By Jaime Rivera | August 20, 2013 4:34 PM
Let’s face it, when Samsung announced the original Galaxy Note at IFA 2011, we all thought they were nuts. At a time when the most popular smartphone in the world had a 3.5-inch display, who was going to want to use that humongous thing that was almost twice its size? Well, as it turned out, a lot of people did. Regardless of the fact that screens were getting bigger in those days, the device was a full inch bigger than the already-big Galaxy S II, and people liked it.
I know that not many people are fond of Samsung, but we’ve got to hand it to them for their expertise in experimenting with the unknown. Apple had already killed the idea of the stylus with the first iPhone, and still Samsung found a way to re-imagine the stylus and actually make it smart on this new product-line that they invented. Today we all know what a phablet is, even if the spell checker on my computer can’t recognize it, and that’s all thanks to Samsung’s boldness in defying the market, simply because they could, and can.
The Galaxy Note II was an even smarter move by Samsung. They didn’t just take the successful design of the Galaxy S III and add a stylus to it, but instead, they figured out a way to make the S Pen smarter, and give you additional ways to interact with your phone through Multi-Window support, etc. I’ll be honest that I specifically declined to use the first-generation Galaxy Note when Brandon offered that I keep it, and well, with the Galaxy Note II I simply didn’t leave the guy alone until he finally sent it to me for the holidays of 2012.
Yes, I still find the phone to be too big. Yes, I do find it uncomfortable to use or carry at times. Yes, I’m not a big fan of its call quality either. I guess the reasons why I can’t stop using it, is because it’s different. I carry two phones on a daily basis, and regardless of what phone I chose, whether it’s the iPhone 5 or the Xperia ZL, carrying another phone that’s no different to either of these, makes the second device pointless. Love it or hate it, even if I don’t use the S Pen much, I do love the peace of mind that one of the two phones I carry, has unique features that can some day come in handy.
I guess that’s the main purpose of this article. Basing the Galaxy Note II off the Galaxy S III made a lot of sense, since it was offering users a bigger variant of their most successful smartphone ever, but with added features. Sadly, I can’t tell you that I use those added features a lot, or at all on the Note II, even if I know that I have them. Turning the S Pen into a mouse with the hover feature, giving it better accuracy, and making it smarter were all really good things to have in this phone, but honestly, I still don’t find the S Pen good enough to replace taking notes with the keyboard, or using a true notepad.
I know this comment might make a couple of you uneasy. Taylor and Michael are both strong advocates of the S Pen, and they do find it to be a good notepad replacement, but then I know another two Galaxy Note II owners in my close group of friends who disagree. They find it to be something cool to have, but not something they find useful enough to replace anything. In other words, they feel it’s a gimmick. When I ask both of my close friends if they’re looking forward to the Galaxy Note III, they don’t. Obviously, who wouldn’t want a new phone, but they don’t necessarily feel excited about the future iteration of the brand.
I guess my biggest concern with the Galaxy Note III is just that. Yes, we are aware that Samsung bought Wacom, and therefore there should be a lot of great things to expect from this phone when it comes to S Pen functionality, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s all speculation. If Samsung is planning on making this just a bigger Galaxy S 4 with only a couple of features that don’t really replace your notepad, then there might be a problem, and here’s why:
Phablets make sense only if they’re better than a smartphone
Have a look at the market right now. Name one phablet that has succeeded aside from the Galaxy Note II. Don’t waste your time, you won’t find any. I’m sure there are tons of people that love the idea of carrying a big phone around, but the mass market doesn’t. I honestly doubt that any average user will be willing to buy such a big phone, unless there’s a clear benefit to doing so. In the case of the Note II, we have the S Pen, and here is where I want to dive in.
I’m one of those people who honestly won’t consider a Galaxy Note III unless the S Pen stops being a gimmick. As Samsung has begun to bundle multi-window support on their smaller devices, and as battery life keeps improving on newer devices that run the Snapdragon 800 processor, there’s really no reason left for me to have to haul such a big phone. Samsung needs to quit the abundance of gimmicks and focus on providing added functionality that people actually want to use. If that doesn’t happen, those things that we find cool today will become boring tomorrow.
Note-taking holds their solution, if they can get it right
I’ve questioned time and time again what I feel is missing when I try to use the S Pen for note input. I’ve got to hand it to Samsung for dramatically improving it on the Note II, but that doesn’t make it at all perfect. I’ll focus on the two things that Samsung should focus on, in my opinion:
1. It needs to feel like paper: I wonder if what we need is the first non-glossy display on the market in order to give it more of a paper feel, or for Samsung to modify the S Pen in a way that would allow your input to feel a bit rough. Really, that’s the only difference I notice between writing on paper and on a display, but sadly that difference is big enough to keep me preferring paper.
2. Notes have to be searchable: This is probably my biggest reason to avoid writing on a phone. The reason why I shifted to digital notes and keyboards so many years ago is because operating systems are now smart enough to index them. I take a ton of notes, and there’s really no benefit in keeping them if I can’t reference back to them in the future. My biggest disappointment with S Note is mainly that for the service, these notes are no different than a drawing, and with so much OCR services available, I’m sure that Samsung has the power to figure out how to allow me to find the notes I take for my future reference. Yes, there are ways to do this with tags and stuff, but if I need to do more on my phone than on a real notepad, or a regular smartphone with Evernote, then this is pointless. Really, if this point were not nailed now or eventually, I’d rather use a keyboard than use the S Pen every single time.
The bottom line
I’d be willing to carry any phone, big or small, if it would improve my experience with any other phone dramatically. This year, I’ve given the Galaxy Note II a chance, and I don’t regret it. It’s a solid performer, with great battery life, and really all the high-end specs that I desire as a power user. That said, my use of it has focused mainly on its spec sheet, and not on its added features. I do hope the Galaxy Note III is not just another phone with features I’ll never use. Carrying the added bulk of a phone that isn’t any better than a smaller phone, is like trying to carry an MP3 player in a laptop bag. Really, there’s no added benefit, and it sometimes seems even ridiculous to some.
I know Samsung is one of those companies that do anything because they can, but sometimes, even the coolest breakthroughs can die if people get bored of good promises, and not-so-good deliveries.
What about you? Are you looking forward to the Galaxy Note III, or has the Note II not been good enough for you? Leave us a comment. Remember, this is about opinion, and nothing that I wrote here makes my points the right ones. Share your thoughts in the comments.