A first look at the Samsung Galaxy Note

We go hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy Note, an Android smartphone with a huge 5.3in screen

The Samsung Galaxy Note and its S-Pen, otherwise known as a stylus

The Samsung Galaxy Note and its S-Pen, otherwise known as a stylus

Don't like your smartphones big? Then look away now. Samsung's Galaxy Note is the definition of big: it has a whopping 5.3in touchscreen that's a full inch bigger than the company's own Galaxy S II, and almost two inches bigger than the iPhone 4S. We've just got our hands on the phone many are calling a "phablet" so let's take a first look!

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Is that a Galaxy Note in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

The Samsung Galaxy Note is big. Very big. It measures almost 15cm tall and 8.3cm wide, so it can feel awkward to hold single-handedly. If you have average sized hands or smaller, you're more than likely going to find the Galaxy Note too big to use as your primary smartphone. It also looks strikingly odd when held up to your ear on a phone call.

The Galaxy Note's sheer size may be too big to handle for some but Samsung deserves plenty of credit for a great design. For starters, the Note is just 9.7mm thin. As a comparison, the Apple iPhone 4S is 9.3mm thin and Samsung's own Galaxy S II is 8.5mm thin, so there's not a huge difference. When you consider its extra large footprint, the Galaxy Note is both thin and light.

The Samsung Galaxy Note has minimal hardware buttons. On the right there is a power/lock key and on the left a volume rocker. Both of these keys are high along the side of the Galaxy Note: we think they would have been better off slightly lower, as this would have made them easier to access with one hand given the large size of the phone. The Galaxy Note looks similar to the Galaxy S II: it's basically a larger version of that chassis. Like its smaller sibling, the Galaxy Note has a thin, plastic battery cover that feels flimsy to remove, but its etched finish once again makes the device easy to grip.

The best thing about the Galaxy Note's size is all the room it's left to include a 5.3in Super AMOLED HD display. The screen has a whopping resolution of 1280x800, making it a WXGA panel with 285 pixels per inch (ppi). That's a notch below the iPhone 4S's "retina" ppi of 326, but it's a massive improvement over most other Android phones on the market including Samsung's own Galaxy S II. The sheer size of the screen naturally makes it a great device for reading, Web browsing and video playback: colours are vibrant, text is crisp and visibility in sunlight is excellent.

Don't call it a stylus: it's the S-Pen!

Steve Jobs hated the mere thought of a stylus, but that's exactly what Samsung has included on the Galaxy Note. Called the "S-Pen" (Samsung doesn't seem to like the word stylus either), it's stored in the bottom right of the phone and allows users to take notes and draw onto the screen.

The S-Pen is a little tough to remove — you've really got to dig your fingernail in the slot to pry it out — and it's also a bit short for our liking, so it doesn't feel like a real pen. That being said, it's reasonably comfortable to hold and is largely accurate and responsive. It's also pressure sensitive. When drawing or writing on the screen there's only a very slight delay before the text appears on the screen. The lag is particularly noticeable when you move around quickly, for example if you are scribbling on the screen. It doesn't really detract from the S-Pen feature on the whole but it's definitely noticeable.

In addition to drawing and scribbling on-screen with the S-Pen, the Samsung Galaxy Note features handwriting recognition, which means it will type words and letters you write. Results are hit and miss: in our brief play with the feature we noted that you really need to write as accurate as possible to avoid mistakes. This is hard to achieve if you want to jot down some quick notes in a meeting, for example. Unfortunately, handwriting recognition is a feature of the Samsung keyboard, so using another keyboard (like the included Swype) removes it.

We'll publish a full, comprehensive review of the Samsung Galaxy Note in the coming days, but in the meantime if you have any questions about the phone, let us know in the comments below!

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