Samsung Galaxy Note
3rd Oct 2012 | 11:05
How does the Android Ice Cream Sandwich update fare?
The phablet phenomenon continues with Samsung's flagship (for now) larger phone-tablet hybrid updated to run on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
But with the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system already out for other devices, is it enough to keep the original Samsung Galaxy Note relevant? We've updated our review.
The Galaxy Note was one of Samsung's surprise successes over the last year.
Check out our Samsung Galaxy Note hands on video:
Too big to be considered a mere phone, and too small to fit into a tablet's mould, it spawned the title, 'phablet.'
Rocking a fancy stylus (or S-Pen), which we'd been assured by Apple was long dead, we admit to being a little sceptical on how well this device would be received.
Let's just say we were more than just a little wrong. This device went on to ship by the truckload for Samsung - adopted by both serious geeks (the people we originally expected to take it to their hearts) and your average punter.
Problem was, it launched on Android Gingerbread 2.3 at the same time Samsung was rolling out the flagship Google Nexus handset running Android 4.0.
But now, that's all forgotten.
And, on the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy Note II (which, in turn, rocks Android Jelly Bean 4.1), this not-so-little baby has been brought up to Ice Cream Sandwich.
Falling somewhere between the tablet and phone goalposts, it's not as enormous as pictures may imply. But it is larger than your average smartphone.
Dimensions come in at 146.85 x 82.95 x 9.65mm (5.78 x 3.27 x 0.38 inches) yet, at 178g (0.39lbs), it's fairly light considering how heavy it could have been. This is a trait we've come to expect with the Galaxy line, with the Samsung Galaxy S, Samsung Galaxy S2 and Samsung Galaxy S3 handsets also being light as a feather.
To look at the Samsung Galaxy Note, it looks just like a larger version of the Samsung Galaxy S2.
The front is incredibly minimalist, with only a Samsung logo and home screen button visible to the eye (the home screen button is a little more rectangular than that of the S2).
The front-facing 2MP camera and light sensor are there but almost impossible to see on the black model.
The left-hand side holds only a volume rocker, the top houses the 3.5mm headphone jack and there's a power/lock-unlock button on the right. The micro USB charging and syncing port can be located on the bottom.
The 8MP camera with LED flash is located in the centre of the rear portion in the same way it is on the S2 although, bizarrely, Samsung has, once again, chosen to have the actual glass covering of the lens protruding. We can't understand why it's not recessed as this merely makes the already vulnerable camera more prone to being scratched when the Samsung Galaxy Note is placed on a surface.
The speaker is located near the bottom of the rear and just above the dock for the S-Pen (the fancy stylus) that Samsung appears to be so excited about.
The crowning glory of the Samsung Galaxy Note is the screen: 5.3 inches of WXGA goodness (1280 x 800) and it is a belter.
Samsung has always been renowned for its good screens, with even the Galaxy S giving us that wow factor this time last year.
We were bowled over by the S2's Super AMOLED Plus, but the Samsung Galaxy Note just blows that out of the water.
285ppi is what it gives us, and not only are colours vibrant and sharp, but it looks easily as good as anything that Apple produces with a 'retina' label, even though it's obviously a lot bigger.
Under the hood, you'll find a dual-core 1.4GHz processor powering this beast and either 16GB or 32GB of internal storage (which you can also expand by another 32GB with removable memory.)
A 2,500mAh battery should give you plenty of juice - but considering the size of the screen, which is always the biggest drainer, it may not go as far as one hopes.
We'd say this is primarily aimed at the professionals. At least, on the surface of things, that's what one would assume.
But then again, we have seen these being used by all manner of people on the tube. Students, older folk and more seem to want in. The fact of the matter is, this screen is portable enough to be comfortable and functional - and so it appeals to the masses almost (though not completely) as much as the Galaxy S2 or S3.
At the time of writing, you can pick the Samsung Galaxy Note up SIM-free for around £400/AU$510/US$520. Not bad considering a few months back, you'd have forked out a third more. And, probably due to the fact that this is now old tech, has been superseded by the Galaxy Note 2.
But don't let that put you off - the Samsung Galaxy Note is still an extremely capable device. You'll get it on a wide range of deals - free on some, if you're willing to sign away two years of your life - and it'll be on a par with iPhone 4S deals, now that the iPhone 5 is here.
