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CES 2012: Hands on with the big-screen Samsung Galaxy Note

Consumer Reports News: January 12, 2012 09:38 AM

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The whopping 5.3-inch screen of Samsung's Galaxy Note, U.S. availability of which was announced at CES, sets a new size benchmark for smart phone displays--at least now that the 5-inch Dell Streak phone/tablet has been discontinued. But is this telephone titan just too much phone for most hands and pockets?

I had the chance at CES to use a press sample of the Note for several hours, to shoot a video and to form a first take on its enormousness. My conclusion? The Note's size comes with real drawbacks, but its sizeable--and superb--display is irresistible for some applications and functions.

A lot of the worry about the Note's size focuses on its portability. Yet I found it fit quite comfortably in the front pockets of my jeans and all but the small top pockets of my suit coat. When walking around, its "pocket presence" was a little more noticeable than the Samsung Galaxy S II I usually use. But that was entirely due to its area; its thickness is about the same as the Galaxy S II.

galaxynote-hand.jpgErgonomics is more the issue. The Note is about a half-inch wider than most phones, and that addition will spell the difference between one-handedness and two-handedness for many functions and people. I found I could just reach the phone button at the far left of the Note while holding the phone in my right hand. But a male colleague, who admittedly had self-described "stubby fingers," could not, as the photo at right shows.

Yet my right thumb could not reach icons or links at the top of the screen when I was holding the phone, unlike with my Galaxy S II. I also found the extra hand-stretching required to hold the Note when standing up made it disconcerting to stand and (especially) walk while using the phone; it felt too easy to drop the thing.

galaxynote-kindle.jpgSit down and open certain apps, though, and the Note's screen soars. It passed the proverbial Angry Birds test with, er, flying colors; the spatial experience reminded more of playing on my iPad than on an iPhone.

I barely use the Kindle app on my smart phones, but the extra text that I could fit at a readable size on the Note's screen made book-reading seem feasible, even appealing. And I could view many more Web news reports in their entirety on the Note screen than I am accustomed to on even the relatively big (4.3-inch) screen of the Galaxy S II. And photos looked great, as one might expect from a Super Amoled screen. (I wasn't able to view streaming video due to connectivity issues in the bandwidth-strained Las Vegas of CES, but I imagine those would look great on the big screen, too).

My bottom line? Some knock the Note for being an inconveniently big smart phone and an inadequately-sized tablet. And I'll probably stick with a 4-something-inch smart phone myself. But for some people, including those for whom Web surfing and gaming are phone priorities, I think the Note might offer a welcome size niche.

I'm eager to see what our smart-phone experts make of this phone, which we plan to have in our labs as soon as it launches in the U.S. in the spring.

CES 2012 Video: Samsung's Galaxy Note smart phone has giant 5.3-in. display
Samsung announces Galaxy Note, a smart phone-tablet hybrid

Paul Reynolds

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