard that was brought into the original Galaxy S last year and to input text you swipe your finger from letter to letter. I personally found this near to impossible to use on the Note's screen as it was far too large to use with one hand. It was okay if you had the phone placed down and you were using your finger to swipe from key to key but this isn't a technique I commonly use to text. The Swype keyboard is a brilliant idea and works well on the smaller Android devices, but unless you have stupidly big hands, you'll find it impossible to use on the Samsung Galaxy Note. Also, I found the Swype keyboard to be less responsive when typing normally (not swiping) on it and it would often lag when entering text. individual
Luckily the Samsung Galaxy Note does come with a normal keyboard that isn't too dissimilar to the looks of the vanilla Gingerbread keyboard. However, once again, due to the Note's enormous screen, I originally found it really awkward to type on this screen. As aforementioned, it's impossible to use the phone with one hand and it was tricky for me to position my hands behind the phone to use both hands also when typing on the Note. However, after a week or so, I had found the sweet spot and found the enormous screen a joy to type on. I personally didn't have the auto-correct spelling on as I found I never found myself making many mistakes as the individual keys were so big.
Both keyboards work in landscape also which is more of a pleasure to use than in portrait for both as you can position your hands easier and so give your fingers more reach across the screen. Once again, the huge screen allows for huge keys on the Note's default keyboard.
The browser on the Samsung Galaxy Note is truly one of the best browsers that I have ever used on a mobile phone. With the Note being an Android device, you would expect the internet to be pretty impressive with and it comes with the obvious pinch-to-zoom, double-tap and multi-touch features. However, Samsung have added in a neat little feature where you can zoom in by holding two fingers on the screen and then tilting the phone; however this was more of a novelty than something I'd ever seriously use. The browser also works in landscape, just in case you are a big landscaper browser user. I'll begin with the testing with the speed.. wow! That is all I have to say, the speed of this browser was quite simply unbelievable, I was loading full flash websites in under 10 seconds easy. What is even more impressive was that I live in the country with a download speed of something like 2mb/s. Even when I was out and about with 3G, when something needed searching between me and my mates, the Note was always the device chosen due to it's amazing speed. Scrolling was next to perfect also, I never experienced checkerboard patterning and even when the page wasn't fully loaded, I could scroll up and down the page without lag, simply amazing.
Another thing that's beautiful about the Note's browser is how clear reading text is due to the 1280x800 HD screen (yes back to the screen again) I could read text on a website without even having to zoom in. This also means that watching flash videos that are built into the browser look really detailed and crisp also.
The Note does support multiple tabbed browsing and to make this easier, Samsung have enabled a neat feature in which, when fully zoomed-out, if you pinch the screen, you are taken to the see the other internet windows you have open.
The S Pen is a style that comes with the Samsung Galaxy Note. However, this stylus is different to stylus' of the past in that it is magnetic and as a result is very good on capacitive touchscreens. In my opinion, I thought Stylus' went out of fashion a while ago, but I think Samsung knew this and so have added some new features with this Stylus pen. Along with the S Pen comes some applications that Samsung have included in the set of applications that incorporate the use of this next generation Stylus.
The first of these applications, that has been advertised most with the Samsung Galaxy Note is the 'S Memo' application that resides in the middle of the main five apps at the bottom of the Note. This application is simple what it says on the tin, it is an application that allows you to use your stylus to take notes or even draw pictures. You can change pen width, pen colour and the pen depth. You also have the options to change whether to use pen, paintbrush, pencil or a highlighter. I personally enjoyed using this application very much and had a lot of fun writing the message below. You can also use text entry if you don't feel like physically writing with the Stylus.
Another application that comes with the phone that uses the 'S pen' is the 'Crayon Physics' application. This application is a simple drawing game that gets you drawing a line for the ball to get the star using. It's a simple concept for a game, but one that I found very fun to play (even if sometimes it didn't work by releasing the ball before I even had the chance to draw my line.)
The final application that is installed on the phone is the 'S Choice' application which is basically an application market for apps that allow the use of this Stylus. Surprisingly, 'Evernote' is one of the applications that allows the use of this Stylus which I'm guessing could be quite interesting. The applications in this market are obviously limited and are all free except one, this is probably because Samsung have realised that people would only these apps if they have some spare times on their hands and if they saw they cost, they wouldn't be as keen on downloading them.
The Samsung Galaxy Note is simply a multimedia GOD! I don't know if I've mentioned, but it has a 5.3" Super Amoled HD screen which is better than any screen I have seen before. Watching movies on the Note is like watching movies on a mini HD-TV. It truly is quite immersing; with a pair of headphones on and a good HD movie, you can really get into a film with the enormous display and the 5.1 surround sound that is built into the audio for headphones. Watching videos on this device can't be beaten by any other mobile phone on the market right now.
The video application that comes with the Note is really nice to use and when viewing a video, it skips from one part of the movie to another with almost no loading time. You can play the videos on both landscape and portrait of course, but nearly all videos are destined for the landscape views these days.
