It's tempting—oh so tempting—to lead off a review of Samsung's Galaxy Note by mocking its enormous size. So I shall.
The Note is big enough to give me a sense of empathy for our toddler when she picks up our phones. Its 5.3" display is the largest I've used in a pocket-sized gadget since 1998's MessagePad 2100.
But at $299.99, with a two-year AT&T contract, it has bigger problems than being the SUV of smartphones. Although it offers good ideas and could fit well for people who want a credible tablet-phone, it embodies the least appealing trends in the Android ecosystem.
LTE first, battery life second. The faster speed of Long Term Evolution means short-term usage away from an outlet, to judge from the numerous LTE phones I've tried that didn't make it through a full day without a recharge. The Note has a higher-capacity battery than the scrawny hardware on other Android phones and so managed to last through over six hours of Web-radio playback. That said, standby battery life was still subpar.
Specs before experience. Enough about the Note's screen—let's talk about the camera on the other side of the phone from it. We're supposed to be impressed by its eight-megapixel resolution, but I'd gladly trade a lower resolution for less lag after pressing the shutter and between shots.
Carrier bloatware. The Note is not as bloated by with somebody else's idea of a good time as other Android phones, but it needs a cleanup. I would start with AT&T's $9.99/month AT&T Navigator—except that you can't uninstall it. Ditto for the CityID, Social Hub and YPMobile apps here. Why do carriers still think this is a good idea?
Proprietary, user-hostile input. The onscreen keyboard Samsung built into the Note, to allow for input with its "S-Pen" stylus, is excruciating for thumb typists. Its errant autocorrect changed "tweets" to "sweets" but left a standalone "i" uncapitalized, but refused to butt out when I was trying to delete its mistakes. You don't type on this thing so much as you duel with it. By default, it vibrates with every keypress, as if we haven't already been using touchscreen phones for the last five years.
Uncertain software updates. Like almost all other Android phones, the Note ships with Android 2.3, not the current 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich version. AT&T says it will ship 4.0, but hasn't said when. AT&T also offers no assurances about further updates for this phone.
It, Samsung and other Android vendors did pledge in May 2011 to offer 18 months' worth of Android updates for new phones. But the commitment's "as long as the hardware allows" clause renders it meaningless. How can we trust them after such a sad history of abandoning earlier models?
As an Android user, I hope other manufacturers and carriers are taking notes. But I worry that they're only doing so to make sure they don't miss out on any new obnoxious habits.
Rob Pegoraro tries to make sense of computers, consumer electronics, telecom services, the Internet, software and other things that beep or blink through reporting, reviewing and analysis–from 1999 to 2011 as the Washington Post’s tech columnist, now for a variety of online and print outlets.