Samsung Galaxy Note Review
Thanks to Samsung for providing us with the Samsung Galaxy Note to review.
The Samsung Galaxy Note is easily the biggest ‘phone’ we’ve ever reviewed, if of course you can call it that. With a massive 5.3-inch screen, it’s clear that it’s not exactly a phone and yet it’s not a Tablet either. Some people call it a Phablet, some a Phone/Tablet Hybrid, but since it’s marketed as a phone – that’s what we’ll be calling it through out this review. After having had this phone for a good month to review, we feel we’ve finally discovered the best and the worst things about the Galaxy Note.
However, what is our opinion on Samsung’s largest phone to day, and how does it stack up against the thinner and slimmer competition out there on the market? Just continue reading our review to find out!
The Samsung Galaxy Note, like we’ve mentioned before is easily the biggest phone we’ve ever reviewed here at Techin5, and we’re quite sure that it’s one of the biggest phones on the market today as well. So how does such a big phone like this rank when it comes to the Hardware? Well let’s start with the build quality first. In essence, Samsung have never had the greatest build quality on the market, and the Note is no exception with a medium plastic build quality which isn’t the greatest in the world and you can feel it in your hands. However, it’s worth noting that while it’s not in the same league are current Nokia and Apple devices, there are plenty of phones that rank below this in build quality, which is why we said a ‘medium’ build quality makes the phone what it is. We do like the chrome finish around the edges of the phone, and it’s not a ‘in your face’ chrome finish. Most of the front panel is covered by a single glass panel, on which the screen rests as well (and it takes up most of the front as well). A single physical home button sits at the bottom with two touch capacitive ‘back’ and ‘option’ buttons exist as well.
The back is a plastic battery cover which feels poor in build quality, but it’s actually quite flexible and could probably take a few drops easily. What’s annoying about the battery cover on the back though is the removal process and the process to replace it on the phone is annoying because the cover is held by a series of small latches that frustrated us while putting the battery cover back on. It seems that the small latches might also cause a single drop to lose the battery cover, at least from what we’ve been told from others. Samsung also saw fit to include a Stylus due the devices large screen (dubbed the S-Pen) and while it was decent to use while writing (it wasn’t 100% accurate), apart from taking screenshots and using it for Draw Something, we hardly saw ourselves using the pen but it’s still a nice addition.
Apart from that, one annoyance we had was the fact that the power button was situated directly opposite the volume rocker, and due to the phone’s large size we were often pressing both buttons at the same time (ie: accidentally pressing the power button when we just wanted to increase the volume). For those wondering how comfortable the phone is to hold in the hands, then the end result is that it’s average. The width of the large screen makes it uncomfortable to hold, but the thinness of the device also helps keep it from slipping out of your hands. Most people who saw the device asked me if it was comfortable in the pocket, and even in jeans the phone wasn’t an issue. Size wise, the device dimensions are 146.9 x 83 x 9.7 mm meaning they’ve managed to thin the Note below 10mm. It is a little hefty though, with the device weighing in at 178 grams, but the size of the device helps even the weight out so it never really feels ‘heavy’ when you’re using it.
As for the specs, you would imagine a device this large would need some pretty decent specs to run the device and it seems Samsung were equal to the task here. A 1.4GHz Dual-Core Exynos processor keeps the phone purring away, and it also comes with 1GB Ram, storage comes in either 16 or 32GB, with an expandable memory slot, and a massive 2,500 mAh battery keeps it running. The camera on the back is a 8 megapixel shooter with single LED flash, and a decent 2 megapixel front facing camera helps with video calls. As for the screen, a massive 5.3-inch Super AMOLED HD screen with a 1280 x 800 resolution (PPI of 284) manages to draw in everyone.
The Galaxy Note’s screen is ridiculously nice to look at and it’s almost as if Samsung have managed to cram a Tablet’s screen into this device. The HD Super AMOLED Screen is one of the nicest screen’s we’ve seen and when you switch it to dynamic mode, the screen becomes very eye poping (though the gamma and colors might be a little washed out). With a 5.3-inch screen, Samsung would have needed a 1280 x 800 resolution to make sure the Galaxy Note was nice to look at, and they’ve done it really well. The colors are bright and vivid, and while the colors don’t look as natural as on the HTC One X’s screen, the AMOLED screen really rocks those deep blacks for the Note. This is a screen we were extremely happy with, and watching videos on this large screen with that good resolution was a real treat. Think of it as carrying around a mini tablet with you, without the added weight or size. For those of you wondering, yes this phone has a Pentile Display meaning you might be able to see pixels and other colors in a worse light, but luckily that’s not a problem on this display.
