So who exactly does Samsung expect will buy this phone? Well, first off, someone who’s either going to be using Bluetooth to make calls, or isn’t going to be making too many calls under any circumstances. No, the person who buys this land yacht of a phone is primarily interested in all that screen real estate.
It’s no coincidence that the Note’s screen dimensions match the 16:9 aspect ratio most common on HD movies and TV shows. At 5.5 inches, the phone is just large enough that using it to watch a full movie doesn’t turn into a headache-inducing chore, but small enough that it just fits into the pocket of a baggy pair of pants.
(A non-scientific test of Globe colleagues’ clothing showed that the Note will absolutely not fit in the pocket of your average miniskirt or even slightly tight pair of jeans).
The screen itself is beautiful, and highly responsive to touch gestures, thanks to the 1.6-gigahertz quad-core processor Samsung has thrown inside the phone. At 180 grams, it’s either a fairly heavy smartphone or the lightest tablet you’ll ever buy.
In reality, nobody’s going to buy the Note II because of what’s inside: its AllShare streaming content technology (more on that later). Nor is anybody going to line up for the device because of its web browser (runs fine, but will still take you to the mobile version of a site) or the NFC chip buried in the back (a Samsung representative says the company is working with Canadian payment operators, and that we’ll see something happen on the mobile wallet front in the next few months. But for now, we’re still waiting). This phone is all about the massive screen.
But trying to pitch the Note to customers based entirely on screen size is a losing proposition. For every user who finds the screen perfect for viewing movies, 10 others are going to complain that the screen is too small, or the phone is too big, or both.
So Samsung is trying to frame the Note as a device for “creators.” The idea being that the screen is big enough for you to do more than just consume media. You can use the Note to actually be productive.
In addition to the usual touchscreen interface, the Note II comes with a digital pointer pen, tucked into the bottom right corner of the phone. Once you pull the pen out, the phone jumps to attention and brings up the “S Pen” screen. This screen is your gateway to designing various memos using the pen. Think of these memos as super-powered Post-It notes.
But while somewhat gimmicky, the notes illustrate the phone’s ability to let you create stuff. The digital pen itself is magnetized, and the screen can detect its position when it’s hovering over the phone, rather than physically touching it. This leads to a number of nifty uses. For example, you can hover the pen over a tool, and watch a description of that tool pop up before you press the screen and actually launch it. When watching a movie, you can slide the pen across the scroll bar and watch little preview panes pop up showing stills from that portion of the movie – press down on the pane you like, and the phone jumps to that point in the movie. As far a technical wizardry goes, it’s pretty neat.
When composing a note, the phone can be made to recognize your scribbles and transform them to typed English on the fly. For the most part, the software did a decent job deciphering my miserable handwriting (although “My name is Omar” somehow got muddled into “My Name is0mF”). There’s also a handwriting-to-formula feature that lets you write down mathematical functions and then automatically converts them to typed formulae. I have no idea why the vast majority of Note users would ever need such a feature, but it exists.
On the brawnier side, the phone also comes pre-loaded with Polaris Office, a kind of Microsoft Office lite. The app will let you create or edit the usual array of Word, Excel or PowerPoint files. Is it fun to use? Not in the slightest. Will it save your career every once in a while when you’re on the road with no computer in sight and need to edit a file? Yeah, maybe.