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Samsung Galaxy Note Smartphone Review
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Date: Feb 29, 2012
Section:Gadgets
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction & Specifications

While many of today's better smartphones offer dual-core processors and 1GB of RAM, alongside plenty of onboard storage, one of the easiest differentiating points between smartphones today has become the screen--size, resolution, and screen technology are all considerations. Samsung is pushing the former limits of smartphone screen sizes with the introduction of the new Samsung Galaxy Note. This smartphone offers one of the largest screens we've seen from a phone yet – 5.3 inches. In addition to being large, it is also a gorgeous display which uses Super AMOLED technology and offers a resolution of 1280x800.

Click to enlarge

Another feature that sets the Galaxy Note apart from other smartphones is its pen input functionality. With the S Pen, you can draw on the Galaxy Note's display, similar to how you would with an ink pen and paper. This functionality may give some users flashbacks of Windows Mobile, but don't judge too soon – there's more than meets the eye with this pen and touchscreen display.

Because it offers a larger screen than we've seen on most smartphones, some people are starting to call the Galaxy Note a small tablet rather than a smartphone. The S Pen functionality adds to the tablet feel as well, since you're more likely to see a stylus or pen for a tablet than a smartphone these days. Still, AT&T and Samsung are marketing the Galaxy Note as a smartphone and certainly it has all of the features and functions to make this device a fully capable smartphone.

As of this writing, AT&T is offering the Samsung Galaxy Note with 16GB of onboard storage for $299.99 with a two-year contract and other discounts. As is the case with any smartphone today, you'll also need to sign up for a compatible data plan.

Certainly the Galaxy Note has a lot of compelling features and attractive specifications. But is it too big for its own good? While people around the world debate the answer to this question, we'll give you our thoughts in this full hands-on review...

Samsung Galaxy Note
Specifications & Features

Network
AT&T
Bands/Modes
850/900/1800/1900 MHz GSM/GPRS/EDGE
850/1900/2100 MHz 3G - UMTS/HSDPA
LTE Bands 4 and 17
4G speeds delivered by HSPA+ (with enhanced backhaul) or LTE, where available
World phone

OS
Android 2.3.6 (Gingerbread)
Display
5.3-inch WXVGA HD Super AMOLED (1280x800)
Processor
Dual core 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor
Memory
1GB of RAM
16 GB Internal storage

Up to 32 GB microSD card
Talk and Standby Time
Talk time: Up to 10 hours
Standby time: Up to 10.4 days
Dimensions
5.78 x 3.27 x 0.38 inches
Weight
6.45 ounces
Battery
2500 mAh
Connectivity
Bluetooth 3.0, microUSB, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, 3.5mm headphone jack, aGPS
Camera
8MP Rear-facing Camera with HD 1080p record @30fps
2 MP Front-facing Camera
Other key features
Integrated S Pen, Accelerometer, Light, Digital compass, Proximity, Barometer, Ready2Go
Price
$299.99 with contract and discounts

 

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Design

There's no doubt the Galaxy Note is a large smartphone. Because it has such a large display, its footprint is considerably larger than many others, especially the iPhone 4S and other more-compact smartphones. The Galaxy Note also weighs more than many smartphones we've reviewed in recent months, as you can see from the chart below.
Samsung Galaxy S 4G
4.2 ounces
Motorola Droid Razr
4.48 ounces
Nexus S
4.55 ounces
Samsung Galaxy SII Epic 4G Touch
4.6 ounces
HTC Droid Incredible
4.6 ounces
Apple iPhone 4
4.8 ounces
Apple iPhone 4S
4.9 ounces
Samsung Droid Charge
5.04 ounces
Motorola Droid Razr Maxx
5.1 ounces
Motorola Droid Bionic
5.57 ounces
Motorola Photon 4G
5.6 ounces
HTC EVO 3D
6 ounces
HTC Thunderbolt
6.23 ounces
Samsung Galaxy Note
6.45 ounces

Although it didn't take us long to get comfortable holding the Galaxy Note  in our hand, we often felt a bit self-conscious when holding the Galaxy Note  to our ear due to its large size. Because it has a larger footprint than most of today's smartphones, the Galaxy Note definitely looks big when held up to one's ear.

