Is it a phone? Is it a tablet? No, it’s a new paradigm in portable computing! Or at least that’s what Samsung would have you believe. The Korean company launched its Galaxy Note in India and worldwide on 2 November, and it is a thoroughly impressive device. The power and style are instantly obvious, and the interface is extremely user-friendly.
The problem with the Note is that it’s trying to fill a hole that does not exist—the iPad was also dismissed by many technical writers with the same logic, but in trying to give the best of tablet and phone experiences, Samsung’s device falls short on both counts.
The Note has a 5.3-inch full-HD Super AMOLED screen, and is one of the best on any handheld today. Just the screen makes a compelling case for buying the Note, or N-700, if you want to get technical. The huge body is also unbelievably light—it’s only 9mm thick and weighs 178g. The size is a little big for most pockets, but if it fits, you won’t really feel it there.
It also has a ridiculously powerful 1.4 GHz dual core processor, backed by almost 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage space on the system. This is clearly a machine that can handle anything you want to do.
The 8 MP camera, with a 2 MP front-facing camera for video chats, can also shoot high-definition video. The camera is excellent, and the size of the Note makes it really good for taking pictures—it’s a lot easier to hold than a tablet, and the added size means that most people with normal-sized hands can use it easily.
Duly noted: The N-700 can actually function as a notebook
A unique feature is the S pen—a capacitive pen that slots into the base of the device. It’s a little hard to remove, and unlike the styluses that you might be using, the S pen has a thin nib and is pressure-sensitive. This makes it a lot more accurate and it can be used for a number of tasks—artwork and sketching are obvious uses, and so is handwriting recognition.
Using the Note to draw a sketch is really simple, and it is both fast and accurate. So for artists, designers and other creative people, this feature will definitely add value. The other use of the pen has been in near universal handwriting recognition—it makes note-taking a lot faster than before and the size of the Note means it can actually be used in that role.
The Note actually has a lot of custom-designed apps to take advantage of the S pen, and also comes with a market of curated apps that use the pen. It also comes with several such apps built into the device, allowing you to make notes on top of calendars, for example. The execution is slick and the Note is powerful enough to let all this happen without any particular slowdown.
It also has a powerful 2,500 mAh battery, and the battery life is good. Unless you’re planning on doing a lot of HD video recording, or are streaming a lot of data, it should keep you going for over 24 hours between charges.
What doesn’t work?
Taken on its own terms, the Note is an impressive device, even if the marketing team decided that 8 gigabits sounds better than 976 MB. However, the device has to be considered in a crowded market, where the consumer has a number of options.
First off, this is a smartphone. It’s far too small to be considered a tablet—lovely as the screen is, reading on it and reading on the iPad, or even the 7-inch Galaxy Tab or BlackBerry PlayBook, are different experiences. Websites look cramped, unless compared with the much smaller iPhone or Android phones.
As a phone though, the Note is too big to be comfortable. Holding it while typing or reading is easy, but holding it in one hand while you talk is awkward. Having something that big held against your face looks and feels strange—it’s as if you’re back to Nokia and the N-Gage, a device we’ve all been trying to forget.
At Rs 34,990, the Note is a tough sell. There’s so much to like about this phone—anyone who uses it will be charmed instantly. But a moment’s sober reflection makes it a lot harder to recommend. It costs as much as an iPad 2 or the equally impressive new Samsung Galaxy Tab.
The Note is a device that you will either love or hate, simply because of its screen size. In every other aspect, it’s one of the best devices for its price today. You’ll want to see how it fits into your life before committing to the phone, because at that size, it isn’t for everyone, no matter what Samsung says.