The Samsung Galaxy Note’s button layout is similar to that of the Galaxy range's smaller smartphones. There's slightly raised power button on the right edge and volume rocker on the left. Both are crisp and responsive, though those with shorter fingers might need to use two hands to operate the volume due to this phone-tablet’s size.
As the Galaxy Note was originally designed with Gingerbread in mind, it features two responsive, white-backlit touch controls (Menu and Return/Back) flanking a central, iPhone-like Home button at the front. Again, it’s a layout that’s virtually identical to the Galaxy S II and works rather well. In fact, we prefer physical buttons to the virtual ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich) implementation on the Nexus, as this arrangement is easier to use without looking and doesn’t waste valuable screen space.
Also similar to the Galaxy S II, the Note has to endure the the highs and lows of Samsung’s custom TouchWiz overlay. Thankfully there are more positives than niggles, like the nifty alteration of the standard lock screen where you can see and swipe individual missed calls and new messages, or Samsung’s enhanced Task Manager. It does mean you have to wait longer for updates though.
As the screen has more pixels to play with than other Gingerbread devices, you’re also treated to five rows of app icons rather than the four of the S2, along with other minor enhancements. A selection of Note-specific apps are on hand which can take advantage of the included S Pen stylus, but we’ll get to those in a bit. From a usability standpoint, it’s also worth pointing out that due to its large screen, the Note’s virtual keyboard is far easier to type on (using two hands) than rivals with smaller displays.
Though there's the odd stutter you wouldn't see in an iPhone 4S, Gingerbread has never felt so smooth thanks to the Note’s dual-core 1.4GHz Samsung Exonys processor. Unfortunately, as Honeycomb is the first version of Android to implement GPU acceleration, the Note’s Mali-400MP graphics chip doesn’t get used in the OS itself, though this will change with ICS. We’ll try to take another look at the Note then and update this review with our impressions.
The one area where many Android (and indeed iOS) devices tend to fall down is video playback, but here again the Note largely succeeds. Most HD and Full HD files played smoothly regardless of format (including the usual suspects of MKV, MOV, FLV, etc) - partially thanks to Samsung’s software and hardware optimisations.
However, our highest bitrate tests revealed that the Note’s Samsung internals aren’t quite up to Nvidia Tegra 3’s quad-core might, so Asus’s Eee Pad Transformer Prime is still your only choice if you want the best mobile media player going. Until Tegra 3 makes its way into phones though, the Note is a great pocketable contender.
The Galaxy Note's rear does get rather warm to the touch when it’s been under load for a while - playing a 1080p film, for example. However, with all that power stuffed into such a slim shell this was probably unavoidable, and shouldn’t be a cause for concern (it’s also great for keeping frozen digits warm in wintery weather).