Galaxy Note Review Part 1: Hardware
The Samsung Galaxy Note is a love or hate affair and that stems from one part of it mostly, the size. Coming with a screen size of 5.3″ the Note is definately having an identity crisis. Phone Or tablet? I call it a PhoTab since I have found it is really a balance of the two. The large display is not just famous for it size, it is also known for being one of the first 720p HD displays on a mobile device. The only flaw of the display, for some, is that it makes use of the PenTile matrix pixel arrangement. First seen on phones like the Nexus One and HTC Desire, PenTile built up a bad reputation . However this is probably one display that you are least likely to notice the features of Pentile( jagged edge fonts and green tinges) than any other. This is mostly due to the HD resolution.In fact Android Modder and VooDoo maker Supercurio has said that with some tweaking the Note could have an even better display, it remains to be seen whether he develops the tweak for this but even in its current form the Display will satisfy all but the most sharp eyed users.
Keeping the focus on the screen there is also another unique feature on the Note , being that it is equipped with what Samsung calls a S-Pen, their name for a stylus which has surprisingly caught on! Now you may be doubting the Note already wondering why it would need a S-Pen. The truth is it doesn’t need it like our old resistive mobiles of the past. In this case the stylus is paired to a pressure sensitive WACOM digitiser , what this results in is some accurate rendering and great response times.
In terms of Physical Appearance Samsung have stuck to the popular design used in their flagship Galaxy S II . The Noticable differences on the outside being:
1. The Front camera and sensors are on the right instead of the left
2. The Home Button is smaller and more rectangular in shape
3.A more pronounced Bezel
4.On the Rear, there is No longer the signature Bump at the bottom, but keeps the textured feel on the rear.
5.The Camera on the Note has no Surround, it instead it is level with the rear cover.
6.Where in the Galaxy S II the Speaker grill was flat, Samsung have now made a bump on the Note .
7.The Note also has a great slot made for the Stylus to slip into, which works surprisingly well.
8.Also worth mentioning is that the Note has a full side Gunmetal bezel compared to the half side on the Galaxy S II
Samsung have definately changed something in their home buttons, I find that compared to the Galaxy S II the home button on the Note has a much better feel when in use and actually makes a big difference in your experience of the device.
On the Camera change, the lack of large camera surround comes with advantages and disadvantages in that while the phone will lay flat on its back now it also leaves the camera vulnerable.Luckily Samsung have made a small step to stop this as they included a sticker around the lens. In terms of performance the Camera is similar to that of the Galaxy S II as they seem to use the same sensor,this means that while stills may seem over saturated on the phone display , when viewed on PC they are more natural. Flash performance is good, but the single LED is still in no Xenon league as can be expected. One downside is that this also means that when recording 1080p video the Note also seems to crop the field of view as the Galaxy S II does. Even with some negatives, overall the Notes 8Mp shooter is a great unit, paired with a good camera interface that is feature packed and customisable.
The change to the speaker grill is a small but welcome change, there has been many times when my speaker on the Galaxy S II was muffled due to it being flat on a surface where as with the Note the small bump insures that there will be some space for the sound to escape.However I still find that the speaker performance of the Note is just on par , which is not what you expect from a device of this kind. On the Headphone side the Note ships with In-ear headphones that unlike the Galaxy S II come with volume control buttons which come in handy.
The Stylus fits well into its slot at the bottom of the Note and to date I have not had any incidents where the stylus has slipped out which is very important, the last thing you want is to have to buy a replacement stylus which would end up putting quite a hole in your pocket. A small touch that enhances the look of the Note is that the stylus also matches the Bezel, its the small things that count and this is one that I noticed.
Moving to the Insides , we find that the removable battery in the Note is quite a mammoth for a device this size at 2500Mah, some of which is negated by the large display which will sap quite alot of power with all those pixels.I found Battery performance to be Good to average, depending on the use of the device with browsing being a major battery killer. The best performance is during media playback, with the great display you may want to watch movies on your device and the Note will not disappoint in that way.
Under the Hood of the Note we find the Samsung Exynos Dual Core Processor , the same that is found in the Galaxy S II but clocked slightly higher here at 1.4Ghz. The GPU remains the same Mali-400MP unit , and while it has many more pixels to push out it does not disappoint with Games like Shadow Gun and Grand Theft Auto 3 running smoothly and looking good even when played on a Full HD TV. Performance is great with the CPU and GPU combo easily making the Software run smooth .One slight issue carried over from the Galaxy S II is that under long durations of gaming you can feel a slight heating on the back cover however this is much much less than on the Galaxy S II and only shown in extreme conditions. The standard 1GB ram is present and so you shouldn’t be plagued by any memory problems.
All the usual connectivity is present in WiFi and Bluetooth, however the increasingly popular NFC is missing. This particularly interesting as the US Galaxy Note announced recently at CES actually includes NFC. In terms of Physically connectivity there is a Micro-Usb port with MHL enabled so that with the correct adapter the Note can be used in USB Host mode ,similar to the N8, as well as for Full HD mirroring via HDMI. The adapters needed are not supplied sadly, but generic options available are sold at many retailers as well as online.
When it comes to handling the device, the effect of the large display shows. While even with my smaller hands I can hold the Note and operate it to some degree, I can not operate it fully. If you are the person who only uses phones with one hand all the time you may struggle slightly with the Note. When looking at the feel of the phone, the Note feels great even though it isn’t as thin as the Galaxy S II , partly due to the textured rear, partly due to the materials on the front of the Note.
So does the Note do great hardware? In a Nut shell , yes it does awesome hardware. We could wish all day and all night the materials used were steal or a different plastic, but the fact is that even though the Note misses those matertials it still manages to be a great device! Please look out for our Gallery post coming with picture comparisons of the Note, Galaxy SII and Galaxy Tab P1000.