Samsung Note – Mobile Phone Review

Until recently I’ve been using the Motorola Milestone (or Droid); an Android based phone but one which is a couple of years old now. The main reason for choosing the Milestone was the slide out keyboard which was big enough to use, but which didn’t impinge on the screen area available.

With the Note, Samsung have taken a different direction – make the screen really big! The 1280×700 5.3″ AMOLED screen is glorious. More a smallish tablet than a phone, it does look pretty ridiculous held to your ear; but it works well with a Bluetooth earpiece or using the built in speakerphone.

I never seem to get more than one day out of the batteries in any device. While the Note is a lot better the Milestone, (I can leave the WiFi enabled for example!) it still often requires charging before the end of the day.

Samsung Note

Samsung Note with iPhone

The processor is powerful enough to make the user interface satisfyingly immediate and smooth. It can for example browse the bbc news pages while Spotify plays Talking Heads on a stereo Bluetooth headset.

The phone is currently running Android 2.3.6 (Gingerbread) but an update to 4 (ice cream sandwich) has been promised. Gingerbread seems fine; there is still the occasional glitch, but fewer than previous versions. The phone has become locked up on a few occasions, necessitating the removal of the battery.

In another departure from the norm, the Note has a stylus for more precise input. Instead of typing with fingers directly onto the screen the stylus allows you to tap accurately or write directly onto the screen. The text recognition Software is pretty good at handling my scrawl and some challenging words. However it’s not as fast as I can achieve thumb typing. And one annoyance with this is a little button on the side of the stylus which can be used for various things, but which I keep hitting accidentally interrupting my writing.

The Samsung customisations are unobtrusive. There’s a social hub that can collect multiple email accounts as well as text messages and your friends Facebook updates and a custom app for use taking notes with the Stylus. The S Memo app is nice enough but didn’t seem that different to a number of other note taking apps I’ve tried.

I’m not a big fan of smartphone cameras and the size of the note certainly makes it a bit unwieldy.  However, the Android software presents a comprehensive set of features for those who want to fine tune their shots and the large screen gives a very good impression of the shot you are going to get.  Video recording includes 1080i (1920×1080) and seems at least as good as anything else.

iPhone Camera Photograph

iPhone 4 Camera Photograph

Samsung Note Camera Photograph

Samsung Note Camera Photograph

I would have liked a finger print reader, as entering a complex password is a but fiddly. I have been looking at a facial recognition app which uses the user facing camera to compare your face with a set of pre-saved images. This is quiet good and adequately fast most of the time but it doesn’t handle changes of lighting very well. A version of this app is apparently going to be included in Android 4.

To comply with the security policies required by the Exchange Email Server (and the Data Protection Act) I have to enter a complex password each time I return to the phone – this is without doubt an annoyance.  I have started looking at a 3rd party app to add a feature that is meant to be introduced in the next version of Android (Ice Cream Sandwich); face recognition based security.  This worked quite well but the app didn’t integrate very well.

Exchange ActiveSynch Calendar replication works pretty seamlessly.  The note comes with a desktop Widget which, because of the large screen, can actually display a month view which is useable.  In the full month view you only get a couple of lines per day, and only about 10 characters visible, but tap on a day and you jump straight to a full screen itinerary.

But all in all, my initial reaction is close to bliss. The Note is not perfect and wouldn’t be the right choice for a lot of people – which is why I’m so pleased Samsung made something so close to my imaginings.