Accordion Al - image by Ivy, age 10

Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Samsung’s new Galaxy Note: too large, too small or just right?

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2012 First published in Business in Vancouver April 3-9, 2012 Issue #1171 High Tech Office column

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 two.

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.