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Samsung Galaxy Note – Buttons, OS and Performance

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

8

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).

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."

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