Samsung Galaxy Note review

Zach Honig
Z. Honig|10.28.11

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Samsung Galaxy Note review
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Samsung's new GT-N7000 Galaxy Note is the handset those dreams are made of — if you happen to share that dream about obnoxiously large smartphones, that is. It's as thin as a Galaxy S II, lightning fast and its 5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED display is as gorgeous as it is enormous; the 1280 x 800 pixels you once could only get with a full-size laptop (or in the Galaxy Tab 10.1) can now slide comfortably into your front pocket. Its jumbo display makes it the perfect candidate for a notepad replacement and, with the included S Pen stylus, you'll have no problem jotting notes on the fly, marking up screenshots or signing documents electronically. But, is that massive display too much of a good thing? You'll need to jump past the break to find out.
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Pros

  • Excellent performanceEnormous, high-res Super AMOLED displayS Pen is a clever, no-compromise addition

Cons

  • May be too large for someAwkward to use for voice callsS Pen button rather small
 Hardware

        

  

With support for 21Mbps HSPA+ (850, 900, 1900, 2100Mhz), LTE, EDGE and GPRS (850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz), the Note is first and foremost a mobile phone — one that would be quite happy on AT&T if you wanted to import. You could carry it in one pocket with your celly in another, but you don't need to. It's running Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread) powered by a 1.4GHz dual-core Samsung Exynos processor, which performed incredibly well during our benchmark tests (more on that later). The Note offers a full suite of sensors, including an accelerometer, compass and barometer, along with proximity and light. There's also A-GPS and GLONASS for enhanced positioning — even in Russia.

There's an earphone grill up top, just above the Samsung logo, followed by ambient light and proximity sensors to the right, then a front-facing cam near the edge. A single rectangular button at the bottom peeks out from beneath the display, flanked by touch-sensitive backlit return and menu controls. On the top right of the sleek silver bezel you'll find the power button, with a 3.5mm headphone jack up there too and volume slider on the left. The micro-USB connector is centered at the bottom, just to the left of where you slide in the S Pen. That's flush with the Note's flimsy plastic rear panel, which will only need removing when you want to insert a SIM or microSD card — or swap out the generous 2,500mAh battery.
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 Display

  

1280 x 800 pixels in a smartphone display is quite a feat, and it's just as impressive to behold as it sounds. The Note's 5.3-inch Super AMOLED screen is incredibly bright, vibrant and detailed, thanks to its 285ppi resolution. It doesn't have the highest pixel density in the world (the smaller Galaxy Nexus trumps it slightly, as does Apple's Retina panel in the iPhone 4 and 4S), but it's enough to make graphics amazingly smooth — you'll have a hard time seeing individual pixels with the naked eye. Viewing photos and graphics, web pages and even newspaper articles in PressReader is quite the treat when you have this much visual real estate to work with.

Colors on the Note pop just as they do on the GS II, that eye-pleasing contrast and saturation we've come to love from Samsung's AMOLED displays, and little vibrancy is lost when viewed from the side. However, color accuracy does start to wander a bit. This is indeed a PenTile display, just like the upcoming Galaxy Nexus, and so there are more green sub-pixels than any other color. This gives everything an ever-so slightly sickly tinge, especially when viewed off-angle. Still, you'll have no problem watching videos or reviewing your sketches with a group of friends — assuming none of them are hue purists.

If you fall within the camp of smartphone users that absolutely swears off onscreen keyboards, the Note's display may just win you over. A larger display means larger keys, which are easier to see and simpler to tap accurately — if you can reach them. You can also use the S Pen to replace the keyboard entirely, letting you write in individual letters or entire words. Character and handwriting recognition isn't perfect, but it is quite good. When we scribbled "hello" as you can see in the picture below it was recognized perfectly, though less common words (particularly web addresses) were a little less reliable.