The Samsung Galaxy Note now runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.4 out of the box, rather than Gingerbread 2.3.5.
TouchWiz is still there, heavily overlaid over the ICS experience.
It's a bit of a 'Marmite' affair. We're fans of the skin, which is what sets the Galaxy line out from other Android models, but we know others who despise it with a passion.
The thing is, if you're buying the Samsung Galaxy Note to use its S-Pen features, you'll pretty much have to stick with Samsung's software unless you're one of those who knows how to root and tinker (not for the luddites.)
The Ice Cream Sandwich cool blue colour theme has been replaced with Samsung's preferred green, and the snazzy Roboto font is also hidden here.
To take advantage of the extra screen real estate, there are now five icons to a row, rather than four.
You'll also find a little blue glow when you scroll to the top or bottom of a menu.
Plus, there are a couple of new live wallpapers and, when adding widgets, you now go back to the beginning of the list when you reach the end, rather than just not being able to go any further.
One of the things Samsung has sadly removed on Android 4.0.4 is the ability to preview widgets.
So, where on proper ICS you'd get the chance to swipe through the app drawer and see what widgets would look like before you committed them to a home screen (one of the nice selling points of ICS), you now have to go through the previous way of adding them, which involves just scrolling through a list on the main screen.
We can't see why Samsung has done this but we think it's a shame. Speaking of which, that list is brought up when you press the menu button and replaces a grid that we previously saw.
The Samsung Galaxy Note offers the usual multiple Android home screens with the ability to delete or rearrange them but not add any more than seven in total.
You can pinch in to show an overview and navigate to what you want that way, or you can swipe from left to right. Doing so at the bottom of the screen where the page number is displayed will get you between screens even faster.
Widgets can be displayed in any place - and in any way.
Samsung offers the ability to resize them, although this only allows you to do it to certain ones (compared to some third-party launchers which let you resize everything), which is kinda annoying because some just don't fit.
For example, the Google Search bar leaves a big gap at the side and just looks aesthetically odd.
There's also a rather snazzy ability to resize web pages by holding your finger on two points and tilting the phone towards or away from you. It looks cool but is completely pointless, since you can just pinch to zoom to do the same task more effectively.
Whizzing between home screens is fast, thanks to that processor, though we did notice that the more we filled it up with apps, the longer it would sometimes take to go back to the home screen when hitting the home button from within an app.
Not so much something that you'd become annoyed with, but we just noticed it because we were looking out for it, having experienced the same delay on the S2.
Pulling down on the Android notification bar gives you access not only to your notifications but also a really helpful shortcut menu that will let you toggle things like Wi-Fi/ GPS/ Bluetooth/ sound/ auto-rotate.
Although you've now got access to a settings option here, the notification bar looks identical to how it did before. Presumably, Samsung has done this deliberately so upgraders don't feel instantly lost. But it does take a little bit of the sparkle away.
Application drawers can be a little hit and miss on Android handsets, depending on the vendor. We'd originally said that TouchWiz is one of the good ones, but we're not so sure now.
Ice Cream Sandwich brought with it the ability to drag-and-drop apps onto each other to create folders like Apple's iOS. And it did that well. But Samsung has removed this, and now you have to go through the old hassle of creating a drawer, using the menu, and then dropping things in. It's convoluted and pointless.
Apps can also be deleted easily via the drawer in editing mode, rather than forcing you to go through the settings menu as some Android handsets do.
It's a great, intuitive system and fantastic for new users. It may lack the feeling of having your hand-held that an iDevice gives a novice, but after 20 minutes' of playing around with a Samsung Galaxy Note even the most amateur of Android users will be comfortable with how it all works.
Contacts and calling
What do you mean you want to make phone calls on the Samsung Galaxy Note?! Have you seen the size of this thing?
Well, actually, it is possible.
Although we laughed once when some people tried to use the Galaxy Tab as a phone with a Bluetooth headset, it's not altogether that ridiculous to do so on the Note.
Yes, it is large and you do look like you're holding a small paperback book to your ear, but this is destined to be used as a phone as well as a portable computer and, as such, comes with the full Android phone app installed.
Contacts are handled with typical Android flair (in that they are excellently managed and synced with Google for extra security).
TouchWiz goes that little bit further by adding small but very welcome enhancements.
