February 15, 2012, 9:36 AM — Samsung's own advertising poses the question of whether the new Galaxy Note is a phone or tablet. And punlike portmanteaus like "phablet" aside, the question is surprisingly pertinent. I've long regarded the 5-inch class display as a potential alternative to the larger 7-inch and 10-inch tablets that have been soaking up all of the attention of tablet makers, but Dell's Streak 5--a previous attempt at a 5-inch phone/mini-tablet--failed to wow. The Galaxy Note, on the other hand, impresses in many ways, though its usability is clearly hampered by the lack of a truly tablet-optimized operating system, and by its indifferent display.
PCWorld's Galaxy Note review by my colleague Ginny Mies covers many of the smartphone's merits--including its appealing stylus-like S Pen--in detail. Meanwhile, I tried to use the Galaxy Note in place of a tablet, to see how satisfactory the experience was. Ultimately, I came away with a mixed impression.
The Galaxy Note's Strengths--and Weaknesses
As a handheld device, with a 5.3-inch display, the Galaxy Note can be unobtrusive and discreet, yet highly functional. Its light weight and balanced form makes it convenient for holding in one hand while reading ebooks on the high-resolution 1280-by-800-pixel display.
Unfortunately, the display proved to be as much a weakness as a strength. In the native browser, Web pages display better as "mobile" pages than as full-fledged website pages. And content creation feels much more constrained on a 5.3-inch display than on a 10.1-inch screen: You can't get a lot of page onto the screen while writing a document in Polaris Office, for example. Some Galaxy Note features--such as enhanced VPN connectivity and hardware encryption--seem especially well-suited for business use. In general, when road warriors use of the Note tablet-style, they'll probably focus on email and in-a-pinch document manipulation.