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 capabilities

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The rest of the Note
The rest of the Galaxy Note's hardware is pretty much the same as any other Galaxy-class Samsung device. There's the very bright, almost garish Super AMOLED display, subject to flickering unless you turn off both the automatic brightness and automatic screen power adjustment settings. You get the dedicated Search button that has disappeared from most Android devices. There's the MicroUSB port, the audio jack, the volume rocker, the 2-megapixel front camera and 8-megapixel rear camera, and a MicroSD slot to add as much as 32GB of storage to the 10GB available onboard for user files and apps. You get the usual Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios, as well as support for the emerging Wi-Fi Direct device-to-device networking standard. (I tried to test Wi-Fi Direct with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but the Note and the Nexus could not establish a connection.) The dual-core 1.5GHz ARM processor is slightly faster than the CPU in non-U.S. models of the Galaxy Note (to handle the 4G radio, according to AT&T) and on the high side for today's devices -- no doubt because of the larger screen and handwriting recognition.

The Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" operating system is the same as in other Samsung Galaxy devices, save for the added stylus support. The apps are typical as well, excepting the poorly modified Email and Calendar apps, as well as the addition of S Memo. For business users, the Galaxy Note comes with Samsung's security extensions that provide iOS- and Android 4-like Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policy support, as well as VPN support and on-device encryption. As with other Android devices, the VPN support doesn't include Cisco IPSec-secured networks. But the on-device data encryption is fast, taking just a few minutes, versus the hour or so on other Android devices supporting it.

Not supported is file transfer via USB cable to a Mac; Google's free Android File Transfer Utility for Mac doesn't work with Android 2.x, just Android 3 and 4. But I could transfer files to and from Windows XP, 7, and 8 Developer Preview PCs, as these have a native driver that sees Android devices as a standard USB storage device.

Samsung also installs the Polaris Office app for creating and editing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. It's a poorly designed, awkward app. Do yourself a favor and get a reasonable productivity app such as Quickoffice Pro. Likewise, skip Samsung's included Social Hub app for unified social networking; it too is awkward and stripped of too many capabilities. Get the free Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook apps instead.

Interesting concept, poor execution
The Galaxy Note -- if it had apps that took appropriate advantage of its large screen -- could be a useful device. I can see the utility of a smartphone that can act more like a tablet when needed, especially with the stylus input option. Certainly, I experience the need firsthand when commuting on the train and have something to work on that's too complex for my regular smartphone's small screen -- so I wait until I get home or a seat opens up, then use my iPad instead.

But the Galaxy Note as currently delivered isn't the right vehicle for this experiment. I hope someone else tries to do it right.

This article, "Galaxy Note: Lame tablet, lousy smartphone," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile computing, read Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog at InfoWorld.com, follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter, and follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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