Samsung has been going big when it comes to Android – literally.
The Galaxy Nexus is already one of the must-have devices thanks to its first-to-market Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. Add to that the growing fanbase of a handful of other phones like the Galaxy S II, and the devotees of its Galaxy Tab line of Android tablets.
But with today’s Canadian launch of the Galaxy Note via the carriers Bell and Telus , the company has injected a curiosity into the marketplace. With a 5.3-inch AMOLED screen (and the body to accommodate same), the Galaxy Note is larger than your typical smartphone but smaller than your typical tablet…being somewhere in between, people have already started referring to devices of this size as “phablets”.
This isn’t the first device of its type. In fact, the Dell Streak 5 was launched over a year and a half ago, with a similar screen size, a phone, and even the Android OS. The product didn’t exactly break sales records…in fact the company quietly discontinued it about a year later. So why the Galaxy Note?
Well, for one thing, not only is Samsung well-versed in the world of smartphone manufacturing, but it’s also well-connected with the major carriers in a way Dell has never been. That guarantees great placement on carrier sites and in retail outlets. Samsung has also built up a big buzz around the product thanks to a big-budget commercial during this year’s Super Bowl , in addition to the usual technology hype sites. The big question will be, will this be enough?
I headed down to my local Bell store to get my hands on one in person this morning. Yes, the phone is small enough to fit in your pocket (even if only barely). Sure, the larger screen makes it (slightly) easier to read text than on your garden-variety smartphone. And yes, it’s an attractive little device.
But it’s big. I’ve been working with the Motorola RAZR, which is already on the large side for a phone, and the Galaxy Note is both taller and wider. So if your main use for a smartphone is phone calls, you may want to think carefully about whether this is the right choice for you. Go down to the store, get your hands on one and see how it feels to hold it up to your ear.
It’s also a bit odd that Samsung is using a stylus as a selling point for the Galaxy Note. Sure, you can use it with your fingers, just like any other phone. Sure, the stylus is used for finer control. But putting the stylus into my hand, it really feels like a throwback to the bad old days of mobile computing when you needed a stylus to do anything.
I’m sure some users are going to find the stylus indispensible for niche applications like, say, sketching. But it’s hard to gauge how a generation brought up to recognize the fingertip as the main method for interacting with a phone is going to feel about interacting with a touch-sensitive screen using a little plastic stick. I’m guessing that for a lot of folks, the stylus is just going to sit in its slot and only be noted when it finally falls out and goes missing.
Also curious is the decision to launch the Galaxy Notewithout Ice Cream Sandwich already onboard. Indeed, at launch it comes withAndroid 2.3 and a promise that an IceCream Sandwich update is coming soon. So if you want the newest version of Androidon this larger screen, you’ll still have to hold tight.
And then there’s the price. If you’re willing to commit to a plan with either Bell or Telus, you’ll be able to get the Galaxy Note for as low as $199.99. If you would rather buy it outright, or don’t qualify for an upgrade, it’s going to cost you $729.95 with Bell, or $779.99 with Telus. Ouch. (While Rogers is expected to have the Galaxy Note soon, I wouldn't expect any massive deviation in those price points.)
The drive to merge mobile telephony with tablet is understandable – after all, no one wants to carry around multiple devices, especially when those devices have substantial functional overlap. Personally, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the Galaxy Note for a slightly longer period than I had with it at the store, to really experience it in day-to-day use. Because in the end, only time will tell if people are willing to embrace a solution that seems just a bit too big to be perfect as a phone, and a bit too small to be perfect as a tablet.