Like much in the history of human affairs, technical advancement does not generally happen in smooth progression. It moves in fits and starts, and smart-phone technology has been on a tear for the last few years.
Palm was the first true smart-phone with a library of independent apps, but it was the iPhone that first found broad acceptance of the general public. Apple seems to have a way with tech fashion, even if they aren't always the first to market. Or the best.
We now have the Samsung Galaxy Note as it's latest example, but is it too cool or simple too big? I'll start with a comparison of my Droid which is what I know best. The Samsung Note has:
100% more screen area.
250% more pixels
255% faster clock
80% more battery
60% more pixels in its camera
Plus a front camera
4G surfing and movies
4 times the RAM
16 times the ROM
Effective pen interface
So what's not to like? Well, it is 8 grams heavier but that's too small to notice. The Samsung Note also has no hard keyboard, but surprisingly, the screen is so large, I'm faster (and more accurate) on its soft keyboard than the Droid hard keyboard. The Samsung Note is better in every way than the standard Droid and even better in most ways than the latest iPhone. End of story? No quite.
Surprisingly, the Note's best feature (the screen) is also the critic's biggest complaint, which is what this post is really about. The Note is being panned as a "phablet" because of it's large screen. The logic is, it's too big to hold up to your face, and yet too small to compete as a tablet. Here's an example review:
By: Jonathan S. Geller - Feb 13th, 2012 at 03:45PM
"The Galaxy Note essentially has everything you’d want in a smartphone: a great dual-core processor, a solid camera, a beautiful display and good build quality, and it runs on ATT’s new 4G LTE network that delivers incredibly fast downloads speeds. Plus the battery seems actually decent so far, which is a triumph for modern smart-phones.
Throw all of that right out the window.
The phone is too big. You will look stupid talking on it, people will laugh at you, and you’ll be unhappy if you buy it. I really can’t get around this, unfortunately, because Samsung pushed things way too far this time."
And it wasn't just Jonathan. Here's what Zach at BGR had to say:
By: Zach Epstein | Feb 22nd, 2012 at 12:01PM
"Holding this beast to your face while on a phone call in public will result in awkward stares. Not “maybe” or “might,” but “will.” It just looks silly."
"For most, the Note will be too big for a phone, but too small for a tablet. Rather, it’s an awkward in-between device, and will only appeal to a niche consumer base. "
I'm here to tell you, PC World and all the rest are dead WRONG. The Note will NOT be limited to a niche. It has hit the sweet spot in size and will become the new standard in smart-phone technology. Here's why.
As some of you may know, I've been a geek since before the word was widely used. I've been interested in computers since the smallest ones filled up a room, which was long before they became personal. It was much later that the first thing that could be considered personal technology was introduced, and it was a calculator.
In contrast, the HP35 was designed to fit into William Hewlett's shirt pocket, which is the key to the issue at hand.
Just over two years ago I ended a long-term relationship with Palm and bought the original Droid on the day of it's introduction. I considered the iPhone but the first version wouldn't even copy, cut and paste text, which I can't live without. Android has been amazing though there are still things the old Palm did that the Droid can not yet touch. But that's another blog post.
So why am I leaving the Droid behind so quickly? The usual reasons - significant advancement in technology which are listed above, but most importantly because of the size of the screen. All of that visual real estate is wonderful. For years now I've known the the original HP-35 hit a sweet spot in physical size and weight. It was as big as possible without being too big to fit in a shirt pocket.
As it turns out the Samsung Note is almost the same size and weight as that original HP-35. I've been carrying the Note in my shirt pocket the last few weeks and it feels just like the HP35 I carried from years ago. So according to the reviewers, the only problem is how silly we look if we hold it up to our head, which is my second point - a true geek is like the Honey Badger - he doesn't give a shit.
And that in three years the Samsung Note will be the standard size for a phone?
And then it will be cool.
Email your wager.
03-28-12 Samsung ships five million Galaxy Notes in just five months
04-05-12 Samsung's Galaxy Note is a freak hit
06-01-12 Too early to say I told you so?
06--20-13 Time to note a problem with the Note - both the power and volume buttons are in the worst possible locations. I had noticed this with other phones but hope for some reason it would be different with the Samsung, but alas... no. The problem is, these buttons are in exactly the place where you are most likely to hold the phone, which means they are constantly and inadvertently activated. It is a classic physical overloading fail. And Power should be slightly recessed, so it doesn't bump on, whatever it's location. Droid did this well.
Interesting survey about size:
02-12-14 Four months use and this is the best mobile device I've ever owned, mostly because of display quality, speed and batter life. And the apps keep getting better.
09-24-14 Ultimate Vindication
11-01-14 Upgraded to Samsung Note 4 with faster charging and better battery life. This is the best portable computer I've ever owned.
08-22-16 I bought the Samsung Note 7 today. Once again, this is a brighter and higher resolution screen. Wait a minute. That was an understatement. It's amazing how each generation of these Samsung displays is brighter than the last. Holding these two phones next to each other with displays on maximum, the difference is like night and day. But how bright of a display do we really need? Brighter. Here's why. When you get into your forties and your close vision begins to go, you notice you can either hold the content farther away, or you can increase the light level. Contrast is as important as (or more so) resolution or screen size. It allows you to see more detail on a given screen. It increases visual bandwidth. The new Note has the best display I've ever seen. Again.
Battery tech is also much improved (apparently, to the point of failure 09-22-16). And with wireless charging a standard feature, it charges faster, easier and last longer. Another plus for the Note 7.
Physically, the device is also narrower and just a bit lighter, both improvements.
On the down side, I don't like the curved edges. Already I've had a condition where the "1" key on Hacker's Keyboard would not activate because the touch sensitive layer does not wrap around the corner where the majority of the key was. But then if it did, you'd be activating functions when only holding the device, which would be a major problem. Also, when dragging, the effect of dragging stops as you approach the edge and your finger prematurely leaves the surface as the surface drops away. The result is that you can't drag something up to the edge. You are stopped a character short of the margin. The rounded edge is annoying and seems to have little practical value.
What exactly is the point of a curved edge? You do get to see a message arrive when the phone is face down, but does this relatively rare case make up for the UI failures? Hardly. Is this a case of fashion over function? Is Samsung looking for a physical branding device? If so, they should first make sure it does not impair the operation of the phone. In any case, the curved screen does not work for me. Give me a flat screen any day (with a little bezel to hold on to so I'm not activating features inadvertently).
Now for the surface. The glass back is slick looking but also quite literally slick. It's like holding a bar of soap. Do they want these things dropped so they can sell you another one? I added egrip phone strips which helps a lot, but why should I have to geek up such a premium device? Everything except the screen should be a high friction surface. The glass back is another design fail.
On the plus side, the camera operation is much improved. As for quality, I'll let you know when I get time to work with some of the images.
Adding the Samsung Gear VR is a blast, but much lower resolution than I expected. Perhaps that is the cost of fast and smooth response. Or do they spread those pixels over such a wide field of view that our fovea only gets a relatively low res?
Notwithstanding the battery issues, the Note 7 is two steps forward, one back, but that's still a net improvement.