When Samsung first unveiled the Galaxy Note, I had mixed feelings with the device. It’s got the genes of an impressive smartphone but a form factor that’s inching towards the tablet category. After having over a week’s time with the Samsung Galaxy Note and I’d like to share my verdict. Check out the full review after the break.
The Galaxy Note sits in between Samsung’s highly popular Galaxy S2 smartphone and its first 7-inch tablet, the Galaxy Tab.
To give you a good idea on how huge a 5.3-inch smartphone is, we placed it side by side the 3.5″ iPhone 4 for size comparison. As you can see, the screen of the galaxy Note is even bigger than the entire body of the iPhone 4.
The power/lock button is found on the top right side of the device while the volume controls are on the left side. The 3.5mm audio jack is found on the top side while the micro-USB port is at the bottom along with the slot for the pen stylus.
At the back, the 8MP camera is found along with the LED flash in the upper middle corner. The entire back panel peels off to reveal the extra-large battery. The cover is so thin it feels like you’d crack or break it every time you take it off to access the battery compartment (where the microSD card slot and SIM card slot are also found).
There seems to be two microphones here — one at the bottom for making calls and another one at the top which is most probably for noise canceling. The speaker grills are a bit small and is found at the back panel.
At the front, the secondary camera and a couple of sensors are situated at the top corner while the large, rounded rectangular home button is at the bottom end. The home button is sandwiched between two backlit touch panels for Back and Menu.
The large Super AMOLED screen is gorgeous, as expected of any AMOLED displays from Samsung. The screen is bright and crisp, has very rich colors, very wide viewing angles, good brightness and high contrast. The capacitive display is very responsive although it feels closer to the responsiveness of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 rather than the S2 (probably because of the higher resolution). Samsung was able to maximize the screen real estate on the Note and made the bezel as thin as possible.
At 5.3″, it’s practically a gigantic smartphone. What Samsung did was take everything that is great with the Galaxy S2 and stretched it an inch wider.
We can look at this and call it a hybrid — a smartphone and tablet in one single device. Samsung wasn’t the first that introduced a device in this category. We already saw Dell pull out a 5-incher with the Dell Streak 5 from a year ago, though they failed to impress the market and finally retiring the device this year.
But what did Samsung do with the Galaxy Note to avoid the same lackluster performance the Dell Streak suffered? For one, Samsung packaged the Galaxy Note with the hardware configuration fit for a tablet, and not just a smartphone.
Second, Samsung banked on the success of the Galaxy S2 and patterned the design and form factor from it. And lastly, the Galaxy Note was ready for ICS and it’s got a screen resolution of a much bigger tablet.
In short, Samsung made the Galaxy Note better than the S2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 combined — a device worthy of being called a Android hybrid.
Samsung even bothered to include a dedicated stylus and though it’s generally un-necessary, it comes with a few tricks of its own (especially with Google Maps).
The S Memo is a pretty nifty feature. It is a such an integral feature of the Galaxy Note that Samsung placed it in center of the standard menu, beside the Phone, Contacts and Messaging icons. I loved the fact that you can fire up Google Maps, take a screenshot, draw over it and send it via email. As such, the built-in screen capture function works when you press down on the screen and push the little button on the stylus.
The TouchWiz UI is very familiar and similar to the ones we’ve seen in the previous Galaxy line-up. This is on top of the Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread that’s pre-installed on the device out of the box. Samsung also added a few more widgets to the device.
The Social Hub is still there for centralized messaging, SNS updates, contacts synchronization and calendar management. For the heavy readers, the Galaxy Note also has the Readers Hub which is like a library of News (powered by PressDisplay), Books (powered by Kobo) and Magazines (powered by Zinio).
Samsung also added a couple more apps and features on the Galaxy Note including a custom Calendar, Movie Editor, Photo Editor and Voice Talk.
The Video Maker is simple and easy to use and although the functions are limited, it is very usable. The maximum output is only limited to 720p even if your source is 1080p.
