Samsung’s Galaxy Note: between smartphone and iPad?

It’s basically an oversized phone you can scribble on–and it may just take off

Remember when the iPad first came out and Apple touted it as the device that would fill the void between smartphone and laptop? The jokes came along pretty quickly about how long it would be till someone tried to squeeze something more into the space between smartphones and tablets.

Well, laugh no more because Samsung is going there.

The South Korean electronics giant is spending a pile of money on a 90-second commercial during Sunday’s Super Bowl to promote its new Galaxy Note, a weird device that launches in Canada on all three big wireless carriers on Feb. 14.

When I first saw the company show off the Note at its Consumer Electronics Show press conference in early January, I snickered, mostly because the person demonstrating it whipped out a stylus. You know, that obsolete relic of a pre-historic age in which touchscreens were unresponsive and needed plastic pointers to work properly?

Regardless, I sat down for a briefing with Samsung Canada executives this week and they tried to sell me on the thing. Firstly, to my relief, the stylus is intended to be purely complementary. The Note features the same responsive touchscreen as any other Android phones; the plastic pointer is completely optional, although if you’re not going to use it, there really isn’t any sense in getting the Note–any other regular smartphone will do.

Samsung decided to bring back the stylus, the execs told me, because humans still haven’t eliminated the need to write and scribble things. The point was not lost on me as I jotted down what was being said in my (paper) notebook. The Note therefore has a number of features that take advantage of this fact. For one, pressing a button on the stylus and then touching the screen with it results in an instant screen grab, which can then be written on right away. This can be done in any application, whether it’s a website, map or video. The grabs are saved as images, which can then be shared with others in a variety of ways, such as email.

Taking a picture, writing on it and then sending it strikes me as a very economical way to communicate–better than typing in many instances. Here are a few examples (the first is a map, the second a YouTube clip):

The Note has other stylus-enabled apps too, including a basic notepad for writing stuff down. You can also open up documents such as PowerPoint presentations, write on them and save them, then send them off. And finally, Samsung is also opening up the stylus function to outside developers, who will be able to create their own apps either through the Android Market or the company’s own sub-store.

Put all that together and the business applications are clear. The one thought that kept occurring to me during the briefing was that this is exactly the sort of thing Research In Motion needs to be incorporating into its next generation of BlackBerry devices. Like many observers, I’m bracing for the worst when RIM’s new phones arrive later this year–the worst being devices that are just like everyone else’s. Samsung’s stylus idea may be kooky, but it works and it may just take off.

The company is also aiming the Note at artists, where the uses are also clear. Check out the sketch that a professional artist did of me during the briefing. (Trust me, I look more handsome in this picture than in real life.)

There’s one big catch with the Note, though: It’s giant. With a 5.3-inch screen, it’s not much smaller than Samsung’s smallest seven-inch tablet. It’s too big to fit into your front pants pocket and I really don’t like putting it in my back pocket, for fear of it falling out or breaking when I sit down. That means it’s intended for an inside coat pocket or purse, which seems to almost aim it at people who wear suits by default.

In the end, Samsung sold me on the stylus, but I’m not so sure about the size. While I can see the productivity benefits to carrying this thing around, I can also see my friends mocking me when I pull out a ginormous phone to make a call. It would be almost as silly as holding an iPad to my ear.

I do have to hand it to Samsung for experimenting. I’ve been wondering for a while now whether smartphones have peaked and/or stagnated–are we just going to see incremental improvements in processors and screen resolutions from now on? It’s good to see someone is still trying new things, regardless of whether they pan out or not.




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Samsung’s Galaxy Note: between smartphone and iPad?

  1. Does it have bluetooth connectability? If so, then there’s no need to pull it out. You can just be a drone with a headset.

    • Exactly. The amount of time I spend with a smartphone up to my ear is dwarfed by the time I spend looking at/working with the screen.

      My next smartphone will be much bigger, and I will continue doing more and more work on it.

      • I can’t even remember the last time I held my smartphone to my ear!

        • So sorry about your memory!

  2. Yes, it has Bluetooth 3.0. And yes, one can use Bluetooth for call.

  3. That is what play book is about! you could carry it in your outside pocket but you don’t need a ginormous phone.

    • The problem I had with the Playbook was the lack of support. I was an early adopter and had no email client and pretty minimal app market. Much happier with Android.

  4. My note fits in my pants pocket just fine

    • It fits fine in my front pant pocket as well as shirt pocket. The review fails to talk about the large vivid screen and under emphasizes how easy it is to toype on. I love my iPad and it will continue to have a place. The note however is really cool and soon people will look at someone using it with envy as opposed to is it not too large.

  5. Your friends will no longer laugh at you when you use it to make calls…it’s so common now in many Asian countries (such as HK, Singapore, Malaysia..) to see people pulling out Note to make calls.

  6. Too much ignorant and opinionated rambling to bear any value as a “review”. “…there really isn’t any sense in getting the Note–any other regular smartphone will do.” Who is paying you?

  7. It’s not really THAT much bigger than the 4.3/4.6 inch smartphones.
     I talk on my phone all the time in public and nobody really notices until I start web browsing or whatever on it.   When you talk, the phone is mostly behind your hand anyway.

  8. I bought my wife a white Galaxy Note in November last year. She still thanks me for that almost 3 month since I bought her!!!

    Yes writing on glass with hard tip is a quite a task, but you need to get used to it. Althought not perfect, my wife is using use Spen(stylus pen) ok. And this is the only downside so far.

    I am trying to get digitizer pen compatible to Galaxy Note available in Amazon or EBay. I have just fond one priced at 15 USD, but, the freight to New Zealand is more than 30usd. I may buy one, but I am also looking at using a screen protector made especially for stylus device. Yes I tried one normal one, it was not a great help. I also used Xtremguard screen protector, but it leaves marks.

    I think this Galaxy Note beats every smartphone on earth !!

  9. I don’t get the whole “being laughed at making a call” with the note. When I got the HTC desire HD I was told I would be laughed at while making calls because of its size. Now, who doesn’t have a 4.3+ inch screen? I see no problems making calls with the Note as soon everyone will be doing it on their bigger phones. I think making a call on a tiny device like an iPhone looks stupid. That’s just me.

  10. Trust me, Mr. Nowak is not nearly as good looking as this depiction. I’ve met him! I even had to live next door to him for a year or so. Now that I have a subscription to Macleans, does this mean I have to listen to him too?

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