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Samsung Galaxy Note impressions: It’s just too damn big

Samsung Galaxy Note - Apps screen

When Dell introduced the Streak 5-inch tablet in 2010, it completely bombed. Since then, phone screens have been inching their way back toward the Streak and now Samsung has unveiled a version of the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note that’s bound for the US market. It’s huge and it may not fit in your pocket, but it’s coming to AT&T. My first impressions are below.

Half smartphone, half tablet

The Galaxy Note is an odd beast of a device. It’s technically a smartphone, but I’d wager that a healthy portion of the American population will find it too large to hold like a phone. It’s pretty much a tablet in terms of size, but you really don’t see much benefit from the screen real estate since it still runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), a version of Android built for smartphones, not tablets. I found it awkward to hold and use.

Like a work tablet, the Note comes with a leather screen protector that closes over it like a book cover as well as a stylus that has its own little holding place, much like Windows Mobile and Palm smartphones used to have in the days before the iPhone revolution. Samsung claims that this stylus has “256 levels of pressure sensitivity,” making it the most responsive writing device yet for a smartphone or tablet and the “first device to capture the artistry of true pen and paper.” We don’t think pen and paper have anything to worry about just yet, but the Note’s stylus is pretty good. It still lags behind a bit, but it’s a fairly accurate way to take notes, if you like to hand write.

Samsung Galaxy Note with a stylus Samsung Galaxy Note rear camera

The Note comes with a built in app called S Memo, which is mostly a note-taking app. You can easily open it by tapping the screen twice with the stylus. Holding a button and pressing on the screen with the stylus will take a picture of whatever’s on your Galaxy Note screen and let you doodle on it before saving. These features are somewhat useful in certain circumstances, but we’re doubtful there are many of you who will spend your days doodling on screenshots of your phone’s homescreen. It gets old after a while. The phone also has a custom calendar that has stylus-specific gestures and better utilizes the Note’s massive screen.

Specs

I’ll keep this brief. The Note has specs similar to most new tablets and smartphones. It runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), has a 1280×800 pixel Super AMOLED screen, runs on a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, and has an 8MP rear camera and 2MP front camera. Oh, and it will be an AT&T exclusive and run on the wireless carrier’s brand new (and currently slow) 4G LTE network.

A great phone if you’re a basketball player

Samsung Galaxy Note homescreen with cover

If you have huge hands, this phone is the coolest. You’ll love it, though the stylus may be a bit small for your tastes. For the rest of us, Samsung may have pushed the bar on size a little too high. I found the Note to be quite compelling as an idea, but difficult to handle. I’m not even sure it would fit in my pocket at all, and it definitely wouldn’t be comfortable if it did. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a fat device. It’s quite thin. Samsung’s TouchWiz interface is also quite pretty and usable. I just question whether this has crossed that invisible line where a device goes from being super convenient to a bit of a burden.

I can think of no appropriate way to end this, so I will just say that the Galaxy Note is more tablet now than phone, for better and for worse. After my initial experience using it, I’d opt for a smaller phone. Are you ready for a 5.3-inch phone?