(On a tangential note, the amount of bloated, useless software that carriers and manufacturers pre-install on these smartphones is becoming offensive. My Samsung phone, running on Bell’s network, came with all manner of thoroughly unnecessary “apps,” including an anemic Sympatico.ca news portal, some kind of navigation app that could be mine for the low, low price of $60, and a mobile TV service. The latter app was of the few I found even remotely interesting, since it gives you access to BNN, CTV and a couple of other live channels. Unfortunately, the app ended up generating one of the most ludicrous error messages I’ve ever read: “Due to rights restrictions, this program can only be accessed over a cellular network. Please ensure that your WiFi connection is turned off.” Fortunately, Samsung makes it easy to quickly get rid of all this nonsense. Simply touch and hold on an app, and you can drag it upwards to the trash can.)
Getting entertainment content onto that massive screen isn’t difficult, but it isn’t as easy as it should be, either. Samsung is pushing a technology called AllShare Play to help you stream content from one device to another. Basically, you sign up for an account, pick the devices you want to share data across, and that’s it.
AllShare works especially well if a lot of your devices, such as your phone and TV, are built by Samsung. Indeed, that’s sort of the point with these cross-platform sharing tools, be they from Microsoft, Apple or Samsung – to urge you to buy all your hardware and/or software from the same company.
For all intents and purposes, AllShare is fine – it looks and feels a bit like an ugly, browser-based version of Windows Explorer. But unlike Motorola’s version of the same type of tool, AllShare can’t mimic your iTunes playlists, and takes a weirdly long time to load. To be fair, though, you can always skip AllShare and just plug your phone into your computer directly through a USB port and drop whatever files you want on it. With 16 gigs of memory (expandable to 64 gigs), you have a lot of space to play around with. The phone can also wirelessly stream HD video to a nearby TV (again, this is easier to do if the TV is also made by Samsung).
So Samsung’s two target demographics, it seems, are business-people who want to use their phones to create things, and tech-savvy types for whom making phone calls isn’t much of a priority. Is the Note II going to outsell Samsung’s flagship and relatively normal-sized Galaxy S III smartphone? Not a chance. But it’ll gain some traction among people who want the closest thing to a tablet they can still carry in their pockets.
The Note II is also a statement on the mobile device industry itself. This phone, along with the smaller version of the iPad that Apple is expected to announce later this month, bolsters the argument that there really isn’t much of a distinction between smartphones and tablets any more – it’s all just a bunch of flat screens you carry around with you. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that Apple executives were slamming rivals such as RIM for producing 7-inch tablets, saying 10 inches was the perfect size.
For now, if you’re buying a mobile device, you can either stick to one size, spend an ungodly sum of money on myriad phones and tablets of different sizes, or settle for a Goldilocks gadget like the Samsung Note II.
Hopefully, one day, somebody figures out how to build a high-def display that expands and retracts, so your phone can double as your tablet or even your TV. Such a gadget would be a technical marvel, to be sure. But more importantly, it would mean we’d never have to write about screen sizes again. Here’s hoping.