With the screen switched off, it looks like the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey – dark, tall and extremely intimidating. You’ll need BIG hands to fully grip it, but it feels nice in the hand
Runs on the latest Android Gingerbread OS, so it’s easy enough to populate the home screens with shortcuts and widgets and then set up all your social networking and email accounts. The large screen makes on-screen typing especially tight and error-free
The Note packs a Super HD AMOLED screen and a powerful 1.4GHz dual-core processor, but it’s the S Pen and illustration software that makes it stand out from the crowd
Flabbergasting in every department. The speedy processor is also backed up with 1GB of RAM so it runs at the speed of light, takes stunning pictures with its eight-megapixel 1080p camera, and the 5.3-inch 1280x800 screen is shockingly good for films and web
Comes with a monstrous 2,500mAh battery, about twice your average smartphone unit. You’ll get almost two days if you keep GPS and Wi-Fi light
If you subscribe to the point of view that big is beautiful, then Samsung’s latest device will fall either way with you, depending on how you look at it. The Korean giant is marketing the Galaxy Note with the tagline “Phone? Tablet?” - if you look at it as a phone, it’s big, and more beautiful than the goddess Venus. As a tablet, it’s miniscule, and uglier than Jimmy Nail.
Like visiting the IMAX cinema for the first time, handling the Note almost creates a sense of faint-inducing vertigo it’s so big. Measuring a whopping 146.9x83x9.7mm, it’s an absolute monster in the hand while still maintaining trimness – it’s only marginally thicker than its little brother the Galaxy S II. If you pull this out of your pocket in the pub to answer a call, people will look at you – some in awe, some in disbelief that something so massive could even fit in your pocket. It weighs 178g, which sounds heavy for a phone – it is heavy for a phone, but it doesn’t feel hefty for something so huge. It will fit into an average man’s jeans’ pocket, but if you’re short or female, you might want to see if it fits in the shop first.A 3.5mm headphone jack sits on top, a lock on/off switch is located on the right and a volume rocker is positioned on the left. The bottom is where the S Pen (we’ll get to that soon) slots in and out, exactly like the stylus on the many variants of Nintendo’s DS. Below the screen lie three Android buttons: Menu and Back (both touch-sensitive) with a rectangular Home button in the centre. Directly above this is a screen so big it feels like you can get your head into it.Samsung may be unsure about what it’s just released, but this is positively a phone. You can call people on it for one, and because it fits into my pockets (a squeeze into the jeans, a doddle into the coat) I don’t see this as a small tablet – it is, 100%, a massive big phone. As someone who normally uses an iPhone 4, with its dainty little 3.5-inch screen, this 5.3-incher is simply astronomical. A full inch bigger than the Galaxy S II, and 0.6-inch larger than the HTC Titan, it truly is a spectacle to behold. It’s a Super HD AMOLED pane of Gorilla Glass, which comes in at 1280x800 resolution, making for 285 pixels-per-inch (way ahead of the Galaxy S II’s 217ppi). It’s huge, bright and sharp – it’s nothing short of phenomenal for all the multimedia functions you’ll want to use this phone for. And thanks to a 1.4GHz dual-core processor, you’ll be able to juggle many of them simultaneously.
Its soon-to-be-released sibling the Samsung Nexus may well be packing the all-singing, all-dancing Android Ice Cream Sandwich (which will sync perfectly between phones and tablets) – but the Note is happy enough to run on Gingerbread 2.3 (the sort designed for phones), with Samsung’s TouchWiz 4.0 overlay on top. If you’re new to Android you have seven home screens that you can populate to your heart’s content with as many widgets, shortcuts and apps as you see fit. The main home screen is already set up with Readers Hub (a reading rack and shortcut to online papers, magazines and Kobo-powered books), Social Hub (a quick and easy way to fuse your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts into one live feed), Market (access to the now 500,000 + apps on the Android marketplace) and, more worthy of “note” (no pun intended) is the shortcut “Galaxy Note S – S Choice”. This takes you through to a sub-section of the Samsung Apps Store, which is specifically just for illustration apps.Samsung has designed this entire device with drawing in mind, a “notebook” for those who like to scribble pictures as well as words. Whip the S Pen out the bottom and what you have is a 5.3-inch glass canvas for you to draw on how ever you fancy. At the moment, S Choice has about a dozen or so free apps, simple fare like Hello Crayon, Hello Chalk and Makeup are all self-explanatory and generally aimed at a younger audience (if you dare to hand such a valuable piece of tech to a child). But we very much suspect this will get populated with sophisticated, paid for illustration apps over time. The Note also comes preinstalled with S-Memo, a simple notepad app with basic art tools. You can pick between different tips (pen, pencil, paintbrush and felt), adjust thickness, add shadow effects and play around the colour pallet. If you’ve used MS Paint – the basic, free painting package that comes with Windows – it’s like a mini-version of that.This is not the first device to come with a stylus and drawing in mind – the seven-inch HTC Flyer tablet also featured the same USP. But the responsiveness, immediacy and precision of using the stylus on the Note is in a different league to the Flyer. It’s like drawing on paper and suffers from zero lag – something the Flyer certainly cannot claim – and the stylus and screen fuse harmoniously to create a digital drawing experience like no other. S-Memo is beautifully integrated with the rest of software, and you can literally just crack this open, draw a huge kiss and slap it on Facebook in a matter of seconds. Or you can sit down, draw a little comic strip, and email-pitch it to a newspaper with a note telling them how much you want for it.The S Pen isn’t just for drawing pictures, you can also use it to hand-write memos, sketch moustaches on pictures, draw points on maps –pretty much draw on anything. There’s a button on the stylus you need hold down while tapping on the screen to activate a whole host of drawing features. If you like dawdling images on napkins, you will really like the Note. If you don’t – it doesn’t make any difference. You can just use the S Pen to scratch deep into your ears or pick your nose.
This screen is nothing short of sublime for watching films. That you can have a portable movie-watching experience so grand using something that fits into your pocket is testament to Samsung’s technical genius in making the display almost the same size as the chassis. We watched Batman Begins on it and it served that brilliant film with the same justice its protagonist serves criminals. Bright, punchy and colour-rich, it’s the best movie player available for those who don’t want to carry a tablet around in a bag, and it supports MP4, DivX and Xvid, among others. You’ve also got 16GB of internal storage to stash your films, tunes and games onto, with room for another 32GB if you slap in a microSD card.The eight-megapixel camera with auto-focus and an LED-flash is identical to the one on the Galaxy S II – which won both Best Camera Phone and Best Video Phone at the Mobile Choice Awards earlier this year. So as you can imagine, it delivers on both stills and footage. Pictures are razor sharp, while videos are colour-rich and deep. And of course, once you’ve taken a picture of someone, you can draw something offensive on their forehead and slap it on Facebook before they’ve even had chance to rip the Note out of your hand. It also comes with a surprisingly agreeable two-megapixel front-facing camera for voice calling, self-portraits and putting contact lenses in.Connectivity is pretty much what you get from all high-end smartphones with ultra-fast HSPDA, Wi-Fi and A-GPS. Browsing the web is a shockingly good experience, with pages loading in full (with Flash support, naturally), and on this screen you don’t even have to zoom in for many websites.
This is the perfect phone for someone who wants the features of a tablet (big movies, big web) with the portability you don’t get with a tablet. And if you love drawing, you will absolutely love the Note – and even if you don’t, its superb drawing features may kick-start a brand new hobby. Sure, it will be too big for some people’s taste and at £600 SIM-free you’ll need deep pockets in both senses, but it offers so much in so many areas that you’ll struggle to go back to a smaller phone after using it.