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A man paints a picture in a new phone Samsung Galaxy note at the Mobile World Congress, the world's largest mobile phone trade show, in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Feb. 27, 2012. (MANU FERNANDEZ/Manu Fernandez/AP)
A man paints a picture in a new phone Samsung Galaxy note at the Mobile World Congress, the world's largest mobile phone trade show, in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Feb. 27, 2012. (MANU FERNANDEZ/Manu Fernandez/AP)

Review

Galaxy Note a gigantic 'phablet,' but l love it anyway Add to ...

It’s hard to look at the Galaxy Note and not reflect on the function, form and history of mobile phones.

If you were to show Samsung’s 9.7-millimetre-thick handset to someone in 1985, they’d marvel at how tiny it was compared to the brick-like cell phones of their era and probably wonder if there really were any substantial electronics hiding inside its 178-gram body. (They’d probably be curious, too, as to why we spend so much time looking at our phones rather than talking into them.)

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Fast forward to today and that same person, armed with the experience of a quarter-century worth of technological innovation, would likely regard the Galaxy Note as almost laughably large.

And yet, oddly, its size is precisely its selling point.

Like many other current Android handsets, it’s extremely speedy, has an excellent (at least by phone standards) eight-megapixel point-and-shoot camera and all the firmware goodies that come with Google’s Gingerbread operating system. These are features smartphone users have come to expect. What they don’t expect is a device so big that it might be mistaken as a tablet.

The Galaxy Note’s beautiful 5.3-inch 1280-by-800-pixel high-definition Super AMOLED screen – the total area of which is bigger than two iPhone screens placed side-by-side (check this great video of size comparisons) – makes it much larger than any traditional smartphone. Yet it’s smaller than even the most diminutive devices we’ve come to call tablets over the last couple of years.

Many have taken to calling the Galaxy Note a “phablet” – a melding of the terms “phone” and “tablet.” It’s a crude but apt mash-up, given that the device’s raison d'être is to satisfy both roles, cutting the need to tote two machines around town.

Predictably, it’s become the subject of ridicule, some of it deserved (it’s no friend of pant pockets, though I was able to squeeze it into a pair of roomy trousers without too much fuss), some not (it was clearly never intended to be strapped to one’s arm during exercise).

Obviously, it’s not for everyone. But it does serve a niche – and apparently a large one. According to a recent Forbes report, Samsung has sold two million Galaxy Notes since the device’s U.S. launch last fall and expects to move another 10 million through 2012.

And I have to admit that if I were shopping for a phone right now, one of those 10 million might find its way into my hands.

Here’s what the Galaxy Note does well: games, the Internet, photos, movies, video calls, video capturing and e-reading. (Its gimmicky stylus – meant to make drawings, memos, and annotations easier – is small and a little too laggy for true precision. However, Samsung and its partners are churning out plenty of supporting apps, and some – like the S Memo note-taking app – can be genuinely useful. We’ll drop it in the pro column, too.)

Without question, multimedia activities like those just listed account for the vast majority of the time I spend with my phone and tablet, and a big, pretty screen serves to make all of them much more pleasant. Hence, the Galaxy Note’s distinct appeal to a fellow like me.

Here’s what the Galaxy Note doesn’t do well: fit in tight places, facilitate single-hand usage, look normal while held to your face.

These are cons I can handle.

I, like some other men I know, toss my phone into a small messenger bag that I take pretty much everywhere, and most women keep their phones in their purses. The size drawback is essentially nullified for these groups.

The difficulty I experienced using it with a single hand is a more noticeable problem in some situations (like tapping out a message while standing on a subway train), but I found it to be an infrequent nuisance. When necessary, I simply made do with hand gymnastics.

And while I may have felt a little silly holding such a large device to my face (it can also be tricky to properly position the speaker by your ear), I’m generally an e-mail man. I make no more than a couple dozen short calls each month, and I’m willing to stand a few funny looks during those calls if the trade-off is a screen that benefits the rest of my mobile experience.

It is, in the end, a phone for people who don’t often use their phone as a phone. That may sound strange, but then, as our imaginary consumer from the past probably suspects, what we call a phone these days isn’t really a phone anyway, is it?

Samsung’s Galaxy Note is available through Bell, Rogers, and Telus for $199.99 on a three-year term. Priced without contract starting at $699.99.

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