The Samsung Galaxy Note – The phone that thinks it's a tablet

The first thing you notice about the Samsung Galaxy Note is that it is one large smartphone. One very large smartphone. So large in fact that my immediate reaction was to hold it to my hear and shout very loudly, “Hello?! Hello!? I’m on the phone!” a la Dom Jolly in Trigger Happy TV. That childishness aside, is this huge mobile a gimmick or actually a good Android-driven smartphone?

For starters this phone has a very large 5.3-inch display phone and a built-in stylus. “Stylus? Didn’t they disappear with the iPhone?” I hear you ask? Well yes, but oddly enough when I handed the phone to a friend they started getting excited. It would appear some people actually miss touch screen phones with a stylus. Certainly I recall using one with the old Treo range of mobile from long lost Palm. And it’s when the Galaxy Note is used to start making little scribbles, notes and drawings that you start to realise that a stylus is something that’s quite possible to miss in this day and age of touch-based gesture interfaces.

As I said, the HD Super AMOLED display is big. Really big, but really, really nice. The 1280 x 800 pixels display is as good as a full-sized laptop’s, and as a notepad replacement The Note is a natural. There’s nothing like having a little doodle on the Note, something you can’t really do on smartphone of a normal persuasion, where the screen is usually big enough to tap a keyboard or swipe a photo – but not much else.

The design of the Note is similar to the Samsung Galaxy S II – just bigger and heavier: 178 grams compared to 116g for the SII. The Note also packs an eight megapixel camera with LED flash on the back and a two megapixel one on the front. It has 1080 / 30p HD video recording, with support for MPEG-4, H.263 and H.264 codecs. You can store it all on the 16GB of internal memory, expandable by up to 32GB with a microSD card and it has Bluetooth 3.0+ HS support and 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi. But it’s firstly a mobile phone, with support for HSPA+, LTE, EDGE and GPRS.

Software-wise it runs Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread) and is powered by a 1.4GHz dual-core Samsung Exynos processor. It also comes with all the normal sensors like accelerometer and even has A-GPS and GLONASS – if you find yourself needing a Russian satellite.

The screen is not quite as good as the Galaxy Nexus or Apple’s Retina panel in the iPhone 4 and 4S but the graphics are great and fast.

Because of its size, the Note comes into its own when looking at photos, graphics, web pages and artless or books in a reader mode. With more screen estate the keyboard is even easier, and writing with the stylus can be processed via handwriting recognition, which works well enough on most words.

There are cleaver touches, such as if you tap and hold to the “S Pen” you can capture an instant screenshot, which is then opened in an image editor. That is useful for being able to start scribbling on the image, circling things or signing documents, then sending it onwards via email or social networks.

The built in quick note function is great for doodling, but also creating – almost – artworks.

And here’s where the Note shines. You actually want to start drawing on it, because the screen is so big and gorgeous. Battery life is very good, so you’ll be able to doodle for a good while as the apps for drawing are great fun.

However, I’m going to have to rain on the parade slightly here. The Note is not for everyone. Holding it is a bit of struggle unless you have really big hands, and it’s not quite big enough to be held with two hands like a tablet. So it ends up falling between two stools – too big for everyday use as a mobile phone and too small to be a real tablet. I can see the Note being perfect for artists or in an enterprise setting when you need to tap away at an inventory application, or perhaps in a hospital setting being consulted by a doctor on their rounds. But for the average person a phone they can still comfortably hold in their hands without dropping it is usually going to win out.

So if you don’t want a full-sized tablet but you do want a smartphone with a great big screen and you can literally handle it, then Note is a perfect choice. But if you’re happy with an iPhone sized screen then the Note is probably going to make you feel like Dom Jolly.