Name: Samsung Galaxy Note
Price: $300 (w/two-year contract)
The Back Story: For months Samsung has teased its next-gen handset and fired shots at Apple with its clever “Next Big Thing” TV ads. The mobile giant aired its multi-million dollar Super Bowl ad and unveiled what many experts predicted to be the company’s smartphone-tablet hybrid: the Samsung Galaxy Note. Fashioned after its smaller sibling, the Galaxy S II, the Note keeps a majority of its predecessor’s fancies, while welcoming new hardware. After causing a few waves on the international market, Samsung’s finally ready to unleash the so-called iPhone killer in an attempt to once again dominate the mobile game.
Spearheaded by the largest HD mobile display ever created, a high-tech stylus dubbed the S-Pen, and AT&T’s updated LTE service, the Note seems destined for big things. So does it bridge the gap between smartphones and tablets? Or is it just a overly large smartphone filled with promise?
• Introducing the S-Pen: Needless to say the Note’s biggest attraction is its high-tech stylus dubbed the S-Pen. The add-on runs on Electro-Magnetic Resonance technology and allows users to capture screenshots, create annotations, write memos, and navigate through the UI. The combination of these attributes make the stylus intriguing. For instance, you can grab a screenshot of a map and use the S-Pen to perform minor design work such as doodling directions and cropping sections. Also cool is when the S-Pen comes in contact with the touchscreen, capacitive input is unrecognized, meaning you can rest your hand on the display and still perform commands. We also liked how the stylus is adjustable to either hand via settings.
Software-wise, there are two versions of Samsung’s S Memo app, each serving as an outlet to jot notes and do other things like merge audio and images. The S-Pen-themed Crayon Physics game was fun and resembles the Nintendo DS’ Kirby: Canvas Curse, where you solve puzzles and reach end points by drawing objects on the screen. There are two artsy programs made specifically for the S-Pen (OmniSketch and Zen Brush) that offers a good platform to create designs, but were unavailable on our unit. Samsung also notes that the stylus provides more precision on other Android Market games, Fruit Ninja in particular. They’re right.
• Mind-blowing HD Super AMOLED display: Samsung’s AMOLED touchscreens have yet to be topped and with the release of its behemoth handset comes the first-ever 5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED Display. Videos, images, and text always look better on a bigger screen, but a hi-def AMOLED makes everything far more vivid and immerse. We jumped on Netflix and stood mesmerized by the stunning visuals and neon-enriched colors produced from the screen when watching Tron Legacy. The viewing angles are amazing and the high-res output is unmatched. YouTube clips, transferred video files, and images looked sharp. Web pages and emails generated crisp text, too. Simply put: It's the best…smartphone…display…out!
• Fast LTE and processing speeds: AT&T’s stepped up its 4G game as we experienced with its last two Android offerings (the HTC Vivid and Moto Atrix II). Samsung’s phone brings improved data speeds peaking at 15Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload. The 1.5GHz Snapdragon dual-core delivers rapid performance on all ends from web browsing to registering all S-Pen commands. It’s a multitasking beast that keeps the phone active and lag-free, even with a couple of huge-memory apps open in the background. The 1GB of RAM also plays wingman for the high-powered CPU.
• Long-lasting battery: Under the hood lies a 2,500mAh energizer that Samsung claims can hold a 10-hour charge via continuous use and last 10.4 days on standby time. We can’t vouch for the latter due to our limited time with the device, but the battery held up extremely well during heavy multimedia, messaging, and S-pen activity sessions. In addition, the Note features the same Power Saving Mode found on the Galaxy S II to ensure longer energy endurance. Surely you won’t get the same 12+ hours of usage that the Droid RAZR Maxx dishes, but a solid 8 to 9 hours should suffice during long trips.
• True enterprise phone: The S-Pen already plays in favor of the corporate crowd by providing a faster option to update reports and scribble reminders on the go. Samsung’s included several other “business-to-business foundations” on the device starting with its SAFE program—bundling on-device encryption, VPN support, and Exchange ActiveSync for email, calendar, and contact management.
• Massive size and generic design: It’s no spoiler that the Galaxy Note is a huge sucker. The handset measures at 5.78 inches tall, weighs an estimated 6.5 ounces, and bears a 9.65mm thickness (which is near identical to the iPhone 4). And for a $300 phone billed as the “next big thing,” Samsung could have replaced the flimsy back cover with a reinforced guard, as well as upgrade the Note’s look instead of repackaging it with the Galaxy S II veneer.
• No Ice Cream Sandwich or NFC support: We all know the only Android phone stocked with Android 4.0 is the manufacturer's other heavyweight: the Galaxy Nexus. So it's staggering to see the company have access to Google’s latest OS, yet leave it absent from the spec sheet of its biggest handset to date. An ICS update is expected for the near future, but since the Note doesn't support NFC, that makes Google Wallet and several other wireless proximity-based hallmarks an afterthought for the device.
• Lack of S-Pen-compatible apps: Needless to say the Note’s biggest attraction is its stylus capability. Unfortunately, there’s only a handful of apps here that take full advantage of the S-Pen and EMR technology. Samsung believes more apps should be coming down the pipe in the next few months, plus there’s been some rumblings of ICS stylus input.
Final Say: Consider the Note a device that succeeds on many levels as a mobile, while teasing tablet-like performance. Great 4G speeds, powerful benchmarks, and the most beautiful touchscreen out there. The inclusion of the S-Pen also adds a touch of nostalgia with a modern twist, as the mechanics and features found on Samsung’s stylus make it a noteworthy (and useful) accessory. Is that enough to proclaim it an iPhone 4/4S killer? Not quite. There aren’t enough programs that really demonstrate the S-Pen’s true potential, plus its ginormous form factor and ICS-less integration ends the debate. There’s still a lot of ground to cover before labeling the Note a handset that bridges the gap between smartphones and tablets. The Note is a solid introduction to what could be the future of tabletphones, and if Samsung commits to upgrading the Note’s software and increasing the S-Pen apps library, then that’s all she wrote.