Even though the Galaxy Note has a larger footprint than most of today's smartphones, Samsung still manages to keep the phone relatively thin. In fact, the Galaxy Note measures just 0.38 inches thick. To compare to another hot smartphone of today, the Droid Razr Maxx measures 0.35 inches thick.

 

 

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In terms of styling, the Galaxy Note has a similar look and feel to some of Samsung's other popular phones, such as the Galaxy S II. The front of the device is primarily covered by the large display, though you'll find the four standard touch-sensitive backlit buttons (Menu, Home, Back, and Search) at the base of the display.

The back battery cover on the Galaxy Note has a fine texture that helps you grip the phone while it's in your hand. On the top edge of the Galaxy Note, you'll find the 3.5mm headphone jack. The microUSB port is located on the bottom edge of the device. The S Pen also stores conveniently inside of the Galaxy Note and is accessible from the bottom of the device.

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On the left edge of the Galaxy Note, you'll find a volume rocker. The right edge of the Galaxy Note houses the power button. The 8 megapixel rear-facing camera is centered on the device near the top with a LED flash to the right. A speaker is located on the back of the device near the bottom where you'll also see part of the S Pen.

When you remove the textured battery cover, you'll see the Galaxy Note's SIM card slot, microSD card slot, and of course, the user-removable battery.

 

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User Interface

The Galaxy Note runs on Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread. Samsung has said an update to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich will be made available. Although an exact timeframe for this update has not been announced, Samsung has said the Android 4.0 updates will begin rolling out sometime in the first quarter of 2012.

Like many other Samsung devices, the Galaxy Note comes with Samsung's TouchWiz user interface. Overall, we found the TouchWiz additions to be useful and didn't feel they interfered too much with the system overall.

     

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While we appreciated the high resolution screen of the Galaxy Note while browsing the web and performing many other tasks, there are some apps that don't scale as well as we'd like to this high-resolution screen. For example, when using the Gmail app, we found the reply button to be quite small. The Archive, Delete, Next, and Previous buttons at the bottom of the screen were quite large by comparison. Similarly, the Comment and Like buttons in Facebook were quite small, and other apps also had small icons due to the higher screen resolution. Since Ice Cream Sandwich is designed with devices of all screen sizes in mind, we hope the update will bring controls that are a bit more appropriate in size to some of these apps.

The S Memo application adds to the functionality of the S Pen. With this app, you can import or capture pictures and make notes or draw directly on the picture. You can also start from a blank slate and draw or take notes in your own handwriting. Samsung makes it easy to capture any screen of the Galaxy Note by pressing the power button and home button simultaneously. With this screen capture functionality, you can capture a picture of a map or website from the Galaxy Note, pull that screen shot into S Memo, add your annotations, and send it to a friend quickly and easily.

     

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When setting up the phone, AT&T gives you the option to use its AT&T Ready2Go utility to set up the Galaxy Note using your computer. With Ready2Go, you can enter your Gmail account, set up social networking accounts, enter contact information, install selected applications, create web bookmarks, personalize your home screens and much more from an easy-to-use web interface. We liked this setup process and found it to be faster than trying to type in account information and customize our settings directly from the device.

The Galaxy Note has seven customizable home screens. You can view a thumbnail of each of these home screens by pinching to zoom out from any of the home screens. At the base of each of the home screens, you'll see five static icons (Phone, Calendar, Email, Web, and Applications).

In addition to the S Memo app, Samsung and AT&T have preloaded some applications on the Galaxy Note. Some of these applications include AT&T Navigator, Crayon Physics, Kies Air, Media Hub, Qik Lite, YPmobile, and more. Some of the applications, such as Amazon Kindle and AT&T Code Scanner can be uninstalled using the application management screen while other apps such as AT&T Navigator can't be uninstalled without hacking the phone.

