Samsung’s new Galaxy Note: too large, too small or just
by Alan Zisman (c) 2012
published in Business in
Vancouver April 3-9, 2012 Issue #1171 High Tech
People are increasingly using mobile devices for web browsing, email,
social networking, watching videos, reading books, playing games and
even – now and again – as work tools. Maybe even for a phone call or
But what’s the right size for these mobile devices? Apple has been
doing well dividing its product line into two sizes: pocket-sized
devices with 3.5-inch displays and iPad tablets with 10-inch displays.
Many Android-powered smartphones sport larger displays than the iPhone,
with various manufacturers offering 4.5-inch models. Many of the first
generation of iPad competitors, however, came with seven-inch screens
that Apple’s Steve Jobs derided as “tweeners” – too big for a
smartphone, too small for a tablet. But Samsung, which has emerged as
perhaps Apple’s most aggressive competitor, seems to “think different.”
Along with a full range of Android smartphones, the company has
released both seven- and 10-inch tablet models. The company’s new
Galaxy Note adds a 5.3-inch display to the mix.
That either makes the Note a very large smartphone or a very small
tablet; Samsung is marketing it as a smartphone. I was loaned one that
ran on Rogers’ LTE network ($699/$199 on a three-year contract; it’s
also being offered by Telus and Bell).
Despite the large screen (for a phone), the Note fit into my pocket and
felt fairly comfortable in my hands. The crisp and bright screen has
720p high-definition (800x1280 pixel) resolution – more pixels than an
iPad 2 though less than the new iPad – with an eight-megapixel camera
that takes good still photos and high-definition video. It can make use
of microSD memory cards for storing music, video, photos and the like.
Being a super-sized smartphone means having room for a super-sized
battery. The result is that the Note was the first Android phone I’ve
used that could last several days on a charge.
One more thing: it includes a stylus, something else Steve Jobs sneered
at. Jobs suggested we have built-in styluses: fingers. Fingers,
however, can be awkward at some touch-screen tasks. Samsung hopes that
users will find the Note’s pressure-sensitive stylus – which the
company calls the S Pen – a handy tool for annotating photos and maps,
note taking, doodling and the like.
Styluses were common a decade or so ago with Palm PDAs and other
devices and are still a basic tool on Windows tablets. HTC offers a
stylus as an added-cost option with some of its Android models.
Samsung includes a set of apps that make use of the stylus. Users can
add notes to screen shots, web pages or photos, directions to maps, and
more, sharing their drawing and annotated documents. Handwriting
recognition is optional.
A few shortcomings: the Galaxy Note is shipping with last year’s
version of Android – Version 2.3 Gingerbread; Samsung is promising an
upgrade to the current version (4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich) some time later
this year. And as with current Android tablets, there are few apps that
take good advantage of the Note’s high-resolution screen – most are
designed for lower-resolution phone screen sizes. Also, because the
Note calls itself a phone, web servers send it pages formatted for
small phone screens instead of larger tablet screens.
A dedicated camera button would have been nice.
The Galaxy Note won’t be for everyone; many will find it either too big
for a phone or too small for a tablet. But Samsung is hoping that a
significant number of users will consider it a single device that can
display web pages, eBooks and video nearly as well as a larger tablet
while fitting in pocket or purse and being handier than a tablet for
making calls and taking pictures.
Samsung is also hoping that there is a segment of the market that will
find writing on a screen with a pen a better alternative to finger
tapping, at least for some tasks.
And with its range of Galaxy devices in a various sizes, the company is
confident that it offers something to fit every need.