 Loudspeaker / earpiece

 

If you do plan on making phone calls with the Note, you can expect average performance. We placed a few test calls — some local and some across the Atlantic — and things sounded just fine on both ends, though not overly crisp. Callers on the other end of the line were barely able to distinguish between calls made using the earpiece and those placed with the speakerphone, even when speaking a foot or two away from the handset. The Note's strengths clearly lie in what you can do with that generous display and S Pen, though it's a perfectly functional phone just the same.

 Camera

It's safe to say that the device offered more than acceptable performance. That's to be expected, as it appears to be using the same sensor and camera getup we've loved in the other Galaxy S II iterations thus far. During our indoor shoot, the camera was able to balance color and exposure properly with most subjects in still mode. The autofocus worked well most of the time and the built-in flash popped with the correct amount of power — our subjects were not blown out. We needed to stay a few inches away from subjects in order to get the camera to focus, even in macro mode — so don't expect to be able to snap extreme close-ups. Also, noise was an issue in darker scenes and the camera was unable to compensate for low light in some areas.
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In video mode, noise was a problem too, but in a different sort of way: the mic seemed a bit overboosted, picking up quite a whoosh with the slightest hint of a breeze. When filming, the camera had a difficult time focusing and exposing at times, with some elements left soft or overexposed. White balance was generally acceptable, but it did take a few seconds for the camera to adjust when moving quickly between scenes.

 
        

 Software and S Pen

        

  

 

The phone has an integrated quick note function, which lets you pull up a sticky-size memo pad from any page on the device. Simply press the S Pen button and double tap — you can make a note, save it and pull it up easily later. The pad doubles in size when you access if from a dedicated app, giving you more space to make additional doodles. Like all of the drawing applications, you have a selection of pen styles, sizes and colors to choose from.

There are a variety of unique apps designed to take advantage of the S Pen, including the preloaded S Memo app, which collects your quick memos and provides a platform for creating longer form notes, and a handful of downloadable apps, available through the S Choice store. Hello Crayon is designed for children to create colorful sketches with crayons and markers in a variety of colors — it may have been created with kids in mind, but we still had a good time scribbling with it. Hello Color Pencil is quite similar but, as you've possibly guessed, swapping crayons for colored pencils. There's also Hello Chalk, and you can surely infer the medium of choice there.

Other than that we're looking at Android Gingerbread — a bit of a shame as the onscreen buttons in Ice Cream Sandwich would work much more cleanly with the S Pen. The UI has certainly been Touchwiz'd, but as with the other recent Galaxy products we're fond of the customizations here.
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 Performance and battery life
Galaxy Note Galaxy S II Galaxy Tab 10.1
Quadrant 3,998 3,200 1,769
Linpack (single-thread) 64.30 55 23.67
Linpack (multi-thread) 95.66 81 41.22
Nenamark1 56.67 59.8 42.7
Neocore 51.77 59.8 N/A
SunSpider 9.1 2,902 3,369 2,330

Battery life is phenomenal. While you'd expect solid performance from a 2500mAh battery, it's having to power a massive screen (both in terms of size and pixel count) and ultra-fast CPU — energy vampires for sure. Our battery rundown test (playing a video in a loop starting from a full charge) achieved an impressive 9 hours and 36 minutes, putting the Galaxy Note right into iPad territory.

 Wrap-Up

  

The Galaxy Note is one of those devices that you'll either completely love or totally hate — its sheer size alone will certainly be a barrier for those with smaller hands (or pockets). With the Note, Samsung has managed to create one of the world's largest smartphones, but cunningly it's also an incredibly compact tablet with a high-resolution display — the same as the Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet — without the high-resolution footprint. It's compact enough to slip in your pocket and powerful enough to replace both of your portable devices. Still, it won't be for everyone. This is one case where you'll definitely want to get your own hands on one before signing up to any two-year commitments, if only to see if it will fit in your hands as well as your budget.

Note: At this time Samsung has not provided US availability or pricing. The Note will go on sale in Germany on October 31st, and the UK on November 2nd. Pricing will be carrier-dependent.

Update: Others are reporting a date of the 3rd for the UK now. A bit longer to wait, but it'll be worth it.

James Trew, Sharif Sakr and Myriam Joire contributed to this review.

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