     

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If you press the Menu button from within the Applications screen, you'll get the option to sort and file applications into folders for better organization. You can also add pages to the application listing. From the Menu button, you can also choose to view apps in a Customizable grid, Alphabetical grid, or Alphabetical list.

The Galaxy Note comes with the standard Android keyboard, a Samsung keyboard, and the SWYPE keyboard as well.

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Performance

Thanks to its 1.5GHz dual core processor and 1GB of RAM, the Galaxy Note felt very responsive to our requests. During our everyday usage of the phone, the Galaxy Note was quick to respond to our demands of checking email, browsing the web, placing calls, launching apps, etc.

The Galaxy Note features a high resolution 5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED display with WXVGA (1280x800) resolution. This screen is colorful and vibrant and offers excellent viewing angles. When looking at the Galaxy Note's screen under direct sunlight, the display was average—no better and no worse than most displays we've seen on other phones recently.

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The S Pen uses Wacom technology and features 256 levels of pressure sensitivity. Samsung also offers an S Pen Holder Kit ($49.99) that gives you the size and feel of a traditional ink pen. In addition to the S Memo application, Samsung also included a lite version of this app that you can access from any screen by holding the button on the S Pen and tapping the screen twice. This functionality is handy, particularly when we want to make a quick note without switching apps.

In addition to the ability to capture screen shots on the phone using the Power button and the Home button, you can also easily capture screen images using the S Pen – simply press the S Pen button and then press and hold the pen to the screen. The screen will flash briefly and then open the image editor which gives you full access to the drawing tools found in S Memo. Once you're done editing an image, you can share it, save it, or print it.

You can use the S Pen with any Android app, but Samsung includes two apps that are designed with the S Pen in mind: Crayon Physics (a game) and Polaris Office (for editing Office documents). Other apps that support the S Pen such as Skitch (created by Evernote), Omnisketch, and Sketchbook Mobile by AutoDesk are available from the Android Market.

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Overall, we were very impressed by the S Pen and the S Memo app. They are easy to use and offer useful functionality that we don't see very often on phones or tablets.

You'll find 16GB of internal storage in the Galaxy Note. If you need more storage, you can remove the back battery cover and pop in a microSD card up to 32GB in size. You will have to remove the battery in order to insert or remove a microSD card.

The Galaxy Note has an 8MP rear-facing camera with LED flash. Overall, we were satisfied with the images taken with the Galaxy Note's camera. During our tests with the Galaxy Note's camera, some of the indoor shots taken with a flash were slightly blown out. If you turned off the flash in the same scenario, the image was slightly blurry. This is pretty common with camera phones today and certainly not unique to the Galaxy Note.

     

     

 

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We had no complaints or issues with the Galaxy Note while placing and receiving calls other than feeling a bit self-conscious with such a large phone up to our ear. Actual call quality was very good.

Samsung and AT&T claim you should get up to 10 hours of talk time and up to 10.4 days of standby time from the Galaxy Note's 2500 mAh battery. Depending on how much you demand of your phone, you may or may not make it through a day on a single charge. We were able to make it through a day (approximately 8-10 hours) of light to moderate use (checking email, surfing the web, making calls, etc) on the Galaxy Note's battery without needing a charge, but as our battery test shows, if you're demanding a lot from the phone, it's likely to fall short in comparison to some other phones available today.

To better quantify the battery life, we put the Galaxy Note through our standard HotHardware battery test. In this test, we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics and text. The page automatically refreshed itself every three minutes. We set the Galaxy Note's display to 50% brightness and turned off Wi-Fi. When we ran this test, the Galaxy Note lasted for 250 minutes while connected to a 4G HSPA+ network before giving up.

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Performance Testing

In addition to using the Samsung Galaxy Note in a variety of everyday usage scenarios, we also conducted some formal performance testing to see how well the Galaxy Note compares to other smartphones.

