Sizing up the Samsung Galaxy Note

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I’ve been exploring a new gadget this weekend, a Samsung Galaxy Note that I have for review. If you looked at it, you’d think it was a rather large smartphone. Indeed, compare it to the Samsung Galaxy SII that I have – which is a rather large smartphone – and you’ll see it needs another description.

You can see the size of it when looking at these two devices side by side in the photo above – the Note on the left and the SII on the right.

When I first looked at the Note on unpacking the box, my immediate thought was – this is like the 5-inch Dell Streak in terms of size. In fact, I have a Dell Streak so a comparison is easy to see at first hand as this photo below shows: Galaxy Note on the left, Dell Streak on the right.

galaxynotedellstreak

Pretty close in overall size dimensions. Pretty close, too, in screen size – the Note has a 5.3-inch display and the Streak has 5.0 inches. Not really much in it. Compare that to the SII at 4.3 inches – an inch less in overall dimensions – or the iPhone 4: at 3.5 inches, its screen is nearly 2 inches smaller overall than the Note’s (and almost 1 inch smaller than the SII’s).

You may be wondering why I seem to be fixated on size. Does size matter? Well, it does if you’re thinking of a smartphone and how you’d use that with emphasis on the ‘phone’ part of the word. I don’t know about you, but I really wouldn’t want to have to use a device the size of a Note or a Streak as my primary phone. Imagine something that big stuck to your ear!

Although the Galaxy Note does have a slot for a SIM card so you can make and receive phone calls and text messages, I wouldn’t call it a smartphone as what you’re far more likely to want to do with it is run apps and connect to the net. So a cellular connection as well as wifi is handy, letting you be online just about anywhere. And if push comes to shove, you can always make a phone call if you really want to.

This device is a mini tablet – a hybrid, in fact, in between a smartphone and a tablet. It’s the space Dell first entered in 2009 with the 5-inch Streak. But it’s a space they’ve now vacated entirely in the major markets of Europe and North America, leaving it to Samsung in particular to make the most of it.

The Galaxy Note I have is unlocked, not tied to any particular network or mobile operator. It works just fine on wifi without a SIM card, although I did notice something interesting – when I first turned it on and configured a wifi connection, it notified me of a new firmware update.

But it wouldn’t let me get it without a SIM card installed.

notesoftwareupdateThat was easy to sort out by using the SIM card from my SII. It enabled the firmware to be downloaded and installed, which updated the version of the Android operating system from 2.3.5 to 2.3.6. Bang up to date!

(As an aside comment on that, searching for a firmware update on the SII – which, like the Note did, has Android version 2.3.5 installed – produces no result. Yet 2.3.6 is available. Maybe the fix that 2.3.6 brings – for a voice search bug – isn’t relevant to the SII. Or, as that device is tied to a mobile operator – Three UK – perhaps it’s waiting for Three to release the update)

As I opened the box only yesterday, I haven’t yet kicked the Note’s tyres in a meaningful way. Not run any apps nor explored some interesting aspects such as the S Pen – a hi-tech stylus that may seem conceptually familiar to you if you remember devices like the Compaq IPAQ from a decade ago – and some of the neat ways you can use it.

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The short time I have spent so far with the Note shows me a mobile device that’s powerful, fast, familiar, light in the hand, feature-laden and a pleasure to use. One other thing I noted in particular was the battery – 2500mAh capacity. (Wikipedia explains mAh if you’re interested.) What that means to you and me is that a device this size with a screen this big needs all the juice it can get. Depending on use, I’d expect battery life to be on a par with what I get from my Galaxy SII with a smaller capacity battery (1650mAh) for a smaller-size and smaller-screen device – about a day’s charge with my typical use.

Would the Note be good as a primary mobile device, eg, as your phone? No, I wouldn’t recommend that. But if you want a tool that lets you do much of what you can with a full-size Android tablet (or iPad, for that matter) but in a pocket-size form factor – the best of both worlds, perhaps – then the Note may appeal to you.

Here are the top-level specs:

  • 1.4GHz ARM9dual-core processor
  • 1Gb RAM
  • 16Gb internal storage (32Gb version also available but not in the UK)
  • MicroSD card external storage support for cards up to 32Gb capacity
  • Bluetooth
  • 802.11a/b/g/n wifi
  • 5.3-inch Super AMOLEDHD display with 800×1280 resolution
  • 8 megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash plus 2 megapixel front-facing camera
  • Android 2.3 Gingerbread with upgrade to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwichcoming
  • Screen capture capability (making screenshots)

More thoughts to come as I get to know the Samsung Galaxy Note.

(All the pics above were shot with an HTC Desire 5-megapixel camera and tweaked a bit in Paint Shop Pro X2. Not a bad camera compared to the Note’s and SII’s 8-megapixel ones.)

About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.