It's almost identical to the offering of the S2, with the only visible difference being that as well as the four tabs you got before (Keyboard, Logs, Contacts and Favourites), you now also have a Groups tab.
Groups of people can be created or edited on the Samsung Galaxy Note itself (something earlier Android handsets wouldn't let users do) and messages sent to all of the members in one go, making it extremely handy for organising events.
Samsung's added Facebook and Twitter integration, which means that you can have photos and details of contacts pulled in from your networks, as well as your online address book.
You do have to 'join' them manually though, which can be a bit time consuming if you have lots of contacts, and we feel HTC has a bit of an edge here considering it manages to link contacts of its own volition, leaving the user to merely sign its recommendations off.
Various tabs within a contact will allow you to look at recent histories and you can also view similar info through the logs tab.
You can view everything (ie texts and calls) or specific fields like missed calls, dialled calls, received calls.
If you've had a text conversation with somebody, it shows every time you exchanged a message and can be a bit cumbersome to wade through. There are lots of options here.
Making phonecalls was easy as pie too. Although we felt stupid holding the handset up to our ear, the actual quality of calls was on a par with the Galaxy S2: excellent.
There was no interference and the noise reduction worked brilliantly. We had no issues whatsoever with maintaining a signal during a call. Nor did we have any problems with volume levels. And boy, is that speakerphone loud!
The front video camera allows you to make and receive video calls but we found that when we used it to call other phone users, they could see us but we couldn't see them. This could very well be a network issue as we managed perfectly when it came to using third-party solutions such as Tango.
There is very little here that we could see Samsung has changed to reflect the arrival of Ice Cream Sandwich. Yes, you get the new contacts widget. But not a lot more. Bah.
This being an Android device, you cannot fault the amount of messaging options on the Samsung Galaxy Note.
Firstly, there's Mail and the Samsung Galaxy Note comes with two options built in.
One is the standard, excellent Gmail app found on all Android handsets, whilst the second is Samsung's own Mail app which accommodates Gmail as well as virtually every other POP3/IMAP and Exchange option you care to chuck in its direction.
The Samsung mail app is excellent and gives you the option to tweak various aspects from the font size (although Tiny really isn't what it claims to be) to the colour of the inbox display.
Turn the Samsung Galaxy Note on its side and you'll get a split view, which is a nice touch.
A Mail widget gives you one-touch access to all the messages in there.
The Gmail app itself has been updated in ICS and is now a lot more visually pleasing.
Plus, it offers better searching and labelling tools and finally brings Google's own mobile mail solution up to the level we think it should have been all along.
On top of that, you get the fancy new Gmail widget, which is fully scrollable and looks great.
We're glad Samsung hasn't deleted this from the experience, though it is madness that you can't resize this. As a result, it just ends up looking a bit odd.
On top of that, you can always add your own messaging solutions too.
There are the obvious ones like Facebook and Twitter (plus third party versions) and then the other excellent additions like Viber, Tango, WhatsApp, Windows Live Messenger and Skype.
The beauty of Android is that once these apps are installed, they all show up as options within the contact card when you call up a person's name.
Samsung's Social Hub is present too, though we're not overly impressed - mainly because, although it looks like a good idea on paper, if you follow lots of people on Twitter and Facebook, the amount of information in front of your eyes can get a little too much.
Typing on the Samsung Galaxy Note is fairly pain free.
It comes with the Samsung keyboard as standard though this can be easily replaced with a third-party alternative should you so wish, or Swype, which Samsung seems very fond of.
You can use it as a QWERTY keyboard or change to an old style phone keyboard with XT9 prediction.
Tapping out messages on it is manageable with one hand, though unless you have mitts like shovels, you'll find it more comfortable with two.
There is also the option to use the 'S-Pen' to write notes on a virtual pad in exactly the same way as we used to years ago on stylus-driven devices like those from Windows Mobile.
Heaven knows why anybody would want to do this as it doesn't seem to be the most comfortable or user-friendly method. But there are bound to be some fans.
Changing keyboards is a lot easier these days because ICS offers you a pull-down notification option the second you enter a typing box, allowing you to change your input method.
Google's own voice typing is also much improved.
Not only does it look better with a new dark and red colour scheme, but it's much more accurate these days and actually dictates as you read, rather than waiting until the end of your sentence before it appears.
