Samsung Galaxy Note User Review

*This is a sponsored post with a review unit from Samsung Malaysia.

Last Friday on 11 Nov 2011 (11-11-11), Samsung Galaxy Note is finally launched and available for sale in Malaysia!

In case you don’t already know, I got my cool little mittens on this Samsung Galaxy Note for almost 2 weeks now. Watch my Unboxing and First Impression video here, if you haven’t already.

As promised, I am now giving you a full review of the Samsung Galaxy Note. The large 5.3” Android Gingerbread super smartphone slash tablet hybrid device.

When I first heard about this device, I was confused, like most of you. Is this going to be a smartphone or a tablet? Even Samsung don’t want to label it. Their ads cheekily states, “Phone? Tablet…” It’s neither-here-nor-there size was puzzling. I was skeptical that this form factor would work.

And then, I held it in my hands. PHWOAAAARRRRRRR!!!!!

Here’s a quick overview of the Galaxy Note:-

  • 5.3” HD Super AMOLED screen (1280 X 800 resolution)
  • Dual core 1.4GHz processor
  • 1GB RAM with 16GB / 32GB internal storage (microSD up to 32GB)
  • Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS (upgradeable to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS in early 2012)
  • Rear 8 megapixel camera with LED flash; Front 2 megapixel camera for video calls
  • 9.65mm thin, weighing 178g
  • Includes S Pen (stylus)
  • Available in Black or White colour

Are you now ready for me to dive in?

 

Hardware

Yes, it is a beautifully designed device. From my original unboxing video, you already got a feel of the size, compared to other device and also how it looks in my hands.

You already got an idea of the technical specifications of the device. Let’s dive in deeper.

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The front sports a gorgeous and ample large 5.3” HD Super AMOLED screen that you’d no doubt enjoy. The viewing angles are superior on this device – as you’d no doubt already heard about Samsung’s past phones.

You get the front facing 2 megapixel camera for your video calls on the right of the speaker.

At the bottom, you get a single hard button for Home. When activated, you will also see the soft button for Menu (on the left of the Home button) and Back (on the right).

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The back has a textured backing not unlike the one you’d see from the Samsung Galaxy S2 (which I have also reviewed here). This gives the device a nice good grip, if you choose to use it without a phone case.

You remove the back plate with a small groove at the top right, near the volume rocker. This allows you access to the battery, slots for your SIM card (regular sized, not microSIM) and your microSD card slot.

One thing I noticed, as with my previous review on Galaxy S2, the back plate is super thin, made of a plastic material that I worry that I might break one day. I suppose it needs to be slim to ensure the overall thinness of the device, but the flimsiness of this back plate worries me sometimes. Let’s hope you don’t have to remove this too often.

At the top is the super impressive 8 megapixel camera, with an LED flash. If you haven’t experienced it before, Samsung devices has some of the better shooters today. More on that later…

You get the speaker grill at the bottom left of the device.

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At the furthest bottom left, you’d see the S Pen – Samsung’s stylus for the Galaxy Note. If you have used a Palm or WIndows Mobile device before, you’d be right at home with this.

Unlike devices with stylus of those days, the one on the Galaxy Note does not have a magnetic closure. Not to worry though, from my various use of it over the week, I don’t seem to worry about whether I would lose the S Pen at all. The slot is very secure and don’t seem lose at all. When you slide it in, it feels tight and in place towards the last inch (as per the picture above).

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(Clockwise from Top Left) On the left, volume rocker. At the bottom, there’s a microUSB slot for charging and syncing. At the top, is a single 3.5mm headphone jack. At the right of the device, the Power On/Off button.

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At 9.65mm, it is not the thinnest device in the market. Not that the device is bulky, it’s actually just thin enough and feels just right in your hands. Weighing at 178g, the device feels solidly built.

The side of the device has a nice shiny chrome bezel finishing that gives it a nice polish sexy feel.

Overall size, I can’t deny that it is a big device. Definitely bigger than the discontinued Dell Streak (5’”) that we’ve seen before.

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Here it is compared size wise, next to my Galaxy S2.

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In my (female) hands, it might look big as a phone. So I would very much suggest you use a wired or Bluetooth headphones for phone calls. This can free up the device for you to take notes, check your calendar, etc while on a call, too.

If you’re a big man or have big hands, this wouldn’t look silly on you. In fact, you’re guaranteed to turn heads and be stopped to ask about your gadget!

For those asking, yes – it DOES fit into your shirt front pocket or jeans back pocket. Although, it might look odd if you’re a skinny jeans type of person. Smile with tongue out

 

Software

If you have or have played with the Samsung Galaxy S2 or read my review here, you’d feel right at home with Samsung’s proprietary skin to Google’s Android OS – the Samsung TouchWiz UI.

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The Lock screen shows a very telling picture of a notebook with a quill (feather ink pen thingy) which is Samsung subtle way of showcasing how amazing this device is as a Notebook (pen and paper kind) replacement. Of course, if the name Galaxy “NOTE” is not enough of a give-away. Smile with tongue out

You have 7 homescreens that you can include all the widgets, application shortcuts, folders, etc. You can customise your wallpaper as with any Android devices, including the animated Live Wallpaper that many Android users have grown to love.

