Hands On with the Samsung Galaxy Note

South Africa was lucky enough to be amongst the first countries to get the new Samsung Galaxy Note device, and they put a great amount of fanfare behind it’s launch. So we headed through to Sandton to attend, and the Galaxy Note did not disappoint.
In case you have not heard of the Galaxy Note – here are the details. Even though it is a smartphone, it is clearly skewed towards users who want to use their phones more like tablets. A huge 5.3 inch display means that this is by no means a small phone. If you have small hands you have to think of this phone as a two handed device. But that nice big screen carries a big advantage – it can carry a massive 720p resolution. It is one of the highest resolutions on any smartphone out there (1280 x 720 pixels) and photos and videos look brilliant on the phone.

Despite the large size, the Note is really very thin.

The other advantage that the Note has is a stylus which can be used for notes and handwriting recognition. You simply pull out a stylus like in the old Palm days, and swipe and click away. It works well enough, and the pen is quite comfortable to use as well. But here is one of the small snags I ran into – depending on how you write, some people like to rest their hand’s side on the writing surface. But this does not work to well with the Note – it looks like it does not ignore your hand when the stylus is close to the screen. This ignoring of the hand is not rocket science – it has been built into tablets for years. On the other hand, it is a smaller device, so you might not rest your hand on it at all.
Build quality on the device is solid – it is basically an oversized Galaxy S2, and it is just as thin (see our review of the Galaxy S2 here). That broad thin body not only gives a nice big screen, but a massive 2500mAh battery as well. I could not test battery life unfortunately, so we will wait for an official review unit. Build quality looks solid – I actually saw one of the Galaxy Notes take a good dive onto a tile floor, and it was fine afterward. The phone is still predominantly plastic on the rear, but there is no flex in the phone.
The Galaxy Note can use HDMI to output to your TV.

In terms of performance I was very impressed – apps launched instantaneously, animations had good framerate and web pages rendered incredibly fast. If you have used an Galaxy S2, expect similiar performance due to the dual core 1.4 GHz processor and 1GB RAM. The current apps on the device is typical Android and Samsung TouchWiz fare, but expect a few extra apps made just for the stylus of the Note. The note-taking app works well, but do not expect handwriting recognition right in the app. For handwriting recognition, you will instead replace the onscreen keyboard with a “Grafiti” style area in which you write. Great for old Palm fans. I really do hope to see some more interesting apps that use the stylus.
Want to do digital sketches? Its quite easy with the included stylus.
Want to do digital sketches? Its quite easy with the included stylus.

At the end of the day one has to ask who this phone was made for – is it a phone or a tablet? But think about it this way: you might like using your tablet a lot, but your phone is always with you. It is for this very reason some people find that they do not use their tablets as much as their phones.  So if you are someone who wants a tablet that fits in your pocket, the Galaxy Note might just be perfect. Personally I am not yet sold on the pen, but that might be something you need to spend some time with. The other issue is the sheer size of the thing – in certain peoples hands the device really does look giant, and it is massive phone to put against your ear. Only time will tell whether people latch onto these supersized phones.
Expect a full review of the Note soon enough, we really cannot wait to spend more time with it.