We found ourselves using it more and more.
If there is one area where you'd expect a device like the Samsung Galaxy Note to excel, it's the internet.
And we're pleased to report that it doesn't disappoint.
This was how the internet was meant to be seen and there are no compromises here.
The browser is Samsung's take on the stock Android option and is the same as that found on the Galaxy S2 - albeit with a couple of cosmetic differences.
For example, whilst bookmarks are still accessed by a tab right next to the address bar, there's also a shortcut to get you to your multiple windows, plus dedicated back and forward buttons on screen.
That feeling of a desktop browser is reinforced by the way you're given the name of the site and it's page info at the top of the browser app above the address bar - just like you get on a computer.
This being an Android device from Samsung, we'd be shocked if the Samsung Galaxy Note didn't deliver Flash internet, and we're delighted to say it is here - all present, accounted for and working beautifully.
Pages (even those with heavy flash elements) loaded well and look beautiful on that large, vivid screen.
But don't get too used to it - once Jelly Bean hits, you'll find Flash absent on items like this.
By default, you'll get a whole screen view when you first visit a site and, although it's too small to read, once you zoom in you'll have no such problems.
Tapping-to-zoom works as well as it should, as does pinching.
Text reflow isn't great - or indeed, it isn't there - and we found that on some sites, we had to scroll back and forth to the end of the line to read what was being said.
The TechRadar page took four seconds to get up on Wi-Fi, although the green loading bar didn't disappear until nearly 12 seconds in.
This was because the browser was still rendering flash, though the actual page was ready to navigate once those initial four seconds were up and we were able to go about our business.
Trying the same experiment over HSDPA took another two seconds to get the site up but, again, we were able to ignore the flash loading and browse away.
Teasingly, the Samsung Galaxy Note is 4G LTE enabled but until that's all up and running, the mega fast HSDPA+ is all we have to go on.
There is still a limit on the number of windows users can have open, with eight being the maximum, but they're easy to switch between and you're even treated to a coverflow-style animation.
Bookmarks are easy to add and you can even put them on the home screen as widgets with the latest page image as your icon.
It's all very well thought out, easy to use and the beauty is that it works so well, you just don't really notice the browser as you whizz through the net.
The camera on the Samsung Galaxy Note is identical to that found on the Samsung Galaxy S2, which is in no way a bad thing since the little brother already has a pretty amazing snapper.
The rear camera gives you 8MP, which is fairly standard these days among the high-end units and turns out quite nice shots.
It takes almost no time at all to fire up compared to some other handsets, and you can realistically have opened it and shot your picture within 5-7 seconds. This is where the 1.4GHz dual-core brain really kicks in.
Sadly there's no shutter button, which is a real drag considering the size of the handset.
It's not as if the Samsung Galaxy Note doesn't have room for one, so you can see that Samsung has obviously omitted it for design reasons.
The problem is that the Samsung Galaxy Note is too big to hold with one hand and you find your fingers either encroaching on the screen (therefore triggering tap-to-focus), hitting either the back or menu softkeys (triggering an unwelcome menu incursion) or getting in the way of the lens which causes its own problems.
You soon learn how to hold the Samsung Galaxy Note so that you can take a photo using the on-screen button but then have to explain to other people when you ask "Will you take a picture of me?"
Luckily, when it comes to taking photos, you have all the options of any reputed point-to-shoot camera.
Everything from a multitude of scene modes to ISO levels, blink detection and so on, although when you tap the little settings app, you do find it takes a moment or two to bring this menu up.
To solve this, you're able to add shortcuts to your two favourite menu options directly on that camera screen which can save time. This really is a top-notch offering and gives you the freedom to take great pictures.
Shooting in low light is not an issue because the flash really is bright enough to light even the darkest and gloomiest of settings.
Shutter lag can be a slight issue if you're trying to take a picture of a moving object in dim light, but it's nothing to get too upset about.
Outdoor visibility mode is a godsend - basically it's Samsung turning up the contrast to silly levels on your screen so it can burn through direct sunlight.
The quality is much poorer, but at least you can see what you're snapping, and it's a real boon for outdoor shots.
The shooting modes are a mixed bag - action mode doesn't do what you think it will, instead creating a collage of lots of frames from a moving scene. Beauty and Panorama mode are OK too, but the options to Cartoon-ify a scene seem a bit pointless indeed.
