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Samsung Note a large, intriguing curiosity

03 Feb

Remember when the iPad first came out and Apple touted it as the device that would fill the void between smartphone and laptop? The jokes came along pretty quickly about how long it would be till someone tried to squeeze something more into the space between smartphones and tablets.

Well, laugh no more because Samsung is going there.

The South Korean electronics giant is spending a pile of money on a 90-second commercial during Sunday’s Super Bowl to promote its new Galaxy Note, a weird device that launches in North America in the middle of February.

When I first saw the company show off the Note at its Consumer Electronics Show press conference in early January, I snickered, mostly because the person demonstrating it whipped out a stylus. You know, that obsolete relic of a pre-historic age in which touchscreens were unresponsive and needed plastic pointers to work properly?

Regardless, I sat down for a briefing with Samsung executives this week and they tried to sell me on the thing. Firstly, to my relief, the stylus is intended to be purely complementary. The Note features the same responsive touchscreen as any other Android phone; the plastic pointer is completely optional, although if you’re not going to use it, there really isn’t any sense in getting the Note. Any other regular smartphone will do.

Samsung decided to bring back the stylus, the execs told me, because humans still haven’t eliminated the need to write and scribble things. The point was not lost on me as I jotted down what was being said in my (paper) notebook. The Note therefore has a number of features that take advantage of this fact. For one, pressing a button on the stylus and then touching the screen with it results in an instant screen grab, which can then be written on right away. This can be done in any application, whether it’s a website, map or video. The grabs are saved as images, which can then be shared with others in a variety of ways, such as email.

Taking a picture, writing on it and then sending it strikes me as a very economical way to communicate – better than typing in many instances. Here are a few examples (the first is a map, the second a YouTube clip):

The Note has other stylus-enabled apps too, including a basic notepad for writing stuff down. You can also open up documents such as PowerPoint presentations, write on them and save them, then send them off. And finally, Samsung is also opening up the stylus function to outside developers, who will be able to create their own apps either through the Android Market or the company’s own sub-store.

Put all that together and the business applications are clear. The one thought that kept occurring to me during the briefing was that this is exactly the sort of thing Research In Motion needs to be incorporating into its next generation of BlackBerry devices. Like many observers, I’m bracing for the worst when RIM’s new phones hit later this year – the worst being devices that are just like everyone else’s. Samsung’s stylus idea may be kooky, but it works and it may just take off.

The company is also aiming the Note at artists, where the uses are also clear. Check out the sketch that a professional artist did of me during the briefing. Trust me, I look more handsome in this picture than in real life:

There’s one big catch with the Note, though: it’s giant. With a 5.3-inch screen, it’s not much smaller than Samsung’s smallest seven-inch tablet. It’s too big to fit into your front pants pocket and I really don’t like putting it in my back pocket, for fear of it falling out or breaking when I sit down. That means it’s intended for an inside coat pocket or purse, which seems to almost aim it at people who wear suits.

In the end, Samsung sold me on the stylus, but I’m not so sure about the size. While I can see the productivity benefits to carrying this thing around, I can also see my friends mocking me when I pull out a ginormous phone to make a call. It would be almost as silly as holding an iPad to my ear.

I do have to hand it to Samsung for experimenting. I’ve been wondering for a while now whether smartphones have peaked and/or stagnated – are we just going to see incremental improvements in processors and screen resolutions from now on? It’s good to see someone is still trying new things, regardless of whether they pan out or not.

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12 Comments

Posted by on February 3, 2012 in mobile, samsung

 

12 responses to “Samsung Note a large, intriguing curiosity

  1. Daniel Friesen

    February 3, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Suit? Trench coats are a perfectly good cool non-business alternative with large pockets and an inner pocket.

     
  2. Hub

    February 3, 2012 at 12:39 am

    I like the map. Foufs? Excellent choix

     
  3. Chris C.

    February 3, 2012 at 2:09 am

    I’m due for a new phone hardware upgrade and will DEFINITELY look this one up when it comes out. Enough with the bauble-sized phones already, give me something I can actually put my hands on and a screen that is large enough for me to see…

    Now let’s hope the screen is as nice as the Galaxy S2’s, but more importantly… That it will be actually affordable!!!

     
    • petenowak2000

      February 3, 2012 at 10:07 am

      The screen is indeed nice. It’s Super AMOLED. Oooooh!

       
  4. Sam I R Davies

    February 3, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Me likey the return of the stylus, and the cool new screen capture functionality. The only thing that sucked about it was the annoyance of losing the stylus itself, which happened to me a few times with old devices. When I was still using my severely outdated HTC Wizard, when I lost my final stylus (it was packaged with a backup), I opted to MacGyver the situation with a custom cut Q-tip that would fit into the slot. Kinda ghetto, but functional when using something that is on its last legs.

    On a side note – I’ve noticed that you use text copy protection on this blog. Just curious as to what pushed you in that direction. I noticed this when I wanted to recommend one of your postings on Facebook, where I wanted to quote a significant passage. I found it very annoying that I was unable to do so, and was wondering about the specific problems you encountered that moved you in such a direction.

     
    • petenowak2000

      February 3, 2012 at 10:14 am

      The text protection must be some sort of default setting because I definitely didn’t enable it. That said, I don’t seem to have any problems copying it. I’m curious as to what issue you’re encountering?

       
      • Sam I R Davies

        February 4, 2012 at 7:18 am

        It is weird. I just opened your blog on Chrome, and no problems. With my default firefox browser, the problem occurs. For whatever reason, the problem does not occur on any other open tab, nor on any other word press blog. My guess would be that one of the firefox add-ons that I use (flashblock or noscript) must be doing something.

        Upon further inspection – I can actually copy and paste. When I try to highlight the text I want to copy, it simply does not get highlighted. I simply have to be accurate why my mouse. Still pretty weird. Thanks for clarifying!

         
  5. Omega

    February 3, 2012 at 8:56 am

    The size of the phone is not nearly as much of a deterrent as one might think. My wife had a larger phone and enjoyed it because the screen could present more information and the size of the screen improved the whole touch experience. How many times do you have to try and bullseye something on a smaller touch screen only to realize you were a few mm off?

    The only real complaint I have about the note is that it’s several years old already and more or less coming to Canada fairly late in it’s life. The CPU and possibly even version of Android are desperately in need of an update.

    Did you happen to ask them about any of that?

     
    • petenowak2000

      February 3, 2012 at 10:13 am

      It’s only actually been out since October in parts of Europe and Asia. It runs Android Gingerbread but Sasmsung says it’ll be getting an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich some time this year.

       
  6. Chessie

    February 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Those of us who are women with long fingernails appreciate the stylus, also, as we don’t have to contort to get the pads of our fingers on the right spots… we can use the stylus or our fingernail!

     
  7. WW

    February 6, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    I was excited to see the Tablet-like resolution, and in a 5.3-in size understood that a stylus might be needed in order to select small buttons in more complex/screen-dense apps.
    The big negative for me is that only ATT carries it; I suspect it will take them 2+ years to get their LTE to where I live/work. Verizon is far ahead of them, and would be my LTE-preferred vendor today. I’ve been on Sprint’s imaginary 4G for just over a year now, with no hope of them ever rolling 4G out to where I work/live–yet I have to pay their $10/mo Smartphone surcharge–which was clearly to pay for data support.

     
  8. Neal Reading

    February 7, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    I have been using a HTC Advantage for more than 5 years with a 5 inch screen and stylus. I have found it totally workable and it fits in my shirt pocket. My disappointment with it has been its abandonment by HTC and it is showing its age. (Slow cpu) I will certainly evaluate the Note and just may but it.

     
 
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