Samsung Galaxy Note review: first look

5 Sep 2011

Bravely stepping into the no-man's land between phones and tablets, Samsung's 5.3in smartphone, the Galaxy Note, attempts to bridge the divide between the 4.3in Galaxy S II and the newly announced Galaxy Tab 7.7.

With a 5.3in, 1,280 x 800 Super AMOLED display beaming forth, the Galaxy Note immediately grabs the attention. The display is eye-searingly bright, and colours are as rich and saturated as we've come to expect from Samsung's Super AMOLED technology. The huge resolution gives the Galaxy Note a super crisp 285 ppi (pixels per inch) pixel density, which leaves it not too far behind the 326ppi of Apple's iPhone 4 Retina display.

Small hands will struggle with the Galaxy Note's 83mm width - not to mention the fact that persons of a smaller stature will look like they're holding a full-sized tablet to their ear - but this giant smartphone felt perfectly manageable in my larger palms. The 9.65mm thickness gives the Galaxy Note a slim, dainty profile, and while Samsung made no mention of weight, it didn't feel it unduly heavy.

There's a trick hidden in the Galaxy Note's bottom corner, however: a removable stylus that Samsung's dubbed the S Pen.

This stylus partners with Samsung's S Note software for making handwritten notes or even artistic sketches. It's possible to choose from a variety of pen/brush types and thicknesses with the drop-down menu, and thanks to the Galaxy Note's sizeable screen, inking feels natural and comfortable.

While it's easy to scribble handwritten notes, or doodle to your heart's content, you can also import pictures onto the canvas. While any photograph will do, it's possible to grab a screenshot - from Google Maps, for instance - and then directly annotate it with the S Pen.

Basic handwriting recognition also allows you to use the S Pen within the Note's messaging application. In our brief time with the Galaxy Note, however, it appeared that only single words could be converted, and there was a noticeable pause as the recognition process took place. Clearly, the Galaxy Note's handwriting recogniton still has some way to go. Still, with Samsung planning to release the S Pen SDK to app developers, there's a potentially bright future for pen-driven apps.

Happily, though, the S Pen makes a great partner with the pre-installed Swype keyboard - without a finger to obscure the view, we found it quicker to tap texts than ever.

Samsung's also trying to tout the Note as a hybrid business device. With Juniper Networks' Junos Pulse installed as standard - an SSL-enabled VPN service - and that high-resolution screen making remote desktop operation entirely feasible, the Galaxy Note is potentially more capable than a standard smartphone.

Going by the range of accessories on show, Samsung's keen to stress the Note's versatility. In addition to swish leather cases, larger styluses, docking stations and vehicle mounts, the appearance of Bluetooth keyboards seems to suggest that the Note is capable of much more than just phone, SMS and internet duties.

There's no doubting the Galaxy Note's potential. With a dual-core 1.4Ghz processor powering Google's Android 2.3; 16GB or 32GB of internal memory; wireless networking that includes Bluetooth 3 and reaches up to dual-band 802.11n;  an 8-megapixel rear and 2-megapixel front-facing camera; GPS; and Full-HD video recording at 30fps, the Galaxy Note can hold its own against any smartphone on the market today.

But with no set price or mention of a release date, we'll just have to sit patiently and wait for our very own review unit to arrive. Only then will we be able to tell whether Samsung's over-sized smartphone is a genuine star in the making.

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