The music application on the device is also very impressive and nice to use giving you the options to view by: All Songs, Playlists, Albums, Artists and Folders. When playing music, you are given the usual music media controls: rewind/previous back, play/pause, forward/next track. Also you get the shuffle and repeats options, which have pretty much become standard these days on phone music players. However, with the Samsung Note, you get the option to put your music into 5.1 surround sound when headphones are in which is a nice feature and often made the music sound clearer and bassier. You are also given letters along the side (similar to the iPhone) so that you can skip to the track with that letter which is always convenient.
The gallery on the Samsung Note is simply the default Gingerbread gallery, but to be fair, this is a beautiful gallery and uses some amazing 3D effects that no other Operating System uses and it works really well when viewing pictures in the thumbnail view. You can grab the album you want to view and picture to view the photos within the album before actually going into the album, which is a really nice feature.
The camera application on the Samsung Note is really easy to use, in the top right hand corner you have whether you want to take a picture or record a video. In the bottom right hand corner you have your quick access to your gallery. In the top left of the application you can change to the front-facing camera. Below that, you have the option to turn flash on, off or to auto. And below that you have the settings button (of which you have many!) However, what I experienced was rather slow shutter lag. With a 1.4 Ghz Dual-Core processor powering this thing, I was expecting it to have almost no shutter lag, but in fact it takes longer than my HTC Desire which is running a 1 Ghz SINGLE-Core processor. Maybe this is down to the screen size or having 3 more megapixels than my phone, who knows?
The Samsung Galaxy Note is rocking an 8mp camera with an LED flash and it can record up to 1080p at 30 frames per second. Now, if that doesn't sound impressive to you, then I don't know what will. The camera, for me, was one of the most beautiful cameras I have ever had the joy of using, it took really nice pictures in low light settings and nice pictures in higher lighting settings also. The auto-focus worked brilliantly as you can see with the close-up shots of the Pepsi Max can. However, colours did seem a little bland on the default settings and when using flash, some of the colour was drained from the image.
There are hundreds of settings to choose from within the camera also such as: effects, ISO, anti-shake, auto contrast and lots of other settings that you can play with until your heart's content. When I let my brother play with this, he really did play with it until his heart was content. And as you can see from the above images, he got some cracking photos of some up-close images and some far away images.
The video-recording on the Samsung Galaxy Note is quite remarkable too, the audio quality was supreme with the two microphones clearly working to cancel out any background noise. I noticed no jittering with the frames during recording either and it was all very smooth and produced very high quality videos.
A standard battery, Li-Ion 2500 mAh is running this powerhouse of a device. This is what I believe to be the biggest battery in a phone today, but then why not put the most powerful battery in a phone in the world in the biggest screened phone in the world? And you know what? It really works! I can usually go through a whole college day which involves texting every half an hour, using LiveProfile (an instant-messaging service) every half an hour, getting an email and responding to that once every other hour, listening to music for about 2 and a half hours a day and all those other things that teenage college students do with their phones during the day. Even doing all this, I still have about 30% charge when it comes to 9:30 at night and I begin to wind down and plug my phone in to charge. It truly is outstanding considering the size and power running the display, but when you look in the battery usage settings, you can clearly see why I brag about the display so much when you see how much battery it is using. In fact below you can see how long I used it for, and how much percentage each application I used, used up.
Now you can see why I have gone on about the display during this review, it completely dominates the device's battery as well as the physical being of the handset.
Call quality and signal
I only used this device to make one call during the time that I used it and it impressed me a lot. The one time I did use it, I could hear the other person on the end of the phone very clearly even though I had friends sitting right in front of me chatting. Also, not once did the person on the other end of the call miss a word I was saying, so I was assuming it was very clear and loud enough. One tiny gripe I did have when in a call on this phone was how uncomfortable it was to hold up to my ear due to the design. Because of the hard plastic, it was very hard up against my ear and I even tended to hold the phone away from my ear because it hurt that much.
The signal on this phone is something else that impressed me (not many of those it seems..) because I rarely get signal where I live, but with the Note, I seemed to get signal all over my house which is always handy. One thing that I noticed when looking at my Data connection was that there's hundreds of symbols for different internet strengths and I was confused by some of them. The different symbols were: E, G, H+, H and 3G. Obviously I knew E was Edge and 3G was 3G, but the rest were a complete unknown to me. All I know is that H+ was damn fast and really hard to find.
You can probably guess most of my conclusion from reading the rest of the review. What I truly love about this phone is how beautiful the display is, but what I hate about this phone is also the display and how it is simply too big. Now, it does slide nice into your pocket and doesn't feel like an extra limb or anything, but for a teenager like me to have a phone that big would only be for looks as my hands ache after using it for too long.
The one thing that really let me down about this phone also, was it's speed. I was expecting the 1.4ghz Dual-Core processor to blaze applications open instantly and to be able to wizz through different applications without having to wait for the home screen to load or my action to register. The only place you really feel the processor working is in the rapid Internet browser, but even then, that takes time to load up. Maybe there's something Samsung can do to improve this speed, but the model I got was simply too slow for a Dual Core phone.
All-in-all, this phone is a must buy for anyone who wants to make heads turn, anyone who wants to experience the best media phone out there or anyone who has gigantic hands. And this phone isn't for those who want portability, who want a phone you can quickly bash out a message on and then check email and then get back onto your music and it most certainly isn't for those who have freakishly small hands.
Review by: Luke