Of more use are the macro modes, exposure alteration and the automatic metering, which help actually make the photo look better by bringing up the correct colours and brightness.
Taken indoors with artificial light, pictures do come out well albeit with small amounts of noise.
Bright artificial light yields particularly impressive results.
Images taken in bright, natural sunlight cannot be faulted at all. Pin sharp and vivid.
Scene modes help – this is 'autumn' mode, which enhances natural colours but can look a little unnatural.
This is the same photo taken with no scene modes.
Pointless effects such as negative are included.
Sepia is also included, and does add a little drama.
The Samsung Galaxy Note has the all-important 30fps 1080p Full HD video recording at its heart, and it works jolly well indeed.
The range of options is less extensive than the standard camera, but nonetheless it's more than enough.
Exposure and white balance can all be calibrated manually to ensure you're getting the best resolution, and touch-to-focus will also alter the brightness of the scene, although this will revert back once you've let go.
A video light is also included for darker scenes, which is a godsend for when you're trying to get the the Samsung Galaxy Note to actually work out what's going on for an...er, art movie.
Fast moving scenes can hurt things a little bit when it comes to autofocus - it could have been a lot smoother and sharper at times in our view.
If you're someone who buys a device like this because of the media capabilities, you'll think you've died and gone to heaven with the Samsung Galaxy Note in your hands.
This is what media devices should look like.
That's because of one thing - the screen.
Watching videos on here is a pleasure.
Not only because of the size but also because the resolution is so good and it's not so heavy that your hands are likely to get tired by holding it for long periods of time (unless you're weedy).
We love how you can stream the audio to a bluetooth headset too, so you can enjoy movies completely wire-free.
And there's even an outdoor setting to make it easier to see in bright sunlight; though it cranks the display up so don't expect your battery to thank you.
The range of file types supported is impressive too: MP4, M4V, Xvid, DivX, AVI, 3GP - in fact, not once did we get the dreaded 'file type not supported' error message.
You can also edit your videos from within the app and add various effects to them, as well as trimming and doing some basic work.
The music app is stock Android with that Samsung look and it does the job well enough, allowing you to create playlists on the fly or filter your music by artist, album and so on.
We downloaded the third-party PlayerPro which we found to be much more effective, but different apps will suit different tastes and needs here.
Both allow you to tweak equalizer settings and the like.
Crucially, with a mimimum of 16GB storage space already included before we start adding media cards, the only challenge we faced here was figuring out how to fill it all.
Streaming media is a cinch thanks to DLNA and you can have your music photos and videos sent to a compatible device (like a PS3) in no time at all.
If you're lucky enough to have a compatible Samsung telly, you can also do it directly using the Samsung AllShare app built into the Samsung Galaxy Note.
We found it to be OK - but not brilliant.
Loading lists of files took ages (literally, we went off and boiled the kettle from scratch, came back and it was still loading!) and it seems to have issues with files on the external memory.
But this appears to be an issue with the app rather than the Samsung Galaxy Note itself, since we've also experienced it on the Samsung Galaxy S2.
Streaming via Bluetooth, however, was not an issue and we happily played music to the car stereo without wires for an entire journey.
Sound quality with A2DP was flawless. And to top it all off, Samsung gives us an FM radio. Not a big, cutting-edge inclusion - but one we're always glad to see.
There is also a YouTube app onboard. It's a great app - but we don't have Samsung to thank since it is stock Android and available to most Android users.
Battery life and connectivity
On paper, the Samsung Galaxy Note should give amazing battery life since it has a 2,500mAh power pack in there. In practice though, while it is good, it's not necessarily amazing. But it all depends on your use.
It's hard enough to match the manufacturers' estimates at the best of times because individuals have their own needs and demands placed on their devices.
Perhaps tellingly, Samsung hasn't even bothered to put estimated talk and standby times on the specs page of the Samsung Galaxy Note website.
Those who use this as their phone will get through juice a lot quicker than those who carry it around in a bag as a tablet and are maybe more economical with their usage.
Check out our Samsung Galaxy Note battery test video:
Our testing involved the former and we were easily able to get a full day of moderately heavy usage out of it.
The Samsung Galaxy Note came off charge at 5:45am and was used for about an hour of catching up on Twitter, reading the news headlines and checking emails. We also took a handful of photos.
