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.

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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.

notesoftwareupdate
That 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.)

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Wai

    I have been using the Note as my primary phone for 3 Weeks now and have been very happy with it. The speaker quality on this phone is very good when making calls.
    The Note is quite thin compared to the Streak and fits quite nicely and comfortably into my boot cut Levis.
    I have to admit I did hang on to my IPhone when I bought the Note, but it was because I was a little concerned with the battery life. I have never had much battery luck with Android phones as could never last the day. I don’t think that is the case with the Note. My usage with this unit ended up being on par with the iPhone4. The iPhone has gone now…let’s see what iPhone 5 will have to offer in the future. Also with the recent firmware update a battery saving option is available in the settings now. It allows you to do a little tweaking to try to squeeze even more life out of the battery.
    If you want a “tablet” like smartphone that you carry on you wherever without having to toss into some sort of bag every I would check out the Note.
    I have had no issues using it as a phone so far either.

    • Neville Hobson

      Wai, glad to know of your good experience with the Note as a phone.

      Re battery life, it depends on how you use a device. My experience on Android phones has been pretty good, ie, I charge a device once a day (usually overnight), rarely needing to top up in between. But, much depends on what I’m doing with the device.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.

      • Wai

        Hi Neville,
        Enjoyed your article.
        Yes an overnight recharge is a must for me. Considering it is a 2500mah battery, the recharge is quite fast.
        I too used to have a HTC Desire, before getting the iPhone4. The battery life was too short for me, although I liked the phone very much. Quite happy with battery life with the Note. Maybe it will be even better with ICS! :)

  2. Simon Currey

    There seem to a lot of self-conscious bloggers concerned about size! I suggest you try the experience, the world does not stop and stare. When I hand my Note to folk and seek a reaction its positive. In fact my local taxi driver seem to be attracted by motives that hinted at conspicuous consumption. On another type of consumption Juicedefender is good for battery life. I see there is a rumour that Apple will launch a 7 inch tablet next year, perhaps there will be a 5 inch iPhone in 2013?

    • Neville Hobson

      Yes, reaction to size is interesting ;) Had similar positive reactions when I used to hand out the Dell Streak to friends – but those positive reactions were when regarding the device as a mini tablet not as a phone.

      A market in much evolution: devices that one person sees one way, another sees differently. Tough for manufacturers to get it right.

  3. Abercrombie

    So true. For proof just go look at anandtech’s review of the Samsung Galaxy S II. Exynos’ GPU outperforms all other smartphones by a factor of 2 or more. Yes, the Exynos chipset is TWICE as powerful as its nearest competitors. So that “upgrade” in clock frequency from 1.4GHz to 1.5GHz will actually equate to a roughly 50% DECREASE in performance. Some may not notice it, but most people interested in this device are power users who want snappy performance and buttery smooth media. So for all those people, importing the international Galaxy Note might be your best bet.

    If AT&T cannibalizes the Note for the sake of bandwidth, you can bet T-Mobile will as well considering their version of the Galaxy S II has a Qualcomm chip in it. Verizon may be the only hope for a Exynos-equipped Galaxy Note, but considering Verizon used TI’s OMAP chipset for the Galaxy Nexus, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

    In short, the current king of smartphone chipsets is the Samsung Exynos. It outperforms nVidia’s, Qualcomm’s, Texas Instruments’ and Apple’s smartphone chipsets by a large margin. To buy a flagship Samsung device WITHOUT their flagship processor is like buying a Ferrari with a Ford motor slapped in it for the sake of being more “compatible” with US markets.

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