Voice Talk is also a nice function and, like most other voice command features like Vlingo, is restricted to a specific command format (at least you can program it to respond to “Hi Siri” to wake up the phone).
Here’s the complete specs of the device although the only variant that will be available in the Philippines is the one with the 16GB internal storage.
Samsung Galaxy Note GT-N7000 specs:
5.3-inch Super AMOLED display @ 1280Ã—800 pixel resolution
Gorilla Glass display
1.4GHz dual-core processor Exynos chip
16GB & 32GB internal storage
up to 32GB via microSD (2GB included)
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, WiFi Direct
8MP rear camera
1080p full HD video recording
2MP front-facing camera
GPS w/ aGPS support
FM Radio tuner
Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread
Samsung TouchWiz UI 4.0
Li-Ion 2500mAh battery
The performance of the Galaxy Note trumps any other smartphone and tablet we’ve seen around. It scored a whopping 4154 in Quadrant (the Galaxy S2 we reviewed only had 2622 while the 1.2GHz variant reached the 3000 mark). That’s the highest Quadrant score we’ve seen on any smartphone fresh out of the box.
The fact that it can record 1080p videos and also play 1080p hi-def movies is already a testament on how powerful this device is (considering the much higher screen resolution). The HTC Sensation XE with its dual 1.5GHz processor only scored 2249 in the same benchmark. The fast internal flash storage certainly helped in here.
The camera on the Galaxy Note is impressive, as great as the one on the Galaxy S2. It’s got a fairly fast shutter speed, an accurate and fast focus that produces clear and crisp images with fairly saturated colors. It can even handle low-light environments pretty well, as shown on the sample photos below.
The Galaxy Note’s camera perform really well under low-light conditions. You will notice minimal amount of noise one some of the darker photos. That’s probably because in Auto Mode, the camera lowers the ISO settings as much as it can — the same reason why some shots look darker than they actually are.
You can view all the collection of photos taken using the Galaxy Note in this gallery.
The full HD 1080p video recording is equally impressive — it’s crisp, has good focus and really high frame rates.
Note: Dont’ forget to tick the 1080p video playback on YouTube to see the raw footages. Notice the stereo audio recording is also very sensitive and clear.
Making calls is a little odd because of the big form factor but if you have huge hands as well, it’s almost natural (not as crazy as holding the 7-inch Galaxy Tab over your ears). Composing text messages and general typical is so easy and comfortable with both hands (almost impossible with one hand) since the virtual keys are equally large.
Call quality is good to great and sound quality is decent but not that very impressive especially on movie playback.
Using the built-in stylus is not necessary except for when you want to do some sketching or photo editing and you can actually use it for general navigation (mind you, this is a capacitive display). There’s also a couple of gesture commands you can execute using the stylus with the pen button as the trigger.
There’s also the WiFi Direct feature but we could use it since there’s no other device to pair it with. It’s a bit curious that despite the integrated Bluetooth 3.0 we’re still recording 2.0 speeds when transferring files to my Macbook Air.
The Li-ion battery is rated at 2500mAh and is really good. I reckon close to two days on regular use with internet on. I was able to use this as a WiFi hotspot when we were in Jakarta earlier this week and it lasted about half a day with 3G and WiFi on (I think it lasted that long because the screen was off most of the time).
The device is targeted to people who are looking for a powerful smartphone and a tablet in one. It’s a bargain if you look at it that way but it might be too much if you’re just into an Android phone or just want to replace your tablet with a smaller one (remember, Samsung also has a much cheaper 5-inch Galaxy S WiFi at Php12k).
The Samsung Galaxy Note has a suggested retail price of Php35,990 (also exclusive with Smart under Plan 2000). It’s one of the most expensive smartphones to date, even more expensive than the tablets Samsung is also promoting (which are all under Php30k). If your coming from the Galaxy S2, this is definitely an upgrade. Whichever way you are coming from, the Galaxy Note is definitely drool-worthy.
Disclosure: Widget City provided us with this review unit. They also sell the Galaxy Note at their online store for only Php31,000. You can check them out here.