At last, the first smart phone for creative people is here: The Samsung Galaxy Note.
What is the one, exclusive, killer-feature of the Samsung Galaxy Note that endears it, right out of the box, to creative professionals like me? The pure simplicity with which I can open any web-design or user-interface screen, encircle elements and scribble over them with a stylus pen. Then add notes to it, and send it across to my colleagues or clients. That’s it. And what’s the next? The legendary use of the paper napkin for scribbling logo designs for startups and million-dollar companies can now move to a digital incarnation, in this the second decade of the 21st century.
How to Handle Pressure
Turns out there’s lots a creative professional can do with this smartphone. The stylus is pressure-sensitive. Hence it mimics shades, tints, and variations of shapes and shades as you draw, sketch, and illustrate. The screen-resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels equals the resolution of most netbooks, so you can assess how your designs will render in that ratio. But what’s really impressive, is that the 1280 x 800 resolution fits into a dazzling super-AMOLED screen of just 5.3 inches, in 16 million vibrant colors, at a pixel-density of 285ppi. My first Mac in 1985, had a 9-inch black and white screen, at 72 ppi. Which is why the world is still stuck to the now mythical 72ppi. Grow up, people.
I love the rendering of fonts on this display. Reading books and periodicals is such a joy. Have just been looking for fonts and typography apps to relish the crispness of typography. Those of you who’ve grown up with the coarseness of mobilephone font-renderings that lasted nearly 15 years, will know what I mean here. This phone makes owning the Kindle Fire redundant. I’ve got the Amazon app here, plus a few more apps for eBooks and magazines. But it’s the feel of typography, the comfort and smoothness and attention-to-detail that my much-neglected eyes experience with this display.
The large screen manages HD video playback with no latency or dropped-frames, thanks to its dual-core 1.4 Ghz ARM Cortex chip. You read that right, this beauty comes with a dual-core CPU. Plus a Mali-400MP Graphics Processor Unit. The result is a smartphone not just for authoring, but for pure inspiration. I have a live wallpaper with floating fish in a pond. A tap or a touch on the screen creates ripples and refraction-effects in the water that is just breathtaking.
All this consumes battery. The Note ships with a Li-On 2500 mAh battery. That’s huge. But given the bandwidth-leech that I’ve become, and the heavy geeky use that I extract from all my devices, it’s surprising how the battery lasts a day for me, and sometimes more. your mileage will vary. Mine does, every day. I carry my micro-USB cable with me in my laptop bag, have a separate charger in the car, and generally move to places not far from the grid. Knowing how to throttle your power-consumption is an art every geek must know, and it’s not just true for this phone. Secondly, with the growing gaggle of gadgets I find myself carrying every day, I’ve decided to invest in a battery power-brick. Am still deciding on an Amzer or an Eto, or something else. Given the abundant sunshine I get in the Indian capital, I’ll settle for the one with the added solar-panel, like the Amzer.
Is it a phone for folks like Sudev Barar, who tend to motor their muscle-cars out into the Indian sub-continent’s harsh climates and tend to veer off far away from the grid? As a GPS device mounted inside the car, most definitely yes. Digital-freedom lovin’ folk like Sudev will especially appreciate its support for both A-GPS and GLONASS. Though rather unfortunately named, GLONASS is what you’ll run to should the powers-that-be decide to abruptly switch off your access to GPS satellites and imagery and ask you to kiss their ass. I have yet to play around with GLONASS, but I hope Sudev does us all the honour of a thorough testing of GLONASS on the Samsung Note with his sojourns across the majestic terrains of our sub-continent.
The in-built video-editing software is another marvel of engineering and software interface-design. I could never have imagined non-linear video-editing would come down from its lofty heights of high-end workstations costing millions of dollars and several hundred thousands of dollars in training, to handheld devices for folks to use with nothing more than a swipe and a thumb. Am utterly overwhelmed here.
Sentimental Note for the Newton
Then there’s the handwriting recognition. I must admit, the moment I unboxed the Samsung Galaxy Note, a wave of nostalgia overwhelmed me. I went back to the time I unboxed my Apple Newton 120 in circa 1997. Having endured the idiosyncrasies of the Apple Newton’s infamous handwriting recognition engine, I found myself delighted with the generations of evolution am inheriting here. It’s been just three days with the Note, and I’ve eagerly abandoned all other forms of input, and am always tapping and scribbling furiously away with my stylus. I hope I soon forget how to use QWERTY keypads on mobile-screens. The arrow of technology is going to come full-circle. At least for me. So far, all my new contacts, memo notes, expense sheets, web-forms, emails, text-messages, and other forms of verbose text are handled entirely using the handwriting recognition of the stylus.
Okay, I know, I do need to write another blog-post, in which I’ll share all the apps and widgets I use, plus the techniques and workflows, for handling some aspects of professional user-interface and UX design on the Galaxy Note. Pause, I’ll just make a note of this. There! I’m back.