To give you an idea of the screen differences, the HTC One X is the phone on the top (with a Super LCD2 screen) and the Note is the screen below. Colors look much more vivid on the Note, though a little less natural when compared to the One X. However, the Note can slightly oversaturate pictures, depending on the amount of colors in it, but it’s hardly noticeable.
As you can see in the picture above, the Fire image displays the difference between the two screens when it comes to blacks. The blacks are so deep that you can almost not make out the screen and it looks like an actual fire where as the One X’s LCD display is pretty bad at blacks and you can see some back light bleeding and not-so-deep blacks. In this regard, the Note outshines the One X thanks to it’s screen easily.
So overall, a very good screen for a very large screen. Something that has made us like using the Galaxy Note more than we though we actually would. In fact, we’ve never been asked so many different questions about a phone or had a phone noticed so much since my old Armani phone and that was a bit of a surprise. I guess the big screen really caused people to be drawn to the phone, and while most probably won’t end up getting it – They were still impressed with the overall size of the device.
The quality of the Camera has become a very important feature in today’s smartphones and the Note (thankfully) has a decent camera. In fact, it’s almost identical to the camera found on the Galaxy S II, which was a good camera phone when it was released last year. Should Samsung have put more effort into a Phone that launched nearly 1 year after the S II? Probably, but the quality still holds decently and the Note takes pictures extremely quickly. The one gripe we have with any phone which doesn’t have a designated camera button such as the Note is that we don’t exactly trust the on screen autofocus feature. However given the enormous size of the device we don’t think Samsung wanted to add an extra button for the camera here (they rarely do on their phones as it is).
The Camera app has Samsung’s own custom look to it, but it’s fairly basic and easy to get into even if you’ve never seen it before. Camera shots can be as quick as a split second, but night time shots may take a bit longer as expected. Low light situations can result in some grainy and noisy shots, because there are certain times where it’s a dark scene but the camera doesn’t feel it is dark enough to let off the flash. A bit of manual fiddling can fix this, but the noise and graininess of the image do remain. Take a look as some shots from below.
So as you can see, color reproduction is generally good and the amount of detail captured within the image is decent. However, you can still see noise and grainyness in some images, owing obviously to the fact that the sensor struggles a little bit in low light situations. Still, click on the images and you can see that in good light situations, the camera does admirable job.
Below, we have our standard comparison test where we take the same shots in the same light conditions versus another phone to compare sensors. In the test below, we’ll be comparing the Samsung Galaxy Note (top row, 8 megapixel camera) versus the Sony Xperia S (bottom row, 12 megapixel camera).
As you can see, the Galaxy Note performs admirably in High Light (strong light) situations against the better Xperia S, however once the light goes down, the Xperia S takes a clear lead with better color reproduction. Low Light Situations show that while the Note has more natural colors by a long shot, the actual fact is that the Xperia S sensor is much better and looks nicer. Lot’s of grain with the Galaxy Note in low light shots as well, in a big area.
Performance was an interesting part of the phone, because as you all know the Note is powered by a 14.GHz Dual Core Exynos processor that’s meant to be very quick. However, on the other hand the Note hasn’t exactly been upgraded to Android 4.0 (ie: Ice Cream Sandwitch) and Gingerbread is a rather cumbersome OS version which tends to require more power than essential, and it’s no exception in the Note. While the Galaxy Note is generally speedy and you get through day to day activties easily, there seems to be considerable lag in First party apps. For instance, after snapping off a few photo’s on the Note you then click to view them all on the Gallery, this process could take a good few seconds as the Note grinds to a halt on a black loading screen. It’s quite disappointing because Samsung’s Exynos processors are generally very speedy (in comparison to Snapdragon processors at least).
Still, apart from those small issues the Note is lag free (in general). In comparing app opening times, games like Angry Birds opened on the Note probably half a second faster than a Single core 1GHz Windows Phone, but that may be up more to the app than the Performance. The ICS update can’t come soon enough, though we think ICS for TouchWiz looks incredibly ugly.
