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Living with the Samsung Galaxy Note

Find out if CNET editor Brian Bennett can survive with the new Samsung Galaxy Note as his only mobile device for a week.


I've used the massive Samsung Galaxy Note as my sole handset for a week, and life is going surprisingly well.

Samsung certainly has high hopes for its unique product, which was first launched globally last summer. Here in the U.S., the device burst onto the American scene with a splashy Super Bowl Spot that depicted the Galaxy Note as having magical capabilities. I mean I can't imagine any other kind of power, save religious fervor, that can sway iPhone users to Android. This is why I had to experience the Note firsthand.

A cunning plan
With a massive 5.3-inch screen and S Pen stylus, it's hard not to notice the Galaxy Note. My initial reaction when I beheld this device was shock--no bones about it, this phone is ginormous. Then my mind shifted, and I saw the Note from another direction. It's not a behemoth of a phone at all, despite what my CNET colleague Jessica Dolcourt thinks. It really is a tablet that's been hit with a shrink ray.

Simply put, the Galaxy Note is a device craftily designed to replace the need for a tablet. It also stokes the fires of one of today's most hotly debated questions, "Why the heck do we need tablet computers anyway?"

Life with just one device
To answer this burning question, I accepted the challenge to ditch my trusty tablet and Android smartphone, relying on the Samsung Galaxy Note as my sole piece of mobile communication and entertainment hardware. To be clear, this hardship was likely much easier for me than say an Apple iPad addict. That's because I've never personally owned an iPhone or other iOS device, though I have reviewed a few over the years.

I fell into the Android camp back in the days of Donut (Android 1.6) and now am an Android user through and through. Additionally, my tablet of choice is Samsung's Galaxy Tab 8.9, so I'm also comfortable with the company's TouchWiz UI. Still, giving up a secondary gadget for just one wasn't easy.

CNET editor Brian Bennett finds that the Samsung Galaxy Note is a easier to handle on NYC subway trains than a big 10-inch slate. Sarah Kiino

At the start of the week, I first poignantly craved my bigger slate during my nightly bedside use. Before drifting off to sleep, I love to escape into the virtual pages of an e-book either from Amazon Kindle or Google Books. Don't get me wrong, thanks to its Android Gingerbread OS, the Note offers access to the same apps. Still, the larger 8.9-inch screen of the Tab intuitively feels more like a book to me. It also felt odd to place my phone on my nightstand. In fact, I almost ran out the door without it a few times.

Butterfingers and handling
People may say the Galaxy Note is a phone just because it has a cellular connection provided by AT&T. I'll counter with how the device is not a one-handed...errr...handset. Because the gadget is so wide, my thumb has great difficulty reaching the opposite side of the "phone" when held in my palm--and just for the record, I've never been described as a small person. Worse, I've dropped the Galaxy Note more times than I'd like to admit while striving to tap the screen on its far side. Trust me, Gorilla Glass treatment or no, I'd rather not spill this sleek product on hard city concrete.

To the Galaxy Note's credit, I really appreciate its smaller size during my morning commute. Life in New York can be seriously trying, and the last sort of morning drama I need is upsetting fellow subway riders. I admit there's less chance of that since using the Note means taking up less precious elbow room.

All those funny looks
Something I wasn't exactly prepared for were the comments and odd looks I got from people when I removed the Galaxy Note from my pocket. At a local watering hole, one random guy next to me at the bar even asked me if that was "a TV I'm watching." A young couple standing over me even started whispering in hushed tones plainly, to me anyways, amazed at the Note's mega footprint. OK, it's possible that they weren't talking about me or my massive device. In any case, the Galaxy Note's size makes you feel a bit self conscious, that's just how big it is especially when sitting among throngs of the iPhone faithful.

The stylus connection
I won't lie, I was terribly afraid to remove the Galaxy Note's stylus, ahem, S Pen in public. I've seen other mobile devices on the train and recently too. These though were legit technology museum pieces, we're talking ancient Palm IIIs and even toy-like Handspring numbers. I might as well produce a Radioshack TRS-80 out of my bag and call it a day. Anyone need an extra Atari Joystick? I'm sure I have one kicking around in there too.

Writing with the Samsung Galaxy Note
Yep, that stack of notebooks really is a fixture on my desk. Josh Miller/CNET

Once I got the nerve to whip the S Pen out, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it registered my pen strokes. As Dolcourt pointed out, I received best results after I selected the smallest paintbrush setting. Still, handwriting recognition isn't great, and I often need to repeat words or letters. Thankfully swiping the pen right to left horizontally serves as a quick backspace gesture. Like Dolcourt, I also hit the capacitive buttons running along the edge of the Note often. It left me using an unnatural grip just to avoid mistypes.

AT&T's smokin' 4G LTE

Another big jaw-dropper is the Note's connection to AT&T's new--and might I say blazing fast--4G data network built on LTE technology. In Manhattan and Queens, I clocked a ridiculously fast average download speed of 24.8 Mbps, with peaks of a blistering 38.4 Mbps. Uploads were fast too, with speeds hovering around 8 Mbps. That beats all the throughput I've personally seen from Verizon's LTE network which in my experience in New York tends to come in at 12 to 14 Mbps (download) and 2 to 3 Mbps (upload).

Samsung Galaxy Note
Brian Bennett/CNET

So good so far
Though I'll soon have to return my Samsung Galaxy Note device, I will miss its big screen 5.3-inch screen but not the way it bulges in my pockets. I'll also enjoy having the option to use my roomy 8.9-inch Galaxy Tab when it's convenient and a smaller smartphone with a 4-inch display when it's not. I guess my view of the Galaxy Note is that it's a phone that wished with all its heart to be a tablet. While it comes close, I'd rather have two devices tailored to fit each purpose best. This is a luxury I know, so the Note should satisfy people who want tablet-like style in a smaller phone-like package--and one wireless bill.