Let’s talk about how the Galaxy Note disappoints. Unless you’re a large-sized Gorilla who’s adopted Tarzan the man-child as your son, there’s no way you can clutch, and use your fingers, all using just one hand. We take this for granted with other phones, but don’t try this at home, at office, at your studio, or anywhere else. I can live with that, as it is like a small moleskin digital diary for artists, designers, poets, and dreamers. But here’s the huge design failure I refuse to forgive. It has no eyelet for a lanyard. Yup! No way for you to hang it from your wrist, should you need your hand to grasp something else, or for those awkward moments when it falls. The question with the Galaxy Note is not if it will fall or slip out of your hands, but when. Thankfully, for mere humans like us with puny hands, Samsung compensates with its wildly successful Gorilla Glass. The smooth and shiny screen can take a few nicks and bumps and falls without even a scratch.
Another thing. Most dealers will play to your insecurity, and insist you buy a screen protector. Don’t. All you’ll get are tiny air-bubbles if not applied well, and a less responsive stylus. This is Gorilla Glass, remember. To be inspired by Gora Mohanty’s favaourite aphorism: “Lipstick on a pig”, sticking that flimsy plastic to this is like applying a UV sunscreen lotion to a polar bear.
The Gamma Ray professor reminds me, I’d better look up the impact of the phone’s microwave radiation on the human body. This impact is known more popularly as the SARS rating. Can’t seem to find reliable data at the moment, so someone please post here, but the Note seems to be actually better in some cases, with lowered SARS rating, than an iPhone 4s. That’s a real wow! if that’s correct. Anyways, keeping it away from my pocket or person when I’m not moving is what I do.
Okay, so how should you use this moleskin diary of a thingie, as a phone? Holding it against my cheek and talking to it is akin to experiencing a face-palm in mid-sentence. I for one pocket it in specially tailored trousers I anyways fashion myself. The headset wire then runs under my clothing from my ears to my pocket. There, I’ve got my hands free, but Alas! The headset provided by Samsung has an omni mic that picks up all the ambient sounds and noise around you and pumps it into the ears of your caller miles away. I’ve spent three days researching and finally ordered myself a Plantronics 903+ bluetooth headset, so I can hopefully pair it later with my iPhone 4S as well. Thanks to Vivek Puri, who lived up to his “And now for something different” clarion-call by pushing me to the Plantronics rather than some run of the motormouth.
The sound-quality, as expected, is tuned for the human-voice. Call-quality is good, actually great on the phone, but listening to music is a real ear-sore. Anyways, I’ve segregated my music-listening to the vastly superior Creative Zen xi-fi. When I say “vastly superior”, fellow audiophiles know which devices I’m comparing this to. But let’s not get into that discussion, fanboys.
The microphone is surprisingly sensitive. Too sensitive in fact. Coupled with bad software-engineering, the voice-recognition is a huge failure for me. The software does not compensate for the mic’s sensitivity to pick up ambient noise, so the monitors keep trembling. Takes it quite a while to end its scanning and start processing the audio data. By that time I’ve lost interest and am quietly waiting in amusement to listen to the rubbish the voice-recognition will dole out.
The other major design-flaw, is the Note’s less than mediocre lense and camera quality. Creative professionals long know that a higher megapixel camera means nothing, unless you’ve got great glass and algorithmic goodness to bring out the subtle nuances of photography. The Galaxy Note is a classic example of how Samsung’s goofed up major-time on this. Hey! Samsung, Apple and the rest of the mobilephone market just nailed Kodak to the cross-hairs of their viewfinder. Flickr and Picasa revel in how the Apple iPhone is the camera of choice. A nice and buzzing cottage-industry has sprung up around the iPhone, selling custom lenses to fit over the phone. Samsung’s totally lost it on this one. So get it right folks.
The Note comes with no manual. I just googled for it, and downloaded it. Incidentally, the smartphone’s got 1 GB RAM, and 16 GB internal storage of which 11 GB is free. I’ve also added an 8GB microSD card for good measure. The Android Gingerbread 2.3 OS on it works smoothly. The other reason I bought the Note was that I knew this would easily upgrade or update to Android 4.0, just when I’ll be finally settling into my soup of OS and apps on 2.3. That’s the way the cookie crumbles for me. But love it.
I’m using Ubuntu 9.04 on my Apple MacBook Pro 5,1 for the moment. Connecting the Note over a USB cable automagically mounts its storage, but strangely, I cannot find the photos and videos I’ve clicked to drag-and-drop around. Thinking it could be a kick-in-the-tyres that Ubuntu needs, I just did a double-check under the Mac OS. Same story. More on this in some time once I’ve figured out what’s happening.
Having played around with enough smartphones and tablets, I find the Samsung Galaxy Note is a surprising joy and delight to use. It’s a whole different way of looking at smartphones again. I’m sure Atul wants to know what I did to my beloved Bada phone. I gave it a Wave of goodbye, of course. Heck! I just got inspired and remembered a nice joke must scribble it to Atul right away. Meanwhile Apple, keep banning Samsung. They’ve become too innovative and creative and I wouldn’t be surprised if people want to step out of their iOS cages and stretch their limbs with superbly designed Android experiences. How I wish the battle between Apple and Android was not about market-share, but about freedom.