It is very easy to make a snap judgment on the 5.3-inch-screened Samsung Galaxy Note. Yes, it is significantly bigger than the smartphone you use now. It even makes the Galaxy Nexus seem petite in comparison.

The dimensions of the Note put it somewhere between the biggest smartphones you ever saw and the 7-inch tablet form factor made popular by Amazon, BlackBerry, Motorola, Samsung, and pretty much everyone else except Apple.

However, the Note makes and receives phone calls, so it is a phone and it should be judged as such, right? End of story?

That is where you are mistaken. The phone functionality on the Note is a tertiary function at best. I see it as more like a reason to not carry a phone as well as the Note in your pocket. With that said, for a growing number of people, myself included, the actual “phone part” of a smartphone is very low on my list for what I want to do with the device in my pocket.

I make or receive only a few calls per day, and most of those are while I am at home/office with Google Voice and a headset or home phone. Therefore, other things rank higher on what I want to do with a device like this:

  • Maps are becoming the most used and most important feature on my phone, except for secondary review websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc. I get all of my travel lookups from the Maps.app. I do almost all of my turn-by-turn navigation and lookups on this device much more efficiently with its huge display and fast network connection.
  • The Web Browser is the most important app outside of Maps. I would love the Note to somehow get the Chrome Browser before Samsung gets around to upgrading it to ICS. Alas, the stock browser is still unbelievably fast/crisp.
  • Gmail/Calendar/Contacts. You know…work.
  • AIM, GoogleTalk, GoogleVoice, and other instant messaging.
  • Social: Twitter, Google Plus Facebook, etc.
  • Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, and other Music and Videos.
  • Various other apps, such as my bank’s check cashing app, WordPress, Kayak, and a bunch of Angry Birds-type games.

Without exception, I can do any of the above better on a 5.3-inch 720P display than on a typical smartphone display. The one caveat: (As you can see from the gallery) moving my mid-sized thumb from one side of the portrait screen to the other is a bit of a stretch when using it one-handed. This does not turn out to be a problem very often, though, perhaps only 5 percent of my time. This is not a one-handed device.

Therefore, the Note is about tradeoffs:  Amazing, huge display = better experience vs. portability. In my particular use-case, I am happy to make the trade. Here are the details:

The size:

I imagine many people are not going to be O.K. putting this thing in their pocket. I was fine with it. It reminds me of the passport that I carried around in my pocket for a few years in Europe (see comparison in pictures). For its size, it is very light and as thin as any high-end phone available.


AT&T’s 4G network was very fast on this device and it seemed to move speedily between 4G and 3G networks.


I think these are the back and front cameras on the Galaxy S 2 devices, which are very good. In addition, the 5.3-inch 720P display was fantastic at displaying the video/images the camera takes. The single LED flash is typical for a smartphone.

You can really tell how sharp a picture is, and you can tell if you need to snap another one due to blurriness. Smaller screen cannot show you a picture’s quality. The Samsung USB-HDMI cable worked as well, and it makes a great 720P Netflix device for our projector.

The Screen:

This is the best screen you can fit into your pocket—bar none. It is also great outside and on long trips.

Speaker: Mediocre. This is one area where I hoped to see something more than a high-end smartphone offering. As this is a standalone entertainment device more than a typical smartphone, some extra oomph is almost expected. However, you are looking at a typical Smartphone speaker here.

Battery: The 2500mA battery easily powers this thing through a day with lots of hardcore use. Looking at the battery usage, almost 70 percent is for that big, beautiful display.

The Stylus and Note taking:

Honestly, this is more a novelty for me at this point. I played with it and it is cool, but I am no artist. I personally would trade the stylus for a bigger speaker. Although, my wife did get a kick out of it, so I am sure there is an audience. The drawing app is quite cool and it is nice to easily add your own personal notes to pictures before sending them.


The screen makes using the Maps app even better, but like every Samsung device I have ever tested, the GPS signal is weak and takes a bit longer than I would like in order to get an exact location.


I hate to say this, but AT&T had its way and included many apps that you will not want and cannot remove (and some you can remove). Samsung also Touchwizzed all over this thing, which I will admit I am starting to be O.K. with —except for the fact that it makes Android upgrades slower. AT&T’s Movies and Samsung’s Mediahub is expensive compared to the other ways to get videos on Android, for instance.

I like that there are more rows and columns to take advantage of the huge display. There is more room for widgets, as well.

The overall speed of the OS is similar to the fast Galaxy S2.

Finally, the Phone:

You will no doubt look silly talking on this thing, but it works just fine. I think most people in the target audience will be more likely to use the speakerphone or a headset rather than put its 5.3-inches of glass against the side of their head. I do not think I am alone in that I use a phone less and less these days, and instead I relay on other forms of communication, such as IM and SMS.

Wrap up:

I like the Galaxy Note a lot. I have liked it ever since I first saw it in Germany at IFA last year. I love the screen, I do not mind the size, and I am definitely willing to make the tradeoff. I realize that I may be in the minority in that case, but Samsung already sold a million of these devices in Europe, and I anticipate another million or so will probably sell in the U.S.

The downside for me is that you cannot use it with one hand. That is the kicker.

The Galaxy Note goes on sale at AT&T for $299 tomorrow. It will probably be less at Amazon where you can buy it without plan for $600 to $700 right now.

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