Doodle space: The S Pen lets you scribble notes in your own handwriting and write on top of documents.
What’s bigger than a smart phone but smaller than an iPad? If you’re Samsung, the answer is the Galaxy Note—an intriguing hybrid device that’s unlikely to fit comfortably in many people’s pants pockets.
The Note ($300 with a two-year AT&T contract) occupies a gray area between smart phones and tablets. If you think of it as a phone, its 5.3-inch screen seems bafflingly large; if you think of it as a tablet, it’s pretty puny looking.
For folks weary (or wary) of toting around both a smart phone and a tablet, the Note’s two-in-one premise sounds like a decent alternative. For the average consumer, though, its in-between size and capabilities—plus a high price tag relative to similarly featured smart phones—may make it a tough sell.
I was curious about the Note, since I’ve seen this kind of hybrid device go terribly wrong in the past (see Dell’s Streak, which came out in 2010 and promptly flopped). But I figured Samsung had a much better chance of pulling it off—its smart phones running Google’s Android software are consistently impressive, and its tablets are among the few non-iPads worth considering.
I was also drawn in by a feature you don’t see much of anymore: A built-in stylus. Called the S Pen, it lets you do things like scribble notes in your own handwriting and write on top of documents.
From a distance, the Note looks like a magnified version of several other Samsung smart phones: skinny and black, with a bright touch screen dominating its face and a row of four touch-enabled virtual buttons right beneath. It’s an imposing 5.8 inches tall and 3.3 inches wide, and weighs 6.5 ounces (the iPhone seems Lilliputian by comparison at 4.5 inches tall, 2.3 inches wide, and 4.9 ounces).
The Note’s software yells out “smart phone,” too, as the device runs Gingerbread, a recent version of the Android operating system that is still predominant on new smart phones, rather than the tablet-oriented Honeycomb version.
Once I started using the Note, it felt a bit more like a tablet. Its touch screen offers a lot more real estate when playing games or surfing the Web than the average smart phone does (the iPhone’s display, for example, measures a much smaller 3.5 inches). And the display makes a great canvas. Pictures looked crisp, and I had fun reading blogs and scrolling through myriad images posted on the social curation site Pinterest (see my review of Pinterest here).