Galaxy Note: Lame tablet, lousy smartphone
Samsung's 5.3-inch device repeats the sins of the first Android tablets, but also brings intriguing pen-computing capabilitiesFollow @MobileGalen
The first generation of Android tablets -- such as the original Galaxy Tab and the Dell Streak -- were perversions of the Google Android smartphone operating system, blowing up the UI designed for a 3.5-inch screen to devices with displays as large as 7 inches. They were awkward devices that Google itself warned manufacturers not to create, asking them instead to await its true tablet version of Android. But for nearly a year, because of Google's slow progress, these ungainly smartphone-derived tablets were Android's only response to the iPad. Ironically, their disappointing execution helped cement Apple's near-monopoly on customer satisfaction. Finally, Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" arrived, followed by solid Android tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Motorola Mobility Droid Xyboard.
This January, Samsung announced the Galaxy Note, an Android smartphone with a 5.3-inch screen meant to straddle the line between smartphone and tablet. It boasts not just the huge screen, but a stylus for drawing and annotating, as well as some communications apps reworked to use its larger screen. AT&T describes it as an experiment in service of innovation and customers' varied needs. This weekend, it will ship in the United States on the AT&T Wireless 3G and (very small but growing) 4G networks for $300 with a two-year contract, $650 without. Run, don't walk, as fast as possible away from this monstrosity.
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The sad truth is that the Galaxy Note is as poorly conceived and executed as those first Android faux tablets -- despite the benefit of hindsight that Samsung should have gained from its own original Galaxy Tab failure. Although the notion of using a stylus for marking up images and using drawing apps is intriguing, the software on the Note fits the large screen poorly, taking little to no advantage of the oversized screen. And many of Samsung's customized-for-Note apps, such as its Calendar, are actually harder to use on the big screen than they are on a regular smartphone using the stock Android UI. You have to wonder why Samsung shipped such a pathetic failure.
The UI and the big screen come together badly
You'll immediately notice the Galaxy Note's huge size -- and wonder whether you can actually hold it or if it fits in a shirt pocket. The answer to both questions is yes, surprisingly, at least for me, as I have fairly large hands. The Galaxy Note's 5.75-inch height and 3.25-inch width fit in my open palm, but without much leeway. Many women and even men won't be so lucky. The Note's 6.5-ounce weight is also an issue; it's fine for occasional single-handed operation, but it quickly grows heavy. This is a device -- like a tablet -- you'll want to hold in two hands for extended use.
Even two-handed operation can be problematic. In vertical orientation, thumb-typing is quite comfortable on the larger-than-usual onscreen keyboard. But in horizontal orientation, I strained to reach the innermost keys with my thumbs, despite my large hands. There's no split keyboard option to make those inner keys more accessible, as Apple's iOS 5 offers on the iPad.