Samsung Galaxy Note

Review: Samsung Galaxy Note -- Size Does Matter

4 stars
It takes a while to get used to the 5.8-inch display, but the bigger features more than make up for it.
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5.8-inches, 800 x 1280 px, 16,700,000 colors
Super AMOLED HD (Gyroscope / Accelerometer / Compass / Proximity Sensor / Ambient Light Sensor)
8.0 MP / LED Flash / Auto-Focus / Panorama / Face Detection / HD Video Recorder / 2.0 MP / Video Calling

1.5 GHz (Qualcomm Snapdragon S3)
16.0 GB

Block / Google Android OS v2.3
147 x 83 x 10 mm
178 g
Talk Time:
10 hours
Standby Time:
10.4 days

Is bigger better? If you ask Samsung it is. The Galaxy Note is the largest smartphone, or smallest tablet, on the market -- depending on who you ask. If you complain your phone is too tiny, or your tablet too big, this "phablet" -- a portmanteau for "phone" and "tablet" -- is just for you.

The Note resembles an oversized Galaxy S3. And at 5.8-by-3.3-by-0.4 inches, it's a plastic beast. The extra real estate offers a larger virtual keyboard and a bigger screen to watch media and browse the Web, but be ready to wear pants with roomy pockets -- and use both hands.

Compare With Similar Phones:

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Google Nexus 5 Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Apple IPhone 5C Apple IPhone 5S Motorola Moto X

On the left, there are volume keys, while the right features a power button. A micro-USB port, which doubles as the charger, sits on the bottom, next to the "S Pen" stylus, which clicks firmly into place. On the top, a 3.5-millimeter jack lets you plug in headphones. On the back, a main 8-megapixel camera with flash sits in front of the microSD slot underneath.

The sleek and minimalist design features a massive 5.3-inch Super AMOLED touch screen. Samsung displays normally impress, and the Note is no different, with a detailed 1,280-by-800 pixel resolution, which gives you 258 pixels per inch -- in other words, plenty of definition. Images are vibrant and text is easier to read on the ample display, but the colors lack true-to-life saturation -- yellow and blue hues tint the screen.

That's a noticeable downgrade to better screens on the Galaxy S3 and One X, which have whiter whites and sharper clarity. Still, unless you place them side-by-side, you won't notice the difference.

Steve Jobs said touch was the future, but don't tell Samsung -- it uses a stylus, called the S Pen, which you can tuck in and pop it out of the back upper corner. So what does an S Pen do? As it turns out, it's a remarkable tool. If you scribble notes, it'll turn the phone into a great digital notepad. S Pen responds to pressure, so you can write and draw with different widths like you do in life.

There's also a button on the side that lets you do handy shortcuts for simple tasks. For example, if you hold the button and tap twice, it'll launch the Quick Memo. The S Pen software translates your handwriting, so it's is a great option if you're a student that's sick of carting around a notebook or laptop. If you take notes with a pen, this phone is for you.

Meanwhile, the 8-megapixel camera takes excellent photos. I wished Samsung included a dedicated camera button, but at least the home screen lets you create a shortcut to launch the shooter. After you take a photo, built-in software lets you adjust brightness, white balance, ISO and a slew of lighting filters. I really like the panorama mode.

It does a fantastic job capturing sweeping scenescapes. I thought the goofy cartoon-ify feature was fun too -- if you have kids, it'll be a favorite. I found the light metering, though, particularly impressive. And if you take a bad shot, bump up the automatic brightness adjustment and color correction settings to improve them dramatically.

You can record high-definition 1080p video as well, which looks fantastic on the Note or off to a PC. One really great, but often overlooked, feature is the outstanding microphone -- it picks up sounds with impressive clarity. If you ever wanted to dabble in amateur filmmaking, you'll be tempted with this equipment. There's a front-facing 2-megapixel lens for self-portraits and video chat -- and you shouldn't use it for anything more than that. The quality, of course, pales in comparison to the back camera.

The Note runs on Gingerbread, but Samsung promises an update to ICS in the near future. Gingerbread isn't as smooth as ICS, and Samsung's TouchWiz interface doesn't bring a lot to the table. You can pull down a list of notifications and settings, pinch to glance at your seven home screens, and scroll through them by swiping on a row of dots. You can take a screenshot by swiping across the display too.

For lesser-known features, you can use your fingers to rotate a photo in the gallery and change the orientation or shake the device to search for Bluetooth devices -- just don't shake so hard it falls out of your hands. Remember: it's big -- two hands. But my favorite feature is the flip-to-mute feature. Putting your hand over the screen does the same thing. It's clever.

Under the hood, the Note gets its horsepower from a 1.5-gigahertz dual-core chip with 1-gigabyte of RAM. Everything runs smoothly and quickly and there's not much to complain about -- no hiccups here. One drawback, though, is the measly 16-gigabytes of storage. Frankly, that's not nearly enough for music, movies and photos. So you'll want to pick up a microSD card -- you can add up to an extra 32-gigabytes.

The problem with massive screens is the power drain. But a beefy 2,500 mAh battery keeps it juiced through the day without a charger pit stop. It's average with other phones, and definitely not one of the longer-lasting devices. But considered the whopping screen, and you'll appreciate every minute you use. Lowering the brightness and turning off LTE when you're not using it, will really help prolong the life.

Overall, the Note stuffs a number of great features on a generously sized package. It's a fantastic device for what it's built for -- more screen space. If you think the 3.5-inch iPhone, or 4-inch Android devices are too small, give the 5.8-inch Note a try.

