Trying out the Samsung Galaxy Note

7 May

The Samsung Note smartphone has twice the image area of the iPhone. Whether that’s good or bad is entirely up to you. (Geoff Meeker photo)

May 7, 2012

By Geoff Meeker

My iPhone 3GS has given up the ghost. It’s kaput. The navigation key – the round indented button on the lower front of the phone – has stopped working, proving that the extended warranty on these products is a good idea.

I’m not eligible for an upgrade yet so I called my service provider, Bell Aliant, to ask if I could get an iPhone 4S, to review for this column. Alas, no such luck – Apple doesn’t give review copies to Bell, they do all the PR themselves – but then the communications person had a suggestion.

“Why not try an Android phone? We have plenty of those available.”

He had a point. I’ve never really explored Android, which is Google’s alternative to the iPhone operating system. When I asked which Android phone was the newest, coolest or most unusual, he suggested the Samsung Galaxy Note (GT-N7000), because of its large screen. I scanned the product online and agreed.

It arrived several days later, in the midst of an extremely busy time for me and my public relations business, so I didn’t get to open the box for several days.

But I’ve been using the phone for about a week now, long enough to get a rough feel for it. This week, I offer my initial impressions of the device itself. I will talk a little more about the Android system in a future column, after I’ve had a few weeks to really play with it.

Two characteristics distinguish this smartphone from the rest of the pack: the large screen, and stylus (which will seem a little retro, to some).

When I say large screen, I’m not kidding. At 5.75 inches tall and 3.3 wide, with 12 square inches of image area (versus the iPhone’s 6 square inches), this phone is verging on tablet territory. Depending on your point of view, that could be good or bad.

On the plus side, the image quality is breathtaking. The high definition screen is as sharp as anything I’ve seen on the iPhone, and you can comfortably watch a movie without developing eyestrain. I find the iPhone and most other smartphone screens too small for extended viewing, but that’s not the case with this baby – two or three people could snuggle up and watch a movie together on the Note’s bright, crystal clear screen.

Because of its screen size, the Note may even work as an e-reader. However, this involves downloading an app, a book and – most importantly – taking time to read it, a luxury I haven’t had lately. The iPhone has a reader function but the screen is too small for my tastes, and I’m not convinced that the Note is big enough either. I will save that for my next review.

On the downside, the screen is, well, BIG. People who are accustomed to compact phones might not be able to make the leap. For me, the Note’s size was less of an issue than expected. It still slips easily into the pocket, and is noticeably thinner than the iPhone. You might think otherwise. If you’re truly interested in the large screen, give it an honest try. You might be surprised.

The other innovation is the S Pen stylus, which slips out handily from its snug storage space inside the phone. Unlike the stylus of old, this one is not intended for typing (I tried, and it definitely doesn’t work).

This stylus can be used to open a menu or launch an app, scroll through lists or screens, grab a screen shot, draw pictures and write memos.

Some of the stylus functions simply offer alternative ways of navigating around the phone. They may be convenient but, for me, seemed counter-intuitive

The handwriting and drawing functions are interesting though. I do like to draw, and found the sketchpad application to be quite a bit of fun. The response of the screen to the touch of the pen takes some getting used to, but it’s not bad. I don’t think it would have any real business applications, unless a rough sketch is all you need, but it’s certainly entertaining enough.

Tapping an icon on the keypad opens the handwriting feature, which allows you to jot and save notes. More interesting is the writing-to-text function, which converts printed words to text. This worked for me, but you need to print in clearly legible letters. It would be a waste of time for doctors and anyone with sloppy penmanship.

And the writing-to-text function is relevant, because my biggest problem with the Note is the keypad, which requires some time for adjustment. The auto-correct function was too eager, actually completing words before I was finished typing. I had to turn this feature off immediately. And the large size of the phone does take some getting used to, in terms of holding it while typing at the same time.

These are initial impressions. I will offer more on the phone and the Android OS in a future column.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at


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