Over the course of the day, we did an hour's drive with music streaming to the Bluetooth car stereo and watched an episode of Spooks on the screen.
Then we played a couple of games for about 20 minutes, listened to the FM radio and music applications for about 20 minutes, and got through about 90 minutes' worth of web browsing.
At 7pm, we were down to 15% and then that dropped to 7% by 10pm (with very little usage).
That's pretty much on a par with what we get from an Samsung Galaxy S3 with the standard 2100mAh battery, but we're not surprised because although the battery is larger, so is that screen.
And boy, does this display love to guzzle battery power.
You're tooled up for connectivity with all of the usual suspects in here, from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to HSDPA+ and DLNA.
Although Wi-Fi did lock on, we weren't massively impressed with the signal strength.
We've always found the Samsung Galaxy S2 to be not as capable of getting a full signal as an iPhone (even when placed on the router) and were shocked to see that the Samsung Galaxy Note's signal was even weaker.
It didn't affect browsing at home but this could be an issue in larger areas when hunting for (and trying to stay connected to) hotspots.
You can also use Wi-Fi for Wi-Fi direct (think Bluetooth file transfer but using Wi-Fi instead) and there is Samsung's Kies software for transferring media which allows you to do it via the actual computer programme or over Wi-Fi using a web browser.
It's all very advanced, easy to use and works as it should.
If you have a USB stick, you can actually connect it directly to the Samsung Galaxy Note and read from it (via a micro USB adapter) which is a great addition and makes this even more of a computing device than just a phone.
If you want to share your connection, you can tether by cable or by making this a mobile hotspot, though beware that networks will think it's Christmas if they find out.
Maps, apps and the S-Pen
When King Steve of Jobs announced the iPhone, he uttered the words: "Who wants to use a stylus? Yeuch!"
And ever since then, the stylus has been on death row.
Along came iOS and Android which were both finger-driven, Symbian ditched its need for a stylus and even Windows itself - which loved styluses - decided it was time to kill them off.
So, what on earth is Samsung doing bringing the stylus back? We honestly don't know.
And Samsung HQ will probably have a fit when they see us referring to it as a stylus, rather than the marketeers' favourite, the 'S-Pen.'
As will some readers, because we noted the comments when we wrote this original review, with some of you saying we just didn't get it.
And we concede - sort of - that you may have a point. The S-Pen is handy. Is it amazing? That's truly a matter of opinion.
The 'S-Pen' has been the main focus of the marketing drive for the Galaxy Note.
The adverts concentrated on drawing on the screen and, even at the Samsung Galaxy Note launch party in London, it was the pen that ruled the show.
It's a touch-sensitive jobby, which can feel a bit weird after years of using the fingers.
We found it to be quite temperamental in that sometimes it would register presses, and at other times it wouldn't.
And in the time we were testing the Samsung Galaxy Note, the majority of time, we forgot it was even there.
But that's just us - and if you're a student looking to annotate, or a professional looking for something that will allow you to take notes, this is really handy.
This is reinforced by the fact that you can type in formulae and mathematical equations and that clever old Samsung Galaxy Note will actually decipher and solve them for you.
The issue we have is that it's a little fiddly. We've played with the S-Pen on the Galaxy Note 10.1 (which definitely is a tablet) and that's easier to hold, grip and use (though not completely without fault).
But the S-Pen on the original Samsung Galaxy Note is like writing with a twiglet for people like us with shovel-like hands.
It also lacks the pressure sensitivity the Note 10.1 has where pressing down will make thicker strokes.
But to reiterate, it's all a bit 'Marmite', so give it a try yourself.
Several new templates are included in the S-Note app, which range from creating simple notes and recipe ideas to diaries and magazines.
It's all pretty intuitive and fun, and we're sure some will find it useful.
In terms of other apps, we're glad Samsung has continued to see sense and get rid of its own brand of mapping software on the Google-powered phones - Google Maps is excellent and doesn't need a competitor on these sorts of devices.
The new 6.1 Google Maps application runs faster than a chocolate-covered pig through GreaseTown on the Samsung Galaxy Note, with elements like vector-based graphics zooming in and out with no hint of slowdown, and the 3D models of certain cities jumping out without a hitch.