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User Reviews

Great Hardware, Subpar Software

Rating: 4 of 5 | Van Archer on February 16, 2012

This phone is big -- really big. But that's a good thing. I can hold it with one hand, but I play music, so I'm used to stretching my fingers. I still worry about using it with one hand, as I might drop it. So if you have small hands I can see how this may be a problem for you, so go to the store and pick one up before buying it online.

After Steve Jobs proclaimed the stylus was dead, Samsung goes ahead and releases the "S Pen." Overall, I'm pretty impressed with it. Not only does it record accurately, so notes and faint touches register. But it's also pressure sensitive, so you can draw different widths. What I'm not so impressed with is the software, though. While it's smooth, with no "snags" when writing or drawing, the handwriting recognition isn't that great. If you wanted the Note as a drawing tablet, it'll probably be what you want and more. The commercials they play make it seem effortless, but it is for the most part. But trying to write -- if you have bad handwriting like me -- makes it frustrating to use.

The touch display is oh so dreamy. You can't get better than this. I'm just gushing about it now. The color is vibrant, the text is sharp and everything is bigger. I compared it to my Kindle Touch and it blows it away. Samsung is on the forefront of display technology, and pushing it even further with the Note. Of course, all this takes a toll on the battery life. But I'm still able to get around six hours during a recent flight -- in airplane mode. With full use, you can get four to five hours of continuous use.

The 1.5-gigahertz chip is equally great. I run a lot of apps simultaneously and the Note handles them all without missing a beat. I've used two other Android devices, and the difference is noticeable. Games are smooth, videos load quickly and even 3D renders well. There's a music app that's included on the Note. And the sounds are decent during playback.

I'm not a fan of TouchWiz, and would have preferred a vanilla-based version of Android. Still the bloatware isn't so bad, but it's there. I'm excited for ICS and can't wait for it to come out. I'll be one of the first to upgrade. ICS would work well on this phone.

The other reason I picked up the Note was the 4G service. Unfortunately, AT&T is just starting to roll it out in my area, so I have spotty coverage -- around 1.5-megabits per second. It's not LTE speeds, but for HSPA-plus, I guess it's okay. The Wi-Fi works flawlessly, of course.

Overall, the hardware is exceptional. Everything -- from S Pen, to the display to the design -- is top-notch quality. The drawbacks are, of course, the software. Samsung's Android has yet to catch up with the refined feel of iOS. But still, I'm very happy with my purchase so far. Good job Samsung and Google.

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A Fantastic Phablet

Rating: 5 of 5 | Lenny C. on October 31, 2011

After using the Galaxy Note for a few days, I've decided to throw my Nexus S away. At first, I was worried about the size, but now, those concerns are a thing of the past.

- Large 5.3-inch display is everything as advertised -- and more! It's easy to read, beautiful to view and crispy clear.
- The design is stunning. It's simple, yet refined. Sort of like the iPhone and iPad.
- The 1.4-gigahertz chip is lightning fast. Hardly any load time and I can run multiple apps without any hiccups or delays.
- Great battery life. For a device this size, you'd think the power would drain pretty quickly. But not so. I can get between a day or two, depending on usage. Movies will drain your power quickly, as will 4G. Streaming movies even quicker still.
- I travel a lot and the Note replaces a lot of my devices. It's my e-reader, email, camera, note-taker, etc. My bags are so much lighter now.
- The S Pen feature is great when I need to take notes. It's easier to write with than with a fat finger, and the shortcut button on the side is a nice addition. Note: I lost the stylus a few days ago and it costs $30 for a new one.

Overall, I'm happy with my Galaxy Note. Basically, it's the Galaxy S2's big brother. So if you love the S3, you'll love the Note even more.

- The size. It's a double-edge sword.
- If you're on T-Mobile the HSPA-plus is much slower than AT&T's LTE network. I spend most of my time on Wi-Fi so it's not a big deal to me.
- It's a beautifully designed phone, but it feels fragile. I haven't dropped it yet -- knock on wood -- but I feel like if I did it would break instantly.
- As mentioned earlier, browsing the web, and using high-speed Internet for that matter, drains the battery quickly. If you're a heavy Web user, you might want to buy an extra charger.

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Bigger Is Better

Rating: 5 of 5 | W. Smith on March 21, 2012

I've been using iPhones since the first generation device. The iPhone, 3G, 3GS, 4 -- I've had them all. I decided to give Samsung a try after all these years because I had an Android tablet, and I had a pretty enjoyable experience with it. Plus, I've always liked the bigger screen. After a few weeks, I've become a convert. The Galaxy Note does everything I need and then some:

- Huge touch display. I can see more and do more. Now I don't really even bring my tablet out. It's the perfect size for me.
- Android OS is really fast. The chip is speedy, menus load quickly and multimedia runs smoothly without any hiccups or stalling.
- Unlike most smartphones, the Note has a long-lasting battery. Maybe it's the larger size that packs a larger battery. I can easily go through the day without charging it.
- There's an "allshare" app that makes sharing your photos, videos and music a cinch. You can even sync it with a PlayStation 3 and play movies and music on a TV without wires.
- You can download torrents -- a big plus if you don't like buying movies like I do.

If you're coming from the iPhone, like me, Android is a piece of cake. I worried I wouldn't get used to the platform, but after a week or two, it's like I've been using it for years. The best part is that Android syncs everything on my Google account -- Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, even Facebook -- so it was really easy to set up. If you're thinking about going big, you're going to love the Note. Get this phone, you won't regret it.

Really, I can't find anything wrong with the Note. I guess the size may be too big for some people. But if you're looking at this phone, you've probably decided you want a bigger screen -- like me. The nice thing is I don't have to squint anymore. Webpages are larger and clearer, and I don't have any problems holding it while I type. It also fits in my pockets without any issues.

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