Samsung Galaxy Note Review

Author: 3oh6
Date: March 24, 2012
Product Name: Galaxy Note
Part Number: SGH-I717
Warranty: 1 Year (Manufacturer), Upgrades available
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Features | S Pen

What makes the Samsung Galaxy Note stand out from other devices? Obviously the large screen, but accepting that and moving on leads us to the S Pen. Using the name S Pen instead of stylus is a smart move by Samsung since the word stylus is old, overly used and doesn't truly describe the adaptability of this pointing device. A stylus is a static pointing object, the S Pen is a "Precise, Fast, and Rich input similar to an actual pen". Notice the word input. Samsung's goal for the S Pen was to be more than just a gimmick, but rather an integral part of the device and the OS.

Based on Wacom's Electro-Magnetic Resonance technology, the S Pen offers 256 levels of pressure sensitivity making it a very formidable tool. There is also a single button that improves functionality, although the button is hard to find upon first grasping the S Pen, or after you shift the S Pen in your hand. One major improvement Samsung could make is to provide more of a tactile surface to the button so it is easier to locate.

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The S Pen is quite intuitive in its operation, but there are a couple of things you will want to know about it that we had to figure out from the inter-wide-web-nets (gesture controls are in the manual).

Holding down the S Pen button and swiping backward (right to left) on the screen emulates the Back key. Holding down the S Pen button and dragging from the bottom to the top emulates the ancilary Menu key. As mentioned, the Note's buttons along the bottom edge of the device are capacitive and the pen won't trigger them.

The gestures fill the gap...for the most part. There is no way to emulate the Home key or the Search key, again, a small addition Samsung could make to enhance S Pen functionality. A few other gestures allow us to launch S Memo Lite (a handy little note taking app) with the double click of the S Pen from any screen while holding the button. A screen capture can be taken as well by holding the button and pressing on the screen for a couple of seconds. Integration into the OS is nice, but a few more tricks wouldn't hurt.

The only real functionality complaint of the S Pen is the slight delay between the tactile feel and the response on screen. At first the response time lag was distracting but as we used the S Pen, that feeling went away and is almost non-existent now. It does take some getting used to, and perhaps might deter some from using the S Pen without that immediately gratifying experience out of the gate. Removing that delay could prove huge for the S Pen's functionality to first timers.

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Over the course of carrying the Note around, we quickly started to rely on the S Pen for more than just writing notes or playing Draw Something...which by the way the S Pen greatly enhances. While riding the bus, or riding in a car, we found the S Pen to be infinitely useful as a pointing device. Instead of relying on our sausage fingers being bounced around from the rough London, Ontario roads, the S Pen made accurate typing and menu choices easier. Considering the ham-fisted tip size of many comparable pointing devices, the small sweet spot of this one was welcome and allowed for a much less frustrating experience.

The S Pen also opened up the world of quick note taking and drawing. For a web designer, the Galaxy Note also facilitated a quick wire frame idea that we would have sitting waiting for a meeting or hanging out downtown. Being able to capture the influence of the surroundings through a preferred medium of drawing is great, but it will never supplant pens and a notepad which are carried everywhere anyway. We'll talk about the OS on the Galaxy Note and the built in applications later, but right now we want to discuss the handwriting recognition as it pertains directly to the S Pen.

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The prospect of being able to hand write in almost any text box and have it instantly translated into a more legible font style is very appealing, and we think that is where the most value in the S Pen lies. In theory this feature allows you to use the S Pen to scribble a text message, email or anything else. Unfortunately, however, that value is lost in inconsistency.

The experience of hand writing recognition on the Samsung Galaxy Note with the S Pen isn't awful, but there is a lot of room for improvement. For the most part it really isn't all that bad, but to use it on a regular basis would be immensely frustrating. Text ends up garbled and incoherent at some point in almost every sentence. We thought perhaps it was our grade 3 level chicken scratch printing that was the cause, but even with several colleagues and friends trying their luck, no one had success to the point of it being enjoyable or useful. We really spent a lot of time trying to make it work better, but couldn't imagine using the hand writing recognition function to send text messages, e-mails, or tweets on a regular basis.

We feel that Samsung would really have to improve the handwriting recognition in order to make the S Pen more than a novelty item. Again, we really like the prospect of popping it out, tapping twice, and writing a note. But to rely on the writing to accurately send a tweet or an e-mail isn't an option at this point.