So as usual, we’ve run down some similar benchmarks and we’ll compare the scores to the Sony Xperia S because they are both similar Dual Core devices (as compared to the HTC One X which is Quad-core). As usual, all our benchmark scores below are stock (meaning the phone has not been modified, sped up, or Over Clocked in any way).
In Quadrant, the Galaxy Note performed really well with a score of 3719, well above the Galaxy Tab. Of course, it completely trumps the Xperia S in this test, which scored a 3048. To keep reality in check, the HTC One X scored an impressive 4700 in this test.
In AnTuTu, the Galaxy Note did a respectable 6472 in the test (which is on par with other Galaxy Note devices are you can see), and slightly above the SII. In this test however, the Xperia S gained a win with a score of 6585, showing that a newer processor and device to be slightly faster in this test.
In NenaMark, the Galaxy Note scored a 36.5, a score far below an older Galaxy S II, which was disappointing but we suppose the device was bigger so it might have received a lower score due to more parts being needed to power. Comparatively, the Sony Xperia S got a score of 37.6, meaning it once again managed to upstart the bigger Note.
So overall, the Samsung Galaxy Note didn’t really perform as well as we would have hoped, especially when compared to the Xperia S which beat it in 3/4 scores here. The thing to remember is that the Note is still a great device and has it’s own performance strengths.
We also wanted to give consideration the the phone’s HSDPA (speeds up to 21mb/s) data connectivity. Generally, this was the fastest phones we’ve had in terms of internet speed, with speeds constantly touching 8mb/s, and occasionally even hitting 9mb/s. The HTC One X never went above 7mb/s, both on the same network, same time and same HSDPA connectivity so well done Samsung for tweaking something in here for the better. All tests were done on Telstra’s Next G network in Australia outside of the CBD.
The Samsung Galaxy Note uses Samsung’s Android skin, dubbed TouchWiz which is fast and snappy throughout (minus the occasional stutters we discussed in Performance). But overall we think it’s dull and it looks boring. Despite our grievances with HTC Sense, we thought it was very pretty and even the Sony Xperia S had a great skin, but Samsung have generally had the most boring skin of them all. To us, while it performed well in tasks, we didn’t feel the skin was sensitive enough – starting from the Home screen Lock (which took us a couple of swipes to unlock sometimes). When you look at this skin, and compare it to the Stock Google Ice Cream Sandwich skin, you can really tell Samsung have been going at this the wrong way (though they fail to understand that at this time).
The one thing we did like about the Note’s Software was the fact it had great cute little sounds all throughtout the phone, to inform you of different notifications straight out of the box. In the 1 month+ we had this phone, we never changed any tone except the ringtone. The Note also offers the enticing option of 5.1 surround sound when you connect a 5.1 surround capable headphone to the device, and the sound is slightly better too (this can be done in music and in videos).
Receiving calls is nice though, as you are greeted with a nice visual of your friend on the large screen. Button layouts are massive and we’ve never ever found ourselves pressing the wrong on screen buttons (keyboard being the exception, where we used Swype which we found ended up being very annoying).
The Samsung Galaxy Note also comes with it’s own additional Android features, such as Social Hub (a feed of all your social networks), a few apps made specifically for the S-Pen in mind such as Crayon Physics and S Maemo. It also comes with Voice Talk, which is like a very very early version of S Voice, which will be on the Samsung Galaxy S III. Unfortunately it’s rather lacklustre and extremely slow (but is easily accessible by double tapping the home button). So overall, some decent additions, and Gingerbread is taken to the limit but overall – ICS is needed pronto.
The Galaxy Note might have a massive screen, but it’s also got a generous 2,500mAh battery which keeps it going well throughout the day. Generally, we like testing out phones on max brightness so we can really see how they do for a minimum period of time. Safe to say, we were generally impressed by the battery and simply setting it to low battery settings could make the battery last much longer (as expected).
So as you can see, despite it being full brightness, with 3G and wi-fi on, the Galaxy Note was generally quite good at conserving battery thanks to it’s big battery. Could it have been better? Of course, but it did the job for such a large screen. Of course, the usual video watching did manage to drain the battery even further but that’s something we expected from this kind of phone.