The Galaxy Note has roughly the shape and dimensions of a flattened black Pop Tart. It is bigger than your cat's face. It has been suggested, by a pair of Internet pranksters, that the Note could be used in a pinch as a basketball backboard, a bedside lamp or a surfboard. I would add to that list: bulletproof vest, replacement microwave door, makeshift air hockey tabletop and portable runway for small aircrafts making emergency landings.
Yes, it's fun (and easy!) to mock the Galaxy Note's enormity. Though Samsung is publicly pushing the gargantuan Note as an Android smartphone, it is often referred to in the tech press as a phablet: half-Android-phone, half-Android-tablet, all-humongoid mobile Android device, complete with stylus. The display is precisely 5.3-inches diagonal: Think of it as almost exactly halfway in between the 3.5-inch iPhone and the 7-inch Kindle Fire or BlackBerry PlayBook, and you've got your Galaxy Note.
So, yes, the Galaxy Note is one huge phone, probably the biggest smartphone you've ever laid eyes on. But is it worth its $299 asking price? To find out, let us attempt to answer the question posed by an old poet (I believe it is Eliot? Or perhaps Spenser): Is it the size of the boat, or the motion in the ocean?
The iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy Note, dancing side-by-side.
WHAT WOULD A FANBOY SAY IS THE BEST THING ABOUT THE GALAXY NOTE?
"Size matters. Name one thing you do on your phone that doesn't immediately become easier on a larger screen. It doesn't matter who owns the patent on pinch-to-zoom -- I'll never have to zoom again with this baby. Watching movies, reading books, looking at websites, sending text messages, writing emails, checking in on Foursquare -- all of this stuff is much, much easier to do when you're not cramping your thumbs together to get at a tiny keyboard or some ridiculously small icon or link on a webpage. Ever heard of the Fat Fingers problem for smartphones? My fingers could be the size of double-stuffed Cheez Doodles and I'd still be able to use this thing with 99 percent accuracy.
"Also, speaking of doodles: Check out my stylus. Jealous? Look, but don't touch, friend-o. I can draw doodles, take real notes, scribble genitalia on almost anything. Try to do that with your phone: You can't, because you don't have a digital pen. The stylus was cool and then it wasn't and now it's cool again -- My S-Pen is like the Electric Light Orchestra of smartphone accessories."
"And do you know what won't bring you down, Bruce? The display. So bright! So colorful! So wonderfully dazzling and vivid is every image on the Note -- especially each illustration and animation coming from the MS Paint-like Memo app -- AND all on that 5.3-inch screen! What is not to love, I ask you? What could you possibly not love about this phone?"
WHAT WOULD A H8R (HATER) SAY IS THE WORST THING ABOUT THIS PHONE?
"Hey, newsflash, this is Christiane Amanpour with an exclusive report from in front of your face: You look like an idiot. Do you have any idea how silly you look holding that thing up to your ear? Do you really need a phone that can only be held in one hand by people who can also palm a fully-inflated basketball? Do you realize how silly that looks in your pocket? It looks like you shoved an uneaten s'more down your pants.
"Nah, I'm just kidding -- there are benefits of having such an unwieldy, unnecessarily ginormous phone. At least now when you're driving to work you can put it in the passenger seat and take the carpool lane."
From left to right: The Kindle Fire tablet, The Samsung Galaxy Note phablet, and The iPhone 4S smartphone
SO, WHO IS RIGHT: THE FANBOYS OR THE H8RS?
I have to side with the H8Rs, but not for the reasons you might think.
I do not side with the H8Rs because of the battery life: The battery life, despite the phone featuring a huge Super HD AMOLED screen and power-sucking 4G LTE, was surprisingly solid. With 4G turned on, the battery lasts from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. without a charge (and then some) quite easily, and compares quite favorably with competing (much smaller) smartphones; the Galaxy Note clearly inherited its battery life genes from the tablet side of the family.
Nor do I side with the H8Rs because of the phone's weight: Most people immediately assume, when they see the Galaxy Note, that it must weigh as much as an anchor: It simply does not. It's about an ounce and a half heavier than the iPhone 4S: The difference is really negligible. In fact, the Galaxy Note feels practically feathery in your hand and/or hands.
