Samsung Galaxy Note – Apps and Stylus

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

Stylus-specific content aside there are a few pre-installed apps of note on the Note. S Planner syncs with Google Calendar to help you digitally organise your life; the Readers Hub [sic] offers a nice interface for reading News (using PressDisplay), Books (using Kobo) and Magazines (powered by Zinio); Music Hub doesn’t work in the UK but might be a nice addition for those on the other side of the Atlantic; while the ever-competent Polaris Office is on hand for productivity.

It's the S Pen that gives the Note's app potential a boost ahead of the Android pack, though. When you take it out of its snug slot in the phone’s base, it looks much like the styli you used to get back in the days of resistive screens, before capacitive (and thus fingers) became the dominant technology. However, this 14mm-long marvel is playing in a whole different field.

Until now, stylus-operated Android-based devices – including the HTC Flyer and Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet - have used N-Trig’s pressure sensitive solutions. Samsung has taken a different tack and partnered with Wacom for its S Pen. As those into digital art and design will know, Wacom is the market leader when it comes to pen solutions like the Intuos 4.

Unfortunately, the Note’s solution is not the full-blown digitizer you’ll find in the likes of Samsung’s Series 7 Slate. Rather than the 512 pressure levels supported by that device, the S Pen is limited to 100 – that’s less than half of the N-Trig. Along with that extra sensitivity, you also lose the eraser from the top, and the traditional Wacom raised rocker switch is replaced by a single flush button that can be quite difficult to locate in the heat of scribbling.

However, the light (three gramme) stylus is comfortable in the hand and is never less than responsive – unlike N-Trig’s solution, which suffers the occasional minor hiccup. For writing and doodling, the S Pen works a treat - once you set the correct handedness in Pen Settings under the Android Settings menu, and once you’ve gotten used to the almost slippery interaction between the pen’s smooth nib and phone’s glass screen.

The stylus works throughout the interface, and aside from dedicated apps, Samsung has added a few nice OS-wide touches. For example, tapping the stylus on the screen anywhere and anytime (even when on the lock screen or system menus) with the stylus button pressed takes an instant screenshot on which you can draw to your heart’s content, after which it can be shared, printed or even set as wallpaper.

The HTC Flyer offered a similar mechanic, but it wasn’t nearly as refined. Now you might say there’s nothing particularly useful about this ability, but it comes in handy in a surprising number of situations, and at the worst is just good fun (drawing moustaches on pics of various relatives never gets old).

Well-suited as it should be to arty types, we would have loved to test the S Pen with the ‘tablet’ version of Sketchbook Pro, which fully supports pressure sensitivity. Unfortunately, this software demands ICS so it wouldn’t install on the Note. With few Android apps currently supporting pressure sensitivity (most simulate it based on the speed of your stroke), we resorted to Samsung’s bundled S Memo. S Memo offers a decent selection of tools including four ‘brush’ types with thickness and opacity, but no layers.

When drawing we did come across a few weaknesses with the S Pen. First and foremost, there’s an offset issue (especially when handedness is set to the left) with lines appearing slightly up and right of the stylus’s nib position - especially annoying when attempting fine detail work. Though the Note is supposed to calibrate automatically we tried two different handsets and both suffered from the offset.

We would have preferred a manual calibration option which could have resolved this problem. Similarly, manual pressure sensitivity calibration would be much appreciated, as right now it’s too difficult to achieve a delicate line with the S Pen.

The Note is usable as an artist’s tool, but if you’re at all serious about sketching on the go and can’t afford the Series 7 Slate, the ThinkPad Tablet still wins out as our top Android solution.

Carrier pricing updates & information supplied by WhistleOut

jgsm

February 9, 2012, 2:21 pm

I think you have the business with the screen mixed-up. I'm sure the S2 has the plus screen, whilst the others mentioned haven't.

Also, while the phone is far to big for me to consider, it seems odd to essentially mark it down for being a big phone - That's exactly what Samsung have intended it to be. Your criticism would stand, say, if they were trying to cram a lot of tech into a device, but but they couldn't do so without making it huge. This was designed from the ground-up as a big phone.

TechVegan

February 9, 2012, 4:59 pm

Good spot thanks, that link was meant to point to the Galaxy S rather than the S2. The S2 does indeed use Plus.

I'm not only marking the Note down for size but also for a few other factors, not least of which are the stylus inaccuracies.
However, the reason it does get negative marks for its size is because it compromises some of the product's usability as a phone. I don't criticize it for being large per se :)

piesforyou

February 9, 2012, 5:03 pm

I think it's an inherent limitation of review scoring and criticism. You could just aswell say "The phone tried to be big and succeeded!"

The A380 is a fantastic plane but its too big to go to all airports - but thats exactly how Airbus wanted it.

By the way, I don't mean to be mean, but why does TR have the most awkward sign-in process of any website in the galaxy? Can we not just have a simple sign in box at the bottom of the page? What's the deal with the enormous pop-up containing the entire page again?

