Samsung Galaxy Note and S Pen Hands On: The PDA, Smartphone, Tablet Combo

by Reads (8,216)

Few tablets have generated as much buzz at CES 2012 as the Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Note, even though the product was first launched at IFA in Berlin last September. It was difficult to secure hands-on time with the device during the first official day of the event due to the crowd of attendees at the Samsung booth. The team at TabletPCReview is undeterred by lines however, and managed some quality time with the 5.3-inch tablet/smartphone/PDA combo, with a particular focus on the Note’s defining feature, its PDA-style pen stylus.

Samsung Galaxy NoteWhen we reviewed the Galaxy Note last month, we concentrated on the hardware, including its dual-core performance and crisp Super AMOLED display with a 1280 x 800 resolution. With that aside, it’s time to take a closer look at what Samsung calls the S Pen.

If Not Wacom, Then What?
Samsung reps were adamant in claiming the Galaxy Note’s small stylus is a proprietary piece of technology, though reports from users on the TabletPCReview forums reveals that other Wacom-toting tablets recognize its input. So which is it?

This much we do know: the S Pen is small and reminiscent of the PDA picks from a time before smartphones. It easily and securely docks in a small hole on the bottom of the Galaxy Note, and despite its size, is still very comfortable to hold for scribbling and notes.

Multi-use Pen
Samsung Galaxy Note S PenThe S Pen has 256-points of pressure sensitivity in its plastic tip, and can be used to navigate the device, grab screenshots, and of course scribble and take notes. The Galaxy Note ships with a flexible S Memo app, which is very similar to the notes app found on the HTC Flyer in that it features multiple input styles (marker, pencil, pen, eraser, etc) coupled with the ability to import pictures. The pen can also be used for photo manipulation and cropping, and Samsung had app developers on hand that developed programs to do just that using Samsung’s S Pen SDK, including the brains behind ComicBook, a comic book creation app already popular for iOS, and Touchnote, a postcard creator also available for iOS. 

Note taking is comfortable, and the Galaxy Note seems to have at least some form of palm rejection (Samsung reps couldn’t confirm), though my palm did once or twice errantly activate the Android back and home softkeys while using the Note in landscape mode.

Samsung Galaxy NoteA Note specific keyboard can be easily accessed with a quick icon tap, and it has a limited handwriting recognition feature that can convert whole handwritten words into text and insert them into a memo or text box. It’s accurate, but a bit clumsy owing to the fact that it’s hidden in the keyboard, and not nearly as useful as the handwriting recognition feature on the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet notes app and Windows 7 devices. Hopefully, enterprising app developers can leverage the pen SDK for a more useful implementation.

Interestingly, the S Pen features a single button, which didn’t have any particular function for the demo units on the show floor. A chat with a Note app developer revealed that Samsung specifically requested the devs not use the feature prior to the show, suggesting the Samsung Galaxy Note will ship with a buttonless stylus. That or Samsung is still trying to figure out what to do with it. 

Galaxy Note Specs
The Galaxy Note is as thin and light as any high-end smartphone on the market, and seems smaller than its 5.3-inch screen would suggest. Technically speaking, it measures 5.8 x 3.2 x .4-inches and weighs .4 pounds. I certainly would have no issue with using as an everyday smartphone. For the US release on the AT&T 4G LTE network, Samsung bumped up the processor from a 1.4GHz dual-core chip on the international unit to a 1.5GHz dual-core unit.

Samsung Galaxy NoteThe Samsung Galaxy Note features Android Gingerbread 2.3 along with Samsung Touchwiz, and Samsung reps would not confirm an Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 update, but the smart money suggests Samsung will update the Note to the latest Android version. It features 1GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard capacity, expandable an extra 32GB through microSD storage. It has a 2-megapixel front- and 8-megapixel rear-facing camera with an LED flash, and the units on display at CES had a 2,500mAH replaceable battery.

No Release Date Yet
Samsung did not announce pricing, nor did they announce a specific release date. Reps did claim it is coming in the near future, and given the device is now four months old, I’m guessing they are still working out the details with AT&T and not the hardware. 

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