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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Screen Quality

Obviously the Samsung Galaxy Note is all about its screen. At 5.3", it is the currently the biggest screen available for a device that's able to make calls. Again, this is what Samsung wanted to do and this mantra is embraced within their marketing literature.

Regardless of whether or not this is a phone or tablet, it will impress you and likely any bystanders as well. Remember that the Super AMOLED (WXGA) screen is 1280 x 800 pixels which gives it a 285ppi resolution. The Galaxy Nexus and Apple Retina screens on the iPhone 4 and 4S do have a higher ppi at 316ppi and 326ppi respectively. This leads us to conclude that side by side, with a keen eye and in certain situations, you can actually see the slightly "softer" screen of the Galaxy Note. But that is going a bit far. The screen is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass that doesn't seem to fingerprint up too bad, but it isn't magic either and does require a wipe every now and then.

The lack of "Plus" after Super AMOLED means that the Galaxy Note uses a PenTile display like the Galaxy Nexus, whereas the Galaxy SII uses the Super AMOLED Plus. The difference is simply a sub-pixel one since this type of display is composed of RG/BG sub-pixels instead of R/G/B pixels but it likely won't be noticed by anyone except the most discerning user. The result is more green sub-pixels than red or blue. Some will say this leads to a slightly washed out or green prominent screen, but the Galaxy Note doesn't display this at all and the colors are distinct and vibrant. Our camera tests will focus on red to show this.

Click on images to enlarge

Before we move onto the video and camera quality of the Galaxy Note, we want to take a quick look at something we noticed while browsing web sites. The screenshot on the left is taken of a development site that is in production which has a transparent PNG gradient behind the "Binea Press" logo. On an Apple iPhone 4, 4S and iPod Touch-older generation-pre retina displays, the gradient displays fine. On the Galaxy Note in either the system browser of Firefox, the gradient shows up like above. We have yet to find a reason but are looking into why. As a web-designer it is a quite important to find a good resolution as mobile means Android now more than ever, and gradients are not uncommon.

The other screen shot on the right is just that of the Hardware Canucks home page. The screens are saved in JPG for file size sake, and don't do the Note justice, so don't judge it on them, but just look at how much pixel-estate there is. For web-browsing and looking at photos or documents, the Galaxy Note is a dream with the amount of pixels it pushes and the size of its screen.

Video Playback

Click on images to enlarge

The real reason for choosing The Social Network for the battery tests is because it is a great screen test for video. Every frame of this movie is dark, and the Galaxy Note handled it quite well. The images above are just a couple random screen shots that display the Note's ability to find detail in all the dark corners of The Social Network. We watched a number of movies in MP4 format through the standard video player, as well as MKV's through MX Player that we downloaded from the Android Market. The Galaxy Note's screen really does a great job running 720p and makes it enjoyable to watch on.

The rear speaker for audio output is okay, but headphones are ideal as the bass can be enhanced and the audio is far superior on even a basic set of headphones. Would we rather have a tablet on a long flight to watch a movie on? Sure, who wouldn't, but the Note isn't a bad secondary option.

Camera Testing

As we mentioned in the introduction, one of the possible distinctions between a phone and a tablet is the camera that the Samsung Galaxy Note sports. The specifications again are an 8MP rear camera capable of recording video at up to 1080p and stills at 3264x2448 with a 2MP front camera. The Flash is LED and relatively strong as long as your objects are close. Overall, the camera is quite impressive, and we are die hard SLR users. Obviously the Note's camera is still a cell phone camera, and benefits greatly from bright light conditions, but it isn't unusable in the dark. Let's look at some sample photos.

Click on images to enlarge

The image on the left shows that the camera can handle bright colors, but when doing so can lose detail in blacks. In the camera's defense, an SLR wouldn't handle this contrast all that well either. Focus is solid, and the colors with that bright light are bang on.

On the right, is an almost pitch black room with light only coming from the candles you can see. We really just wanted to see if the Note could focus on the candles and it did a decent job. Obviously this is asking a lot of the camera in a situation like this, but for being handheld in the dark, we can't complain about the quality.

Click on images to enlarge

One day at work there was this great shot of sunlight shining through the gap between two taller buildings and a motorcycle parked remarkably in the center. It was as if a spot light was on the bike. We grabbed the Note and took the photo on the left above. Again, the bright colors of the bike aren't overly blown out, but are a bit bright. Meanwhile the shadows are still exposed rather well. Personally we would turn the exposure down a bit, but for straight auto from a camera phone, we'll take it.

The last photo we'll look at is one from the campus of Western University. With a lot of moving objects, and asking the camera to capture the whole scene, focus is right where it should have been. On the whole, the camera acted exactly how we wanted it to in most situations. We even have a great photo of a Dairy Queen run late in the night...but there is no need to share evidence of an ice cream addiction, so we'll put that one on the shelf.

Our only complaint with the Galaxy Note when taking photos is the orientation that you have to hold it in when taking your snapshot. We kept finding ourselves wanting to use the power/sleep button or the volume button to take the photo rather than tapping the screen. Perhaps letting users map buttons for photo taking would be beneficial to some.

Here are links to the full size (2~3MB) versions of the four photos above in the same order they appear: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4.

Video Recording

We took a quick video sample at 720p from the Galaxy to give us an idea of the video quality it can produce. From a foggy morning to late afternoon sun, the Galaxy Note really did a decent job. We did some panning up to the sky and from brightly lit objects onto shadows and the adjustments in exposure were rather smooth and unnoticeable for the most part.

Obviously the Note isn't going to be the camera of choice for your next video project, but it is definitely capable of taking quality high definition video. The audio isn't bad but suffers from wind noise as was demonstrated in the last clip.

Overall, we are quite pleased with the optics of the camera for both still shots and video. The Galaxy Note is a capable tool, and in the right hands should create some great results. Our only complaint would be a lack of a video editor included in the software package. We understand that it might not be able to handle HD video, but it is still a little disappointing not being able to edit on the spot and share instantly.

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