Samsung has also included several of their complimenting touches to the Galaxy Note. Most notably, you’d see Samsung’s own App Store (which was mostly featured apps that you’d also find on the Android App Store), Samsung Hubs (Social and Reader Hubs) and S-Choice (stylus optimised apps) and a pre-installed stylus optimised game.

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Samsung’s bundled Reader Hub (as I’ve previously covered in my Galaxy S2 review) looks absolutely amazing on the giant 5.3” screen of the Galaxy Note.

Books (powered by Kobo) allows me to sync all my purchased ebooks from Kobo. The bookmarks are also all synced to my Kobo account. I seem to neglect my e-Reader quite a bit in this week when I have my Galaxy Note to read.

Of course, the Newspapers (powered by PressDisplay) allows you to purchase subscriptions to local, regional and international newspapers. Yes – you no longer need to read printed newspapers. There’s all the major Malaysian news titles like The Star, Utusan Malaysia, etc that you can read digitally now.

Magazine (powered by Zinio) allows you to subscribe to a number of awesome titles (providing you with a trial period) and is a dream to read on. Yeah – I opted for Us Weekly as a demo. Me and tabloids, I know.

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S Planner is an amazing Calendar app from Samsung. The S Planner aims to be a Filofax of today, in digital form. Remember way back when everyone used to carry around a Filofax (aka leather bound organiser) that they would use to keep track of their appointments, tasks and notes?

When you swipe right to left on the app, you get to see tabs like you would on a traditional Filofax. You can change the Calendar view to Monthly, Weekly, 3 Days, Day, Agenda view or your Tasks / To-do list.

Appointments are also S Pen optimised. You can include written notes, scribbled pictures, screenshots, maps, etc. This is the best Calendar application I have seen to date on any smartphone.

ScreenCapture window

One of the greater things that Samsung has bundled into their recent phones (starting from Galaxy S2) which is also available on the Galaxy Note is the ability to take screenshots of your device’s screen.

Previously, this was only possible for users who root (aka jailbreak) your phone. Now, Samsung has allowed you to do that by just pressing the hardware Home button and the Power button simultaneously.

 

Browser

I have to note that browsing on the Galaxy Note is a dream. The screen size is awesome for browsing with the wide 5.3” screen.

Coupled with the HD Super AMOLED display, images are clear, crisp and offers amazing viewing angle.

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The stock Android browser allows tab browsing and don’t require too much scrolling with the large display.

 

S Pen (stylus) usage

Is the stylus making a comeback to smartphones? Personally, I think so.

Unlike the previous usage of a stylus on a resistive touchscreen, the usage of stylus on a capacitive (finger friendly) touchscreen has improved the user experience ten fold.

Samsung has incorporated their S Pen into the Galaxy Note seamlessly. You can technically use the S Pen to navigate the device. But there are some applications on the Galaxy Note that is optimised for a stylus usage.

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When you open any S Pen optimised application for the first time (S Memo, in this case), you’d be greeted with a pop-up menu to tell you about the additional functionalities of the S Pen.

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S Memo is (obviously) the note taking app bundled with the Galaxy Note. Samsung conveniently placed the shortcut icon at the bottom bar of the Homescreen for you to access easily.

There’s a bunch of pre-installed notes in the app to give you an example of how you can use the S Pen to create notes. This includes simple scribbling, drawing, sketching, screenshots with scribbles, touch typing combined with draw on diagrams – all in the same note.

Here’s some pictures of my (ugly) doodling and sketching using the S Pen on the Galaxy Note.

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Similar to Evernote app that allows the same functionality of including various types of content (image, text, video, screenshot, bullets, tasks, etc) in one note. In fact, the S Pen in the Galaxy Note would be an awesome addition of scribbling to your Evernote app.

There is a small hard button on the S Pen that you can press which will also activate such functions. Here’s a good video showcasing the S Pen functions.

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S Choice is a Samsung App Store that showcases all the stylus optimised application that you can use with the S Pen.

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I downloaded one called “Hello Color Pencil” to fiddle with. It’s a great painting and picture drawing. Great for artists, those who likes to doodle, kids or even creative type people who needs to sketch for work / pleasure.

Check out this video below for a “How To” tutorial on using the S Pen on the Galaxy Note.

 

For more videos, you can also check out the full list of tutorial videos from Samsung UK’s YouTube channel here.

In your regular SMS or text input in any app, the Galaxy Note includes an S Pen optimised handwriting input option.

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If you’ve previously used a Palm before, you’ll instantly be reminded of the Palm Grafiti handwriting style. Similar technique was also found on old Windows Mobile phones. If stylus using scribble style text input is your thing, you’ll be right at home.

Of course, you’re allowed to toggle with the settings of the S Pen for this handwriting input method.

There is a Chinese character input method on the device. Although I don’t write or read Chinese, I do see the settings for Chinese input using handwriting recognition. Which means – YES, you can use the S Pen to write Chinese.