And don't forget, you can now download chunks of maps for offline viewing. A brilliant addition to a great product.
The sat nav functionality was equally impressive and although it's all still in BETA, it's still excellent. This really is a credible alternative to a full sat nav solution and we couldn't fault it in the slightest.
The other usual Google suspects are there (Talk, Latitude, Places and so on), as well as a few of Samsung's own treats like the music hub and readers' hub, which help you get more content.
Samsung has its own appstore in there too, but it's not worth the memory it takes up, with nowhere even close to a fraction of the offerings on the Android Market in there.
It does also include fantastic photo- and video-editing apps to play with your home-made content, which are intuitive and fun, and also a full version (Yep, full, not trial) of Polaris Office is bundled in, which is a nice touch.
Voice Search is provided, courtesy of Vlingo, and is an upgraded version of the app found on the Samsung Galaxy S2.
Before, it provided you with a handful of functions, but now you can even tell it which music to play or update your social networking status from the app.
We thought it was pretty cool beforehand, but fell in love with it all over again on the Samsung Galaxy Note.
It may lack the intelligence of Siri but who really wants to know what the weather is like anyway? We have a widget for that.
It takes a little time to acclimatise to your voice and accent and could do with sounding a little more human when it speaks back to you, but on the whole, it is pretty quick at adapting and a definite plus for the Samsung Galaxy Note.
Who needs S-Voice?
Hands on gallery
The Samsung Galaxy Note is definitely a device worth considering if you're a media and internet fiend.
Three announced a few months back that its users do more browsing than calling on phones these days and, if you're one of those types, this could be a perfect choice.
It's fast, it's intuitive and in very few places does it compromise.
And, if you're looking for a high-tier smartphone, you'll do far worse than this (especially as the price cascades thanks to the arrival of the newer Galaxy Note 2).
Android Ice Cream Sandwich is a big plus compared to the original Gingerbread - though in a lot of places, we didn't see much existence of it thanks to the Touch Wiz overlay. And Jelly Bean is already out now for certain devices, rendering it slightly old hat.
The screen on the Note cannot be beaten. It is both clear and vibrant but also nice and big, and we've always been fans of Samsung's TouchWiz skin which is one of the good guys in the world of Android customisations.
The rest of the 'wins' in the Samsung smartphone range are here too, ranging from the clever contacts integration with social networking to intuitive widgets to a speedy internet browser.
The S-Pen seems a bit 'Marmite', and there is no doubt that the Note is big, which will put off a majority of general smartphone enthusiasts. It's also still a relatively expensive device, so you're paying for that larger screen - yet there's the Nexus 7 that offers a larger screen, faster processor and it's half the cost.
The design is a little mundane as well in today's market - and the upgraded S-Pen for the Note 10.1 and Note 2 shows that the option here isn't as good as it could be, and the older Note also lacks the whizz-bang speed of the new model.
It doesn't have the same TouchWiz overlay as seen on the S3 either, which is a bit of a shame despite the upgrade.
Update: If you've got the 4.0.4 update to the Galaxy Note, then the TouchWiz overlay has been upgraded to match the S3 - so that's a lovely reason to like the handset more.
There aren't many things we can complain about with the Galaxy Note. Samsung has taken what is already a good handset and built on it to make an even better one.
The only question you have to ask is, "Is it too big for me?"
When it launched, it was a bit of a mystery. Was the world ready for a device that was set half way between Tabletland and Phoneville? The answer is, it clearly was, and you just have to look at the interest in the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.
The great thing is that the Note is still an decent device (the Note 2 will merely build on that) and has difficulty being beaten, even though it's a year old.
And it's not too pricey when you consider it's £200/AU$400/US$380 cheaper than it was a few months ago.
We'd heartily recommend it if you can cope with the size and a few niggles in terms of performance and last-gen technology. It's still expensive when compared to other smartphones with a screen less than an inch smaller, (only £80 more for the One X+? Yes please).
Scoring this phone/tablet is hard, as it depends entirely on the user. Love the screen size? Add half a star, as you're an internet browsing, video watching fiend who spends very little time calling or generally messaging folk.
Think the S3 is already pushing it in screen size? Have slightly smaller pockets? That's the majority of users in our eyes, and as such the extra display inches will annoy you so much the sheen will be knocked off an otherwise excellent device.