CPU testing
Android CPU testing

Graphics testing
Android graphics testing

 

JavaScript testing
JavaScript Android and iPhone testing

 

 

In the Linpack test, the Galaxy Note achieved a respectable score that was slightly behind both Samsung Galaxy S II devices we've tested as well as the LG Spectrum and the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx. The single-threaded Linpack test was less favorable to the Galaxy Note than the multi-threaded test.

In the An3DBench, the Galaxy Note achieved a mid-range score coming in behind another Samsung phone, the Galaxy Nexus. In the An3DBench XL test, the Galaxy Note earned low- to mid-range scores in all three of the tests we use for comparison.

 

Keep in mind, however, that phones with higher resolution screens often perform worse in graphics benchmarks than phones with screens that have a lower resolution, if their GPUs are similar. If the Galaxy Note's screen was running at a lower resolution, in all likelyhood its scores in the graphics related tests would have been higher.

The Galaxy Note performed well in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, earning fifth place.
 
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Performance Testing - Web Browsing

Since browsing the Web is a key feature of any smartphone, we also conducted some formal speed tests to see how well the Samsung Galaxy Note compares to some of today's hottest smartphones.

 

Because we weren't able to disable 4G connectivity on the Galaxy Note, we weren't able to complete 3G testing. In the Xtremelabs 4G test, the Galaxy Note achieved a relatively low score while connected to AT&T's HSPA+ network. Keep in mind that this "slow" 4G score is still significantly better than most 3G connectivity scores.

In the Speedtest.net test, the story was much the same for the Galaxy Note. Although the phone performed better in this test than in the Xtremelabs test, it still earned a mid-to-low range score. Here again, the Galaxy Note's 4G HSPA+ speeds are still significantly better than 3G connectivity speeds.

Depending on connectivity, we're hoping to get 4G LTE scores for you soon – stay tuned. On other phones with AT&T LTE connectivity (namely a Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket), we've seen speeds as fast as 33 Mbps down and 13 Mbps up in both the NYC and Las Vegas areas.

Although these tests are designed to put a quantitative score on network connection performance, it's important to keep in mind that network speeds can vary depending on many factors and the test results can also vary from one day to the next.

 

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Conclusion

All in all, the Galaxy Note's standout feature, its large, 5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED display, is a bit of a double-edged sword. Even though we absolutely loved the additional screen real estate while using many of our favorite apps, watching movies, and surfing the web, we felt awkward holding such a large phone to our ear. We hate to say it, but when looking in the mirror or looking at someone else holding the Note to their ear, they looked a tad funny with the oversized device.

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Because Android 2.3 Gingerbread isn't really designed with a 5.3-inch screen in mind, we also ran into a few occasions where buttons were a bit too small within an app. Although this was a minor issue that didn't really bother us much, it makes us long for the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update that's promised for this phone. Since this latest OS is designed for both smartphones and tablets, we're hoping it will scale some of these buttons to a more appropriate size. Benchmark scores seem a bit lackluster with the Galaxy Note, but keep in mind they were running at a much higher resolution than the other devices. At lower resolutions, the scores would likely have scaled higher. In real-world testing, however, we had no complaints about performance. 

It didn't take us long to fall in love with the S Pen that comes with the Galaxy Note. Although we rarely used the pen for things such as clicking a link or writing an email, we really liked the ability to take handwritten notes; add annotations to documents, screen shots, and images; draw; and doodle. Not only is this functionality fun to use, but we also feel it is quite practical for a number of situations.

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At the end of the day, we found ourselves really liking the Samsung Galaxy Note. The S Pen functionality is something we'd love to see on additional devices from Samsung. We're also excited about the potential for this device when it receives its Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update. If you're able to get over the bulkiness when holding the phone to your ear, the Galaxy Note is a device that will give you plenty of functionally in return.

     
  • 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 1GB RAM
  • Device feels speedy and responsive
  • Spacious and gorgeous 5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED display (1280x800)
  • 4G connectivity
  • Phone looks a little large when held to one's ear
  • No Android 4.0—yet

 



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