Also the orange sign-in button takes me to a "page not found" error.

Joey

February 9, 2012, 6:16 pm

jgsm is correct about the screens, you completely messed it up. S2 uses the Super AMOLED Plus, while the Nexus uses Super AMOLED but with a pentile matrix

Michael G

February 9, 2012, 6:23 pm

"especially annoying when attempting fine detail work"

You have got to me kidding me. For gods sake, it's for at most doodling and taking notes, not for creating the next Picasso.

Consider how much a decent tablet costs, around the £400 mark, that you have such functionality built in with this phone in the first place is brilliant.

Stop asking too much. We could only dream of phones like this several years back and you STILL nitpick over ridiculous details that nobody cares about.

Sheesh, comments like this really put me off TR to be honest, not to mention how shocking the "new" website is.

Neil873

February 9, 2012, 7:03 pm

I tried one of these out in a high street store and was quite excited to see how it could be used as a business tool.

Don't get me wrong, I thought it was great in just about all regards and a good size for using as a business tool, especially if you could take notes during a meeting, check spreadsheets, etc.

However, for me, it was the taking notes with the stylus that I didn't like. I want it so it writes like a pen, but there was a 'delay' with the writing always catching up to where your at. The 'delay' is not huge, but I found it difficult to keep continuity.

All I would say, is if you are considering one of these, I would recommend having a play with it before jumping in.

TechVegan

February 9, 2012, 7:17 pm

I'm just going to answer all the comments so far in a seperate comment as people don't seem to read replies :)

@piesforyou:
The question we should be asking is, were phones meant to be this big? Personally I like the form factor, but a few colleagues think the Note is simply too large for comfort.

Regarding the sign-in process, not at all, we appreciate the feedback and will try to improve the experience.

@Joey:
As I already said in my reply to @jgsm, the link should have been to the Galaxy S rather than S2, sorry about the confusion. The error has been fixed but hasn't gone through our slow cache yet. In fact we even mention the S2 is sAMOLED Plus on the page the previous link in that same sentence refers to!

@Michael G:
No, sorry but I have to disagree with you there. Many digital artists (which I'm guessing you're not?) were very excited to finally be getting a Wacom stylus on an Android 'tablet', thinking the solution would be superior to N Trig's. When it not only features fewer pressure levels but also suffers from niggles which should have been easy to rectify, it's thoroughly disappointing!

Just because you're not in the category of people that "cares" doesn't mean this is not a valid criticism, AND if you had read the entire review you would have noticed that I say: "For writing and doodling [the two bits you mention], the S Pen works a treat".

Sorry you don't like the new site design btw. It does take some getting used to but we are constantly trying to make it better with your feedback.

Goodmane

February 10, 2012, 2:58 am

I'd just like to comment re. super amoled screens. I have a Galaxy S1 and am fussy re colour, I use colorimeters with my PC screens.

I'm not saying there isn't a blue/green color shift with sAMOLED. Just that I haven't ever noticed it. Even when I've been looking for it. I just want to encourage people not to worry about the colour. Really I doubt even graphic designers would be irked by this screen unless they were actually working on it.

I say this as someone who is a real nerd when it comes to colour accuracy in photos etc.

Spir

February 10, 2012, 6:02 am

I don't get the score: four times a 9, once an 8 and even once a 10. To me the overall score should be a 9 then?

TechVegan

February 10, 2012, 3:29 pm

Thanks for your informative comment @Goodmane!
I'm a colour accuracy enthusiast myself and, incidentally, also own an S1. I'd just like to note that the blue/green shift is actually worse on the Note than on the S1.

It's no deal-breaker if you're aware of it though, and as you say the screen shouldn't be an issue unless you're actually doing highly colour-sensitive work on it.

TechVegan

February 10, 2012, 3:33 pm

Thanks for your comment @Spir.

This is because we don't have scores for all categories on which it is possible to judge a product (for example, in the Note's case we don't have a 'stylus' score), and thus our overall score is not an average of the sub-scores. They're only there to indicate how well a product performs in the given category.

Hope that helps to clarify things :)

Aggress

February 10, 2012, 3:53 pm

I've played with one a few times now, it's impressive no doubt, but yes the back is incredibly flimsy, i'd like to know how long one was tested in the lab before it split or the clips snapped off, one drunken fumble and it could all be over ( applies to other situations as well ). The screen appears to be like all of the Samsung's at a weird colour temperature, when compared next to the iPhone4 it looks too cool, the contrast and colour reproduction look wrong. Stylus stuff is great, if only I could draw, thankfully my friend can and he uses his for designing on the fly.

Martin Daler

May 11, 2012, 3:47 am

Contrary to your review and video, the Galaxy Note does not use Gorilla Glass. This from Samsung's own Q&A:
"We can confirm that the Galaxy Note does not use Gorilla Glass but instead uses our own version."

comments powered by Disqus