Smartphones have been steadily growing over the last few years, with the displays on today's flagship Android handsets coming in around the 4.8-inch mark. Even the next iPhone is rumoured to have a larger display than its 3.5-inch predecessors. But how big is too big? That's the question you need to answer if the $899 Samsung Galaxy Note catches your eye, sporting its spacious 5.3-inch display.
The term "phablet" may send pedantic linguists into a rage, but it seems an apt portmanteau for a handheld device which measures up somewhere between a phone and a tablet. The Galaxy Note even comes with a stylus. To some people this might seem like a prehistoric throwback, but those who fondly remember the power of Palm devices for taking handwritten notes may appreciate the Note's potential and generous screen size. Preloaded stylus-compatible apps include S-Memo which features a notebook, sketchpad and diary.
Thankfully the Galaxy Note features the same capacitive touchscreen you find on other high-end smartphones handsets, making the stylus an added extra rather than a necessary evil. One frustration is that you can't use the stylus to press the Note's touch-sensitive buttons alongside its physical home button.
The Galaxy Note sports a generous 5.3-inch 800x1280 Super AMOLED display. This is a similar resolution to Samsung Android tablets but the smaller screen size significantly boosts the pixel density so the display looks sharp. As you'd expect with AMOLED, the colours are vivid but the whites aren't quite as bright as LCD. The screen glare will also frustrate road warriors looking to use the Note in varied lighting conditions.
Under the bonnet you'll find a 1.4 GHz dual-core processor accompanied by 1GB of RAM and 16 or 32 GB of onboard storage. Thankfully you're not denied a micro-SD slot for expanding the internal storage. You'll also find micro-USB, with an optional HDMI adaptor and USB "On The Go" adaptor for accessing USB storage devices. Wireless connectivity includes Bluetooth 3.0 HS, Wi-Fi a/g/b/n (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and 21 Mbps HSPA . The handset also sports 2 and 8MP front and rear cameras, with the rear camera offering impressive picture quality and supporting 1080p video capture.
Just to confuse things there are several models of the Galaxy Note, so take care if importing one. Australian models should be quad-band HSPA devices so you'll get up to 10 Mbps real-world speeds on Australia's 850 and 900 MHz mobile broadband networks. You'll find a 700 MHz LTE model in the US, but it isn't compatible with Australian LTE networks.
The Galaxy Note ships running Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" but an update to Android 4.0 "ICS" has been released overseas which should smooth out the occasional stutter which can mar the user experience. We're still waiting for Australian telcos to come to the party and the Galaxy Note is unlikely to see an official local ICS roll out until at least July.
So is the Galaxy Note too big? It sports a large display but it's only 9.65mm thick and tips the scales at a light 178gm. The slim design means it should fit comfortably in most pockets, even though it can be a bit awkward to get it out when it rings. This is perhaps one occasion when you can't rely on first impressions, as at first you'll almost certainly feel the Note is too large to be practical as a smartphone. You'll also feel strange holding such a giant up to your ear to make calls.
However, the Galaxy Note does grow on you over time and many owners swear by them. Your opinion of the Note will probably depend on whether you use your current smartphone more as a tablet or more as a phone. That extra screen real estate is a real blessing for those times you wish you had a tablet at hand, such as working or playing on the run.
To be honest, for many people the 5.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Note will be a case of an inch too far. But if you're chasing a rather big phone or a rather small tablet, this could be the droid you're looking for.