Samsung Galaxy Note preview: First look

GSMArena team, 30 September 2011.
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Samsung Galaxy Note 360-degree spin

The Samsung Galaxy Note measures 146.9 x 83 x 9.7 mm and weighs 178g. That puts it halfway between a phone and a tablet in terms of size, but it's surprisingly light.

Design and display

The Samsung Galaxy Note has a 5.3" SuperAMOLED screen of WXGA (1280x800) resolution. That's 16:10 aspect ratio, which is close enough to the HD aspect (16:9) to fit videos just right but it's a bit wider, which comes in use when browsing the web.

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Screen size comparison: Galaxy S II vs. Galaxy Note

SuperAMOLED offers great contrast (theoretically infinite), saturated, lively colors and 180-degree viewing angles. It's not a 'Plus' model, which means it uses PenTile (2 subpixels instead of 3 per each pixel). But the very high pixel density - 285ppi - puts pixels so near the edge of human vision that you have to stare closely to barely make out the PenTile grid.

For comparison, the Galaxy Tab 7.7 display has 196ppi, the Galaxy S II has 217ppi, HTC Sensation XE - 256ppi and the iPhone 4 offers 326ppi.

Samsung Galaxy Note Preview
The 5.3" SuperAMOLED of the Galaxy Note is impressive

We took some close-up shots of the screen of the Galaxy Note along with the Galaxy S II and iPhone 4 to illustrate the difference. The photos are shot at the same magnification, so you get an idea of how the different pixel densities affects the amount of fine detail in the visible image.

You can see the PenTile matrix of the Galaxy Note, but its pixels are closer in size to those of the iPhone 4 than those of the Galaxy S II so the "grid" look typical of PenTile is practically invisible on the Note's screen.


Close up shots of the

Plus, users will typically hold the bigger screen farther from their eyes, which increases the perceived pixel density further.

We mentioned that the theoretical contrast is infinite - that's because black pixels are completely switched off (that is, they give off zero light). In practice, reflections limit that to a finite number, but it's usually several thousands, well above any display that uses a backlight.

Samsung have gone through a lot of effort to make their SuperAMOLED technology as non-reflective as possible and they've done a pretty good job of it. Outdoor viewing is good, but there's another problem, brightness.

The 5.3" screen on our test Samsung Galaxy Note is rather dim. We don't have a retail version, so it might be a pre-production issue that will be fixed. This is probably the case, since we didn’t have this problem with the bigger, 7.7" SuperAMOLED on the Galaxy Tab 7.7.

We won't be doing brightness measurements this time around, we'll wait for the retail units to come out and include the results in our review.

The rest of the body

The Samsung Galaxy Note uses portrait orientation by default and packs practically the same set of controls as the Galaxy S II. This is a Gingerbread device, not Honeycomb like the Tab 7.7, so that's no surprise.

Above the screen you have the proximity and ambient light sensors, along with the 2MP front-facing camera. On the other side of the screen is the hardware Home button plus the capacitive Menu and Back keys on its side.

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The usual set of sensors above the screen and the hardware controls below it

There's an earpiece on top and a mouthpiece at the bottom, so you can use the Galaxy Note as a phone. Holding it with one hand is not particularly comfortable but we'll get back to that in a minute.

At the bottom, next to the mouthpiece is the standard microUSB port (hooray!), which leaves a quadruple life - it's a data and charging port, TV out port too (via MHL) and supports USB On-The-Go.

The bottom is also where the S Pen lives, - that's what Samsung calls the active stylus of the Galaxy Note.

On top of the device, there's just the 3.5mm audio jack and another microphone.

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Mic pinhole microUSB port and S Pen at the bottom • 3.5mm audio jack and another microphone on top

The sides of the Samsung Galaxy Note are pretty barren - there's a volume rocker on the left and a Power/Lock key on the right and that's it. They are thin and barely protrude, so they're not the easiest buttons to press, but it's not a major problem either.

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Volume rocker on the left • Power/Lock key on the right

We complete our hardware inspection at the back where we find the 8MP 1080p-video-capturing camera accompanied by an LED flash. The back also houses the single loudspeaker of the Galaxy Note.

We have the usual complaint here: the camera lens is not protected from scratches and fingerprint smudges and the loudspeaker gets muffled when you place the Note on a level surface. But most manufacturers seem to ignore such issues more often than not.

The back cover is made of finely textured plastic (very similar to that of the Galaxy S II), which is nice to the touch and great at hiding fingerprints. You can see the back of the Note compared to the back of the Galaxy S II and how the two stack up size-wise.

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Size comparison: Galaxy Note vs. Galaxy S II and Samsung Galaxy Note vs. BlackBerry PlayBook

Popping the back cover open reveals the 2,500 mAh battery. Samsung are mum on the battery time.

Also here is the SIM compartment, next to the microSD card slot, neither of which are hot-swappable as they're blocked by the battery. How Samsung could put the microSD card slot there on such a huge device is beyond us. They have more than enough room to put the slot in a more convenient location.

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The 8MP sharpshooter and the loudspeaker at the back • 2,500 mAh battery under the cover

The Galaxy Note is a monster compared to regular phones - but then again, it's not exactly a phone. It's thin (9.7mm), light (you wouldn't guess it weighs 178g) and the rounded edges help ergonomics.

But still, one handed use is a problem - your thumb most likely can't reach every point on the screen (certainly not comfortably) and unless you have big hands, you can't easily wrap your fingers around the Note to hold it without fear of dropping. Two-hand thumb typing is absolutely spot on, however.

Pocketability is an issue too - you can certainly slip in into your pocket (the thin frame helps a lot here), but a lot of people won't find that solution acceptable. Still, most coat pockets or purses will find enough room for the Galaxy Note, which is worth having around with all that screen real-estate.

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The Samsung Galaxy Note held in hand

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