And finally: It's not even the Galaxy Note's elephantine size that ruins it for me. (Perhaps it is because I'm either stationary, reclining, or outright recumbent for such a huge majority of my days, using my phone while sitting at a desk or lying on a couch.) For most of my time with the Note, a 5.3-inch phablet meant easier typing, easier-to-read webpages, and easier-to-watch videos. Returning to my iPhone, and even my Galaxy Nexus, was frustrating after a week with the Note.
(Yes, there were times -- especially out on the town -- when I was self-conscious about pulling what must have appeared to be a gigantic glowing Bible from my pocket. If you own the Note, prepare for everyone to stare slack-jawed at your phone when they see it for the first time. Yes, you do look ridiculous when talking on it; frankly, I'm not much of a talker, so this was never an issue.)
The Galaxy Note, a smartphone that, at the very least, will never be confused for any other phone.
No, it was not the size, nor the weight, nor the battery drainage. No, no, and no. It's not even the awful pre-loaded AT&T/Samsung flavor of Android Gingerbread that comes standard with the Note, which ships with a default SEVEN homescreens and far too many bloated, pre-loaded apps. (Do we really need AllShare, AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T Family Map, AT&T Messages, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Ready2Go, Kies Air, Live TV, Media Hub, myAT&T, Polaris Office, Qik Lite, AND a YellowPages search bar widget taking up space when we take a pristine phone out of its box? Does anyone use these things?)
Rather, what disappointed me about the Galaxy Note was the surprising, almost counterintuitive lag of the touchscreen. The Galaxy Note suffers from a noticeable touchscreen responsiveness problem, a pause from when you touch an icon or a link, or press your fingers down on the keyboard, or run the stylus over the screen. (CNET also noted a "delayed response.") This lag is counterintuitive, of course, because Samsung touts the Galaxy Note as a jotter, a scribbler, a note-taker, an artist's easel -- all of which it struggles at.
Now, I never really found any occasion to use the stylus or any of the built-in apps offered for jotting or scribbling or note-taking, but touching the screen with the stylus or my fingers was always disappointing. There are much smoother, lag-free options for smartphones out there, from Apple's iPhone to Nokia's Windows Phone; heck, even Samsung itself makes a very responsive smartphone called the Galaxy Nexus (which also, I might add, is mercifully free of the bloat-y apps mentioned above).
I don't know what is causing this lag (The processor is dual-core 1.4 GHz, which should be up to the task). Amazon managed to fix the loudly bemoaned touchscreen responsiveness issues on its Kindle Fire with an OS update about a month after initial release, and hopefully Samsung will be able to, too. Until it does, I cannot with any conviction recommend the Note to anyone -- even those who have been exceptionally well-endowed with large hands, those who find their iPhones getting lost in the folds of their palm fat, and those who find themselves squinting at their screens even with the font enlarged as far as it can go.
There is a niche market that a phone of this size seems destined to find: Smartphone users with large pockets -- or, as was suggested to me by a Samsung spokeswoman, a pocketbook or handbag -- who don't want to carry around both a tablet and a phone could fall in love with a slim phablet with a beautiful display like the Note. Until Samsung can deliver a simplified, speedier experience for these users, however, the massive Galaxy Note comes up a wee bit short.
THE CAPTAIN GADGET FACT SHEET FOR THE SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE
Carrier & Cost: AT&T, $299 with two-year contract
Display: 5.3-inch, Super AMOLED
Weight: 6.28 ounces
Wait: This thing is really big.
Dimensions: 5.78 x 3.27 x 0.38 inches
Types of Pants It Will Fit In: Carpenter, Cargo, MC Hammer
Operating System: Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread
Operating Table?: Could serve as one in pinch
Network: 4G LTE
Battery Life (stated): 26 hours talk time, 40 days stand-by
Fun Thing You Can Do If The Battery Dies: Hollow out the center of the Note and use the Note's shell as a coffin
CPU: 1.4 GHz dual-core
Memory: 1GB RAM
Storage: 16 or 32GB internal; MicroSD card slot allows for 32GB additional storage
Additional Storage : I was able to stack about 800 Nacho chips, including cheese and salsa, on the Note's surface
Camera: 8MP rear-facing with flash; front-facing 2MP
Noise Most People Will Make When You Pull It Out Of Your Pocket For The First Time: HAHAHAHAHA
Special Feature: "S-Pen" stylus for note-taking, doodling, drawing genitals on things
Phone It Is, To Samsung's Credit, Absolutely Nothing Like: The iPhone