The Galaxy Note isnt exactly a smartphone, although you can make phone calls on it, and its not exactly a tablet, either. Its an enterprise-friendly device thats designed for meetings and other demands for note-taking, along with normal smartphone and tablet functions. But it works fine just as a phone, too.
I first saw the Samsung Galaxy Note in the hands of UberGizmo editor and co-founder Eliane Fiolet as we sat in a nearly empty press building the day before CeBIT opened last March in Hannover, Germany. Eliane had been using the device to take notes as we took the traditional CeBIT press tour of the soon-to-be-opened displays at this massive trade show. I noticed that she was using it in much the same manner as I used my old-fashioned reporters notebook, except that she used a stylus while I was using a pen that was running out of ink.
The next day, the attendees arrived and the Galaxy Note was ubiquitous. I also noticed something else. While the Galaxy Note seemed to be great for note-taking, the look when someone was making a phone call was fairly odd. It seemed as if the person was holding a paperback book up to their face as they talked. Now that AT&T has brought the Note to the United States, I realize that the Note isnt really as big as it seemed at the time, but it is still big compared with todays smartphones. This device has a 5.3-inch active-matrix organic LED (AMOLED) screen.
While the Galaxy Note is a little large to be comfortable as a phone, it fits nicely into the hand and with its included styluscalled the S Pen by Samsungyou can open a memo app on the device and indeed take notes just by writing them down. But thats only the beginning. The Galaxy Note is a lot more than just a phone with a pen.
According to Samsung, the Galaxy Note is SAFE- (Samsung Approved for Enterprise-) certified. This means that the Note has enterprise features such as broad support for mobile-device management (MDM). It can be encrypted. Furthermore its designed to work with corporate email systems and it can access a VPN.
Samsung also has created a series of software kits that provide APIs that work with nearly any MDM, which gives administrators the necessary permissions to access all levels of the device. Samsung says that these capabilities are built into the OS, for the Note can allow MDM software to function at the highest-possible level. The Note runs Android 2.3, or Gingerbread.
This kind of enterprise integration is fairly rare in smartphones, especially those that are part of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement. At least the Note, along with other Samsung SAFE devices can be made to work with the enterprise, instead of providing an impediment to secure operations. Fortunately, the higher level of support for enterprise operations doesnt interfere with the Notes usability.
While the inclusion of the S Pen may seem like a throwback to the days of the Palm Pilot, it turns out to be a useful tool for more than just note-taking. The stylus allows you to make precise selections on sometimes-difficult screens, for example. This means that you can select the exact Web link you want on a crowded page.
The Stylus Recalls the Old Palm Pilot at Its Best
But, of course, the primary purpose of the S Pen is for handwriting. The Note comes with a number of apps designed to be used with the S Pen. But I found that the Notes handwriting recognition goes beyond just those apps designed for it. For example, I downloaded the Android version of Evernote, and found that by selecting the handwriting function on the Android on-screen keyboard, I could use handwriting recognition with Evernote.
While handwriting recognition is sensitive to how readable your handwriting is, I found that on the Note it works quite well. My fairly sloppy handwriting was deciphered accurately by the Note. In a surprise, the Note seemed to understand when I used Palms old Graffiti lettering, although there were a couple of glitches that could have been related to my writing.
The Galaxy Note works fairly well as a wireless device. It supports AT&Ts Long-Term Evolution (LTE) service when you can find it. The Note also works with the companys Evolved High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA+) service and it works with 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi.
The wireless performance was not what Id come to expect from AT&Ts LTE service in the Washington, D.C., area with the Note topping out at an average download speed of approximately 7.5M bps when tested with mobilespeedtest.com, which provided a single test that I could use for any device. By comparison, the Nokia Lumia 900 performed the same tests over the same network at significantly higher speeds.
Its worth noting that the reported download speeds varied quite a bit in these tests, and as a result, some speeds were lower than those reported above. The slowest download speed reported by the Nokia Lumia 900 over AT&Ts LTE network with the device being tested in the same location at the same time was 10M bps. The highest was above 30M bps.
A BlackBerry Bold 9900 running on T-Mobiles HSPA+ network demonstrated consistent speeds of 8.9M bps and higher. However, when the Note was tested on a different AT&T network, things changed dramatically. In Orlando, Fla., the same set of tests showed the Note operating at speeds between 25 and 30M bps.
The Nokia was also faster in the Orlando location and still outperformed the Note. The Washington, D.C.-area LTE tests were conducted at three widely dispersed locations with very strong LTE signals in the vicinity. The Orlando tests were conducted in the area near Kissimmee, Fla. In any case, these speeds are entirely sufficient to bust your data cap wide open if you start downloading movies at these speeds.
Although the Note is a large device for a smartphone, its not as cumbersome as it might appear at first. It fits nicely into a shirt pocket, its large screen makes it easier to use than many more traditionally sized smartphones and it does a nice job of note-taking, which is apparently why Samsung created it. If it fits your needs, you could do a lot worse.