If the on board software or recognition is no good. I’m quite sure that you’d be able to find 3rd party apps in the App Store that you can download to make Chinese character input more accurate and awesome!

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Crayon Physics is a bundled game in the Samsung Galaxy Note. This is a very cute game that you can play with or without the use of the S Pen. Personally, I’m not much of a smartphone gamer, but I can assure you that gaming on the Galaxy Note is way more awesome-sauce with its 5.3” screen.

 

Camera quality

If you don’t already know, Samsung’s camera on their devices are one of the best around. In this case, on the Galaxy Note, it’s no disappointment either.

The 8 megapixel rear camera with LED flash takes beautiful pictures. It captures 1080p HD videos as well. The shooter is actually the same spec as the one you’d find on the Galaxy S2.

Here are some sample images I took.

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Night shots tend to be bigger challenges when the on board flash is used. Thankfully though, the flash was not too harsh, as you can see with the bottom image I took when I shared a giant champagne cocktail this last weekend.

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There might be a little noise in the images taken, which might be annoying for the serious photogs in the house. Although, you know that a phone camera will never be a point-and-shoot replacement. So technically, the image is actually good quality.

But when you have the device up to take a picture, you almost want to just stop and stare at the image on the device without snapping a picture. Cos the 5.3” HD Super AMOLED makes the image quality look so darn good on the screen.

One of the greater thing is the bundled Photo Editor on the Galaxy Note. This allows you to scribble anything you want on the pictures.

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This is a picture of my recent champagne brunch at Dish @ Dua Residency. Side note : I also did a kickin’ review of the restaurant here, if you’re interested. Sorry for digressing. Smile with tongue out

As for video quality, it is equally comparable. Here is a video I took at the Samsung Galaxy Note World Tour SEA in Jakarta last week (read the coverage here) where I got a quick hands on with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (read the hands on impression here).

Video calls on the front facing 2 megapixel is nothing to scoff at as well. I practiced with several Skype calls and images were clear and speaker was good, too.

The only possible problem I have with video calls was my internet connection. Which really isn’t Samsung’s fault. Smile with tongue out

 

Battery Life

This is by-far the most important question on everyone’s mind.

The Samsung Galaxy Note comes with a 2,500mAh battery. This is definitely comparable to the size of the device.

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If you don’t understand how that means to you in terms of usage – the Galaxy S2 has a 1,650mAh battery and can easily last me a full day of heavy usage. With the Galaxy Note’s 2,500mAh, I am surprised that I can last more than a full day of heavy usage.

My normal to heavy usage includes push Gmail notifications (multiple accounts), 15 mins check on Facebook and Twitter apps, twice a day RSS newsfeed sync, about 2-3 hours daily search and browsing, occasional YouTube viewing, etc.

In fact, there are days where I find the device lasting way until the next day. Seriously, I am SUPER impressed with the battery life on this device.

I was even told by some other reviewers that the Galaxy Note lasted them a full weekend (Saturday morning to Sunday evening) of light usage.

As with other Samsung devices, you can also turn on Power Saving mode – which turns down the screen brightness and some data connection to conserve power. Good for those who needs their phone to last for a super long day.

 

Who is the Note for?

Is the Galaxy Note targeted for any specific market? Some sites calls this a niche device for a nice market.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a niche device or is aimed at a niche market at all.

  • If you’re a student or professional, you would love the S Pen usage to take notes, scribble graphs and diagrams and even jot your thoughts and ideas. Yes – good enough for Minutes of Meeting note-taking.
  • If you like to take and edit pictures and videos before you share, send or post them – you’d live this, too. The photo and video editor allows you to add your scribbles on them and even edit the media just on your device.
  • If you only have the budget or want one device instead of a separate smartphone and tablet – this is DEFINITELY the device for you, as it’s the best of both world.

In summary, how would you categorise this?

Personally, it’s NOT a niche device. It works for everyone – depending on what you want to do with your device. It CAN be your smartphone and it also CAN be your tablet.

Well, I agree with Samsung – it’s a new class of device. A hybrid of smartphone and tablet. Great for consuming and creating content. Based on the name of the device, it is definitely an excellent note-taking device.

 

Where to buy?

Samsung Galaxy Note is available for a RRP (Recommended Retail Price) of RM 2,299 at any Samsung retailer out there. Alternatively, you can signup for data plans with Celcom or DiGi.

  • Celcom’s plans and pricing for the Samsung Galaxy Note are found on their website here. It will be available from as low as RM 1,368if you signup for an 18 month plan.
  • DiGi’s plans allows you to get the device from RM 1,549 and you can find out more about their plans on their website here.

 

More official info

For more information, For more information, check out the Samsung U-nivez Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/SamsungUnivez and Samsung official website at http://www.samsung.com/my for updates.

More reviews online…

If you want to read more about the Samsung Galaxy Note, check out more reviews from Engadget here, SlashGear here and my personal favourite (super in-depth) from TechRadar here.

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