Samsung Galaxy Note - Oversized Phone?

Launch SRP: S$998

Overview and Design

The Bigger the Better?

Before the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy Note, the Dell Streak had the honor of having the largest display (5-inches) on a smartphone. It was certainly an oddball among the emerging group of smartphones that begun sporting screen sizes ranging from 3.7 to 4.3 inches. Unfortunately, the Dell Streak failed to garner the interest of mainstream consumers and was subsequently discontinued earlier this year. One likely reason for its failure to gain traction in the market include its "neither here nor there" identity, bouncing between the likes of a smartphone and a tablet.

The 5-inch Dell Streak is the first smartphone to suffer from a split personality. It is a smartphone functioning like a tablet. Image Source: Dell Singapore

A look back at the past 11 months of 2011 will tell us one thing - consumers are increasingly receptive to owning super phones, which are smartphones with display sizes of at least 4-inches and processors with minimum clock speeds of 1GHz. The Samsung Galaxy S II is one good example, with all units selling out after its first weekend retail launch. Phone makers are also not shy about increasing their screen sizes on their mobile devices, with the HTC Sensation XL leading the charge into the market first with its 4.7-inch display. So the crucial question is: will the Samsung Galaxy Note be more successful than the Dell Streak considering a different market mindset today? To start off, here's a quick look at the key highlights of the Galaxy Note: 

 Samsung Galaxy Note

  Key highlights of the Samsung Galaxy Note

  • Google Android Gingerbread 2.3.5
  • 1.4GHz dual-core processor
  • 5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED 
  • 1GB RAM
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n + Bluetooth 3.0 + HS 
  • 8-megapixel rear camera with LED flash + 2.0-megapixel front facing camera 
  • 16/32GB + microSD (up to 32GB)
  • 2500mAh battery
  • 178g
  • 146.85 x 82.95 x 9.65mm
  • Price and Availability: S$998 inclusive of GST (without contract) at all three telcos


Jumbo Phone

The Samsung Galaxy Note is obviously not your ordinary smartphone and we would not blame anyone if they mistook the Galaxy Note for a tablet. Never has a smartphone come so close to matching a tablet in terms of physical dimensions, especially the seven-inch tablets. 

Is the Samsung Galaxy Note a phone or a tablet wannabe? You decide.

Samsung ups the ante on its competitors (HTC Sensation XL with 4.7-inch S-LCD display and Motorola Razr with 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Advanced display) with the mammoth 5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED display on its Galaxy Note.

Above the top right corner of the front of the Samsung Galaxy Note are the ambient light sensor, proximity sensor and 2MP front-facing camera.

The volume control button resides on the left side of the Samsung Galaxy Note. Thankfully, it is slightly raised for an easier feel. Notice the metal frame running along the sides of the phone.

A 3.5mm audio output jack sits on top of the Samsung Galaxy Note.

Similar to the Samsung Galaxy S II, the Power button is located on the right side of the Galaxy Note. The Power button has a good feel although it would have been better if Samsung made the button longer.

At the bottom, you can find the micro-USB port (center) and a slot for the S Pen (right). We will go into more details on the S Pen in our next section.

It's amazing that Samsung trimmed down the Galaxy Note (bottom) to a mere 9.7mm thin profile, which is a hairline thinner than 9.9mm HTC Sensation XL (middle). The Motorola Razr (top) still retains the title as the slimmest smartphone to date at 7.1mm (at its thinnest point).

The Samsung Galaxy Note has a textured back that feels similar to the Samsung Galaxy S II. The S-Pen slot houses the pen securely in place and it takes some effort to pull out. On a positive note, this will minimize the chances of the S Pen slipping out.

Although we had no problems removing the back cover, we found it to be  a little too thin and flimsy for our liking. It felt as though you can accidentally break it if too much force is applied to it. Underneath the back cover is the 2500mAh battery, microSD and SIM card slots. A pity that you have to remove the battery each time you need to take out the cards.


Handling - A Very Tricky Situation 

As phone makers continue to unveil devices with larger screen sizes (and bigger form factors), it is inevitable that the usability (and the handling) aspect will be a major factor for consumers to consider. Here's a table comparing the dimensions, screen sizes and weight of the current crop of top smartphones:  

Specifications Samsung Galaxy Note HTC Sensation XL Motorola RAZR Apple iPhone 4S
  •  5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED Display
  • 4.7-inch S-LCD Display
  • 4-3-inch, Super AMOLED Advanced Display
  • 3.5-inch TFT capacitive IPS touchscreen 
  • 146.85 x 82.95 x 9.65mm
  • 132.5 x 70.7 x 9.9mm
  •  131 x 69 x 7.1mm
  •  115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3mm
  •  178g
  • 162.5g
  •  127g
  •  140g

We testing the usability and handling of the Samsung Galaxy Note much in the same way as we did for the HTC Sensation XL.

Starting from the far left picture to the far right:

  • If you have smaller hands, you are more likely to avoid the Samsung Galaxy Note. Even with our medium-built hands, we felt that the Galaxy Note was a little overwhelming.
  • Due to the massive screen, it is impossible for us to stretch our thumb across the screen to access the last column of apps.
  • We attempted to reach for the app on the top right corner and failed too.
  • The bottom row corner and task bar shortcuts eluded our fingers as well. 

From the practical tests above, the Samsung Galaxy Note is destined to be used with two hands unless you have a pair of really huge hands (or long thumbs) to span across the wide screen. For the average consumer, the usability and handling aspects of the Galaxy Note will get demerit points. When you take into consideration Apple's decision to retain the 3.5-inch display on the iPhone 4S, it makes some, if not total sense. According to designer Dustin Curtis, the 3.5-inch display of the Apple iPhone is the most ideal size for an optimal touchscreen experience. The HTC Sensation XL on the other hand, was manageable as we could stretch our fingers across the screen. Due to the Note's sleek 9.7mm profile, we had no problems slipping it into the forward and rear jeans pockets.

Overall rating 8.5/10
Read 2 Reviews
Write a Review
The Good
Beautiful HD Super AMOLED display
Excellent battery life
Solid performance
Good implementation of S Pen
The Bad
Size may be too overwhelming for some
Flimsy battery cover