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Now On That Note

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If you think a 5.3-inch slap of glistening electronics is too big to stick against your ear and too small to be a useful tablet, you are but one school of thought.

The other is that the Samsung Galaxy Note is the starter in a new category of tablet-phone hybrids that many will find suits them perfectly.

Actually, the Dell Streak was there first. But a mix of reasons, including a very high price, meant the device didn't achieve critical mass. The Note, on the other hand, is generating much interest, not the least of which may be because of the carpet advertising currently on from Samsung.

But the moment you hold the Note in your hand, the penny drops. To me, it spells convenience. I'm a Galaxy S II user (mostly) and on the face of it, the Note only looked like my phone after it had eaten too much. But as I began to use the Note, I found the experience a few shades different from using my phone. The Note has a reach-out-for-me feel. For a quick look-up on the net, grab, search, set aside. For a fix of news in the car, flip through pages in Pulse. Videos on YouTube were speedy and quite a pleasure. I whizzed through several without realising some hours had gone by. Using the 8 megapixel camera is also fun because you have a huge viewer in the screen and yet you don't cross the line into feeling it's too large to be a camera. The screen: typical Samsung. Vivid and richly-coloured though a shade crude compared with the iOS devices that focus more on fine resolution. There's also occasionally the stagger you see on many Android devices. Other than that, it's not a real comparison with say, the iPad, because the two interact with you quite differently.

The design for the Note has been conceptualised differently from other tablets, including Samsung's own collection. For this one, they included a slim little stylus that tucks into the tablet, no doubt, to minimise losability. The "S Pen" isn't just an addition, but a highlight. You're not compelled to use the S Pen and so the Samsung Apps available for it are categorised as S Choice apps and include things like sketching, annotating PDFs, etc. I tried my favourite WritePad and the handwriting recognition worked as well as on my other devices except that the control is more because of the stylus. The S Pen has other functions coupled with it, such as being able to take a screenshot by pressing its little (and rather too subtle) button. Some, of course, find the stylus a step backwards, but people who are touch-sensitive may well find it reassuring.

As a convenient little tablet, the Note offers more than ordinary portability. In fact, it hits a portability sweet spot. As a phone, it's not quite as convenient. It works fine, of course, but picture yourself rushing across the street, two kids in tow, a bunch of packages in hand, and having to make a grab for your phone because you get a call you can't afford to miss. Now the Note obviously doesn't fit that sort of situation. You would then have to always be Bluetooth-ready, which is probably essential anyway if you want to avoid holding an object that isn't exactly pearly and pretty or cool and glitzy up to your face. While such sights are no longer going to be uncommon, there's also the danger of dropping the gadget which isn't fitted naturally into the curve of your hand.

So... does that mean the Note has to be your second or third device? Are you going to find yourself carrying big, bigger, biggest devices all the time? Or does it mean the Note can fit right into some sort of situations such as reading unobtrusively on the metro? Maybe, but I'm afraid that's something each potential buyer will have to figure out. If there seem to be enough spaces in one's lifestyle that warrant the convenience and inconvenience of a tablet-phone phone-tablet, by all means, go for the Note. If not, see what fits 90 per cent of your needs better.  And if you just plain love gadgets — there's no debate.

Have a look at the specs online, but remember that it runs on Android too. Not the much-touted Ice Cream Sandwich, but Gingerbread, the more-commonly found OS version on Android. Whether the Note will get the upgrade or not cannot be taken for granted as Samsung has just finished letting down its Galaxy S users by withholding ICS for what looks like flimsy excuses. Remember too that the best apps still go to the Apple AppStore — at least first. So while you will have more than enough apps to use the Note as the handy quick-bit-of-work it's meant to be (specially on the go) if you want the joys of a 9+ inch tablet, you won't get it on the Note.

I would again sum up the Galaxy Note in a phrase: super handy tab plus phone functionality.

mala(at)pobox(dot)com, (at)malabhargava on Twitter

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 16-01-2012)

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