Battery Life

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The Samsung Galaxy Note has a formidable battery with the 2500 mAh behemoth parked in its back pocket, and the specs on battery life are impressive: "Talk time: up to 9.4 hours / Standby time: up to 14.7 days". But we all know these numbers don't really count when it comes to daily usage which typically consists of music playing, YouTube watching, mobile browsing and GPS geotracking. So we'll run a battery of tests to give a little more insight into the Galaxy Note's abilities (see what we did there?).

For all of the following tests, the following were the Samsung Note's settings. Audio was played through the Note's speaker at max volume, screen brightness was manually set to 3/4 brightness, and the default power saving profile was enabled. Wifi and GPS were enabled but Bluetooth was disabled. Push notifications were enabled and the phone would notify when e-mails and tweets came through on the various accounts we had set up.

In-Call Battery Test | Talk Time = 5:18:04

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We don't want to call the Samsung Galaxy Note a phone, but that doesn't mean we can't test it like one. The Skype Mirror Test is simply a never ending conversation between me and...well...myself. A recorded 5 minute conversation of myself was looped to both sides, one into the microphone of the Note, the other from Skype on a computer that the Note was called from. The conversation continued on until the Galaxy Note gave us the first low battery warning (15%) from a full charge. The screen was only enabled momentarily a few times to check battery life.

We apologize for the screenshot of the battery drainage above, but apparently Skype kicks off any call after 4 hours. We weren't paying attention when this happened and the phone idled for just under an hour. Our total talk time was 5:18:04...which is still a little disappointing. This is a worst case scenario though with a lot of background noise in the conversation, constant talking, and the volume turned to max. We still expected at least 6 hours out of this configuration though. Also keep in mind, the test only takes the battery down to 15%, so there is at least another another hour tucked away, which should bring the Note's talk time up up to acceptable levels.

Movie Playback Battery Test | Play Time = 3:26:59

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The Jesse Eisenberg Test involves looping Jesse Eisenberg movies. In this case we watched The Social Network on repeat. The movie was ripped to MKV in 720P from Blue-ray, then converted to MP4 via Handbrake with quality as the focus of the settings. From a full charge, The Social Network played back to back with the settings noted above until we got our first low battery warning (15%).

That warning came at the 3:26:59 mark, as can be seen in the screen shot on the right above. The predominant use of battery was clearly the display with the media server only using up 9% of the battery during the almost 3.5 hours of movie playback. Needless to say, the Samsung Galaxy Note gets 1.5 Jesse Eisenbergs.

MP3 Playback Battery Test

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Like the previous tests, the Atmosphere Careers Test is simply testing battery life during MP3 playback. We loaded up Atmosphere's discography, and tested to see how far the Galaxy Note could get through their long career. Playback was on a pair of Sony MDR-V300's plugged into the headphone port through the built-in music player with enhanced bass audio profile selected.

Typical Use

Naturally, we just had to take the Galaxy Note to work and use it as we normally would for a cell phone / tablet type of device. A typical day consists of photos, Twitter, E-Mail, texting, browsing the web, RunKeeper, etc... The chart above illustrates the typical usage, at work, and at home over the course of a day. Obviously everyone uses a device differently, but throughout a heavy usage day, we never had to charge the phone until late at night, and usually we could go until 1/3 of the way through another day before it actually needed charging. We think for heavy users, without abundant video watching or a ton of talk time, a fully charged Note will take them right through an entire day.

Call Quality

Call quality is rather subjective so we will keep this brief. We didn't find the Galaxy Note to be the best quality we have ever heard on a cell phone, nor was it the worst. A lot of typical responses came back with asking the people on the other end how we sounded. "A little flat and hollow" wasn't uncommon to receive for a response.

The ear speaker is loud enough for quiet areas, but in an open space with a lot of ambient noise, it was best to find a quieter spot in order to hear the person on the other end. With a microphone/ear bud combination, the audio improved and the Note was difficult to decipher from any contemporary phone. Samsung does bundle a decent microphone/ear bud combo with the Galaxy Note, so we suggest you take their hint and use it. Besides, people often looked at us a little weird when talking on the Note up to our ear...as if we had a tablet pressed to the side of our face.

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