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Samsung Galaxy Note review: Samsung Galaxy Note

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Video playback looks great on the huge screen.

Apps are a huge part of the Note's experience, especially those created for the S Pen. In addition to the aforementioned memo notes is a game called Crayon Physics.

Samsung adds its own app package to the Galaxy Note, including its typical Kies Air and AllShare apps for sharing multimedia (like your photos, videos, and doodles) with your desktop and DLNA-compatible devices, respectively. There are also the Social Hub and Music Hub for organizing tools around Facebook and Twitter social networking, and listening to podcasts and tunes.

AT&T has also bequeathed the Note its usual complement of apps: the family tracker, a code scanner, an app to keep tabs on your account, and AT&T Live TV through a U-verse subscription. There's also the AT&T Ready2Go setup wizard.

Amazon Kindle for e-books, Qik Lite for video chats, Polaris Office, Pulse, Mini Diary, and Yellow Pages Mobile are other apps that have been preloaded onto the Note. The European version of the Note is home to S Planner and S Choice, which are two other S Pen apps.

One of the best features of most phones in the Samsung Galaxy S II line is the 8-megapixel camera. Not all cameras of this caliber can pass muster, but image quality on the Galaxy Note is admirable, and full-size photos look good offscreen as well as on the HD display.

The 8-megapixel camera and 2-megapixel front-facing camera stand up to Samsung's usual quality for the Galaxy S II family of phones.

The camera contains all the usual shooting and white-balance presets to take action shots, panoramas, and detect smiles in a variety of lighting scenarios. It also has anti-shake, blink detection, autofocus, and a timer.

Front-facing cameras are great for video chats and the odd self-portrait, but you'll get your best-quality shots from the rear camera. Still, Samsung generally does a nice job with the 2-megapixel shooter, and the same is true for this one. Test photos taken indoors with a good amount of natural light looked good, even when blown to full size on the computer screen. The camera naturally didn't capture extreme detail, and I could detect some digital noise when I peered closely, but colors displayed smoothly and were true to life.

Colors looked true in this excellent outdoor landscape shot.

Video capture and playback are also a big deal on the Galaxy Note; the HD screen can do both in 1080p. The high-definition videos look fantastic when played back on the 5.3-inch screen, though I would love to see some HD-optimized apps on here like the ones on Verizon's LG Spectrum, which has a Netflix HD app that sources HD videos by default, when they exist.

These toys, photographed inside away from natural light and under harsh artificial bulbs, were fairly in focus and richly colored.

Recording video is straightforward. As is typical, the app keeps many of the camera settings, but also includes a shorter, lower-quality setting for taking video specifically for MMS. The Galaxy Note has 16GB of internal memory for your application and multimedia storage, and allows for up to 32GB more through a microSD card.

I tested the Samsung Galaxy Note (GSM 850/900/1,800/1,900MHz; 2,100MHz LTE) in San Francisco using AT&T's service. Call quality was pretty good in my tests so far. At full tilt, volume is a little low, but I had no trouble hearing in a quiet setting. Call clarity was admirable, with no discernable background noise throughout a 20-minute test call. There was something just a little off in how voices sounded. It was hard to put my finger on, but they weren't quite as rich or as clear as I've heard on other phones.

According to my test caller, my voice didn't sound fully natural, or like me. Instead, he said I sounded a bit hollow and echoey, as if I were speaking from within a can or underground. He also thought that I sounded a bit muted at the higher frequencies, though volume was no problem and the line sounded very clear.

Samsung Galaxy Note call quality sample Listen now:

I tested the speakerphone by holding the phone at waist level. Volume was very loud, but I'd rather turn it down than not be able to turn it up. My caller's voice sounded buzzy and hollow to my ears, and he reported the customary speakerphone echo and flattened voice quality, but had few other real complaints. On the whole, the speakerphone was very effective--my caller and I understood every word during a long conversation in a relatively quiet environment.

One benefit of AT&T's version of the Note is the slight bump in processing power: a 1.5GHz dual-core processor instead of the 1.4GHz dual-core chip on the unlocked version of the phone. Navigating among apps has so far been a pretty satisfying experience. The same goes for the phone's 4G LTE speeds, which were impressively zippy in San Francisco. Diagnostic results measured in the app ranged from 12 to 25Mbps down and ranged from 5 to 12Mbps up; very fast. My real-world tests had Web sites loading in 4 to 16 seconds. CNET's mobile-optimized site loaded in 10 seconds, with the desktop site loading in 16. It took just 4 seconds to bring up the New York Times' mobile site and only 8 to switch over to the full view.

Battery life is a big question mark on a handset with such a power-hungry display, and it's to Samsung's credit that the Galaxy Note has an extra-large 2,500mAh battery to complement its extra-large screen. We'll be performing our own drain tests, but as an indicator, the Note has a rated battery life of 26 hours of talk time and a rated standby life of 40 days. However, take these numbers with the heaping qualification that you're unlikely to see such longevity if you're using the device for multimedia streaming.

The Galaxy Note has a digital SAR of 0.27 watt per kilogram.

There are two main questions at hand: is the Samsung Galaxy Note a phone worth buying, and if so, can it satisfy the need for a tablet?

So long as you're all for supersizing, I can emphatically answer "yes" to the former. It has all the high-flying specs that we loved in the original Galaxy S II and Galaxy S II Skyrocket, but an even larger, HD Super AMOLED screen. While its size could make carrying the phone awkward, the screen real estate is ideal for interacting with HD games and multimedia, and for reading Web sites and e-books.

When you add in the S Pen, there's so much more potential for creative drawings and games. Whether it's little more than a party trick or if you'll ever use it on a regular basis depends on you. I think the screen size, rather than the stylus, will make it or break it for most buyers, but I do worry about the long-term comfort and security of the skinny pen if you don't feel like dishing out for a $50 pen holder accessory--a price I feel is a lot to ask.

Given the 5.3-inch screen, some people could indeed find the Note to be a workable smartphone/tablet hybrid device, or at least those who have casually considered buying a more budget tablet. Depending on the tablet size you'd be eyeing, a 5.3-inch screen is a far cry from a 10.1-inch display. There's really no comparison at that level, but there is an argument for people considering a 7-inch tablet.

Finally, pricing is an issue. Given the screen size, the juiced-up battery, and the S Pen, $300 seems fair for a device that keeps adding to AT&T's smaller Galaxy S II and Skyrocket phones. Still, with so many options already available, I can't help but think that the Galaxy Note will remain niche.

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